The Premature Burial is the third in Roger Corman‘s series of Edgar Allan Poe stories, although the screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell elaborates a darker and more complicated story than Poe’s original. It’s an anguished, clammy, claustrophobic chamber piece that never leaves the property of Guy Carrell (Milland), whose mansion abuts a permanently fogbound cemetery. Because of his morbid obsession of being buried alive, he wants to break off his engagement to the strong-minded Emily (Hazel Court), but she won’t hear of it. After the wedding, he grows increasingly obsessed and irritable, and Emily brings in a doctor friend (Richard Ney) and her haughty father (Alan Napier) for advice.
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Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He’s a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he’s the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.
From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he’s a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).
The Hired Gun opens with a shot of a noose hanging over a scaffold in the early morning of a dusty “one-horse town” as the voice of Ellen Beldon (Anne Francis) informs us that today, for the first time in Texas, they’ll hang a woman for murder—herself. She assures us she’s innocent, and hardly are her words finished when a tall, black-suited preacher (Chuch Connors) comes to offer solace… by busting her out and racing her across the border into New Mexico.
Perhaps a personal approach is best. I’ve followed all of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s movies since a critics’ preview of Clouds of May at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1999. My memory is that not many attended that screening, and many others left before the ending of that character study of a disaffected writer. I realized it was “slow” (always a relative judgment, but we know what it means), but somehow it clicked, or I did. I thought, “This is made by someone who loves Chekhov”, and was gratified to learn later that what seemed so obvious also happens to be true.
In case we hadn’t already figured out the debt to Chekhov, a poster on the wall of the main character’s study in Winter Sleep is for The Seagull. At three and a quarter hours, this is Ceylan’s most hefty—yet always delicate—salute to the master of petit bourgeois psychology, as he explores the impulses that prod comfortable people to make themselves miserable.
With the success of MGM’s made-in-England series of Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford, producer Lawrence P. Bachmann thought it auspicious to try Agatha Christie’s other famous detective, the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. If he hoped for another series, the plan didn’t get beyond one movie, which is now available on demand from Warner Archive.
Like the Marple films, The Alphabet Murders is more of a comic lark that diverges in tone and plot from Christie. Indeed, it goes farther, seeming to parody Poirot films almost before they existed. The spoofiness is signaled right away as Tony Randall addresses the camera as himself before transforming into Poirot and addressing the camera some more. It’s all a joke, and this approach didn’t please Christie or mystery fans, nor even fans of Randall.