Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Devilry and Magic in Miracles for Sale ( 1939 )

Mike Morgan ( Robert Young ) is a skeptic. He was a former magician who now makes his living selling his magic tricks to other New York City magicians. "Miracles for Sale" is his tagline, and creating illusions is his racket. So, when he comes across a real-life mystery he naturally attempts to pick it apart to discover just what the "trick" is behind what he is seeing. 

Judy Barclay ( Florence Rice ) seeks Morgan's aid in unmasking a fraudulent medium and invites him to attend a seance at the apartment of Dr. Sabbatt ( Frederick Warlock ), a renowned magician. When the body of Dr. Sabbatt turns up dead in his own apartment and then disappears just minutes after being examined by the coroner, Morgan tries to unveil the trickery behind the disappearance but finds himself truly stumped. 

"Don't kid yourself....For several thousand years the human race has attempted to cross the threshold into the darkness of the unknown - call it the other world, if you like - because there is something there. And once in awhile, somebody gets pretty close to it."
Director Tod Browning, who made a name for himself with the pre-Code horror classics Dracula ( 1931 ) and Freaks ( 1932 ), directed this taut and tantalizing mystery that cleverly mixes devilry and witchcraft with modern-day magic acts. 

Miracles for Sale unites Young and Rice in the last of seven feature films they made together in the 1930s and boasts a wonderful supporting cast which includes Henry Hull, Lee Bowman, Cliff Clark, Gloria Holden, and William Demarest. Frank Craven also stars as Morgan's dad, a well-grounded man from the country who detests the hustle and bustle of New York City. 
While the gimmicks behind Miracles for Sale are quite clever ( especially the self-typing typewriter and the ghostly apparition next to Madame Rapport ), the real killer is easy to guess if you keep your eyes open wide. Diana, who has a knack for recognizing voices and faces, solved this caper within 20-minutes. 

Still, if you're looking to watch a good old-fashioned spine-tingling mystery for Halloween, you can do no better than Miracles for Sale. Tauro's snake-like eyes alone will give you the willies! 

Happy Halloween! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Quiet as a Nun ( 1978 ) - Armchair Thriller

Armchair Thriller, a short-lived British television horror series of the 1970s, featured a number of genuinely creepy serials guaranteed to cover your skin with goosebumps. One of their best was Quiet as a Nun, a six-part serial that aired between April 18th and April 27th, 1978.

This episode centered around investigative TV reporter Jemima Shore, portrayed by the lovely Maria Aitken. Shore is an independent career woman who is having an affair with a married member of Parliament. She claims to be an agnostic and yet glimpses into her heart reveal that she still carries strong feelings for the convent school where she was educated as a girl. When she reads in the newspaper that Sister Miriam, a close friend from these school years, has passed away, she heads back to Blessed Eleanor's Convent in Sussex to attend the funeral. The nun's death was shrouded in mystery, her body being found in the secluded tower of the convent just days after she had announced her plan to change her will. Sister Miriam was an heiress who was to inherit one of the largest fortunes in Britain. 

"As a tower points towards heaven, so shall a man build his life in the direction of God. Yet even the highest tower can never reach the sky. Nevertheless, Man, by the grace of God and his own faith, may expect to reach heaven one day."
Mother Ancilla ( Renée Asherson ) is disturbed by her death, as is Jemima, and she asks the reporter to spend a few weeks holiday at the convent while quietly looking into the matter. After a second nun is mysteriously murdered, Jemima finds that not only has she been swept into a dark and sinister storm of fear but that other lives, as well as her own, may be in danger.

Quiet as a Nun was based upon the 1977 Antonia Fraser novel of the same name, a novel which P.D. James called "a judicious mixture of puzzle, excitement, and terror." The book played out like an adult version of one of Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew series, but Julia Jones' engrossing screen dramatization instead paralleled Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede which featured a similar business-minded female protagonist who broke off an adulterous relationship after a visit to a convent. 

Both the Quiet as a Nun book and the television series circled around the mysterious faceless "Black Nun" who haunts the hidden passages underneath the convent, a story plot which was well adapted for both children and adult tastes, even down to the Scooby-Doo-like conclusion. 

The serial was revived for British and US audiences in 1982 as a PBS Mystery! television presentation. The popularity of this episode led ITV to produce a spin-off series in 1983 entitled Jemima Shore Investigates, which starred the equally appealing Patricia Hodge as the slender sleuth. Unfortunately, the scripts were not nearly as well written nor was the filming as expressive as in Quiet as a Nun
The serial is ideal viewing for a rainy autumn afternoon, particularly during this week approaching Halloween. It encaptures all the features you would hope to find in a ripping good mystery: secret passages, shadowy figures, cobweb invested crypts, disappearances, kidnappings, and even the prerequisite reading of a will. 

Also in the cast is Brenda Bruce as Sister Elizabeth, Sylvia Coleridge as Sister Boniface, Susan Engel as Sister Agnes, Doran Goodwin, Patsy Kensit, David Burke, and James Laurenson.

Ready to view Quiet as a Nun? Simply click here to watch it on Youtube. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

British Pathé - Masks

There is such a wealth of visual material to be found online and delving into it on a daily basis is as refreshing as taking a swim in a cool pool. One of the most interesting fountains in the Youtube stream of entertainment is the British Pathé Collection, an archive of 85,000 newsreel and documentary clips dating from the 1910s to the 1970s. 

Since we enjoy sharing the film/TV treasures we are continually discovering, we are going to launch a new series highlighting some of the gems to be found in the British Pathé collection. These short posts will be released on a monthly basis, but please don't let this schedule stop you from perusing these clips in your own free time. They're inexhaustible. And quite entertaining. 

With Halloween fast approaching, we're going to start the series off with Masks, an approximately 4-minute collection of three separate newsreels dating from the mid-1930s. The first briefly shows the famous Polish artist Władysław T. Benda and his wife with some of the beautiful life-like masks that he made for costume parties and theatrical shows. Benda also created the original mask for the 1932 film The Mask of Fu Manchu. In the photo above, Jean Arthur is holding up one of Benda's creations. 
The next is a short clip of Swiss people in costume for their annual springtime celebration, and lastly, we see Duncan Melvin displaying some traditional ancient masks of African, Indian, and Australian cultures for initiations, witch-doctoring, and devilry. 

Mr. Melvin was the host of a 1937 television documentary series called Masks of the World ( yes, by golly, television was around back then ). For this series, he not only showed his audiences various masks from around the world but he would also demonstrate different mask-making techniques from artists such as Oliver Messel, Angus MacBean, and Henry Moore. 
For the British Pathé series, we'll be showcasing clips that cover a wide variety of rare and unusual subjects: the history of beards, miniature model-makers, cowboy artists, legends of Scotland, convent life, English royalty, sheep-herding, wallpaper production, etc. We hope you'll follow along and enjoy the series! 

Ready to watch Masks?

British Pathé  - Masks 

Friday, October 20, 2017

From the Archives : The Uninvited ( 1944 )

Alan Napier, Ray Milland, Gail Russell, and Ruth Hussey communicating with the dead in the classic ghost film The Uninvited ( 1944 ). 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store : http://stores.ebay.com/Silverbanks-Pictures

Monday, October 16, 2017

Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens ( 1957 )

This is such a sweet film. Most of the Deutsche Heimatfilms are sweet as apple strudel, but Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens is especially wholesome and delicious. It centers around a little orphan Hungarian boy named Toni, portrayed by that talented youngster Michael Ande ( The Trapp Family ). He befriends old Herr Blümel ( Joseph Eggar ) when he arrives in Austria with a boatload of other Hungarian refugees. Herr Blümel and Toni become instant friends and Toni comes to live with this lovable fellow in his house by the river. One Sunday, while attending church, Toni sees the Vienna choir boys ( die Wiener Sängerknaben ) singing in the choir loft and desires to become a "Sängerknabe", too. So, off to Wien Herr Blümel and Toni trek and the boy gets the privilege of being admitted to the choir because he has such a fine singing voice. 

The true Vienna choir boys not only sing but study and live together at the palatial Palais Augarten in Vienna. It becomes their school and their home for as long as they are members of the choir. One day per week their family and friends are permitted to visit them. 
Our Toni gets along well at the school until the first visiting day. He eagerly awaits a visit from Herr Blümel but does not realize that the poor old man had motorcycle trouble en route and could not come. All the other boys have their families with them, except for Toni....so naturally, he feels unloved and unwanted. 

Schwester Maria, the den-mother/nurse at the school takes compassion on the boy and agrees to be his mother while he is there. Toni loves her so much that, later, when Schwester Maria gets blamed for losing 1,000 Deutsche marks from the choir's funds, Toni lies to save her job and wrongfully confesses that he stole the money. 
Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens is a well-balanced mixture of melodrama, light-hearted comedy, and music. It gives us a glimpse of the work-and-play life of the Vienna choir boys in much the same way that Walt Disney Studios would later showcase these boys in their 1962 film Almost Angels. This Austrian production was filmed on location in Vienna and in Hinterbichl in the Lasorling mountain range in East Tirol where the Vienna boys choir used to stay during the summers. 

Like most Heimatfilms, there is plenty of mountain scenery and some beautiful songs, sung by the Vienna choir boys, of course. But what makes this film really stand out is the performances from its principal players....Joseph Eggar in particular. He reminds me and my sister so much of our "Opa" ( our grandfather ), in his mannerisms and his genuine love for the little boy. 
Ellinor Jensen is also adorable as the tender-hearted Maria whom Toni comes to adopt as his surrogate mother. Paul Bösiger has a small part as Maria's love interest, and that legend in the German film industry - Paul Hörbiger - portrays the director of the choir, a kindly man. Rounding out the cast is Thomas Hörbiger ( Paul's son ) as one of the kapellmeisters and Richard Eybner, who is present for comedy relief.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shields and Yarnell - Living Toys

Is it possible to make a career of playing a mime? Robert Shields and Linda Yarnell proved that it is not only possible but quite a lucrative business. 

Without a spoken word, Shields and Yarnell made a name for themselves displaying mime acts of "controlled insanity" in over 400 television appearances throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of their most famous portrayals was as "The Clinkers", a married robot couple who attempt to lead a regular human life but do so with uproarious results. Everyday tasks like doing the wash, reading a newspaper, or going to the office for work prove to be difficult for robots. 

"....let's go and meet the Clinkers and see what they don't have to say!"

Lorene Yarnell, an off-Broadway variety performer and dancer, had met Robert Shields, a mime artist, during the making of Fol-de-Rol a 1972 Sid and Marty Krofft television special. The two hit it off immediately and married that same year. Yarnell taught Shields dance, while Shields taught Yarnell mime, and together they formed an act that would knock the artistic art of miming off its lofty pedestal and make it entertaining for the masses. 

For several years they performed on the streets of San Francisco, occasionally making guest appearances on television. It was not until 1976, when they became regulars on The Sonny and Cher Show, that the American public fully embraced their unique - and highly amusing - routines. These appearances were so well received that CBS signed them to their own comedy-variety show The Shields and Yarnell Show ( 1977-1978 ). 
"As a team. Shields & Yarnell are magical, innovative and pure entertainment - Yarnell's tap dancing is flawless." - Gene Kelly

When their show ended, they continued to perform in Las Vegas, on Broadway, on numerous television variety shows, with orchestras across the country, and around the world. Robert Shields gave two presidential performances as well as a command performance for Queen Elizabeth. 

Their improvisational form of miming lent itself well to talk shows, too, and Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin especially enjoyed having them as guest stars. One of their most memorable appearances was on The Muppet Show ( 1979 ) where they performed a segment featuring The Clinkers having breakfast. 

"Robert Shields is the greatest mime in America" - Marcel Marceau

During the mid-1980s, Shields and Yarnell broke up their act and divorced ( perhaps there was a lack of communication? ).....Yarnell later remarried and moved to Norway, where she died at the age of 66 in 2010. Robert Shields made a name for himself as an artist, working in ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and painting, which he still does in his studio in Arizona. He is currently working on a documentary Robert Shields : My Life as a Robot. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Unidentified Flying Oddball ( 1979 )

The title says it all. This 1979 Walt Disney comedy is certainly an oddball. While the Disney films of the 1970s are generally considered sub-par to the films the studio outputted in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them were still very amusing. The Unidentified Flying Oddball ( UFO ) simply fails to lift off into the realm of laugh-out-loud comedy. It could have been a fun picture, the story element is certainly clever enough, but the script falls flat. And, oddly enough, it was written by Don Tait, who penned Snowball Express, The Apple Dumpling Gang, and Treasure of Matacumbe among others for the studio. 

Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" forms the basis of the film's plot with the lead character being replaced by young astronaut Tom Trimble ( Dennis Dugan ) who, during a moment of "chaos in the cosmos", accidentally pulls a lever on his spaceship causing it to careen into the past, to Camelot in the year 508. His arrival is opportune for he discovers that the wicked Sir Mordred ( Jim Dale ) and Merlin ( Ron Moody ) plot to usurp King Arthur ( Kenneth More ) from his throne. With the aid of some modern electronic gadgets and his look-a-like android Hermes, Trimble manages to foil this attempt, get himself a comely girl ( Sheila White ), and travel back to the present age. Not too bad for an accidental trip into the past. 

Tom Trimble takes a selfie with some of his Arthurian-age friends

In spite of its weak script, UFO does contain some amusing moments, such as when the android, Hermes, jousts with Sir Mordred and loses not only an arm but his head, too! And the professionalism of the cast does a great deal in redeeming the picture. Jim Dale is always a delight to watch - especially when he plays villains - and he is a particularly good Sir Mordred.

The Unidentified Flying Oddball just about broke even at the box-office, but that did not deter producer Ron Miller from investing 20 million dollars into making The Black Hole, Walt Disney's epic production made to capitalize on the space fever that Steven Spielberg's Star Wars had triggered two years earlier. It was a great gamble, for The Black Hole became one of the highest-grossing films of 1979. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

A scientist examining a substance in a vile.....is he a mad scientist?? Possibly. Possibly not. If you know the film this screenshot is from you would know how sane this man is.

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations to Damsbo for correctly guessing this scene from the sci-fi/horror film "The Vampire" ( 1957 ). 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The High Commissioner ( 1968 )

Espionage films were all the rage in the mid-1960s, a fever that had been ignited by Ian Fleming's James Bond spy series. George Segal investigated neo-Nazis in The Quiller Memorandum ( 1966 ), Michael Caine had starred in the Harry Carter films ( Funeral in Berlin, The Ipcress File ), Rock Hudson was caught up with terrorists in Blindfold ( 1965 ), Paul Newman had to unmask an imposter in The Prize ( 1963 ), Gregory Peck got mixed up in an assassination plot in Arabesque ( 1966 ), and Rod Taylor found himself caught in a web of international intrigue in The High Commissioner. 

This mildly entertaining 1968 thriller was also released as Nobody Runs Forever, a Bond-ish pastiche title. Taylor stars as Scobie Malone, an Australian police sergeant who is sent to London to arrest a wanted criminal who escaped years earlier and is now using an assumed name. With his new name, this murderer climbed the political ladder to become Sir James Quentin, high commissioner for peace for Australia. 

Scobie's simple task of fetching Quentin back for a trial gets complicated immediately upon his arrival in London. Sir Quentin happens to be in the middle of peace negotiations with several countries and requests a few days delay so he can attend the conferences. Sir James is a charismatic man whom many people speak highly of. Within one day Scobie begins to question whether he is even capable of murder. Scobie saves Sir James' life in an assassination attempt and Sir James, taking him into his confidence then, tells Scobie that someone close to him is leaking information to his enemies, and "would you be willing to look into the situation"? It's a request that Scobie cannot deny. 
The High Commissioner boasts a wonderful cast with Lilli Palmer as Sir James Quentin's wife; Camilla Sparv ( The Trouble with Angels ) as his private secretary; Franchot Tone ( in his last film role ) as an American ambassador; and Dalilah Lavi ( Ten Little Indians ), Calvin Lockhart, Clive Revill, and Derren Nesbitt as some of our suspects. 

Unfortunately, like many of the 1960s spy thrillers, the pacing of The High Commissioner is uneven. It begins quite brisk, screeches to a halt midway through, and then begins to climb in suspense once again near the finale. Ultimately, what redeems the film is Plummer's spot-on performance, its colorful cinematography, and Georges Delerue's fantastic opening theme.