Rectuma, and six more

The endless quest for cinematic excellence and antiquities continues. Highly recommended: The Browning Version (1951). Oddly recommended: The Anniversary (1968), Batman (1966), and Rectuma (2003).

The Anniversary (1968)
YES — 

This is from Hammer Films, but it’s not their typical horror. It's a different horror entirely.

Three British brothers work at a construction firm, with the rule that they'd never want to live in any house they built. They’re all under the dictatorship of their mother, the actual boss of the company — Bette Davis, behind an eye-patch, making sure everyone in the family is miserable.

Her three sons are all out of their minds in their own ways. Their ladyfriends are the movie's only sane people, and one of the three doesn't have a ladyfriend. The titular anniversary is the day Mom married Dad, but he's long dead and now only a painting on the wall. Their sons and their families are required to attend, like it or not, and none of them like it but all of them attend.

The Anniversary is based on a play, filmed theatrically, with Davis playing one of the all-time great mentally-ill matriarchs of cinema. Joan Crawford specialized in playing crazy mothers, but Davis out-Crawfords Crawford, which may well have been her motivation in taking the role.

It’s a British movie and everyone speaks with an English accent, except for Bette Davis, who doesn’t bother and doesn’t need it. The language of Mom is universal, and if you speak Spanish or you're a fan of Mexican telenovelas you might recognize the plot-line and eye-patch — it's twice been remade as Cuna de Lobos, TV adaptations which are better known than this oddly obscure Bette Davis version.

Experts and anthropologists believe The Anniversary is a comedy, and there are laughs if you like it dark, but I believe it's more aptly categorized as camp or simply arch. It takes place in a heightened reality, and none of the characters tell any jokes, per se. This line, for example — it's amusing, but is it a joke?

“You wouldn’t have been content just knitting away during the French Revolution like the other hags. You would’ve been up there working the guillotine yourself, and then you’d have gone ‘round with a basket selling the heads for doorstops.”

If there’s uncertainty reading my summary, trust me, there was also uncertainty writing it, but I’ve decided this is a good review of a good movie.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Batman (1966)

Batman was my favorite comic book hero when I was a kid, and I remember being frustrated by the Adam West/Burt Ward TV show, because it was campy when I wanted to take Batman seriously.

Decades later, the movies took Batman more seriously, especially in 1989 when Tim Burton and Michael Keaton did Batman exactly right. After that, every actor in Hollywood wanted to wear the cape and cowl, leading to the bombastically unpleasant Christian Bale/Christopher Nolan movies — too damned serious, the opposite of the TV show, and no fun at all.

So I've come back to the 1960s, when this movie played in theaters between the TV show's first and second seasons, with TV's cast and campy spin. There's a batcopter and a batcycle, a batboat, a batladder, and batsprays, and Batman famously beats up a shark. We get all four of the primary villains from TV — Lee Meriwether (instead of Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt) as Catwoman, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler.

There's an instant clothes-changer to get Batman and Robin from street duds to their hero outfits. Batman and Robin run a few miles through the streets of Gotham City, sometimes on the sidewalk and sometimes in traffic, but always with that great ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba music. Showing great restraint, there are no exploding Pow! Bam! Wham! cartoon visuals, until the climactic and kooky final fistfight. My favorite scene is too brief, with Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, and Chief O'Hara all in the Commissioner's office, pacing across the room with worry, but their steps are neatly choreographed so they never bump into each other.

Nelson Riddle wrote a jazzy, juicy score, and West and Ward's performances are exactly right for what this movie is. They even share a semi-poignant moment at the end. It's good clean dumb — an episode of the TV show with a slightly bigger budget and longer running time. Make popcorn. Expect no message.

"The entire Security Council may have been dehydrated!" Same as when I was a kid, it's still too silly when I'd rather take Batman somewhat seriously, but it's a laugh, and we'll always have Keaton.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Browning Version (1951)

With this description — “Forced to retire from an English public school, a disliked professor must confront his utter failure as a teacher, a husband, and a man” — how could I possibly not want to watch this?

As one of his students says, Mr Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) isn’t sadistic. He doesn’t get a kick out of twisting kids’ ears, like some teachers. “He doesn’t get a kick out of anything. In fact I don’t think he has any feelings at all. He’s just dead, that’s all.”

His replacement sits in on his last class as an observer, as do we. Derisively called 'The Crock', Mr Crocker-Harris is indeed nothing but a lesson plan mechanically presented, with no perceptible personality of his own. He’s a teacher who shows up for class, but hasn’t taught anything in years. 

In the great disappointment of his life, we learn that Crocker-Harris once began translating the Greek play Agamemnon into English, but gave up on it. Neither students nor other teachers respect him. The headmaster informs him he won’t qualify for a pension. His wife is having an affair with the school’s science instructor.

There were some teachers along my education who taught only for the paycheck, and this rings true to that memory. Every element of the film revolves around an old English boarding school, but any career or any person's passion could be a stand-in for The Crock's Greek and Latin classes. The Browning Version is the story of you and me and anyone who grows stale, and does things only to get them done, losing any real love for it.

I’ve known a man like that, and in my defense, I believe it’s possible to be a failure at everything and still have a good time.

The movie comes close to perfect, but it's not quite. The glaring fault, for me, is that the teacher’s wife is too easily dismissed as simply a bad woman. She’s unfaithful and full of hate and duplicity, certainly, but just as certainly she's put up with her nothing of a husband for years. She's as much victim as femme fatale.

This version of The Browning Version is not to be confused with any of several remakes, especially the latest, from 1994, starring Albert Finney, Greta Scacchi, and Matthew Modine. Haven’t seen every version ever filmed, but the Finney remake inexplicably establishes that Mr Crocker-Harris is actually a good teacher, albeit too strict and humorless.

Making him an effective teacher, of course, eviscerates the story’s entire intent. Let’s make Mutiny on the Bounty with Captain Bligh as a beloved leader, or Groundhog Day with Phil Connors as a mensch weatherman from the start.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

If you'd like a break from this pandemic, come visit another. Dorothy Malone stars as a dangerous dame being tailed by feds for smuggling diamonds from Cuba, but she's carrying something else she's unaware of — smallpox, a disease that could kill millions. 

Based on real events, this is from a time when people were willing to endure the agony and indignity of being jabbed with a needle, to prevent widespread suffering and death.  Some of the movie’s heroics are exaggerated, clearly. Seems unlikely that the mayor ordered drug manufacturers to break the law in order to manufacture meds more quickly, or obtain injection needles from Singer, the sewing machine company.

Where's the mayor on the weekend, when it's desperate that we get ahold of him? Why, he's at a kids' baseball game, of course, which he's umpiring. There's even a doctor who volunteers to go to the hospital to check on his patient. Suspend all disbelief.

"Sure, there were some who didn't believe in the city's fight. 'Stop these vaccinations!' 'Vaccine is poison!'" but peer pressure from their neighbors quickly brings the refuseniks in line. When little kids say "I don't wanna!" their parents make them get the shot anyway, and where I wonder are the parents of 2022?

This film is dedicated to "the men and women of public health — the first line of defense between mankind and disease." I think the first line of defense is washing your hands, but …

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Rectuma (2003)

"The terror lurking behind you could be your own behind."

I saw this right after seeing SuperFantaGenio (see below), and in reviewing that film my complaint was that they had money, but money doesn’t matter when no-one puts any effort or creativity into making a movie. This one is that one’s opposite — writer-director Mark Pirro spent only $800 making it, says IMDB, but he invested plenty of chutzpah and imagination instead.

Intended to spoof both the Godzilla genre and Silence of the Lambs, Rectuma tells the story of Waldo (Bill Devlin), who's violated by a Mexican butt-humping bullfrog while on a vacation with his loveless wife. In case you're skeptical that this could really happen, the movie opens with a duet of singing dames:

You may feel that this sounds absurd
But we promise to you
That our story is true
If you doubt us, fuck you
It occurred.

After the attack, Waldo's ass starts hurting, and he ends up in a chatty proctologist’s office. “Do you want to know what I have found up asses? Flashlights, soda bottles, French bread, French horns, small rodents, large rodents, Barbie dolls with accessories, remote controls, ketchup containers, staplers, electric razors, boxing gloves, videocassettes, strawberry PopTarts…”

By doctor’s orders, Waldo is not supposed to put anything up his butt, but he’s straight and vanilla, so nothing’s ever been up there anyway. Then his rear leaves his pants, and goes on a killing rampage. Who will be the next victim of the monstrous Rectuma?

As you might guess, it's nothing but juvenile jokes from beginning to end, but none of it is particularly mean — oh sure, a white woman wants black dick, an Asian doctor is named Wansamsaki, and there are anti-terrorist jokes that might be taken as anti-Middle Eastern, a few male-rape cracks, and the proctologist waxes nostalgic over little boys' anuses he's examined. Mostly, though, it’s an hour and a half of good-natured butt jokes, fart jokes, and poop jokes.

Is it funny? Yeah. I laughed out loud about ten times, and frequently smiled or groaned. It reduced my IQ by ten points, though.

Rectuma was filmed on video, but looks good. There are surprisingly few butt shots (all male, most hairy, and only one interior shot). No gay jokes, save a single use of ‘gay’ as a synonym for bad. Several deaths by ass, and one gerbil gets eaten. Jean Black does a surprisingly good Jodie Foster impression. When the singing dames get tiresome, Pirro has them sing in a urinal, and they get pissed on.

Even the credits are fun — Fecal Goo Supplier, Union-Dodge Manager, Transportation: Their cars. “Except for one dead hamster, no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture.” That’s a joke; the hamster-eating scene was definitely fake, but the movie is the real deal. Recommended, and there’s more Mark Pirro coming soon to a screen near me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

John McGuire is an illegally-handsome newspaper reporter, and after he finds Elisha Cook Jr standing over a corpse at the diner, he's a key witness in Cook's murder trial. Margaret Tallichet plays the reporter’s fiancée, and she thinks maybe Cook didn’t do it.

When Handsome McGuire finds a second body, he’s afraid the cops will think he’s the killer, and were it not for the spoiler (detailed below) I might have suspected him as well.

Stranger is an early noir, and the mood is effective. There’s a terrific nightmare sequence, where Handsome is railroaded to a guilty verdict in front of a sleeping jury. When the dream’s over and we're back in the waking world, well...

I hate spoilers, but this movie spoils itself in the opening credits, when Peter Lorre gets top billing. He’s only in the movie for about ten minutes total, mostly just lurking in the shadows, and he has perhaps two dozen words of dialogue, but he's Peter Lorre. ‘Nuff said.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

SuperFantaGenio (1986)
(a/k/a Aladdin)

A teenage boy working in a junk shop wipes crud off an old lamp and gets Bud Spencer as Aladdin the genie.

I've always liked genies, especially Barbara Eden, but isn’t 'three wishes' the deal? This kid uses six wishes immediately, just making the genie invisible, then visible again, then invisible and visible, again and again. Then other stupid things happen.

SuperFantaGenio is super bad, almost unfathomably bad. I don’t demand brilliance or illumination from a movie, only an effort, but there's none. It’s as if any act of imagination was forbidden by company policy. There’s no moment of cleverness — not a line, not a thought, not a hint. Five different people are credited with writing this, and they must’ve been five different third-graders. The acting is on par with the script. There are many, many jokes, and every one of them falls flat. The music sounds like a pinball machine, and the special effects are inexplicably primitive; Bewitched did the same tricks 20 years earlier and far more believably. 

Movies like this mystify me. They had the budget to bring in a Rolls Royce, and make a Rolls Royce fly. They had a name actor in the lead role. They had cameras, and the image is in focus. This is not a movie made by amateurs or penny-pinchers, so why not spend a few hundred bucks to hire a scriptwriter who could, you know, write a script?

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  1. Browning Version on your recommendation -- thank you -- it was beautiful. I cannot bring mysewlf to see Rectuma though.

  2. It's the movie reviews that first hooked me here. Everything else is gravy. Where do you even find something like Rectuma?

    I do miss the easy streaming though. Please bring the links back?

    1. I'm always on the prowl for an odd movie. Never seen one much like Rectuma before...

      You know how to Google, right? If you can't find something, gimme a shout and I'll send a link.

    2. Doug, I read this comment, and I was instantly in that cheap hotel with Bogart and Bacall. "You know how to google don't you Steve? . . ."

    3. And I have a personal question which you're entirely welcome to take a pass on. When you dream do people call you Doug or a previous name?

    4. One of the sexiest scenes in cinema, and fully clothed. Not even any cleavage, as I recall.

      Never much noticed what anyone calls me after I'm asleep. In tomorrow's dreams I'll try to pay closer attention...


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