This 1934 Boris Karloff–Bela Lugosi vehicle became a classic of Hollywood expressionism under the direction of Edgar G. Ulmer, a German emigre who once worked as an assistant to F.W. Murnau. Ulmer never again had the budgetary resources granted him by Universal (at the time, Karloff and Lugosi were two of the studio’s biggest stars), and he makes the most of them. The sets, designed mostly by Ulmer himself, combine Bauhaus stylings with the bottomless shadows of the German silents, providing a studiously unreal background for a bizarre power struggle between the two stars. Karloff, a tremendously underrated film actor, has one of his best, most extravagant roles; Lugosi has one of his last good ones. With David Manners and Jacqueline Wells cringing in the corners.
Ironic, alienating musicals have been tried before (Pal Joey onstage, It’s Always Fair Weather on film), but never with such lofty contempt for the form. This 1981 film drips with a sense of anger and betrayal that seems wildly out of scale to its cause—the discovery (less than original) that musicals don’t reproduce social reality. The point is made endlessly, though it’s in the film’s favor that it’s made with seriousness, consideration, and a certain amount of imagination. Unfortunately the only value the film can find to range against the false romanticism of the music is a low-grade sexuality, which is itself mocked and made into the wellspring of the characters’ problems. Herbert Ross directed, in steely control for once; the interestingly spare screenplay is by Dennis Potter. With Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. R, 107 min.
Many of the writers who worked on Have Gun — Will Travel went on to gain fame elsewhere. …Harry Julian Fink is one of the writers who created Dirty Harry (the opening title and theme scene of the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force would feature the same Paladin-like sequence of a handgun slowly cocked, and then finally pointed toward the camera, with a line of dialogue).
The program’s opening theme song was composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann