The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

MasqueoftheRedDeath

The Masque of the Red Death – 1964

Director – Roger Corman

Starring – Vincent Price

Despite it’s lofty source material, and it’s pedigree of themes, this Roger Corman directed version of  The Masque of the Red Death seems more interested in cheap spectacle than it is in characterization and story-telling.  This isn’t necessarily bad, as sometimes cheap spectacle, gratuitous cleavage, and gaudy thrills is just what the doctor ordered.

The Masque of the Red Death stars Vincent Price as Prince Prospero, a sadistic and cruel ruler of a castle overlooking a small town.  As the story begins, he is verbally attacked by one of the towns people who are sick of the mis-treatment, and abuse they receive from him.  Prospero sentences the man and one of his compatriots to death, but before this can be carried out, the wife and daughter respectively of the two men, pleads for their lives.  Seeing a game, and some amusement in all of this, Prospero brings them all to his castle.  On their way out of the small town he discovers a kind of plague called the Red Death in the village, and orders the town burned to the ground.  From here, the story takes place completely at Prince Prospero’s opulent castle. 

Not having seen a Roger Corman film before, I didn’t know quite what to expect.  The sets were bargain basement.  They consisted of a couple of shoddy props dressed up with strong lighting and color, and this ended up being the true star of the show.  The craft of the film was, at best, shoestring, and at worst, threadbare.  The acting was hammy and overwrought, and the motivation of the characters seemed cartoonish and exaggerated. 

That being said, I can understand the motivation for making something like this.  I have to imagine the goal was to spend as little time and money on a feature film, quickly edit it and get it out there, and try to make as much money with it as humanly possible.  I can understand the attraction of audiences wanting to see a movie like this.  I enjoyed myself, after all.  It was full of campy hilarity, and it kept me busy for an hour and a half.  And I understand the historical significance that Roger Corman and Russ Meyer played in the movie industry.  Each man brought film-making a step closer to the people, and a step further from the studio’s control.  They gave the first chances at directing to some of those who would be considered the best of the best from the 70’s through the present (Scorsese, Cameron, Bogdonovich, etc..), and allowed them the creative freedom to get their feet in the door.  What I don’t understand is why this film deserves to be on the list of 1001 movies that someone should see before they die.  Again, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it seemed like they wanted to represent a specific genre of film, but didn’t feel that any one in particular could be singled out, so they just picked it out of a hat.

These movies are fun.  I really like Vincent Price, and he lives up to his reputation as a ridiculous, over-the-top personality in this film, but it is easily replaced by any number of campy horror themed classics, from this era.  Too bad,  I thought it was gonna be awesome.

Laura (1944)

Laura - 1944

Laura – 1944

Director – Otto Preminger

Starring – Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, and Vincent Price

Laura is the story of a Detective who becomes facinated with the victim of the murder that he is assigned to investigate, the movie’s namesake, Laura.  Detective McPherson isn’t so much a fully realized character in this story as he is a vehicle through which the audience can be introduced to, and participate in this story of un-requited love and murder.    Inspite of this, or maybe even because of it, we the audience are still drawn in to the fold. 

We  are placed in the detective role, and are given a cast of characters from which to choose the killer.  There are some red herrings in the lineup, some genuinly shady people, and some obvious innocents, but isn’t that half the fun of watching a brassy noir movie anyway?  Guess at the beginning and at the end seeing if you’re right.  (I’m happy to say that I did indeed guess correctly)  We are presented with the well-to-do, writer-mentor, Waldo Lydecker, played to the hilt by a flamboyant Clifton Webb, the unfaithful, yet seemingly good natured love interest/fiance, played by a venomously charming Vincent Price, and the icy two-faced Aunt Ann Treadwell, fleshed out by Judith Anderson.  It is throught the lenses of these characters that we learn about Laura Hunt, told at first through flashback.  Each of them provides a different spin on the events leading up to the night Laura was murdered, and each in turn reveals more about their potential motives than the intend to.

The pace is quick.  Quick enough that, at one point, we are left reeling and unsure about whether we are seeing reality or the a booze deluded dream.  In the interest of not spoiling a major plot point, I won’t say exactly what that event is, but rest assured that without an immediate explaination we simply have to wait and see to be sure.  This , of course, only leads to more questions about conspiracy, motives, and method.

Despite really enjoying Laura, I’d have to say that this movie didn’t have nearly the effect on my that some others noirs, such as “The Third Man”, “Sunset Boulevard”,  or “Out of the Past”, did.  It’s almost unfair to judge any movie this way, these movies helped introduce me to, and cultivate my appreciation and love of the film noir genre.  Still I think the comparison holds water because of the shared subject matter, the bent reality that the audience is presented with from the beginning, the hoops the characters must jump through along the way, and the long twisty, torturous path towards the truth that our hero (and by extension, we) must travel.

Laura was a solid, thouroughly enjoyable movie.  From the deep shadows of this duplicitous world, to the campy excess of Vincent Price, and Clifton Webb, Laura never faltered in it’s execution, and it never failed to keep my attention.  Bravo.