July 21, 2012

Films From Beyond, Version 1.2

Well, it's been 2 months since my last post. I'm tanned, rested and ready to blog again. (Okay, maybe not tanned exactly-- I'm one of those unfortunate types who alternates between pasty white and lobster red with no in between-- SPF 85 doesn't quite do it for me :) As you can see, I spent part of my vacation renovating the blog's look. For better or worse, I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing -- concentrating mostly on one film at a time, with occasional excursions into more general film or pop culture topics. I'll probably also keep to the old schedule, 3-4 posts a month (and possibly a flurry of posts in the weeks leading up to my favorite holiday, Halloween.)

Films From Beyond, Version 1.2
Since pretty much all I did was give the old blog a new coat of paint, I'm calling this version 1.2. I'm giving a tenth of a point for the new look, and another tenth for the new Films From Beyond on Facebook (yes, I have capitulated and now do Facebook-- in everyone's life a little assimilation must occur). FFB on Facebook is intended to complement the blog, with capsule reviews, birthdays and other significant dates in B movie history, polls, and other (hopefully) fun stuff. Like it (or not).

While small, incremental change is the order of the day for my blog, the larger entertainment universe out there is changing at warp speed, and not always for the better. As Dickens might say if he were alive to see it, "it is the best of times, it is the worst of times." (On the other hand, he might just be speechless.) In these best of times for movie fans, people like me who largely shrug off the current Hollywood crop of reboots and remakes and sequels (oh my!) can readily indulge their cinematic tastes via satellite, cable, the internet and good ol' reliable DVD. For someone my age, who grew up with black and white TVs outfitted with rabbit-eared antennas that pulled in at best a handful of grainy channels, today's entertainment options are staggering.

On my DircecTV DVR, I've got a healthy queue of classics, from The Big Heat (1953) to The Glenn Miller Story (1954) to The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) (and cheesy classics like Queen of Outer Space and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman thrown in for good measure).

While Netflix' instant play selection has gotten a lot of flack from customers (more on that later), I've been pleasantly surprised by the large number of older titles that have popped up there recently (presumably they're in the public domain or the rights are dirt cheap). About a year ago I stumbled upon The Vampire's Ghost (1945; reviewed on this blog) while browsing through the instant lists. Since then, I've added a bunch of obscure but intriguing older titles to the instant queue (and some that I'd been trying to find on DVD for years): The Face of Marble (1946) with John Carradine, The Man Without a Body (1957) with the ubiquitous Robert Hutton, and the fantasy-mystery The Catman of Paris (1946). Film noir is also well represented, with titles like Crime of Passion (1957; Barbara Stanwyck and Sterling Hayden) and The Naked Street (1955; Farley Granger and Anne Bancroft). For someone like me with, shall we say, eccentric tastes, it's an embarrassment of riches.

Dear Murderer (1947) movie poster
Capsule Review: Dear Murderer (1947).

This is a perfect example of the classic gems that can be found buried among the sundry dreck of Netflix instant play. Directed by Arthur Crabtree, and adapted from a popular British play, this British noir features a cat and mouse game between two cynical, world worry sophisticates -- a scheming businessman, Lee Warren (Eric Portman) and his haughty, preening, unfaithful wife Vivien (Greta Gynt). Warren comes home early from an extended business trip to carry out a nefarious scheme to get his wife's lover (Dennis Price) to write his own suicide note, then kill him. But then he finds out that she had more than one lover, and he realizes his work is cut out for him. Can he really kill them all and get away with? He seems to be in luck when the other lover becomes the prime suspect in the suicide that was not a suicide, but before long, the icy Vivien uses Warren's last bit of affection for her to turn the tables on him. Together, Portman and Gynt make the movie. They seem to have a great time wearing tuxedos and glamorous gowns, sipping drinks while plotting murder and frame-ups for murder. This is one of the great, glamorous, casually-evil couples in all of film noir.

So, with all these great, convenient entertainment choices, where's the downside? Well, if you're a satellite, cable or Netflix subscriber and haven't been in a cave or a coma for the last year or two, you've no doubt felt the presence of the huge elephant in the room, flailing its trunk around and breathing raggedly down your neck as you go through your satellite guide or instant play queue. The elephant of course being the arrogant suits in the boardrooms of the various media conglomerates and their high-priced lawyers. The latest example is the Viacom - DirecTV spat, which, depending upon whose PR flack you listened to, was the result of extortion on the part of Viacom, or DirecTV's sheer cheapness. Of course, this was no consolation to satellite subscribers addicted to the Comedy Channel or Nickelodeon. (News flash: on July 20th the two reached a deal to restore the channels; DirecTV seems to have won the PR war. And, to add icing to the cake -- although unrelated to the Viacom fiasco -- TCM is now in HD... YAY!!!)  Another recent example is Starz pulling its content from both Netflix lending and streaming. Starz's flacks bullsh*tted about its "strategy to protect the premium nature of our brand by preserving the appropriate pricing and packaging of our exclusive and highly valuable content," but in the end it had consumers scratching their heads in frustration and flooding the internet with their complaints and rants.

It boils down to this: the suits in the boardrooms have obviously forgotten who "brung 'em to the dance" so to speak-- their customers. They need to think once in awhile about us poor schleps and our flat screens, stop having public conniption fits, get real about the value of their product(s), get the deals done, and move on. Anything else is "unseemly," as my grandmother used to say.

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