i’ve never killed in hot blood: tower of london (1939)

He reeks of death.  But death is his trade and he has a taste for it.  Yet he’s never “killed in hot blood” before, never killed in war.

As Mord, the royal executioner and ally to King Richard III (Basil Rathbone), Karloff personifies the cruel representation of political violence behind the throne, the workmanlike brute force that does his master’s bidding to preserve the peace.

Mord may hide behind the throne, but Karloff’s gleefully morbid turn is nakedly, aggressively terrifying.  He is the prototypical executioner, the death dealer of our childhood nightmares.  The first moment we see the powerfully built but cadaverous looking Mord–hunched over his grinding wheel, sharpening his oversize axe with a black raven perched on his shoulder–it’s like watching Cain himself readying the next murder.  But where Cain acted impulsively, emotionally… Mord is pure professional.  There is little overt art to his blood-letting, hence why he yearns for something a little more exciting, creative, arousing.  Karloff is almost touching as he pleads to Rathbone to take him into battle.  Warfare must be a wonderful, crimson bounty for a man like Mord.  The opportunities for passion are no doubt endless.  God knows how energized Mord will be when he returns from murder on such scale.

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boris karloff blogathon a-go-go!

The Boris Karloff blogathon is now loose upon the world. You can read more about the week-long event here and the first post here, which includes a message from Boris’ daughter Sara Karloff.

I’ll be contributing at least one post sometime this week, although I hope to get two done if time permits.  I do love me some Karloff.

Hope to hear from some of you here or on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else.  And I’m looking forward to reading some of the more than 100 various bloggers who are joining in.

some of my favorite things #6: the cowboys (1972)

I’m not sure how this one slipped by me as a kid.  I’m sure it played on television when I was a youngster–local Portland station Channel 12 was obligated by law to play John Wayne movies every weekend, I think–but I don’t ever remember watching it.  If I did, I blocked it from my memory.

Oh, what a little fool I was.

Having been on a bit of a John Wayne binge of late, I rented the Blu-Ray edition of this and hoped for the best.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by writing that the film is notorious and legendary in equal measure for being the one where Duke is shot in the back by a dastardly long-haired villain, played by the great Bruce Dern.  It was a jolt back in 1972 and plenty of kids, no doubt, were scarred by seeing the movie icon go down in such a brutal manner.  It’s still a jolt to watch today.

But how was I to know any of it was good?  Most reviews that I’d come across over the years treated it as mediocre late period Wayne.  And people I’ve spoken with who had seen it loved the film, though I suspected they were blinded by childhood nostalgia.

I have to admit it’s a really splendid film, from Mark Rydell’s assured direction to (egads!) John Williams’ appropriately majestic yet lyrical score to the performances from all the kids (half of ’em non-actor rodeo boys) to the stand-out roles by Dern and the great Roscoe Lee Browne, the latter as Nightlinger the chuck wagon man who accompanies the cattle drive.

And then there’s Wayne.

His work with John Ford will always be my favorite–primarily the Westerns–but Wayne’s performance here as rancher Wil Andersen seems the perfect culmination to his long career.  The Shootist (1976) would end up being Wayne’s final performance, of course, but I like the Duke here more.  A bit world-weary but not tainted with cynicism, Wayne seems genuinely comfortable acting opposite the gaggle of cowpokes he’s saddled with, striking just the right balance of obstinacy, fatherly protectiveness, and gentleness we want from our aging cowboy icon.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, but not with the bathetic hard-sell one would expect.  It’s quintessential classic Wayne charisma we get in The Cowboys, but tempered with the wisdom and offhandedness that only a pro can pull off effectively.  There’s insight in them eyes… and when Wayne goes down, it’s crushing.

little white lies magazine #26

 

Now available in the new issue of Little White Lies magazine is my essay on director Spike Jonze and the “fabled filmmaking class of ’99” entitled “Taking Over the Asylum.” The issue is chock full of Jonze tidbits including an interview with the man. So check it out if you’re inclined. But act fast if you’re interested in snagging a hard copy version of the magazine since they typically sell out. An online version of the magazine will be up in a month or so, though. But I can’t stress enough how wonderful Little White Lies looks in the hard copy format. Great stuff.

Purchase your copy here.

A shorter version of my Jonze piece will also be in the upcoming issue of surf/skateboarding/snowboarding mag Huck… out soon.

I should add that the covers for both magazines are visually linked too. Very nice.