“The Old Dark House” and the Simple Pleasures of a Classic Scary Movie

When a buddy asked if I wanted to see the classic, pre-code, James Whale directed haunted house pic The Old Dark House (Universal, 1932) on the big screen, I jumped at the chance. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen any of the classic Universal horror films from the 1930s on the big screen, so this was a rare opportunity to see a James Whale pic the way it was intended to be seen.

The film stars Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, and Charles Laughton among others as hapless voyagers who take shelter in a large and scary looking house for the night after a relentless rain storm washes out the nearby roads. Boris Karloff (in some seriously creepy makeup) terrifyingly answers the door which sets off a 24-hour period of one bizarre event after the other (memo to me–never go up the staircase in one of these haunted houses…better yet, don’t go into the house at all).

The film was released the year after the wildly successful screen retelling of Frankenstein (1931), also directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, and was initially a disappointment at the box office. According to an informative article on TCM.com, “After its mediocre theatrical run, The Old Dark House was put on the shelf at Universal and, until 1968 – unavailable for bookings. That year, Whale’s protégé, director Curtis Harrington, helped find the negative and convinced Kodak to return a print to its original brilliance. When the film was once again viewed in its original form, critics hailed it as a lost masterpiece. That might be overstating the case a little, but it still bears the mark of one of the studio era’s more insistently unique directors.”

One other interesting bit of trivia from the TCM.com article–“When director James Cameron watched a laserdisc release of The Old Dark House, he was so taken with Gloria Stuart’s amusing audio commentary, he wound up casting her in a little film he was planning called Titanic (1997).”

Mostly what was fun for me was seeing an incredibly cheesy yet creepy film in glorious black and white on the big screen. I typically stay away from most modern horror pics, but seeing this film provided an insight at the simple, basic pleasures of watching a scary movie in a theater—the collective jumps, screams, and dread; the wincing when bad things happen or are about to happen; and the cheers and relief when the evil threat has been defeated (or when you think it has been…). James Whale definitely knew how to direct a good horror pic, Boris Karloff definitely knew how to act in one, and The Old Dark House made for some simple, scary Halloween season fun at the movies.

(And I’m still holding out for a big screen double feature of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein…someday.)

A big thanks and shoutout to the Cohen Media Group for the beautiful 4K restoration of the film and to the Salt Lake Film Society for their cool “Tower of Terror” Halloween programming at the Tower Theatre again this year.

And check out this cool poster art (I believe this is the U.S. theatrical release one-sheet, but I’m not 100% certain).

All images ©️ Universal Pictures/Cohen Media Group

“Bullitt” Turns 50

It was a serious thrill to see Warner Bros.’ Bullitt (1968) on the big screen again this past week. The film is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

While it’s not necessarily my favorite storyline, it’s all about the 15-minute car chase in the middle of the picture. Steve McQueen (along with some fantastic stunt drivers) in the iconic Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback and the ominous black Dodge Charger (being driven by the great stunt driver Bill Hickman) chasing each other through the streets of San Francisco still holds up as one of the best, if not the best, car chase scene ever put on film.

Recently, one of the 1968 Mustangs driven in the film resurfaced after having been missing for many years (the blonde woman is Molly McQueen, Steve McQueen’s granddaughter).

With the movie turning 50, the Ford Motor Company also has made available a cool “Bullitt” equipment package on their their latest Mustang GT. Check out this video with Jay Leno as he gets to see both the old and new “Bullitt” Mustangs.

Here’s a fun Bullitt homage put together by Ford to celebrate the new Mustang Bullitt (and making another appearance is Molly McQueen as the driver of the Mustang).

UPDATE 10/17/2018: The official Warner Bros. Studios blog has posted a cool article commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bullitt with some great behind the scenes photos and facts from the film’s production. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a Bullitt fan.

And here’s a cool photo from the Ford Performance Instagram feed with the past and present versions of the Bullitt Mustang:

Image ©️ Warner Bros.

Revisiting “An American in Paris”

As the great Cole Porter song goes, “I love Paris in the springtime…” It’s true — Paris, France is one of my favorite cities in the world. So, you’d think that I’d enjoy the classic film An American in Paris (1951) more. In the past, it’s been a film that I’ve more respected than enjoyed. But that all changed this week when I had the chance to see the film on the big screen for the first time as part of Megaplex Theatres’ wonderful Silver Screen Classics Series.

Watching An American in Paris on the big screen was a revelation, to say the least.  The clear and bright projection of the digital print magnified the film’s incredible production design in ways that I could never distinguish, yet alone appreciate (the film was primarily made in soundstages on the MGM studio lot in Hollywood, which almost makes it even more impressive). Gene Kelly’s phenomenal choreography and dancing were perfectly framed and filmed by director Vincente Minnelli. In fact, the dancing came to life more vividly than I ever remember on TV. And hearing the sublime music by George and Ira Gershwin on the marvelous theater sound system was just icing on the cake.

(L-R) Georges Guetary, Oscar Levant, and Gene Kelly sing about love in their Parisian hang out in An American in Paris (1951)

The 17-minute ballet at the end of the film is something that I even liked on the small screen, and my appreciation for it grew tenfold. Seeing Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dance through living representations of the works of famous French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, including Raoul Dufy, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, was truly breathtaking. 

Probably my main criticism that still remains is the film’s central love story. I’ve just never been convinced about the depth and sincerity of the love between Jerry (Gene Kelly) and Lise (Leslie Caron), not to mention the unkindness that Jerry shows to his temporary benefactress Milo (Nina Foch). However, I was so overtaken by the beauty of the production design, music, and dancing, that it was something that I decided to let evaporate away along with all of my other criticisms, for better or for worse.

While Singin’ in the Rain (1952) still remains my favorite Gene Kelly film, primarily for its great setting, cast, story, and comedy, An American in Paris has become a new and respected favorite in my Hollywood musical catalog. If you get an offer to see An American in Paris on the big screen, the answer is oui

All Images ©️ MGM/Warner Bros.

“Rebel Without a Cause”

It’s been a couple of weeks, but I’m still thinking about my maiden voyage watching Rebel Without a Cause (1955) in its entirety. 

I think I started watching it a couple of times when the film played on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), but I just don’t ever remember finishing it. Well, that was a mistake which I’ll never do again now that I’ve seen the film on the big screen courtesy of this year’s TCM Big Screen Classics series (the film screened on September 23 and 26).

I found the film to be a riveting, compelling drama that’s worthy of its reputation. James Dean puts in a stellar, legendary performance as Jim Stark, a high schooler with affluent but out-of-touch parents (pictured above; all images ©️ Warner Bros.). He becomes friends with his neighbor and classmate Judy (played excellently by Natalie Wood) and John “Plato” Crawford (also excellently played by Sal Mineo), who also have serious issues happening at home. And, in a departure from most every film ever, while all of the adults seem dysfunctional, the one steady adult in the film is the neighborhood detective, played perfectly by Edward Platt. 

The tragedy that unfolds is, sadly, inevitable, but still heart-wrenching nonetheless. Director Nicholas Ray does such an excellent job with his storytelling. The visual cues of the families’ dysfunction is obvious, yet artfully brought in as part of the unfolding of the plot. The performances are stellar, as are the Los Angeles locations, particularly the beloved Griffith Observatory which is used so perfectly in the film.

I now get it why people were so crazy about James Dean’s performance and why it remains such a classic today. Sorry to be slow to the party, but I’m grateful that I at least arrived. Thanks again to TCM and their outstanding Big Screen Classics series!

Image ©️ Warner Bros. and TCM


Widescreen Thoughts on “The Sound of Music”

As part of 2018’s Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Big Screen Classics series, TCM and 20th Century Fox presented their classic film The Sound of Music (1965) on the big screen in September. And, let me tell you, seeing this film in all of its big screen glory was music to both my ears and eyes.

Seriously, I’ve seen this film on a TV screen so many times, both in old school (and frustrating) pan-and-scan as well as in widescreen formats. However, seeing the film in widescreen and with its beautiful digital restoration was almost like seeing the film for the first time (I’m sure that this will be an oft-used statement on this blog–I really prefer watching any film on the big screen, particularly classic ones).

Familiar scenes seemed new again. And the romance between Maria (Julie Andrews) and Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) seemed all the more real and believable by being able to watch their stellar performances in a magnified way.

All images ©️ 20th Century Fox

While I adored hearing all of the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs again in on the theater’s speakers, I mostly just came away so impressed with the craftsmanship that director Robert Wise and his team put into the film. One of my friends commented after the screening that “there’s not a bad shot in it.” And I would concur. Every shot is artful, beautiful, and meaningful. (And I want to know how in the world the team lit the famous “Something Good” gazebo scene. It’s just so good.)

I loved seeing this film again on the big screen and wish you all could have been there, too.

Image ©️ 20th Century Fox and TCM

“Jurassic Park” Turns 25

Can you even believe it’s been 25 years since the original Jurassic Park (Universal, 1993) hit the big screen for the first time?

The Steven Spielberg-directed film, based on the 1990 novel by Michael Crichton (Crichton also co-wrote the screenplay with David Koepp), was a huge hit in 1993 and for good reason. With a compelling story, its marvelous use of both practical and digital special effects, a great cast, a brilliant soundtrack by John Williams, and an amazing crew, Jurassic Park was a movie thrill ride of the first order. 

The film has spurred multiple sequels, but none of them can match the creativity, craftsmanship, terror, and excitement of this first outing. 

Universal Pictures recently screened Jurassic Park again in theaters across the U.S.A. to celebrate its 25th anniversary. It was such a blast to revisit this film on the big screen. I enjoyed it just as much as I did back in the day. Wish you all were there, too.

The studio also held a contest for fans to send recreations of the film. Here’s a compilation of the best fan films, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Do yourself a favor and skip the lousy sequels and watch the original and still best–1993’s Jurassic Park.

All images ©️ Universal Pictures

Dates Announced for the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival

We at the Movies Past and Present blog are huge fans of the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) network. Not only does TCM curate wonderful classic film programming 24/7 on their cable network, TCM also puts on one of the best classic movie festivals in the country with their annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Both the network and festival are celebrating major milestones in 2019—TCM turns 25 and the TCM Classic Film Festival turns 10. 

Logo ©️ TCM

The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival will be held on April 11-14, 2019 in Hollywood, California. The theme for this year’s film festival is “Follow Your Heart: Love at the Movies.” Tickets will go on sale in November 2018 (specific date TBA). Here’s an official statement from the TCM Classic Film Festival website:

“Whether it’s in the afternoon, at first sight or in the air, the TCM Classic Film Festival will celebrate love in all of its forms. As we come together for the 10th Annual Festival, and the 25th anniversary of TCM, there will be many-splendored moments to revel in romance and obsessions, delight in faithful friendships and surrender to the enduring allure of the silver screen with fellow classic movie lovers.”

We can’t wait! For all of the latest information on the upcoming TCM Classic Film Festival, visit http://filmfestival.tcm.com. See you in Hollywood in April 2019!

Megaplex Theatres’ 2018 Silver Screen Classics Series

The Megaplex Theatres movie theater chain in Utah (where I live) is running their excellent “Silver Screen Classics” film series again this fall. Starting today (September 3), select Megaplex Theatres will be screening a classic film every Monday and Wednesday for the next 10 weeks. Screenings are at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

The cost is an unbelievable $10 (yes, that’s $10) for all 10 classic films. Passes are available at participating Megaplex Theatres (I bought my pass at the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons box office). Check the Megaplex Theatres website (www.megaplextheatres.com) to see if your local Megaplex Theatres location is participating. (I had to go to the specific theater on the website and look through the movie times on each specific date. The experience was, to say the least, a bit clunky. Hopefully, Megaplex Theatres will put some additional content about the Silver Screen Classics on their website soon.)

Here’s the list of films along with a link to each film’s page on Rotten Tomatoes. Hope to see you at one of these screenings!


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
September 3 and 5

©️ Warner Bros.


Funny Face
 (1957)
September 10 and 12

©️ Paramount Pictures


She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
September 17 and 19

©️ RKO Pictures


Field of Dreams (1989)
September 24 and 26

©️ Universal Pictures


An American in Paris (1951)
October 1 and 3

©️ MGM


The African Queen (1951)
October 8 and 10

©️ United Artists


Silverado
(1985)
October 15 and 17

©️ Columbia Pictures


The Godfather (1972)
October 22 and 24

©️ Paramount Pictures


Spartacus (1960)
October 29 and 31

©️ Universal Pictures


Jaws (1975)
November 5 and 7

©️ Universal Pictures

“West Side Story” on the Big Screen

TCM showed West Side Story (1961) on the big screen a few days ago as part of their ongoing Big Screen Classics series and I can’t stop thinking about it. From the brilliant direction by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, to the masterful music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, to the electric performances by the entire cast, it’s no wonder this film is so beloved.

Here’s one of my favorite musical numbers from the movie, the “Tonight” quintet and chorus.

I’m also very excited about the news that director Steven Spielberg is set to remake the musical. We need its message now more than ever.

Many thanks to TCM and Fathom Events for bringing these classic films to the big screen for us film lovers to learn from and enjoy.

Image ©️ Turner Classic Movies

Why I Love “Sunset Boulevard”

What hasn’t already been said Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950)? This exploration into the dark side of desperation, fame, and fortune in Hollywood is a masterwork in all regards. It’s currently at number 16 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” ranking, among its placement on other prestigious lists. And after having recently seen it again on the big screen thanks to both the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Big Screen Classics series, I was reminded (as if I had forgotten…not) how much I love this film.

Here’s a little photo essay about why I love Sunset Boulevard.

I love the opening scene which perfectly sets the tone for the film.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I love the witty and snarky narration of the Joe Gillis character, perfectly interpreted by William Holden.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I am simultaneously creeped out and delighted by Gloria Swanson’s brilliant performance as faded silent film star Norma Desmond.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I am haunted and fascinated by Norma Desmond’s decrepit mansion, inside and out.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

And I’m just utterly disgusted by the disingenuous and terrible relationship of Joe and Norma (and isn’t that the point?).

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I love the perfect composition of every shot in the film.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I love how quotable the movie is. Some of my famous favorites:

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”

“Funny, how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.”

I am heartbroken by Erich von Stroheim’s performance as Max, Norman Desmond’s butler (and ex-husband and the last, sole member of her fan club).

Image ©️Paramount Pictures

I love the intersection of fact and fiction with the real people playing themselves (Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, etc.) interspersed with the fictional characters.

Cecil B. DeMille and Gloria Swanson on the set of SUNSET BOULEVARD. Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

Nancy Olson’s performance as Betty is the perfect balance of youthful optimism and unbridled ambition.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

Norma’s full descent into madness after killing Joe is both devastating and breathtaking. Hedda Hopper’s face says it all.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

And one final quote: “And I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after Salome we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark! All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures