Recent Warner Archive New Releases

Devil Dogs of the AirI’ve fallen a bit behind on updating the site with new releases from the Warner Archive. So let’s take a short break from the Halloween posts and see what some of the recent releases are. We start with a selection of films starring James Cagney.

- The St. Louis Kid (1934)
– Devil Dogs of the Air (1935)
– The Irish in Us (1935)
– Boy Meets Girl (1938)

We also have a bunch of films returning to DVD after being long out of print…

- Blow-Up (1966)
– The Colossus of Rhodes (1961)
– I Love You, Alice P Toklas! (1968)
– Love in the Afternoon (1957)
– Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)

Fraidy Cat

Fraidy Cat 2There were many third stooges over the years. It started with Shemp, then Curly took over when the act got big. Shemp came back when Curly got sick and stuck with the act until his death. He was replaced in 1957 by Joe Besser. Truth be told, Besser is probably my least favorite stooge. He’s many people’s least favorite stooge. His whiny persona was a stark contrast to Curly and Shemp. However, he was a skilled comedian who had a successful career making short subjects before he joined up with Moe and Larry. Although our somewhat spooky short today, is actually a bit of a remake of a Three Stooges’s 1951’s Fraidy Cat.

Fraidy Cat 1Besser is teamed up with Hawthorne (full name Jim Hawthorne but credited only as “Hawthorne”). The boys work for the Wide Awake Detective Agency. Problem is, all the places they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on have been robbed in recent days. Rumor has it that the robberies are being pulled off by a large ape. Besser and Hawthorne are given just one more chance not to screw things up.

Fraidy Cat 3The duo heads off to the antique shop they are supposed to guard. Unknown to them, the ape is already inside. As they investigate, the two detectives get more and more scared. At one point, Joe sits down in a rocking chair to relax, while a cat sits right next to it with it’s tail moving back and forth underneath the rocking legs of the chair. Of course, when the tail gets caught, Joe freaks out. At one point he is so scared that he jumps into a bed and put the covers over his head. He doesn’t realize that he has also knocked a rubber mask of a sinister face onto his foot. So every time he peeks above the covers, he sees the devilish face staring at him. There is also a gag late in the film involving Joe getting his head stuck in a prop guillotine and a mannequin head that Hawthorne assumes is the decapitated Joe.

Fraidy Cat 4In wasn’t until after I started watching Fraidy Cat that I realized this was a remake. Visions of Curly doing many of the same gags Besser was doing were dancing in my head. Though it’s not beat for beat, this is a remake of the 1943 Stooges short Dizzy Detectives, which is a certifiable classic. While I admire Besser’s talents as a comedian, this short just can’t escape the fact that Moe, Larry and Curly did it better…much better. Beyond the truth that you can’t out Curly Curly, this short really does reinforce how well the three person dynamic worked for the Stooges. Here we have just two characters, so Hawthorne has the impossible task of trying to be both Moe and Larry…and it just doesn’t work.

Fraidy Cat 5It doesn’t help that Hawthorne is not at all impressive in this short. His delivery of the lines is a bit too bombastic and he can’t seem to figure out whether he should be the straight man or mug for the camera. Besser still delivers some solid laughs, though. Yes he’s doing Curly’s gags, but adds a bit of his own touch that is still funny.

For Halloween viewing, Fraidy Cat doesn’t play up the spooky elements of the story quite as well as the Stooges original does. From a comedy standpoint it’s only mildly amusing. In the end, the film will primarily be of interest to Stooges completists.

Walt Sent Me Episode 17: Hocus Pocus

Walt_Sent_Me SmallerTodd and Kristen are back with another Halloween-themed episode of Walt Sent Me. This time they look at the 1993 Disney film Hocus Pocus. They also take in the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat.

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Eyes of a Stranger

Eyes of a Stranger 2After John Carpenter’s Halloween was a hit at the box office, slasher films became Hollywood’s horror genre of choice. Many long running series with bizarre killers like Jason, Freddy and Chuckie would come along throughout the 80’s. However, there were a few films that featured killers who were just normal looking people…no hockey masks or razor-sharp gloves. One such film was 1981’s Eyes of a Stranger.

Eyes of a Stranger 1Our story takes place in Miami, where a killer is sexually assaulting and murdering young women. As the film begins, a nature photographer finds a body in the water as he’s out taking pictures. Local news anchor Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes…Julie from The Love Boat) reports on the story and pleads with women to be on their guard. The killer often engages in obscene phone calls with his victims before he attacks. Still, right after Jane’s report a waitress is killed in her apartment, as is her boyfriend who is decapitated with a meat cleaver. The head winds up in the fish tank…making this the second film I’ve seen this month where that happens (the first was He Knows You’re Alone).

Eyes of a Stranger 5Jane is obsessed with the story and with finding the killer. Her attorney boyfriend David (Peter DuPre) thinks she should leave things to the cops. He’d rather she just decide to move in with him, but she refuses because she takes care of her blind and deaf sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Apparently, Tracy has been unable to see or hear since she was abducted as a child. Nothing is wrong with her eyes and ears…she just seems to be blocking. So basically she’s like Tommy.

As more murders happen, Jane soon begins to suspect that a man named Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti), living in the same high-rise apartment complex she lives in, may be the murderer. Jane even swipes a key from the building super and sneaks into Herbert’s apartment to investigate. Soon, she decides to give Herbert a taste of his own medicine by calling him and claiming to know what he’s doing. This backfires, though, when Herbert recognizes Jane’s voice from television and sets out to kill Tracy.

Eyes of a Stranger 3In recent years, I’ve begun to understand the appeal of slasher films a bit more. I admit, I was never someone who watched them during my youth. While they feature terrible things happening to people, there is an element of fun to them…especially the more outrageous the bad guys are. In this film, however, our killer has no gimmick. He’s just a sicko…raping and murdering women. So that alone makes it hard to have “fun” with the film. However, there is some solid suspense here. Yes, the film seems to be borrowing elements from the likes of When a Stranger Calls and even Rear Window, but it does have some good scare moments.

Eyes of a Stranger 7Lauren Tewes makes for a solid leading lady and brings some interesting things to her character. At first she seems like she’s going to be your standard plucky reporter sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, but she goes through an interesting change. Once she’s on to the killer and decides to call him, Tewes brings subtle hints to her performance that suggest she is enjoying tormenting the killer over the phone, just like he enjoys tormenting his victims. In fact, it even seems like she is becoming aroused by this, dragging on a cigarette and gasping in ecstasy after hanging up. It adds an interesting element to her character that I wish had been explored a bit more.

Eyes of a Stranger 8I’ve also got to give a lot of credit to Jennifer Jason Leigh who is extremely convincing as a deaf and blind girl. She’s underused in the early parts of the film, but the big climax is all about her. It’s a tense sequence, with the killer toying with her…standing just out of her reach. With a lesser actress the scene could’ve become unintentionally funny, but Jennifer Jason Leigh really makes it work.

There are a number of grisly moments, courtesy of makeup artist Tom Savini, that horror fans will appreciate. It’s not a gore fest, though…the suspense element ultimately wins out. The average viewer, though, may find the disturbing nature of the killer makes the film a bit more difficult to take than other early 80’s slashers.