MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: DEATH MASQUE. (1988)

michael armstrong

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS. DEATH MASQUE. (1988)

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

I’m super-excited about this new book of Michael’s. As some of my readers will know, for the past while I’ve had the privilege of reading and reviewing some of Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous script books which are now being made available to the reading public, with the weight of half a century of screenwriting knowledge and know-how and juicy gossip firmly behind them.

Incidentally, anyone looking for a really decent Christmas present for a loved one who’s obsessed with the cinema and related matters, these books would be ideal. Just saying, lol. Not trying to give you the old hard sell or anything.

So far I’ve read the script books for HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, THE IMAGE, THE BLACK PANTHER, GHOST TOWN, A STAR IS DEAD, BEELZEBUB, ESKIMO NELL and now DEATH MASQUE, all of which are for sale on Michael’s website (see above).

Each book comes with a glossy cover, the relevant screenplay in its entirety, a history of that particular screenplay written by Michael himself and also a chapter on the screenwriting style. For anyone interested in screenwriting who wants to learn to do it right, these books would actually make a terrific how-to guide. I’ll tell you one salient fact about each of the ones I’ve read so far.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS was made into the enjoyably entertaining horror movie of the same name, starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine. It has the distinction of being the only film to star all four of these horror legends together and it has a really cracking storyline as well.

An American writer holes up in a supposedly deserted old English country mansion to win a bet against his agent, the bet being that he can’t speed-write a novel in a certain amount of time. The key phrase here is ‘supposedly deserted…’

Michael’s first movie was a short film called ‘THE IMAGE’ and, as far as I know, it marked the first screen appearance of a certain David Bowie, who later went on to make flicks like THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, LABYRINTH and THE HUNGER. The book cover features an old ghostly picture of the now deceased star and the book is certainly a fitting and lovely memento by which to remember him.

THE BLACK PANTHER was the name given to Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer whose abduction of wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975 is the subject of Michael’s controversial screenplay of the same name. The 1977 film was even banned for a bit but a change of heart by the British Film Institute saw it taking its rightful place amongst other important British films of the period.

GHOST TOWN is a horror-slash-spoof Western which sees a group of handsome, reckless young outlaws, consisting of two groups of brothers, robbing a bank and then hiding out in a town that they don’t realise has its very own gathering of ghosts…

The moon is full.

The derelict buildings stand

Like towering black tombstones coldly bathed in the moonlight.

The only sounds to break the silence come from the Saloon,

From which lights are now flickering.

A STAR IS DEAD, though it was never made into a film, tells the fictional story of how the management team of notorious punk band The Sex Pistols tried to clean up their grubby image by getting them to star in a family film, a musical version of Alexandre Dumas’ book THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Enough said? ‘Nuff said…!

BEELZEBUB is a fantastic horror story about a haunted or possessed computer which could so easily have been made into a great ‘Eighties horror film, if only circumstances had been different. ESKIMO NELL is a rambunctious sex romp-slash-sexploitation comedy with a terrific cast.

It stars a young and dashingly handsome Michael Armstrong himself, Christopher Timothy before ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL, Roy Kinnear who was Verruca Salt’s Dad in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Rosalind Knight from ABOUT A BOY (‘Are you a professional Santa?’) and porn star Mary Millington before she was widely-known.

Some of the lines in ESKIMO NELL are pure comedy gold. Here’s a sample:

‘I can’t do it, Benny, I just can’t do it! I’m just not capable of writing the first all-British pornographic Kung Fu musical western: least of all when three different girls and a drag queen all think they’re going to be playing the same part!’

‘Right then, the opening shot of the film is a big close-up of this bleedin’ great pair of tits…

but do it with integrity…’

‘Acting? Acting? You didn’t tell me I had to act! Listen, I don’t mind getting screwed but I’m not doing any of that acting stuff! What sort of a girl do you take me for?’

‘It’s all terribly wholesome family entertainment, like Hamlet… but nicer.’

‘Yes, but what’s my motivation for having an erection…?’

‘Oooooh, what lovely buns…!’

The superb and undeniably clever DEATH MASQUE is the latest script-book to roll off the presses at Michael’s publishers, PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS. It’s a screenplay about opera, one of the arts about which I’m afraid I know only the old joke:

Kid: Mammy, why is that man threatening that fat woman with a stick?

Mammy: Don’t be ridiculous, dear. Of course he’s not threatening her.

Kid: Then why is she crying…?

I hope, therefore, that Michael will forgive me for glossing over the heavily operatic bits and concentrating as always on the plot and the writing, both of which are again top-notch and a pleasure to read.

The book, by the way, in case I’ve alarmed you with all the opera stuff, can be read just as easily by non-opera buffs such as myself as by experts or aficionados of the art, and there’s a full glossary of references at the back of the book if you want to know the meaning of some of the fancy words.

There’s a lot of fascinating information in there too about Masques, not the masks with which you hide your face but the other kind of Masque, which is defined in the book as:

‘a spectacular court entertainment involving music, dancing, singing, and acting, within an elaborate stage design, to present a deferential allegory flattering to the patron. They would end with a celebratory dance, led by the monarch and his favourite courtiers.’

There’s a ‘Masque’ in the book, in fact a Masque is pretty much the central feature of the book, so now at least we know what it is. Forewarned is forearmed, isn’t that what they say?

The twisty-turny plot sees two young holiday-makers, Carrie and Tim, finding themselves staying in the fabulous Italian villa of operatic legend Anna Morenzi after they have all their money and passports and airline tickets and stuff pinched by a couple of hitch-hikers. Here’s where they meet their slightly-less-than-gracious hostess:

‘But before anything can be said,

Their attention is directed upwards-

Where, at the top of the grand staircase:

ANNA MORENZI stands;

Resplendent in her shimmering golden dress and diamonds.

Although she may be in her-mid sixties;

Like the youthful beauty of her portrait,

She has remained undiminished by time.’

There’s kind of a Norma-Desmond-from-SUNSET BOULEVARD vibe about the splendiferous but undoubtedly ageing Anna Morenzi. Her household is no less curious than Ms. Desmond’s, consisting as it does of the following:

Miles, her devoted (but definitely not her first!) husband; Edgar, her stunning but much younger lover; George, the sort-of-butler and Miles’s step-brother, who has the misfortune to be wildly in love with Miles; Drake Cauley, a lawyer, and his alcoholic lush of a wifey, Helen.

Now there’s the Americans, Carrie and Tim (Tim’s a would-be actor), also and even the two hitch-hikers, once believed to be thieves, Sean and Dorothy, are all part of the big happy family now as well.

Anna should have more than enough bodies now to participate- whether they want to or not- in her enormous annual deathly ‘Masque’ in honour of her birthday. Although you’d think at her age, wouldn’t you, that she’d be better off not marking the passing of time quite so publicly…! 

The screenplay begins most promisingly with a young couple running away, through a forest at night, from something so horrible that they’d prefer to entomb themselves in a crypt with the long-departed rather than stand and face it.

The pace never lets up once after that. As you might have guessed, there are some extremely strange goings-on at Anna Morenzi’s palatial villa, goings-on that can’t all be explained away by Miles’s and Edgar’s sick little game-playing in which they freely admit to indulging:

Edgar: It’s this crazy game we play. I screw his wife so he gets even by murdering me. That way I keep them both happy. At first, it felt kinda strange but now I’ve gotten used to it; it’s kinda fun and I enjoy it.

Tim: You enjoy pretending to be killed? That is seriously weird, pal.

Edgar: No more than all those business guys who go off for weekends where they dress up to play war games and shoot each other with little blobs of paint. What we do’s much more creative… and sexy. Sometimes I even get a hard-on.

Tim: You’re sick, fella.

Edgar: You think so? You should try it sometime.

DEATH MASQUE is intended to be read and enjoyed on three levels: as a mystery thriller (who exactly is Ulrica-ca, the Woman In Black, and what does she want?), as a comedy and, finally, as a social allegory. Me, my low-brow mind goes straight for the smut as always. I’ll leave you with my two favourite quotes from the screenplay, the first of which is spoken by the great and glorious Anna Morenzi herself: 

‘Always give the audience what it wants. Lots of T. & A. Never fails, dear: ‘Tits & Art.’ If they don’t like the show, at least give ’em something to drool over. Helps keep the snoring down.’

I love it. This last one then is uttered by Tim, who has big dreams of being a Hollywood actor but you just know that a career as a bus-boy is all that beckons:

‘My God! He’s screwing his mother! The guy’s actually screwing his own goddamn mother… in the grass!’

A man who would screw his own mother in the grass- in the grass, mark you- is not fit to consort with decent civilised people. ‘Nuff said? I think so.

Michael Armstrong’s script-books are available from retailers, Amazon and direct online at:

www.paperdragonproductions.com/shop

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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FRITZ LANG’S ‘M.’ (1931) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

fritz lang m

FRITZ LANG’S ‘M.’ (1931) DIRECTED BY FRITZ LANG. SCREENPLAY BY FRITZ LANG AND THEA VON HARBOU. STARRING PETER LORRE AND OTTO WERNICKE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘10,000 marks reward.

MISSING

Believed to have been murdered.

ELSIE BECKMANN.

Age 6-a-half years. Fair hair. Brown eyes. About 3 ft 4 in height. Last seen outside the Barclay School For Infants on April 14th at about ten minutes past twelve.

Any person able to supply information, please communicate with

CARL LOHMANN,

Chief of police or any police station.’

People are always calling ‘M’ Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. I love this film very much but I just want to point out that Fritz Lang’s ‘METROPOLIS’ exists too and might be an even better candidate for the title of this director’s actual masterpiece.

That’s not to say that ‘M,’ possibly the earliest film ever made on the disturbing and grisly subject of child murder and Fritz Lang’s first ever talkie, isn’t a masterpiece. It is, it absolutely is. But the guy can have two masterpieces, can’t he…? That’s all I’m saying, lol.

People usually think that the film is based on the murderous career of serial killer Peter Kurten, the so-called ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf,’ but Fritz Lang himself points out that Kurten was never an admitted child killer and also that the script for ‘M’ was already done and dusted before Kurten was ever apprehended. But serial killers did already exist back then, so it’s certainly more than possible that they gave Lang his idea for the film.

The German city in the film is a city living in terrible fear when the movie starts. A spate of child murders have the inhabitants on the edge of their seats, worrying themselves sick about their kiddies who are every day at risk from becoming the next murder statistic until this fellow is caught. And what won’t they do to the bastard when he is…! Temperatures run very, very high in the city at the moment.

In fact, the movie starts with a murder. Pretty, lively little Elsa Beckmann, the daughter of an impoverished and exhausted washerwoman, is cajoled away from her life by a man whose distinctive profile we first see against the background of one of the ‘WANTED! MURDERER!’ posters. It’s an effective introduction for the man the whole city is just longing to meet.

The images that imply Elsie’s death at the hands of this man, who jauntily whistles the theme from Grieg’s PEER GYNT while he lures the child casually away (his signature?), are stunning in their simplicity.

Her ball rolls away into a patch of wasteland; her new balloon is caught in some telegraph wires and flaps helplessly in the breeze. Two simple but strikingly powerful images, and pretty little Elsie Beckmann is lost to the world of man forever.

The whole city is up in arms. The police are working flat out to catch the killer. This is a good thing, right? Well, not, apparently, for certain elements of the city’s criminal fraternity.

They can’t take a step now without being caught up in a police raid to catch the child murderer. The constant police presence across the city is interfering big-time with their criminal activities. If this keeps up, they’ll be on the breadline, grumble grumble grumble. Ya gotta feel sorry for them.

A group of burglars and safecrackers, headed by a man who couldn’t look more like a Nazi if he tried, in his belted overcoat, hat, black gloves and stick (for whopping things…!), decide to catch the killer themselves and thereby loosen the coppers’ grip on the collar of the city’s criminal underbelly. Then they can go about their unlawful business in peace and quiet once more without the bleedin’ fuzz breathing down their necks all the livelong day.

The funny thing about all this is that the leader of this group, the guy in the Nazi overcoat (incidentally played by an actor who went on to have a rather succesful career under Nazi rule, so we’re not too far out), is wanted by the police on three separate counts of manslaughter.

But because the victims are presumably only adult males who got in the way of his criminal enterprises, then that’s totally okay, see? They weren’t little children. This gives us an idea of the special place reserved in hell (and in the minds of their peers) for the people who do harm to children.

The criminals, with the aid of the city’s population of beggars and down-and-outs, do actually manage to catch the murderer. They haul him in front of a secret kangaroo court consisting of criminals and their pals and there’s very much a feeling that these could tear the child murderer to shreds like wolves, if their leader so much as gives them the signal.

The man chosen to ‘defend’ the murderer brings up some very good points about the notion of capital punishment, the penalty for murder in those days. Should a man be penalised, he argues eloquently after a heartfelt speech from the murderer, if he has no control over his actions and is therefore not responsible for them? The kangaroo court are sceptical. They’re all for execution, and the sooner the better.

The counsel for the defence begs that the murderer be turned over to the police for justice to take place in a civilised fashion, rather than let him be subject to mob justice. We, the viewers, all probably know at this point that the murderer, rather than being summarily hanged or guillotined or shot by a firing squad, needs to be taken into protective custody, preferably in a mental hospital, and there analysed and given whatever treatment, if any, was available to the paedophiles of the day. The mob, however, might have other ideas…

Peter Lorre is brilliant here as You-Know-Who. His eyes are so big and expressive! He did an English language version of the film too, a version which up until only fairly recently was considered lost, and here he gives his first ever English-speaking performance in any movie ever. This makes it a very exciting discovery indeed for Peter Lorre aficionados.

The English language version of the film is a full twenty minutes shorter than the original German version, however, so for this reason I much prefer the German version with English subtitles. The two films have different, though similar, endings, if you get me, and the better ending of the two is in the German version, in my humble opinion.

The film really brings home to the viewer the vulnerability of children, the fact that they can be lured away from their parents, their friends, their homes, their schools and their very lives by an apple, a balloon, a piece of candy.

The kiddies in the film seem particularly impoverished, if Elsie Beckmann’s home and (I’m guessing) overworked single mother are anything to go by, so all the killer has to do is flash a toy or a few sweets to get the child to follow him anywhere he wants.

The spoilt brats of today with all their fabulous, expensive technology might be a little harder to lure away. You’d almost certainly have to be technology-savvy and offering something rather exceptional to get them to glance up, bored, from their iPads.

‘M’ is a truly haunting film. The lovely lost children, the terror of the murderer when faced with the kangaroo court, and the desolation of the downtrodden, impoverished mothers who’ve each lost children in this sinister way all combine to give us some genuinely disturbing images and memories that we won’t forget in a hurry. I can’t say exactly that you’ll enjoy the film, purely because of the grisly nature of the subject matter, but you’ll definitely remember it anyway.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

ASSAULT, also known as IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

assault tessa screaming

ASSAULT. (1971) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘THE RAVINE’ BY KENDAL YOUNG. DIRECTED BY SIDNEY HAYERS. STARRING SUZY KENDALL, LESLEY-ANNE DOWN, JAMES LAURENSON, FRANK FINLAY, TONY BECKLEY, DILYS HAMLETT, ALLAN CUTHBERTSON, DAVID ESSEX AND FREDDIE JONES.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an excellent British horror-slash-murder mystery from my absolute favourite British horror period, the early ‘Seventies. The stuff they made back then just can’t be surpassed: THE WICKER MAN, THE APPOINTMENT, CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and so many, many more.

In fact, the first six minutes of ASSAULT (the title is the only thing about this that I’d change, it made me word-associate it with rifles, for some reason…!) reminded me of the first five minutes of THE APPOINTMENT, a proper British chiller starring Edward Woodward from THE EQUALISER and THE WICKER MAN.

When the schoolgirl called Sandie is walking home alone from school through the lonely, forbidden path in the forest in THE APPOINTMENT and strange eerie voices are calling to her by name from inside the forest, it gives me chills every time, even though I already know what’s coming.

Speaking of the title, ASSAULT, by the way, the movie does have another title, IN THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, which might have been a little more atmospheric. It’s such a wonderfully atmospheric movie, very of the time in which it was made, and something of a sex pervert’s dream as well, featuring as it does all these sexy, sexually mature seventeen-and-eighteen-year-old schoolgirls in the tiny little pink skirts no longer than gym-slips and pristine white knee-socks they wear to school.

Is it any wonder, then, that an actual sex pervert is loose in the movie, choosing for his victims the girls from Mrs. Sanford’s School For Girls who unwisely walk home alone from school through the adjoining forest…?

The action all seems to take place in a lonely part of the forest called the Common or Devil’s End. He rapes them initially, this dreadful sex pervert, before graduating to rape coupled with strangulation leading to death. It’s a shocking state of affairs.

Lesley-Anne Down in one of her earliest roles plays Tessa Hurst, the first girl from Mrs. Sanford’s to be pursued through the woods and then brutally raped. Lesley-Anne Down (UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, COUNTESS DRACULA, ARCH OF TRIUMPH with Anthony Hopkins, blockbuster mini-series NORTH AND SOUTH) is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a cinema screen. Her expressive eyes, her rose-red luscious lips, her lustrous long dark hair all add up to a most pleasing picture indeed.

Her character of Tessa Hurst goes into a state of catatonic shock after the terrible attack. Even I know that, and I’m not a doctor. No amount of throwing a ball at her mid-section and expecting her to catch it will help her to snap out of her coma-like state, are you hearing this, attractive psychiatrist Dr. Greg Lomax…? Heh-heh-heh.

Within six or seven minutes of the first attack, another schoolgirl has been raped and, this time, she’s been choked to death as well. This time round, though, there’s a witness to the murder, the art teacher Julie West as played by Suzy Kendall. She’s an extremely attractive young lady, with her long glorious hippy hair, purple-tinted spectacles, knee-boots and mini-skirts. Very jazzy and of the time.

When she describes the assailant to the Judge at the inquiry as looking just like ‘the Devil,’ the Judge laughs at her and dismisses her as an over-imaginative female. The Judge is played by the same chap (Allan Cuthbertson) who attends Basil Fawlty’s first- and last- ever Gourmet Night at Fawlty Towers when the only item on the menu is, well, duck. And what do you do if you don’t like duck? Well, if you don’t like duck, I’m afraid you’re rather stuck…!

Any one of the men in the film could be the sex killer, which is what keeps the plot ticking over nicely all the way to the end. Every male character is a possible suspect.

There’s John Velyan (Frank Finlay), the copper investigating the dastardly crimes, but you never really get the feeling that he’s anything other than a straight-up copper who’s just dying to put this kinky murdering bastard behind bars where he belongs.

Then there’s the aforementioned attractive investigating psychiatrist Dr. Greg Lomax, who’s played by the devastatingly handsome James Laurenson. He’s sweet on Miss West, the beautiful art teacher, but what’s in all those pills he keeps giving her, that she obediently swallows without even questioning what’s in them? She must indeed be mesmerised by his delicious, chocolatey-brown come-to-bed peepers, because I know I certainly was, tee-hee-hee.

The most obvious suspect is probably the most odious, one Leslie Sanford who’s the husband of Mrs. Sanford who runs the Girls’ School, the school from which all the victims are chosen. Mrs. Sanford, who’s a good deal older and more staid than her husband, is utterly distraught about what’s happening to the good name of her school.

Her husband Leslie, on the other hand, is enjoying seeing his wife’s good name being dragged through the mud. His older wife’s money is what keeps him in the lap of relative luxury and boy, doesn’t he hate her for it! He feels emasculated, so he blames his wife. He even rewards her fidelity and generosity by lecherously groping the schoolgirls under her care.

Leslie Sanford loses no opportunity to slag his mortified wife off to John Velyan, the investigating police officer, but Velyan won’t play ball with the odious little man. He sees right through the nasty piece of work, who even confesses to the rapes but Velyan won’t arrest him. Why not? Let’s just say that Velyan’s got this nasty little scrap of humanity sussed…

There’s also Mr. Bartell, the principal of the local hospital, and Mr. Denning the obnoxious journalist, who absolutely should not get away with terrorising and shadowing Miss West the way he does. Just because he’s a newspaper man in search of a story doesn’t give him the right to behave the way he does.

That just leaves Milton, the police officer assigned to be Miss West’s bodyguard, to round up the list of possible suspects. There’s even a rather sinister-looking electricity pylon in the woods that looks like it might be culpable of some wrong-doing at some point.

Grip, the Sanfords’ dog, is a male all right but he definitely isn’t a suspect. Popular singer David Essex as the chap who comes into the pharmacy with his girlfriend isn’t a suspect, exactly, but he’ll certainly think twice before he whips out his lighter in public again…!

ASSAULT is one of the finest films of its time. I’m only surprised it’s not better-known. It’s got a fantastic cast and a great plot which sees a crazed sex killer running amok amongst the lovely nubile pupils of a local girls’ school. What’s not to love…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

THE BLUE ANGEL or DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

blue angel bigger

THE BLUE ANGEL/DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PROFESSOR UNRAT’ BY HEINRICH MANN (BROTHER OF THOMAS MANN).

DIRECTED BY JOSEF VON STERNBERG. PRODUCTION COMPANY: UFA.

STARRING MARLENE DIETRICH, EMIL JANNINGS, KURT GERRON, ROSA VALETTI, HANS ALBERS AND REINHOLD BERNT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

There’s something eerily magical about this classic Weimar Germany film, even today, nearly a full ninety years after it was made by Josef Von Sternberg, who returned from America to Germany especially to direct it.

After seeing Marlene Dietrich perform in the Berliner Theater in Georg Kaiser’s cabaret ZWEI KRAWATTEN (TWO NECKTIES), Von Sternberg knew that he had found his leading lady.

Though still recognisable, she hadn’t yet grown into her famous face, if you get me, the same way you can look at a young Brigitte Bardot in MANINA or a young Joan Crawford in GRAND HOTEL and think, is that really them, they look so different when they’re young…? 

Although Von Sternberg would modestly shrug off suggestions that he ‘discovered’ Dietrich, I think it really must be said that he did. She went on to have a long and varied career after THE BLUE ANGEL, which led to a contract with Paramount Studios, served as a more than efficient springboard or launching-pad to international stardom.

Josef Von Sternberg, a dark-haired, rather sad-faced man who looked small next to some of his taller contemporaries, made a few minor changes to the story on which the film was based, PROFESSOR UNRAT (PROFESSOR GARBAGE) by Heinrich Mann, but the basic plot remains the same.

A college professor who teaches English Literature, among other things I’m sure, to the boys and young men who attend the Gymnasium, a German word for college or place of learning, meets and falls head-over-heels with a beautiful cabaret singer in a nightclub. This reckless act of impulsivity leads directly to his downfall only a short few years later.

Professor Immanuel Rath makes his way to the nightclub, THE BLUE ANGEL, after a spate of saucy-postcard-hoarding by his students. He sees Lola Lola for the first time as a scantily-dressed image on a kinky postcard (these passed for porn back then…!) and is straightaway taken and intrigued by her. How much more taken will he be, then, with the flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional Lola Lola when he encounters her for real…?

He goes to the nightclub ostensibly to complain about its performers corrupting his young pupils. All thoughts of his moral responsibilities vanish from his mind when he meets the enchanting Lola Lola backstage in her dressing-room.

To the unmarried Professor in his forties, whom we can imagine as having led a very sheltered, bookish life up to now, Lola Lola is sexiness- and sex- incarnate. The magnificent Dietrich is very young here, but she has already learned how to use her eyes and lips to devastating effect. The poor Professor doesn’t stand a chance against such an onslaught of raw sexuality. He’s smitten from the off.

Of course, Marlene Dietrich was always about the legs. The legs, the legs, the legs. This film could also have been called ‘FRILLY KNICKERS AND STOCKING-TOPS’ because that’s what she’s dressed in for most of the movie. She elevates the taking off and putting on of stockings into an art form as she teases and tantalises Rath with a private little striptease in her cramped backstage dressing-room.

She (or maybe I should say they, both Dietrich AND Lola Lola) holds the- mostly male- audiences to the cabaret spellbound as she belts out songs like ‘FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN’ and ‘YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, YOU’RE THE SALT IN MY STEW.’ They are utterly in thrall to her sexuality and mystique, as is Rath.

When Rath proposes to Lola Lola, I’m always gobsmacked that she says yes. Rath is a portly, not very attractive school-teacher who’s probably not rolling in money. He’s a figure of fun to his students. They don’t respect him. They have nothing but contempt for him.

What on earth does Lola Lola see in him? A kind of father figure, someone who represents security and stability to her, maybe? Or maybe she just says ‘yes’ in the spirit of yeah sure baby, why not, I don’t care either way, it’s all bullshit anyway and, who knows, it might be a blast to try it for a bit…?

Either way, they get hitched, much to Rath’s delight and, four short years later, we come full circle right back to Rath’s origins and it’s not a pretty picture. The marriage has destroyed him, although I can’t give you the details.

His self-respect is non-existent, he’s a figure of fun for all now and not just for his pupils, and his reputation, such as it ever was, is in shreds. Was it worth it, Rath, Von Sternberg seems to be asking his male protagonist, was she worth it…? Would he do it again?

The dark, cramped, narrow little slanted streets surrounding the Blue Angel nightclub look like they’ve come straight out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or any other masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. There’s a fabulous town clock in the film that’s worth looking out for too, the creation of set designer Otto Hunte, and a sad and rather chillingly portentous scene involving a late parrot.

Who is Lola Lola? We know nothing of her background or origins. Is she hard and cold because she’s had to be or because she enjoys it? Is she immoral? Is she promiscuous? Does she have a heart at all?

Does she take pleasure in Rath’s downfall or, as is probably more likely, does she simply regard him as being big enough and old enough to look after himself? She’s his wife, after all, not his mother or his nursemaid, and he’s a grown man.

I don’t think she’s particularly malicious, although she’s certainly mischievous. I think she just doesn’t care, but not because she’s uncaring or heartless. She has enough to be doing looking out for herself. Whatever her motivations anyway, in Lola Lola we’ve been given a timeless creation of sheer sexiness and sensuality whose appeal doesn’t dim with the years.

Marlene Dietrich was a truly beautiful woman and an acting legend on two of the finest legs to ever grace a stage. In THE BLUE ANGEL, Josef Von Sternberg has bottled this legend and encapsulated it for us for all time. Kudos to you, Joe dear. Kudos to you.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE PREMATURE BURIAL. (1962) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

premature burial couple

THE PREMATURE BURIAL. (1962) BASED ON A STORY BY EDGAR ALLAN POE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY ROGER CORMAN. SCREENPLAY BY CHARLES BEAUMONT AND RAY RUSSELL. AN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURE.

STARRING RAY MILLAND, HAZEL COURT, RICHARD NEY, ALAN NAPIER AND HEATHER ANGEL.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a visually gorgeous gothic horror film,  a superb addition to Roger Corman’s cycle of Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations for American International and the only one, if I’m not mistaken, not starring horror legend Vincent Price.

I’m not sure why Roger Corman opted to switch one leading man for another at this point but the film still works. It’s a wonderfully Gothic piece of dramatisation, with a setting as atmospheric and fog-wreathed as in all the other Poe films of this period.  

Ray Milland, an excellent actor whose film LOST WEEKEND is one of the best ever made on the horrors of alcoholism, plays the lead role here of Guy Carrell. Guy is a wealthy aristocrat who’s got a bee in his bonnet the size of Notre Dame Cathedral about being buried alive.

Now, you can’t really blame him for that, I suppose. No-one likes the idea of being buried alive, of waking up in their coffin underground, with the lid sealed down and the gathering population of worms sharpening their tiny knives and forks and tucking their napkins into their shirts, while others print up tiny menus that all carry only the one dish.

So, what’s given poor sensitive, touchy Guy the fear of being buried alive? Well, he’s convinced that his Pops, Daddy Carrell, was buried alive in the family crypt while under the influence of catalepsy, a terrifying condition that simulates death.

I’m not keen on the idea of a family crypt myself, having all your horrible dead relatives buried in tombs in the basement of your house. Why can’t they go in the ground in a dreary churchyard miles away, like normal people?

It would have been bad enough being around them while they were alive, without knowing that their rotting corpses are mouldering away beneath you in the family crypt. It’s enough to give you the willies, that is.

Still, it was the aristocratic way, you know. That was how the poshos did it back then, maybe still do for all I know. Probably couldn’t bear to relinquish anything that belonged to them, even if it was in a state of advanced putresence, lol.

Anyway, Guy is obsessed with the notion of being buried alive, just like he thinks his Paw was, much to the concern of his beautiful new younger wife Emily, his young doctor friend and advisor Miles and his older sister Kate Carrell. He won’t go on honeymoon with Emily, because he’d rather stay at home building himself one kickass mofo of a crypt on the grounds of his estate…

This crypt is really quite remarkable. It’s like a small house with a purpose-built coffin filled with tools for breaking out if one should have the misfortune to wake up and find oneself buried alive. There are stores of food and wine so you don’t starve to death while you’re trying to gain, as Guy himself rather splendidly puts it, ‘egress’ from his frightening hand-made mausoleum.

There’s even stores of deadly poison for killing yourself if all else fails and you can’t manage to break out of your tomb. It’s really the most ingenious of contrivances, this tomb, but it’s also the product of a very sick mind. Guy’s wife, sister and doctor are convinced of this once they realise that Guy has practically set up shop in this awful crypt, painting his horrible disturbing paintings and waiting for death.

‘What you fear has already happened, Guy,’ says Emily sharply to him when she’s had enough of his nonsense, ‘because you’re already buried alive.’ She’s right, too, you know.

Guy is being plagued in other ways as well, by the constant popping-up in his vicinity of two sinister grave-diggers who seem to wish him ill, and he’s hearing a creepy tune, Ireland’s Molly Malone of all things, coming from nowhere that’s making the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. He seems to be associating it with death and his old favourite thing to do or to have done to you, premature burial.

So when the worst happens and the thing that Guy fears more than anything else in the world comes to pass, it may not just be the catalepsy that’s put him there. There’s a foul agency at work here and I shouldn’t be at all surprised to find that it might have small feminine hands and genteel girlish fingers…

I love Alan Napier as Emily’s doctor father, Gideon Gault. He does a Peter Cushing here in that he takes delivery of newly dug-up corpses which he intends to dissect for medical purposes. Dr. Frankenstein, much? When he comments with a chuckle that Guy Carrell will be of more use to medical science dead than alive, he may even be right.

Guy is wasting whatever life and talents and time he’s been given. By obsessing night and day, day and night on what might possibly happen to him in his afterlife (which we’ll all find out, soon enough), he’s actually missing out on his one chance to live his actual life. He’s squandering his life. Other people would kill to have what he has, and he’s just throwing it away like so much rubbish.

The sets and costumes here are all stunning and luxurious-looking, as they always are in these Roger Corman productions for American International. The bedrooms, the living-rooms and the family crypt are all decked out in the most fabulously rich autumn colours of russet, brown, orangey-brown and the deepest of reds.

And the Carrolls’ beautiful, atmospheric gothic gardens and estate have got more mist than an X FACTOR final. And that, folks, as any self-respecting X FACTOR fan will tell you, is a whole helluva lotta mist…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

CRUCIBLE OF TERROR. (1971) A BRILLIANT BRITISH HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

crucible marcia

CRUCIBLE OF TERROR. (1971) DIRECTED BY TED HOOKER. STARRING MIKE RAVEN, JAMES BOLAM, MARY MAUDE, JUDY MATHESON, BETTY ALBERGE, JOHN ARNATT, RONALD LACEY, BETH MORRIS, MELISSA STRIBLING, KENNETH KEELING AND ME ME LAI.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Let me immortalise you.’

‘He’s lit the furnace, you know.’

‘It’s a doll, Dorothy, a cheap ugly rotten plastic doll!’

‘To me, a beautiful woman is worth more than rubies.’

‘One thing I learned out East. Never underestimate the power of revenge.’

‘Tonight, I’m a man inspired. After all these barren years, you have inspired me.’

‘The power of evil is always stronger than that of good. If you ask me, it was pre-ordained.’

This is an absolutely fantastic British horror film from the period when British horror was at its finest. It stars Mike Raven (who also did I, MONSTER for AMICUS and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE for HAMMER) as Victor Clare.

Victor is a reclusive and bad-tempered painter-sculptor. He lives above an abandoned and supposedly haunted sea-side tin-mine in Cornwall, where a terrible accident years ago caused the mine to be shut down.

The accident isn’t really integral to the plot, it’s just a really cool place for a mad (sorry, didn’t I mention that he was stark raving mad, do please forgive the omission!) sculptor to have his workshop. He paints in the house but he has a forge in the mine for when he feels inspired to sculpt and immortalise the figures of beautiful female models in the bronze medium he favours.

His current gorgeous young hot artist’s model is the sultry but rather sulky Marcia, who is Victor’s lover as well as his model. You can’t really blame Marcia for being sulky, as she has a lot to put up with. The handsome devil-bearded black-clothed Victor is the worst kind of sexual predator, only barely on the right side of being an actual rapist.

All beautiful nubile young women are his prey. He feels entitled to harass them, feel them up, embarrass them with his sexually suggestive line of chat and bully them into posing naked for him. If they demur, he makes them feel bad for being so unsophisticated and unworldly as to have a problem with posing nude for an artist. I’m telling you, that’s what they’re like, all men. Gaslighters all.

He has ‘gaslighted’ his poor wife Dorothy into a state of dementia to the point where she has regressed back into her childhood, dressing her hair in girlish bunches and playing with dolls and cuddly toys.

He abuses her verbally, calls her old and ugly and yet he won’t give her a divorce, as her money has been what’s allowed him to live as he has done for all these years, not working a boring nine-to-five job but just concentrating on his art. Well for some…

Anyway, down to Cornwall from the big city come the seriously messed-up alcoholic Michael, Victor’s failure of a son, and an art dealer called John Davies (James ONLY WHEN I LAUGH Bolam in a Fu Manchu moustache).

Michael has stolen some pieces of art from his father, whom he loathes and detests at least partially for Victor’s foul treatment of Michael’s mother, but also because Victor makes him feel like shit about himself, and given them to John Davies to sell in his gallery.

The pieces have sold surprisingly well, the paintings and a stunning bronze sculpture of a naked woman that seems to draw men to her. John and Michael have made such a tidy profit that they’ve decided to drive down to Cornwall with their wives and beard the lion in his den.

That is to say, they’re going to go to Victor directly and ask him if he’ll agree to sell some of his stuff to them legitimately- as in, they’re not nicking it this time- so that John Davies can sell it on in his gallery and they’ll all make a neat profit, Victor included this time.

John’s beautiful young brunette wife Millie is targeted immediately by the lecherous wolf that is Victor. Pose for me, darling, he begs her from the moment she arrives in Cornwall.

She’s repelled by him, as well she should be, but he keeps on and on at her, even pursuing her through some dangerous sea-side cliff caves while her husband John is driving back up to town to get Victor Clare the money he’s demanding for his art.

John isn’t much of a husband to the beautiful Millie. He practically pimps her out to Victor, so desperate is he to keep Victor sweet and get his hands on some more of Victor’s artistic endeavours. Don’t you dare piss him off while I’m away, he warns his wife, who’s in severe danger of being raped by Victor, for all her husband gives a shit about it.

Mike’s marriage to his wife Jane is so unpleasant to witness. They hate each other. Jane even agrees to pose for Victor just to spite her hubby, whom she doesn’t respect one iota for his drinking and his inability to make anything out of himself. Unlike his father, who at least is a gifted artist, even if he’s a total shit and a sleazebag as a person.

Meanwhile, a cold-blooded killer is cutting a murderous swathe through the many inhabitants of Victor’s house for some reason and it’s also gradually becoming clear that Victor’s works of art, in particular his amazing sculptures, have their basis in the foulest of foul deeds. Is Millie, his current prey whom he’s most enthusiastically pursuing, next on the list for Victor Clare’s particularly deadly brand of immortalisation…?

The caves that run through the cliffs and lead to the house are amazing. The whole film has tons of atmosphere and the seagulls squawking and screeching over the cliff-tops made me think of THE WICKER MAN (1973), another fantastic British horror film that features cliffs and caves as well. Oh, and by the way, there’s a supernatural element to the film too in the shape of a haunted kimono from a flea-market. I’m just throwing that out there.

I like the military man Bill, the collector of strange Eastern military memorabilia, who’s been Victor’s friend and poor abused and cuckolded Mrs. Clare’s only champion for years.

The gorgeous Melissa Stribling (DRACULA, 1958) plays Joanna, one of art dealer John Davies’s backers, and she’s as lovely as when she first trembled in Count Dracula’s arms and raised her limpid, shining eyes to his before he bit down hard on her swan-like neck…

Eeeeeeeeh, I’ve made myself all excited now. I’ve got to go off and watch some DRACULA to calm myself down. In the meanwhile, you guys enjoy CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, the titular ‘crucible’ being a heavy bronze bowl of sorts used for nefarious purposes, as opposed to a place where men play snooker finals. It’s a fantastic film. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And just to add that the marvellous actor Mike Raven, who was actually a sculptor himself in real life and who sadly didn’t make nearly enough films for us to remember him by, is buried in a grave he dug himself for himself. How freakin’ hardcore is that…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

D.W. GRIFFITH’S ‘THE BIRTH OF A NATION.’ (1915) ‘THE MOST RACIST FILM OF ALL TIME’ REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

birth elsie captive

THE BIRTH OF A NATION. (1915) DIRECTED BY D.W. GRIFFITH. BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THOMAS DIXON JR. STARRING LILLIAN GISH, HENRY WALTHALL, MIRIAM COOPER, MAE MARSH, RALPH LEWIS, GEORGE SIEGMANN, WALTER LONG, JOSEPH HENABERY AND RAOUL WALSH.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I’d heard before I ever watched this film that it was possibly the most racist movie ever made, in its depiction of African-American people in America in the time of their Civil War. Having watched the film, I can definitely concur, lol.

Do you know what it reminds me of? A couple of summers ago, I watched a German anti-Semitic movie from the 1940s called JŰD SUSS, in which Jewish people were represented as scruffy bearded moneylenders with big hooked noses, sly dispositions and an insatiable greed for money.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION does pretty much the same to black people, and it glorifies that most racist of organisations, the Ku Klux Klan, an organisation that was birthed during this period right along with the titular nation.

There are even written disclaimers before the movie comes on that basically say, Oh, we’re not being racist or offensive to any one race, we’re just telling it like it happened back then. It’s the truth, so y’all can’t have a go at us for telling the truth. Humph.

Well, the film-makers can’t prevent us viewers who are living in these thankfully more enlightened times for having our own opinions either, so there. If we want to consider THE BIRTH OF A NATION the most racist thing before that wall to keep out ‘dem pesky Mexicans’ that Donald Trump promised to build during his election campaign, then we can. Can I get a ‘Harrumph…?’

The plot is so similar to that of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), that other huge sweeping Civil War drama (from which I derived literally everything I know about the ‘Murican Civil War, lol), that it seems likely that Margaret Mitchell got at least some of her ideas about writing a Civil War epic from watching THE BIRTH OF A NATION.

GONE WITH THE WIND is a much glossier chocolate-boxy production, however, with the racism milder and more tastefully presented. It is the big stunning Hollywood depiction of the famous War, after all.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION, while beautifully shot and exquisitely presented, is much more warts-and-all in its depiction of the racism, or should I say the shockingly bad and thoroughly unsporting behaviour of the freed black slaves after the Civil War ended. Tut tut…

There’s only one use of the controversial ‘n’ word in the film, and that’s used by a black ‘Mammy’ to another black servant of whom she disapproves. The word ‘Aryan,’ which I thought had been coined by Hitler and which I didn’t realise was in use as far back as 1915, is used once, and in the exact context in which Hitler would have used it too.

There are two wealthy, privileged families, the Camerons and the Stonemans, in the film. Before the Civil War starts, the two families are the best of friends and travel back-and-forth frequently to visit each other.

Once the War begins, however, they find themselves on opposing sides. The Camerons are as ‘Southern’ as it gets, their whole demeanour and appearance simply screaming mint juleps on the lawn and pistols-at-dawn to get ‘satisfaction’ for a real or imagined slight. The Stonemans are on the side of the North.

The Cameron parents send out three sons out to fight for the glorious Cause. I think they thought it’d all be over by Christmas. I genuinely don’t think they expected to lose that war or that only one of their three sons would ever come home. Talk about a wake-up call.

The son that survives the war is Colonel Ben Cameron, known affectionately as ‘the Little Colonel.’ He’s been in love with Stoneman’s beautiful ringleted daughter Elsie since he first saw her portrait as a particularly charming miniature.

When she finally meets him after he’s been injured in the fighting, it’s love at first sight for her too. Which is awkward, as the several years of Reconstruction that happen after the war ends won’t really see any major reconciliation between the defeated South and the victorious North. Their families are basically still enemies, in other words. Capulets and Montagues, with the pair of star-crossed lovers in the middle.

Halfway through the movie, which by the way clocks in at a whopping three-and-a-quarter-hours long, a certain assassination of major historical importance takes place in a theatre, of all places.

It’s only when this happens that the film’s infamous racism starts kicking in. Prior to this, it was mainly a film about the Civil War, with some really well-done scenes of battle and fighting which are pretty much incredible for the time.

But once the man known as ‘the South’s best friend’ is out of the picture, the American political scene descends into a sort of chaotic free-for-all. The Southerners are deeply, deeply chagrined when the ‘Negroes’ or ‘darkies’ are given the vote and are encouraged to use it to vote the South’s ‘oppressors’ into power. Well, you just try resisting the tempting promise of ‘forty acres and a mule,’ lol.

What seems to be portrayed in the film is a sort of reverse racism perpetrated against the white people by the black people. White people are disenfranchised, shoved off the pavement, chained up and ridiculed by the newly-freed ‘blacks,’ who are shown to be at least as eager for revenge against their former masters as they are to have the right to vote conferred on them.

We see faithful black servants, who still want to remain with and serve the families who previously ‘owned’ them, being rounded up and monstrously ill-treated by the freed ‘blacks’ for not being loyal to the new order.

They’re not allowed the freedom of choice about what they want to do next, they’re just castigated roundly for wanting to stay with their white ‘families.’ Well, striking out on your own can be scary. Maybe they feel safer where they are, especially the older people.

Ben Cameron, the one remaining son of the Camerons and the chap that’s in love with his enemy’s daughter Elsie, gets the bright idea of forming the Ku Klux Klan after seeing some local kids messing about with some bed-sheets. This is the organisation that means to put those uppity ‘blacks’ and ‘carpetbaggers’ firmly back in their place. 

Pretty soon the local black population of Piedmont- that’s where they all live- is being terrorised by white-hooded riders too cowardly to show their faces or take direct ownership of their actions.

The most haunting and chilling scenes in the film are similar to those in GONE WITH THE WIND when Scarlett O’Hara, now married to a big girl’s blouse called Frank Kennedy whose lumber business she’s taken over for her own, drives her carriage through the ‘Shanty-Town’ occupied by freed black people, who are portrayed as reprehensible ne’er-do-wells in the film. She does this against the advice of the people around her. Who cares about any possible danger, she clearly thinks to herself, when I’ve got lumber to sell…?

Scarlett may not care a snap of the fingers for her own honour, but there are certain men in her life who do, very much so, in fact. After Scarlett is attacked by one of the black inhabitants of this Shanty-Town, a posse of able-bodied men is speedily gotten up and they go out to the Shanty-Town to clean up the cesspit it’s apparently become. One of these men never comes home at all, and another one nearly doesn’t make it back in one piece…

In THE BIRTH OF A NATION, the youngest sister of Colonel Ben Cameron, he of the Ku Klux Klan, wanders off alone to play by the Spring when she’s been expressly ordered to stay away from there, presumably because it’s dangerous in its isolation from the rest of the town.

There, Flora the sister is pursued by a black man called Gus, who’s already been presented as evil to the viewer, who has ‘ideas above his station’ now. Because black people are now allowed to ‘inter-marry’ with white people, Gus has the idea that the pretty little ringleted Flora is up for grabs. Flora is petrified and runs for her life through the woods…

I won’t tell you how this episode ends for Flora, or for Gus, but if the word ‘lynching’ were to spring unbidden into your mind, well, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. These are some very chilling and unforgettable scenes.

The period costumes in THE BIRTH OF A NATION are absolutely stunning, especially the women’s dresses, hats and parasols. Even their hair, of which they have masses and masses, is beautifully dressed. Even though the film is black-and-white, you can tell that the costumes are even more detailed and glamorously gorgeous than their Technicolor counterparts in GONE WITH THE WIND.

A couple of miscellaneous items now for y’all to peruse. Not all the black characters in the film are played by black actors and actresses. Rather, they are played by white people gotten up in ‘blackface,’ with the big white lips and everything, a process used back then which would be completely unacceptable today. Apparently, D.W. Griffith had his own reasons for so doing…

Finally, here’s a snippet you don’t get from the film. I learned from the booklet that comes with the film that D.W. Griffith’s earliest memory is of seeing his father ‘jokingly’ threaten an elderly black servant- who’d once been his slave- with a sword, and over a too-tight haircut, of all things. Hmmm. It might all have been a big hilarious jape to Paw Griffith, but I doubt if the old black man who thought he was about to breathe his last was wetting his britches with laughter.

The ending of THE BIRTH OF A NATION is undoubtedly ridiculously racist, and the sudden unexplained appearance of Jesus Christ is like something that Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels might have dreamed up for one of his little anti-Semitic newsreels. If you have to blink and rub your eyes and look again, don’t worry too much about it. I did too…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor