Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hammer Films' The Brides of Dracula (1960)

 (This post is part of "The British Invaders Blogathon" hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

The "Dracula" movies produced by Hammer Films from the late Fifties into the Seventies number among my favourite horror movies ever made. And for me it will always be Sir Christopher Lee whose image enters my mind when I think of Dracula. It is then curious that Sir Christopher Lee does not star as Dracula in my all time favourite Hammer Film, Despite its title, not only does Dracula not appear in The Brides of Dracula (1960), but he is only mentioned twice in the whole film. Regardless, The Brides of Dracula remains one of my favourite horror movies of all time and my favourite film Hammer ever produced.

It was in 1958 that Hammer Films released Dracula (titled Horror of Dracula in the United States), their adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel. Alongside their earlier film The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula was one of the earliest Gothic horror movies to be released in colour and both were among the first to inject a healthy dose of sexuality into the proceedings. Dracula proved to be a smash hit on both sides of the Pond. With such success it was perhaps natural that Hammer Films wanted to produce a sequel.

As it turned out, that sequel would not star Sir Christopher Lee. After having played Frankenstein's Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula in the film of the same name, as well as having been cast in the title role in The Mummy (1959), Sir Christopher Lee was concerned about being typecast in monster roles. As a result he was reluctant to once more play Dracula. Despite this Hammer Films went ahead with their plans for a sequel. It was in early 1959 that producer Anthony Hinds hired screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (who had already penned X: The Unknown, The Curse of Frankenstein, and Dracula for Hammer) to write a sequel. The end result was Disciple of Dracula, which centred on a follower of the vampire. Dracula was set to only appear at the beginning of the film and the end of the film, at which point he would put the disciple of the title back in line.

By the autumn of 1959 Disciple of Dracula had been retitled Dracula the Damned. Given Sir Christopher Lee did not want to return as Dracula, the screenplay did present Hammer with a problem It was at that time, then, that Anthony Hinds hired Peter Bryan, who had written the studio's adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), to rewrite the script and remove all references to Dracula. Not only did Mr. Bryan remove Dracula from the screenplay entirely, but he also brought back the character of Dr. Van Helsing and made other major changes as well.  Indeed, Peter Bryan is generally credited with the film's ultimate title: The Brides of Dracula. Star Peter Cushing would be responsible for one major change to the script. Peter  Peter Bryan's screenplay included a climax in which Van Helsing calls upon the forces of Hell to destroy the vampiric antagonist with a swarm of bats. Peter Cushing felt that Van Helsing would never stoop to black magic, so the climax was rewritten.

Despite this, after Peter Bryans' completed screenplay was sent to Peter Cushing in November 1959,  the actor refused to do the film. Antony Hinds then hired playwright Edward Percy (perhaps best known for having co-written the play Ladies in Retirement with  Reginald Denham) to rewrite Peter Bryan's screenplay. Edward Percy did not change a lot in the screenplay beyond giving it a more period flavour. Regardless, Peter Cushing finally decided to do the film.

While Peter Cushing had finally elected to once more play Van Helsing, that would not end the problems Hammer Films had in completing The Brides of Dracula. Hammer Films had a delivery date to keep with Universal (who was distributing the film in the United States) and the various revisions to the screenplay had delayed production from late 1959 to early 1960. With time of the essence, Anthony Hinds chose not to submit the screenplay to the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC) before filming began, but instead to try to head off any problems with the BBFC by rewriting any possibly objectionable material even as shooting started. Amazingly enough given much of the content of the film, the BBFC's only major objection to The Brides of Dracula when the completed film was submitted to them was the staking of vampires. Anthony Hinds told the BBFC that there had been a similar scene in the first movie and so the scenes remained. Apparently there were some other minor cuts to The Brides of Dracula, although they do not appear to have been documented. Regardless, the BBFC passed the film with an "X" certificate.

While today The Brides of Dracula is regarded as a classic and by some as the quintessential Hammer Film, it did not receive the best reviews upon its initial release. In the United Kingdom The London Observer referred to it as "a ludicrous monstrosity". In the United States, in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote of the film, "For here is but another repetition of the standard tale of the vampire bugaboo who likes to sink his oversized dentures into the necks of pretty girls" and "There is nothing new or imaginative about it." The tone of reviews of The Brides of Dracula at the time probably did not surprise Hammer, as they were similar to those the original Dracula (1958) had received. That having been said, like Dracula, The Brides of Dracula also did very well in the box office on both sides of the Atlantic.

Being the product of four different writers (Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, and Edward Percy, with uncredited rewrites done by Anthony Hinds), one would think The Brides of Dracula would have turned out very badly. Fortunately it would turn out to be one of the the best Hammer Horrors (some even consider it to be the best). In The Brides of Dracula Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing) once more faces off against a vampire, one who this time has an entire girls school to prey upon. While at times the story lags, over all The Brides of Dracula is one of Hammer's most exciting and frightening films.

What is more, in The Brides of Dracula there is no doubt that Peter Cushing is the star. As might be expected, he gives the best performance of any of the cast. What is more Van Helsing is given more to do than he is in perhaps any other Hammer film in which he appears. Peter Cushing gets to be very much the action star, swinging from ropes and dropping from windmills. Van Helsing even gets the closest thing to a love interest he ever had in the Hammer films in the form of French school teacher Marianne (played by Yvonne Monlaur).

The rest of the cast also does quite well. While many have criticised David Peel as Baron Meinster for not quite coming up to the standard set by Sir Christopher Lee as Dracula, it must be pointed out that Sir Christopher Lee set the bar so high that almost no other actor has ever reached it since. I personally thought David Peel did very well in the role. His Baron Meinster is alternately charming and sinister. He is also a very different sort of vampire from Dracula. While Dracula was a taciturn aristocrat, Meinster is Oscar Wilde as a vampire. Meinster is impulsive, hedonistic, and self-absorbed. He truly enjoys being a vampire and as a result he proves to be a worthy adversary to Van Helsing. Martita Hunt also gives a great performance as his mother, the sinister and ultimately tragic Baroness Meinster.

Ultimately The Brides of Dracula takes the Hammer formula further than the original Dracula (1958) did and even some of the later entries in Hammer's "Dracula" series would. Sexuality plays an even bigger role in The Brides of Dracula, to the point that the film even has overtones of homoeroticism and incest. The film also has some truly creepy scenes, including Marianne's initial trip through the woods of Transylvania. What is more, The Brides of Dracula has more action than any other Hammer film save perhaps Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter  (1974).

The Brides of Dracula is hardly a perfect film and has its fair share of flaws. In the end, however, the film is so exciting, creepy, and entertaining that its flaws are easily overlooked. Ultimately, The Brides of Dracula is definitely a film whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Although it must have seemed a difficult task at the time, Hammer succeeded in making a a "Dracula" movie without Dracula.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Third Annual British Invaders Blogathon

The Third Annual British Invaders Blogathon has arrived! For those who did not see the initial announcement regarding the blogathon, the British Invaders Blogathon is meant to celebrate the best in British classic films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to Alfred Hitchcock to Tony Richardson, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (August 5 2016) to Sunday (August 8 2016).

I am glad to say we have a wide range of posts lined up that span the history of British film from the Thirties to the Eighties. For those participating in the blogathon, simply let me know in a comment here, a message on Twitter, or an email and I will add it to the list. And please remember to link to this page using one of the images from the introductory post! I want to thank everyone who is participating!

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the posts:

Realweegiemidget Reviews: "Gormless Gregory gets a girl: Reviewing Gregory’s Girl (1981)"

 Cinematic Scribblings: "Not Any Man’s Property: Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)"

MovieMovieBlogBlog: "Clockwise (1985) – John Cleese in a very well-timed farce"

Thoughts All Sorts: "Great British Comedy: Ask a Policeman"

The Flapper Dame: "Why I love The 39 Steps (1935)"

Crítica Retrô: "Neste Mundo e no Outro / A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven, 1946)"

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog: "The British Invaders Blogathon: Cone of Silence (AKA Trouble in the Sky)"

Old Hollywood Films: "Great Expectations (1946)"  

Sometimes they go to Eleven: "It Always Rains on Sunday"

The Midnite Drive-In: "Quiggy Does Musicals?" Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Floyd-The Wall"

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "Young and Innocent, a Typical Hitchcock British Film Indeed!"  

Moon in Gemini: "The Kubrick Masterpiece Missed by the Critics: Barry Lyndon (1975)"

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Hammer Films' The Brides of Dracula (1960)"  

Vitaphone Dreamer: "The Red Shoes (1948)"

Prowler Needs a Jump: "So Long at the Fair (1950)"  

Defiant Success: "Local Hero (1983)"

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' Revolver

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' album Revolver. It was released on August 5 1966. Revolver is a very significant album for The Beatles in many ways. It has often been considered The Beatles' greatest album, even beating out Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on some lists. It also often ranks among the greatest rock albums of all time on varioius lists. As for myself, it is my favourite Beatles album of all time and I consider it the greatest rock album ever recorded.

Over ten years ago I wrote a blog post on Revolver. Since I don't think I can really improve upon that post, I am reprinting it here. So in honour of the 50th anniversary of Revolver tomorrow, here is my post form January 28 2006.

Today I got a copy of The Beatles' Revolver. Alongside Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and Rubber Soul, it is one of my favourite Beatles albums of all time (which, of course, means it is one of my favourite albums, period). First released on August 5 1966 in Britain, it has since become regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In the United Kingdom in 1997 it was ranked as the third greatest album of the Millennium in a poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, Classic FM, and The Guardian. A 1998 poll conducted by Q Magazine ranked it at number 2. In both VH1 and the survey that resulted in the book Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums it did even better--it was named the greatest album of all time.

The reason for all of the acclaim that Revolver has received over the years is not hard to find. The album represented a number of stylistic advancements and hence a new sophistication that had not been seen in a rock album before. Indeed, the album represents the first use of automatic doubletracking or ADT. Using synchronised recorders and an electronic delay, ADT could duplicate a sound instantly, simultaneously, and nearly exactly. This replaced the previous doubletracking technique in which a singer would have to sing a vocal again or a musician would have to play an instrumental piece again, careful to synchronise everything with the original. Beyond the development of ADT, The Beatles also utilised other unusual techniques for the album. On "I'm Only Sleeping" George Harrison played the notes for his lead guitar backwards, then reversed the tape before mixing it. That is what creates the song's rather somnolent mood. Perhaps the most experimental song on the album was Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows." The song foresaw the rise of psychedelia, which is even more impressive when one considers it was the first song recorded for Revolver. Its unusual sound was created using a number of tape looping effects, processing John's vocal through a Leslie speaker (generally used for instruments, not vocals), reverse guitar, and compressed drums.

The Beatles' various experiments in recording aside, however, it is the songs on Revovler that make it one of the greatest albums of all time. Arguably, this is the album on which George Harrison really began to shine. Indeed, it is the first Beatles album to lead off with a song by George--"Tax Man." That song was his protest against the British tax policies of the time. He also contributed "I Want to Tell You," a guitar driven ode to an inability to express one's feelings.

By this time the Lennon/McCartney partnership was largely a thing of the past, with the two of them writing their own songs with only a few contributions from the other. Regardless, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did some of their best work on Revolver. McCartney's most impressive contribution may well have been "Eleanor Rigby," possibly one of the most identifiable Beatles songs of all time. In the song McCartney paints images of two lonely people, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, both doomed to live lives of solitude. It was also to Revolver that Paul contributed his best love song besides "Michelle (possibly my favourite Paul song besides "Back in the U.S.S.R.")"--"Here, There, and Everywhere." The song is a simple, yet haunting expression of affection of a man for the lady he loves. Paul also wrote "Good Day Sunshine," inspired by the bouncy, cheery sound of The Lovin' Spoonful.

While Paul contributed "Eleanor Rigby" to Revolver, John Lennon contributed "I'm Only Sleeping," his paen to, well, sleeping. Not all of Lennon's songs on Revolver were so light hearted. Tomorrow Never Knows takes its inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, while She Said, She Said sounds like a contemplation on death.

Indeed, it is on Revolver that The Beatles expanded greatly on the subjects considered acceptable on a rock album. On various songs they covered protest against taxes ("Tax Man"), lonely people ("Eleanor Rigby"), death ("She Said, She Said"), and drug dealing physicians ("Dr. Robert"). The days when The Beatles were content to write about holding hands and not being able to buy love were long past.

Revolver was not just revolutionary in the music it featured, but even in its packaging. Nowhere on the cover does the name "The Beatles" appear. Instead, the entirety of the cover is taken up by a collage created by Klaus Voorman, German artist and the bassist for Manfred Mann. Featured in the collage are line drawings of The Beatles by Voorman and various photographs of the band taken from 1964 onwards. Even the name of the album, Revolver (yet another pun of John's--a record being something that revolves...) was revolutionary for the era.

Quite frankly, I have always thought that Revolver was not simply a must have album for Beatles fan, but for any fan of rock music who has a keen interest in the history of the genre. It was truly a groundbreaking album, in some ways more so than the classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band. Indeed, Revolver made the later album possible. Of course, even looking beyond its innovations and stylistic experiments, Revolver is quite simply one of the best albums ever released with regards to musical quality.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Happy 90th Birthday, Tony Bennett

Today is Tony Bennett's 90th birthday. The singer was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3 1926 in Queens, New York. He had his very first hit in 1951 with "Because of You", which went all the way to number one on the Billboard singles chart. He would have a very successful career in the Fifties, with such hits as "Cold, Cold Heart", "Rags to Riches", and "Stranger in Paradise". His career would decline slightly after the advent of rock and roll, but he continued to have minor hits in the Sixties. The Eighties saw Tony Bennett make a comeback, with the crooner finding a whole new audience in Generation X. Since then he has continued to perform. Even now, after a career spanning sixty five years, Tony Bennett has never retired. Indeed, he is one of the last of his kind, one of the very last of the classic crooners.

In honour of Tony Bennett's 90th birthday here is his very first hit, "Because of You".

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

British Invaders Blogathon Reminder

Just a reminder that the Third Annual British Invaders Blogathon begins this Friday and runs until Sunday! There's still time if you want to write an entry for the blogathon! Friday I will have the blogathon page set up and I will add posts as they come in!

Here is the announcement for this year's blogathon.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Godspeed Gloria DeHaven

Gloria DeHaven, an MGM musical star who went onto numerous guest appearances on television, died July 30 2016 at the age of 91.

Gloria DeHaven was born July 23 1925 in Los Angeles. Her parents were vaudeville veterans and film actors Carter DeHaven and Flora Parker (sometimes billed as Mrs. Carter DeHaven). She and her brother, Carter DeHaven Jr., accompanied their parents on their various tours. Gloria DeHaven made her film debut when she was about eleven years old in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936).

It was in 1940 that Miss DeHaven was signed to MGM. Her earliest films for the studio, including Susan and God (1940), Keeping Company (1940), and The Penalty (1941), were dramas, but MGM soon learned her strength was in musicals. Her first musical for the studio was Best Foot Forward in 1943. She would appear in several more in the Forties, including Thousands Cheer (1943), Broadway Rhythm (1944), Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), Step Lively (1944), Summer Holiday (1948), Yes Sir, That's My Baby (1949), and Summer Stock (1950). In Three Little Words (1950), which centred on the lives of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Miss DeHaven played her own mother, Flora Parker. She also appeared in films other than musicals, including The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), Between Two Women (1945), Scene of the Crime (1949), The Doctor and the Girl (1949), and The Yellow Cab Man (1950). In the Forties she also sang with various Big Bands,including the orchestras of Jan Savitt and Bob Crosby.

In the Fifties Gloria DeHaven appeared in such films as Two Tickets to Broadway (1951), Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953), So This Is Paris (1954), and The Girl Rush (1955). As the movie musicals so popular in the Forties began disappearing in the Fifties, Gloria DeHaven's career shifted more and more to television. She made her television debut in an episode of The Alan Young Show in 1951. During the Fifties she made guest appearances on such shows as Appointment with Adventure, Robert Montgomery Presents, Producers' Showcase, The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Rifleman, Johnny Ringo, and Wagon Train. She appeared on Broadway in Seventh Heaven in 1955.

In the Sixties Gloria DeHaven guest starred on Adventures in Paradise, The BBC Sunday-Night Play, The Defenders, The U.S. Steel Hour, The Lloyd Bridges Show, Burke's Law, Flipper, and Mannix. From 1966 to 1967 she had a recurring role on the soap opera As the World Turns.

In the Seventies Gloria DeHaven was a regular on the TV shows Nakia and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She guest starred on such shows as The Jimmy Stewart Show; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Marcus Welby, M.D.; Gunsmoke; Movin' On; Quincy M.E.; Police Story; and Delta House. She appeared in the films Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and Bog (1979).

In the Eighties Miss DeHaven was a regular on the soap opera Ryan's Hope and had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. She guest starred on Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, Falcon's Crest, Mama's Family, The Love Boat, and Highway to Heaven. She appeared in the film Ladies on Sweet Street (1990).

In the Nineties Gloria DeHaven had a recurring role on the soap opera All My Children. She guest starred on the show Touched by an Angel. She appeared in the films Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart (1994) and Out to Sea (1997).

If ever there was a star meant for Hollywood musicals it was Gloria DeHaven. She was pretty and bubbly, and more importantly she was a good dancer and a fantastic singer. I have to think that had she been born a few years earlier she might well have been an even bigger musical star than she was. Miss DeHaven came of age just as the movie musical was beginning to fade. By the Fifties the sort of movie musicals once made by the studios were more or less a thing of the past. Regardless, Gloria DeHaven remains memorable in the musicals she made. She was also exuberant and a lot of fun to watch.

Fortunately Gloria DeHaven was also very versatile as an actress, to the point that she was able to have a very successful career in television. She played some very diverse roles on television. She was bisexual CB fanatic Annie "Tippy-toes" Wylie on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, office secretary for the Davis County Sheriff's Department on Nakia, and travel agent Phyllis Grant on Murder, She Wrote. In her various guest appearances on television she played everything from the wife of a dead, suspected horse thief on Wagon Train to an ex-wife suspected of murder (she was unknowingly married to a bigamist) on The Defenders. A fantastic star in movie musicals, Gloria DeHaven proved to be a very good character actress on television. While many stars of the classic musicals were as talented as Miss DeHaven, few were as adaptable.