Reinventing Lolita in MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973)


One of the most iconic images to emerge from the cinema in the 1960s is the figure of a young Sue Lyon, peering over her sunglasses at a leering James Mason in Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA (1961). And I’m definitely not alone in my view. The Spanish genre director Eloy de la Iglesia must have agreed with me when he decided to cast Sue Lyon in his intriguing futuristic thriller, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (aka CLOCKWORK TERROR; 1973). Eloy de la Iglesia’s film has often been labeled a low-budget and poorly constructed Spanish knock-off of Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) and it’s easy to understand why. But its meta-referencing goes way beyond A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and tips its hat in equal measure to Kubrick’s LOLITA. In fact, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD is really an homage to Kubrick himself and possibly one of the most interesting films released in Spain during the early ‘70s.

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A Twist of Claude Chabrol

I am a Claude Chabrol fan. What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that when I heard that Twist had come out on DVD, I immediately rushed to the Internet to buy a copy, and the instant it arrived, I watched it. This, for a film that even Chabrol himself admitted (correctly) was his worst ever creation. So, this week, a tribute to M. Chabrol, by way of his worst film, in all it’s stinky, putrid glory.

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DVD Tuesday: Late Lang

In a bit of home video serendipity, the films Fritz Lang made in Hollywood and Germany from 1956 – 1959 were all recently released on DVD. The Warner Archive put out re-mastered versions of his last two Hollywood films While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), while the UK Masters of Cinema label produced a luminous edition of his two-part Indian epic, The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959) and The Indian Tomb (1959). All four films snare their main characters in webs of malevolent fate. The first two pin their characters inside geometrically arranged compositions, granted the illusion of motion in a world constantly boxing them in. This is garishly illustrated in the Indian Epic, as seen above, with elaborate imagery of imprisonment emerging from the set design. They use strikingly different methods to pursue similar ideas of fate and desire, from threadbare pulp to embroidered imperialist myth.

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The Things That Came and Went

“It was the silliest of movies.”

That was how H.G. Wells described Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS.  Wells went on to detail, with the maddening precision and relentless nit-pickery of the true geek, everything wrong with METROPOLIS.  If he’d been writing today instead of 1927, Wells would have been at home fanning an online flame war.

Then, about ten years later, Wells had the chance to put his money where his mouth was—or, rather, put Alexander Korda’s money where Wells’ mouth was.  It was directed by William Cameron Menzies, and is an eye-popping a piece of SF spectacle as you could ask for, but on the posters and the title sequence, it was Wells’ name above all others, above Menzies, above Korda.  This was Wells’ movie—and so it’s fair to see it, in part, as a direct answer to METROPOLIS.  And for all the nice things about THINGS TO COME, it does have some rough edges and awkward bits that reveal what happens when you put a disproportionate value on the predictive aspects of your speculative fiction.

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Some Favorite DVD Releases of 2010

Every year I try to compile a list of my favorite new DVD releases. These lists tend to focus on films from the ’60s and ’70s since they’re my favorite film eras. This year I decided to expand my view a little and disregard limitations so I could share a varied list of all my favorite DVD releases with Movie Morlock readers. This list is far from complete since I haven’t had the opportunity to see every new DVD that was released but I hope it will encourage a few people to seek out these films. Many of the movies on my list were released on DVD for the first time last year so they’ve been hard to see unless you own them on video or caught them playing on television. So without further ado, here’s some of my favorite DVD releases from 2010 listed alphabetically for easy reference.

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Giving Thanks

When did “Thank You” become so hard to say? I’m constantly amazed by the surprised looks and unexpected smiles I get from strangers every time I utter those words. It often seems as if I’m speaking another language. A language that is both hopeful and confusing to anyone who doesn’t hear that simple phrase very often. Shop girls and delivery boys are often taken completely off guard when I thank them for their work. The mailman seems utterly shocked when I utter a quick, “Thanks!” for his service. Even people that I’m friendly with occasionally act surprised when I thank them for recommending a movie or lending me a DVD. I was raised to say “Thank you” for whatever good fortune I received and I’m grateful to my parents for bringing me up that way. I’m also thankful that I’m able to put my misfortunes aside and enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life like getting my mail delivered in a rainstorm or getting a good cup of coffee served by a weary waitress whose face lights up after I thank her. I’m also thankful for the movies I’ve grown up with and the people that made them. Movies aren’t just mild entertainment in my home. They’re art, story and sound. They’re wonderous things that have gently helped shape who I am and how I see the world. On this Thanksgiving holiday I can’t resist giving thanks to a few of the moviemakers that I’m especially grateful for lately.

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Magnificent Ruin: Secret Beyond the Door(1948)

Before I start this week’s blather, I wanted to acknowledge the passing of the great Claude Chabrol at the age of 80. Dave Kehr’s NY Times obituary is here, the AP’s is here, and David Hudson has an exhaustive collection of links at MUBI. His filmography is massive (near 70 titles), and I’ve barely made a dent, but from what I’ve seen his impish deconstruction of bourgeois morality is a joy to watch. I saw La Ceremonie for the first time this year (Jonathan Rosenbaum re-posted his review of the film today), and its perfectly controlled, distanced cinematography masks a wholly degraded moral universe. He unveils hypocrisy with every cut, making films you peer underneath with trepidation. And through it all he’s a supremely funny guy – just check out his bumptiously perverse turn in Sam Fuller’s Thieves After Dark. Now it’s time to watch more…

Next Monday, September 20th, TCM is airing a 24-hour marathon of restorations performed by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. I’d recommend the entire block, from The Exiles through Killer of Sheep, but today I’m focusing on Fritz Lang’s 1948 curiosity Secret Beyond the Door. An unmitigated disaster at the box office, it led to the dissolution of his production company (Diana Productions), which he had established with Joan Bennett and Walter Wanger. Their short-lived success on Scarlet Street ended in back-biting and recriminations after Secret tanked. And yet it is one of Lang’s most beautiful films, shot by Stanley Cortez in sharply angled shadows.

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“Somebody’s throat has to be cut.”

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I could never imagine actually being beaten up by Robert Ryan and yet I’ve always been a little afraid of him – and never more so than when he smiles.  [...MORE]

The Robert Ryan Centennial

Robert Ryan in a rare smiling photoIn celebration of the 100th anniversary of actor Robert Ryan‘s birth on November 11th, 1909, the Movie Morlocks are initiating a blogathon devoted to the masterful actor, beginning today. This tribute will last through the coming week with contributions from each of the regular contributors to this blog. In addition to our words, TCM will be offering cinematic proof of the reasons for this event with two days of Robert Ryan movies on November 10th and 11th (a link to the complete rundown of upcoming movies is at the end of this blog).

From what the actor’s generous only daughter, Lisa Ryan, tells me, he might have been surprised and, in his rather shy way, perhaps a bit embarrassed by all the attention. Believing that her father probably didn’t know what this “Film Noir” thing was, Lisa once mentioned that her “mother told a hilarious story about being in Paris with my Dad in the early 70′s [after] being approached by a group of kids who turned out to be film students. They got down on their knees, on the sidewalk, in front of my Dad, bowing down to him as if he were some religious figure. My Dad’s comment reportedly was: “What the f—- is WRONG with these French people? Are they all INSANE?”

While I would have loved to see the expressions on the faces of those French cinephiles if they heard this outburst from their icon, maybe it’s a good thing Mr. Ryan isn’t around today to read the paeans his still fresh film performances are earning for him these days.

As the years lengthen between his life and our own time, the long shadow of this singular actor’s body of work has only deepened. The popularity of film noir, which provided Ryan with some of his most memorable roles in Crossfire (1947-Edward Dmytryk), Act of Violence (1948-Fred Zinnemann), and On Dangerous Ground (1952-Nicholas Ray), among others, is partly responsible for the lasting interest in his work, but his career encompassed much more. Appearing in everything from gritty urban dramas, heist films, psychological tales, westerns, war films, some pretty strange potboilers like The Love Machine and even, by a some all too rare fluke of casting, a few stories with a romantic touch. Perceptive viewers can sense something more in his work.

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Cold Calculation and Sensuality: Gloria Grahame and Fritz Lang

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BRODERICK CRAWFORD EYES GRAHAME'S GAMS IN HUMAN DESIRE (screengrab from DVD Beaver)

On March 19th, 1953, Gloria Grahame was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful (1953). Production on Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953) began two days earlier, according to TCMDB. Little did she know during this string of dizzying successes that a couple of French cineastes were busy defining her image in perpetuity. In 1955, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton’s Panorama du film noir americain was published, a landmark study of a particular strain in American filmmaking that previous French critics had coined “film noir”. The term wouldn’t break into common parlance in the U.S. until the 1970s, but it would come to define Gloria Grahame’s career (Jeff and Suzi’s posts indicate the reductive nature of this view).

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