Jason Robards Sr.

Isle of the Dead (1945, Mark Robson)

The Greek anti-defamation league, if it existed, mustn’t have had much power when Isle of the Dead came out. It’s a quarantine drama, a genre I’m unfamiliar with but certainly has a lot of potential, set on a small Greek island. There’s nothing on the island besides an amateur Swiss archeologist (Jason Robards Sr.) and a graveyard. Boris Karloff plays a Greek general (the film’s set during the First Balkan War) who heads over to visit his wife’s tomb, dragging along American war correspondent Marc Cramer.

Karloff and Cramer find some mild mystery before ending up in Robards’s home, where he’s entertaining multiple guests–temporary refuges from Karloff’s latest battle.

The plague makes an appearance, forcing everyone to stay on the small island. Karloff and fellow Greek Helene Thimig start thinking its an evil spirit and plot murder.

While Thimig is over the top, Karloff’s descent into madness is wonderful. Even when he ignores fact, his conviction remains reasonable. It’s a quiet, unassuming performance from him–costar Cramer appears to be taller even; he transfixes.

Director Robson handles the cast and their subplots well, with Ardel Wray’s script weaving the subplots across each other, fueling the main thrust of the picture. It’s a brilliant, unpredictable script.

Besides Karloff, the best performances are from Ellen Drew (as a Greek peasant who suffered at the military’s hand) and Katherine Emery (as her ill friend). The only other iffy performance is Ernst Deutsch.

Isle resists most formula (there’s romance); it’s rather good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; written by Ardel Wray; director of photography, Jack MacKenzie; edited by Lyle Boyer; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Ellen Drew (Thea), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards Sr. (Albrecht), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos) and Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra).


Mademoiselle Fifi (1944, Robert Wise)

Mademoiselle Fifi is split down the center, roughly, into two parts. The first involves Simone Simon on the trip to her hometown. The second is when she reaches the town. The film takes place in occupied France during the Franco-Prussian War, but it opens with a title card presenting it as an analogue to World War II.

The first half, with Simon’s laundress winning over her fellow travelers, a bunch of stuck-up upper crust who don’t understand why she doesn’t associate with the occupying Prussians. Fifi tries hard to be about recognizing the evils of passive collaboration. It’s more successful when it’s just about Simon and her experiences. It plays very naturally at those times.

Unfortunately, the finale is entirely artificial and contrived, so Fifi falls apart quite a bit. The short runtime is partially responsible. With a few more minutes, the film could introduce real characters into the second half instead of filler. The first half has extremely memorable ones, particularly Jason Robards Sr. as an obnoxious wine wholesaler and Kurt Kreuger as the titular villain. Even the less compelling characters are distinct. Not so at the end, when Fifi mostly introduces Prussian officer caricatures and vapid collaborators.

Simon’s excellent in the lead, as is John Emery as the armchair intellectual she inspires.

Technically, the film’s mediocre. Harry J. Wild’s photography is nice. J.R. Whittredge has some good transitions but, otherwise, his editing is weak. Wise’s direction is indistinct.

Fifi‘s impressive parts make the whole acceptable.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Josef Mischel and Peter Ruric, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Werner R. Heymann; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Simone Simon (Elizabeth Bousset, A Little Laundress), John Emery (Jean Cornudet), Kurt Kreuger (Lt. von Eyrick, Called ‘Fifi’), Alan Napier (The Count de Breville), Helen Freeman (The Countess de Breville), Jason Robards Sr. (A Wholesaler in Wines), Norma Varden (The Wholesaler’s Wife), Romaine Callender (A Manufacturer), Fay Helm (The Manufacturer’s Wife), Edmund Glover (A Young Priest) and Charles Waldron (The Curé of Cleresville).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE VAL LEWTON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY STEPHEN OF CLASSIC MOVIE MAN


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