Did a little movie watching over the weekend. First, I caught a screening of Hitchcock's Saboteur, which I had seen years ago but not since I developed my fascination with this film's top-billed star Priscilla Lane. From what I've read and heard, this was a troubled production from the beginning- Hitchcock still wasn't at the stage in his career where he had total control over his films, and he had to make several compromises which, I'm sure, did nothing to help his enthusiasm for the project. One thing he wanted was different leads- Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck instead of Lane and Robert Cummings, and while I thought Lane was fine, Hitch was right on in his instinct about Cummings, who plays his part, that of a munitions worker who's framed for sabotage and the death of his best friend and co-worker, in a strangely happy-go-lucky fashion, always chipper and blithely upbeat. Odd choice. Lane, for her part, is radiant as always (little biased here, I guess), but tries a bit too hard to channel Stanwyck's acting style (at Hitch's request? Don't know), I believe, and doesn't play to her strength as an actress. The script itself, despite co-writing credits by Dorothy Parker (!), is a mishmash, held together with chewing gum and duck tape, relying on coincidence and belief suspension to advance the plot...but still, this is, of course, Hitchcock, and in spite of everything he manages to keep the proceedings moving at a fast clip and works a couple of scenes for some nicely effective, tense moments. The finale (for which I would imagine this film is best remembered) on the Statue of Liberty is a classic scene. So while Saboteur is a disappointment, it's still very watchable.
Also caught Down With Love, on the surface a tribute to those fluffy Rock Hudson/Doris Day sex comedies of yore. I thought it might be good fun, but the problem is that this film is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, and completely loses whatever charm it might have engendered (something those old films had) with its arch, condescending tone. The leads are fine, even though the characters they're asked to play are too broad and cartoonish: Ewan McGregor is dashing, and Reneé (sigh) Zellwegger is energetic and winning. Reneé's buddy in the film is played by Sarah Paulson, who was Murlee in American Gothic(!). Professional nerd David Hyde Pierce is also on hand, to function as the Tony Randall character. Randall himself has a cameo, and it's cool to see him in the brief time he gets. Down With Love, with it's excellent reproduction of the look and styles of the early 60s, if not the feel, is technically great, imaginative even, but it seems to be a film made by fashion designers and artists for fashion designers and artists, and there's just no heart or soul in it. It's worth one watch, but I can't imagine why anyone should want to view it over and over. I'm borderline obsessive about Zellwegger, but even I have no desire to see this again.
Finally, I got to see a film I've been curious about for a long time, 1962's Carnival Of Souls, a film which has gathered quite a reputation over the years as being an atmospheric, seminal, influential horror movie, and after one viewing I can see why. Shot on the cheap, it does have that low-budget, grainy quality to it which often adds to the feel of this sort of film...and many of its scenes are very creepy indeed. From me that's saying something 'cause I don't creep easily. The story of a young church organist who appears to have survived a car accident and drowning, but is subsequently haunted and pursued by a ghostly stranger and visions of ghosts dancing on an abandoned pier, Souls is indeed long on mood but is hamstrung by some terrible, amateurish perfomances and a constant, shrill organ score which some say contributes to the creep factor but just got on my nerves. Lead Candace Hilligoss, who only made one other movie of any note, shows a little ability but is very stiff (and it's possible that the role needed this). I'll bet George Romero watched this a few times, because the ghostly people bear a distinct resemblance to his zombies in his original Night of the Living Dead. Almost as interesting as this film (to me) is that the director, Herk Harvey, (who had made his name making those instructional videos that everyone likes to make fun of so much) never made another completed film! And it's not like he died at an early age- he lived until 1996! Strange. Hilligoss had discussed doing a sequel to Souls with him a few years before he died, but nothing came of it. Called "required viewing" by no less an authority than Michael Weldon in his Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Carnival of Souls is quite effective (and mercifully brief), but again is a film that's more interesting from a historical perspective than from a purely casual viewing viewpoint.