Vampyr (1932)

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Aka The Strange Adventure of David Gray, Not Against the Flesh, The Castle of Doom. One of those unique films that a film snob such as myself extols above all others. After the extraordinary Passion of Joan of Arc, Danish auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer worked with Christen Jul on a more-or-less adaptation of Irish writer Sheridan le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly (mainly Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant) to come up with the story of Allan Gray, a dreamer (that old German trope) and student of the occult investigating phenomena in the village of Courtempierre, a place haunted by a vampire’s curse. For financial reasons, the film had to be shot in French, German and Italian, and this presented problems with dialogue so that was cut to the bone, with one of the financiers, Nicholas de Gunzburg, starring under the pseudonym Julian West. Sound was a new technology and French cinema was having trouble adapting so title cards were used where possible, contributing to the effect of the silents. The unique atmosphere is partly conjured by primitive effects, partly by the soft focus shooting style deployed by Rudolph Mate (returning from Joan of Arc) and the production design by Hermann Warm (ditto) and in part again by the ensemble of freaked-out weirdos populating the cast. If you ever wondered where that grain silo scene in Witness was lifted from, you have to watch the last reel …  Dreyer had directed his locations assistant to scout for “a factory in ruins, a chopped up phantom, worthy of the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. Somewhere in Paris. We can’t travel far.” Except in the mind. To die for.

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The Moon-Spinners (1964)

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Classic romance based on the novel by Mary Stewart, one of my favourite writers and one to try if you like midcentury Gothic thrillers. She was huge in the Fifties and Sixties. I didn’t know about this for the longest time and was delighted to find that it starred my Disney heroine, Hayley Mills. Nicky Ferris (Mills) is a teenager spending time in Crete at a small inn called The Moon-Spinners with her Aunt Frances (Joan Greenwood), a musicologist. One day Nicky discovers a handsome young man, Mark Camford (Peter McEnery), wounded in an empty church nearby. They’ve already met at the inn and he makes a very favourable impression, the life of the party and handsome to boot. It turns out that Mark was once a London bank messenger, but he lost his job after a major jewel robbery. Tagged as a suspect, he has made his way to the inn to gather evidence against the inn’s owner, Stratos (Eli Wallach), who Mark thinks is the real jewel thief. It’s run by his unsuspecting sister played by Irene Papas. Nicky and Mark fall in love and decide to capture Stratos together.This is a rather different Peter McEnery than we saw in Entertaining Mr Sloane, which he would make several years later:  he was contracted to Disney and this is really a kids’ movie. Here he distinguishes himself by bestowing upon wonderful Hayley her first proper screen kiss. It’s not a great genre piece by any means, with much  of the villainy of the novel rendered rather juvenile in the adaptation by Michael Dyne:  but it looks great – much of it was shot on location around Elounda at a time when Greece was opening up to tourism;  it sounds good, with Terry Gilkyson’s song and the folk music enhancing a pretty soundtrack; and the cast is extremely personable. If you’re a silent movie fan there’s the opportunity to see the fabulous Pola Negri in her last feature film, as the extraordinarily wealthy Madame Habib who has a particularly charming big cat. There are also terrific supporting roles for John Le Mesurier and Sheila Hancock. All in all, a lovely way to spend your afternoon. Directed by James Neilson.