Jungle Book (1942)

It is interesting how inspiration can sometimes go in circles – or at least in spirals. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, published in 1894, lent inspiration to Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the first Tarzan book in 1912. Burroughs has said that Kipling was among his inspirational sources, and Kipling later admitted that Burroughs was a “genius among genii” of imitators (though, strictly speaking, Tarzan is more than just a Mowgli imitation). The Tarzan character was later changed, in both subtle and not so subtle ways, for the silver screen, and among those changes was the iconic vine swinging, allegedly invented by Frank Merrill and popularized by Johnny Weissmuller. Now, here comes the real inspirational loop, for when Jungle Book, one of the most classic of the film adaptations, was made in 1942, we suddenly see Mowgli swinging the vines from tree to tree, just like the Tarzan that was originally inspired by the book Mowgli.

(NB. Tarzan of the books finally did swing the vines, but not until 1948, in the final Tarzan book published during Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lifetime, Tarzan and the Foreign Legion.)

Patricia O'Rourke and Sabu in Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

With or without vine swinging, Jungle Book is really a spectacular piece of film, though truth be told, it is not a very faithful adaptation of the literary original. It begins with a neat framing sequence, where an old storyteller somewhere in the Indian countryside tells the story of Mowgli. Then we see many scenes of nature, both beautiful and powerful. And at last, the story comes to Mowgli himself and his struggle for finding his place, among the jungle animals, but even more so among the humans. There is naturally also a romantic interest in the form of a young girl.

Mowgli was played by the actor simply named Sabu, who at this time was at the height of his career. Sabu had a very special screen personality, one that mesmerized and captivated the audience. But after he had served as a tailgunner in World War II, his career never quite got back on its feet, and this is therefore one of his rather few films as leading actor. If you are unfamiliar with Sabu, watching him is by itself worth the price of admission.

This film is best enjoyed because it combines the best of Hollywood and British film of the time. From the British, it has the attention to detail, the flowing dialogue, and that little something which I cannot quite put my finger on. From Hollywood, it has the lavish sets and the budget to truly make it rise above the average.

Sabu as Mowgli among the elephants in Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

Jungle Book
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 46 min
Director: Zoltán Korda
Stars: Sabu
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.8 G)

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The Bat (1959)

Between 1922 and 1960, the play The Bat was filmed at least five times. I have previously written about the 1960 TV version, and in that post I also told a bit about how the story is connected with Batman. Now the turn has come to what is perhaps the most well-known version, the 1959 film The Bat, starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.

Agnes Moorehead and Lenita Lane in The Bat (1959)

In this version, Moorehead plays a mystery writer who has rented a mansion over the summer, but the place scares her hired staff, and things do not exactly improve when rumours of the masked murderer “The Bat” start to go around. The Bat is soon drawn to the mansion for some reason, and so are several other persons, including Lieutenant Anderson, who tries to capture The Bat, and Dr. Wells (Price), a man with some pretty shady background.

Of all the versions, this is perhaps the one that is furthest removed from the original play. While that helps to give it more cineastic integrity (in terms of not feeling quite so much like a filmed play), it also works to the film’s disadvantage to some extent. The play has a really tight and well worked out plot, and though the film retains the major plot elements, it feels somewhat less intense and dramatic. The horror aspects that have been added do not feel all that terrifying fifty-plus years later.

Still, it is a cozy piece of a mystery, one to cuddle up in front of on a dark and stormy night. In addition, of the three versions available from the Internet Archive, it is most definitely the one with the best sound and image quality.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a fan if Vincent Price. He is, as always, excellent, though the other actors deserve praise, too. Oh, and Crane Wilbur’s directing is also very solid.

The Bat's steel clawed glove in The Bat (1959)

The Bat
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Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Crane Wilbur
Stars: Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

Captain Kidd (1945)

Last week, I wrote about how Douglas Fairbanks defined the entire pirate film genre with The Black Pirate (1926). Having said as much, all pirate films are naturally not made from the same template. Though a number of clichés can certainly be found in Captain Kidd, the film also contains a number of original elements.

Randolph Scott in Captain Kidd (1945)

Captain Kidd is nowhere near as lavish and epic as The Black Pirate, yet it is well worth watching on its own merits. The plot is a bit too intricate to be described in just a few sentences, but rest assured that you will find both romance and adventure a-plenty. It involves the greedy and scheming pirate William Kidd (Charles Laughton), the greatest menace of the seven seas, and Adam Mace (Randolph Scott), a man who is out for revenge.

Captain Kidd has often been criticised for being historically inaccurate. That may well be the case, but it is totally beside the point. The film does make use of a number of historical names, places and ships, but the entire plot is just a wonderful fantasy, and it should be watched as such.

This film is best enjoyed for Charles Laughton’s acting. Even though Randolph Scott may nominally be the film’s hero, Laughton is definitely the main character. I did not clock, but I am sure he gets more screen time, and he is absolutely magnificent in his role. There is also a very good John Carradine in a minor role.

Captain Kidd (1945)

Captain Kidd
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Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 29 min
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Stars: Charles Laughton, John Carradine
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (720×576)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

The Bat (1960)

When Bob Kane created Batman, who first appeared 75 years ago this month of May, he used many different sources of inspiration. One of these was a character named “The Bat”, which first appeared in a stage play with the same title. But more about Batman’s connection with The Bat later.

The Bat is a delightful little mystery, fully equipped with murder, romance, double identities, stolen money and a hidden room. It has been said to be the archetype for all later old mansion mysteries, and it has been adapted for the screen on at least four occasions. Three of these adaptations are to be found at the Internet Archive (see other links below), and my favourite is perhaps the least known of these, a TV version of The Bat from 1960, produced for the series The Dow Hour of Great Mysteries.

The Bat (1960)

The best thing about this production is the excellent cast, with legendary Helen Hayes (who had an acting career on stage and screen for over eighty years) in the lead as the old lady who finds her home invaded by people who lie, deceive and double-play. Another good actor is Jason Robards as a police detective. Not to forget Margaret Hamilton, famous for The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Today, it is tempting to dismiss The Bat as a somewhat cheap Agatha Christie rip-off. However, the original Broadway play premiered in the same year that Christie’s first story saw print, so it is more likely that Christie took inspiration from this story, although it is probably more accurate to assume that both are children of the same time.

Now, what about the Batman connection? Actually, it is not completely clear. Roland West directed two film adaptations of the story. First the silent The Bat (1926); later the talkie The Bat Whispers (1930). Bob Kane has allegedly said that he was inspired by the latter, yet the former features a much more Batman-like costume, and also a Bat signal which is arguably the origin of the Batman logo. So even though The Bat was a villain, it is confirmed that the character did make an imprint upon Batman, and the story is therefore historically interesting, in addition to being a good yarn.

This film is best enjoyed in this particular incarnation. In addition to the versions previously mentioned, there was also a film version released in 1959, The Bat starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead. This, too, is good, but Hayes easily wins over Moorehead in the “old lady detective” category. Also, the plot is much tighter in the 1960 version. But, of course, if you are a Vincent Price fan, the 1959 version is a must.

Martin Brooks, Helen Hayes, Dale Ogden, Margaret Hamilton, Jason Robards and Sheppered Strudwick in The Bat (1960)

The Bat
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Year: 1960
Running time: 51 min
Director: Paul Nickell
Stars: Helen Hayes
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable

Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Last week I wrote about the original The Thief of Bagdad with Douglas Fairbanks. That film was remade in England in 1940. Well, not a remake, exactly, since there was very little left of Fairbanks’ story, but it shared the title and a number of central themes.

The 1940 movie did not stay very close to The Arabian Nights stories. It developed the fantastic characters (the thief, the sultan, the princess, the genie) and their surroundings (the architecture, the clothes, the magical objects), but wove these into completely new stories, not based on the original film nor the books.

The success was spectacular (it is still a magnificent film) and it opened the gates for a flood of imitators. In 1942 came Hollywood’s response, Arabian Nights (the second-ever Technicolor movie), and in 1944 there were two more. Through the rest of the 40s and most of the 50s, Hollywood released on average one new Arabian Nights film every two years, culminating in 1958 with Ray Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. After that there were considerably fewer Arabian Nights movies from Hollywood for a while, which is ironic, considering that Harryhausen was the first one in eighteen years who actually offered something original to the genre.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Maureen O'Hara in Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Typical of the kind was Sinbad the Sailor, the only one of these films that seems to exist at the Internet Archive. It follows the 1940 Thief tradition in that it uses some characters and themes from The Arabian Nights, but the stories told, indeed the entire storytelling strucutres, have nothing to do with the books.

Sinbad, who beside Aladdin is the most frequent Arabian Nights hero in the movies, tells the story of how he (once again) is about to embark on his previously unknown eighth voyage. (I wonder exactly how many eighth voyages of Sinbad there are.) In this telling, in accordance with the Hollywood Arabian Nights tradition, Sinbad is a thief and a swindler, rather than the peaceful merchant from the books. It all begins as he finds a ship adrift, the crew having been killed by poison in the drinking water. He and his sidekick Abbu take the ship to port, hoping to claim it as theirs. In the captain’s cabin they find an interesting chart and a medallion, and this sets them on the course for Alexander the Great’s(!) fabulous treasure. But others are also looking for the same treasure, including the beautiful woman Shireen.

Compared with The Thief of Bagdad (both versions), Sinbad the Sailor is cheaply made and does not really offer anything new. But it is still worthwhile if you are interested in Hollywood’s treatment of The Arabian Nights. Though cheaper, the sets share the fantastic and magical qualities of the older movies.

It becomes even more interesting because it features Douglas Fairbanks’ son, Douglas Jr., in the title role. Junior was not a bad actor and made a decent career, but he was doomed to act in his father’s shadow. Occasionally, as in this case, he was cast in an apparent attempt to reflect some of the light from his father’s greatest successes.

This film is best enjoyed for the colourful and interesting characters, which make up for the sometimes rather thin plot.

The Arabian Nights, as seen in Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

Sinbad the Sailor
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Year: 1947
Running time: 1 h 38 min
Director: Richard Wallace
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O’Hara
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: h.264 (688 M)