Man in the Attic (1953)

Man in the Attic is sometimes referred to as a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic The Lodger – A Story of the London Fog (1927). But unlike Ivor Novello’s The Phantom Fiend (1932), which in spite of some variations is a retelling of Hitchcock’s film (Novello played the lead in both productions), Man in the Attic seems to actually be closer to the literary source than Hitchcock’s film was.

Jack Palance and Frances Bavier in Man in the Attic (1953)

Here, again, we see the strange and somewhat odd-behaving man who takes lodging in the spare room of a London couple. Again, of course, the man falls for the couple’s niece (daughter in the Hitchcock version). And again there are some very striking resemblances between the new lodger and the serial killer who goes about town murdering young women. In this film, the murderer in question is Jack the Ripper, but is The Ripper and the lodger really one and the same? The wife of the house certainly thinks so, but her husband is not at all convinced, and their lovely niece wants to hear no such nonsense.

An interesting thing with the various cinematic versions of this story is the wildly different endings. Man in the Attic presents yet another variant, and one which makes it a completely different kind of story. In fact, I suspect that this ending is close to the original novel. Hitchcock was always very liberal with how he adapted his sources, as he was more interested in creating the story he wanted to tell than in trying to recreate anything from the original. In this version, however, the producers and writer seem to have taken pains not to stray too far.

Compared with the other versions, Man in the Attic has advantages and disadvantages. Jack Palance does an excellent job, perhaps even better than Ivor Novello in some respects. Even more to the point, the supporting characters are much more finely portrayed here, and with more depth. However, director Hugo Fregonese does not manage to achieve the same feeling of suspense that you get from Hitchcock’s film in particular, and I cannot decide which I disdain the most: unmasked American accents in a Victorian London setting, or Americans trying and failing to speak with a British accent. Man in the Attic will provide you with both.

This film is best enjoyed as a counterbalance to Hitchcock’s The Lodger. If you have to watch only one version of the story, you should make it Hitchcock’s (because it is more important to cinematic history, if nothing else), but if you want another, I would recommend this one before Ivor Novello’s remake, even though that one has its positive sides, as well.

Constance Smith and Jack Palance in Man in the Attic (1953)

Man in the Attic
Download link
Year: 1953
Running time: 1 h 22 min
Director: Hugo Fregonese
Stars: Jack Palance
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (684×480, not counting black border)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DIVX (700 M)

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Beat the Devil (1953)

Humphrey Bogart, while perhaps best remembered for romantic dramas like Casablanca (1942) or film noirs like The Maltese Falcon (1941), participated in a wide range of genres during his long career. One of his many lesser-known but excellent performances is in the thriller comedy Beat the Devil.

Marco Tulli, Peter Lorre, Jennifer Jones, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley, Ivor Barnard and Gina Lollobrigida in Beat the Devil (1953)

While perhaps not Bogart’s typical kind of movie, the character he plays in Beat the Devil retains many of the traits from his more famous roles. He is cool, callous, cynical and clever, yet somehow endearing. He is Billy Dannreuther, an American in Italy who has lost all his money and sees the opportunity to make more by joining four crooks in some shady land deals. They all travel by boat, hoping to get to British East Africa, but Destiny wills otherwise.

Gina Lollobrigida (who is still alive as I write this) plays Billy’s wife Maria in a marriage that appears to have very little love left in it. On board the ship to Africa, they meet with the Chelms, an English couple (Edward Underdown and Jennifer Jones). Billy and Maria each start to flirt with Mrs. and Mr. Chelms, respectively, which in turn leads to entaglements.

But in spite of all the other exciting and colourful characters, perhaps the most interesting of the lot is the band of four criminals played by two well-known and experienced actors (Robert Morley and Peter Lorre) and two that never achieved stardom (yet also very good). These four throughout most of the film appear as a single unit, almost as one character with four faces. The directing of their appearances is absolutely brilliant.

It has been said that Bogart himself did not particularly like this movie. Well, I like it, and I warmly recommend it to anyone who takes a fancy in the good old black-and-white classics.

This film is best enjoyed for its fantastic actors and characters, and their wonderful dialogue. The plot (to the extent that there is one) plays a very minor part in this movie.

Marco Tulli, Jennifer Jones, Humphrey Bogart and Gina Lollobrigida in Beat the Devil (1953)

Beat the Devil
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Year: 1953
Running time: 1 h 29 min
Directors: John Huston
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (856 M)

The Air Force Story (1953)

Did I mention that the Internet Archive is an amazing resource? In addition to the thousands of freely and legally downloadable fictional films (I am only scratching the surface in this blog), there are also thousands of documentaries, propaganda, instructional films and other historically interesting items made available by the American government. These include some true classics, such as the Why We Fight series from World War II, but also a good number of lesser known jewels. Today, we take a look at The Air Force Story, a history of the US Air Force produced early in the Cold War.

Boening B-17 Flying Fortress bombers during World War II in The Air Force Story (1953)

There is very little information available about this series of films. No information, not even year of production, is given in the films themselves, except that the music is played by The Air Force Band (which apparently had a male choir as well). The descriptions at the Internet Archive only give keywords for the contents, and the year of release as 1953.

For anyone interested in the history of aviation, though, the series is a gold mine. Here you will find information about and spectacular film sequences of classic military aircraft such as DH-4, JN-4 “Jenny”, B-17 Flying Fortress (image above), P-38 Lightning, B-29 Superfortress and B-36 (image below). Just to mention a handful.

The Air Force Story is at times almost ridiculously detailed, especially the chapters dealing with World War II. When I started watching the series, I thought I was only going to see a handful of chapters; the early ones, the final ones, and some samples from the war years. But the more I saw, the more fascinated I became, and I ended up watching the entire 26(!) episodes.

It is very interesting to watch some of the later episodes after first having watched Victory Through Air Power, since that film describes many of the tactics that were actually used in the war.

The propaganda, fairly light in the early episodes, becomes more and more pronounced the closer one gets to the “present” (i.e. 1950s). Near the end, it actually becomes quite embarrassing, as Hiroshima was said to be a military target (about 50,000 dead civilians as a direct result of the blast and fire).

Here is a list of all the chapters, and links to the Internet Archive for each.

  1. The Beginning
  2. After the War, 1918 – 1923
  3. Struggle for Recognition, 1923 – 1930
  4. Between Wars, 1930 – 1935
  5. Air Power Advances, 1935 – 1937
  6. Prelude to War, 1937 – 1939
  7. The Air War Starts, 1939 – 1941
  8. The Drawing of the Battle Lines, December 1941 – April 1942
  9. The AAF Fights Back, April – July 1942
  10. The Tide Turns, June – December 1942
  11. North Africa, November 1942 – May 1943
  12. Global Operations, 1943
  13. Expanding Air Power, June 1943
  14. Schweinfurt and Regensburg, August 1943
  15. Two Years of War, September – December 1943
  16. Maximum Effort, October 1943
  17. Road to Rome, September 1943 – June 1944
  18. Prelude to Invasion, January – June 1944
  19. D-Day, June 1944
  20. Ploesti, March – August 1944
  21. Superfort, August 1943 – June 1944
  22. Victory in Europe, June 1944 – May 1945
  23. Retreat and Advance, June 1944 – March 1945
  24. Air War Against Japan, 1944 – 1945
  25. A New Air Force, 1945 – 1947
  26. Cold War, 1948 – 1950

Even for an aviation nut like myself, watching the entire series will become tiresome after a while. There is a lot of reiterated propaganda, and some episodes contain relatively little information. If you just want to watch a few parts, I would recommend 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 19 and 26 for starters. Most other episodes have something to offer, however, and especially if you are interested in World War II.

As if the original 26 parts were not enough, there is also an Air Force Story, Volume 2 from a few years later (chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; chapter 2 appears to be unavailable). I have not decided whether I will watch that, too.

This series is best enjoyed if you are interested in military history. It must be remembered at all times that this is propaganda, but though some details may be left out or exaggerated, the overall story reflects true events, and it is told in an interesting way. Most important, however, is the huge amount of unique film material used for the series, much of which is publicly available nowhere else.

Convair B-36 Peacemaker bombers during the Cold War in The Air Force Story (1953)

The Air Force Story
Download link (Chapter 1)
Year: 1953
Running time: 6 h 10 min
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2