What a delight! Thanks to Ray Garton and Paul D. Brazill for leading me to Tod Browning’s last film, Miracles for Sale. It’s a fun romp with magicians, psychics, trickery, grifters, and plenty of style. Currently airing on TCM, it’s also available in various versions online in the usual places.
I admit to giving short shrift to Robert Young because I first knew him as Marcus Welby M.D., a show my grandparents liked. What could be less cool than the gently ironic know-it-all elderly doctor? Yet he brings a witty humour to Miracles, which gives it charm. Most of the time the laughs walk a fine line along with the noir ambience and the spookiness. It’s a strange mix. Young’s Mike Morgan is a former stage magician who now makes elaborate tricks for other magicians. The opening war scene is a bit off-putting (including yellow face) but it turns out to be an overly-wrought saw-the-woman-in-half trick that Morgan is staging for a client. His house is a delight of tricks and surprises.
Morgan also devotes his time to exposing spiritual charlatans, admitting that there might be ghosts and whatnot, but he doesn’t want people exploiting the vulnerable with tricks. That kicks off the real plot when a gal in trouble (Florence Rice) runs into his shop to ask for help but can’t tell him the whole story. The plot is the least interesting part of the film and comes from Clayton Rawson’s Death from a Top Hat.
The fun is all the characters. Ray mentioned how little this seems like a Browning film. The one aspect that does is the characterisation, especially the brilliant cast of character actors. Frank Craven is a hoot as Morgan’s dad. He often ends up the victim of his son’s elaborate tricks-in-progress but he gets plenty of good lines. Henry Hull is cadaverous fellow magician Duvallo. The bickering La Claire couple (Lee Bowman and Astrid Allwyn) demonstrate that magic is just part of their acting on stage. The always delightful William Demerest plays a grumpy detective (the whole investigative team is a bit wacky).
Frederick Worlock is the mysterious Dr. Caesar Sabatt, accompanied by Gloria ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ Holden as the equally mysterious Madame Rapport. Browning has the camera rest on her singular face and as it lingers a sense of the uncanny arises. Though she only has a few scenes, that otherworldliness serves well when it comes time for the séance.
There’s a locked room mystery that isn’t much of a mystery—after all, by the time the first body shows up we’ve seen all manner of trickery explained. But the staging of the murders within pentagrams, the noir-shadowed streets of the city, and the suggestion that real unexplained mysteries from the beyond may be at work combine to give the film an enjoyable stylishness that’s definitely worth a try.
Sometimes I wonder why do I bother ? You can’t seem to please anyone, any of the time. Why not just say ” Fuck ’em all “ and live for yourself. Never worry about anybody else at all. But, it’s not in my nature, I can’t be that selfish. You have to share this world with other people, and I can’t help but care. Sometimes I wish that I could, but it’s just not in me. I’m too much of a softie to turn my back on them all.
Private places, privet hedges green lawns, and total, total boredom. Grey skies, identical houses, hidden secrets, and desires. The suburbs are terrifying, nothing is out in the open. Not upsetting the neighbours is the most important thing in life. I hate the suburbs, and I love them. They are the only thing I’ve ever known. I truly believe that there’s more evil, more lurid tales, and more sick crimes happening in the suburbs than in the inner city. The suburbs are where the criminals move to when they’ve made a bit of money. Nobody looks over their hedges so no one sees a bloody thing.
Bus 262 slithers curved roads, determinately making its way to the city. The roads are lined with Eucalyptus trees on both sides, birds are chirping. There are blue skies, the sun is just coming up and the temperature calls for a light jacket at 7am on this Friday.
If you would zoom in on the woods, you would see countless dog-walkers and joggers enjoying a morning outing. You would see wild bunnies and maybe even a fox or two.
Inside the bus it’s full but only 3 people have to stand. At this hour mainly business men and women make up the bus’ contents. In their dress-casual clothes, neat make-up and freshly shaven faces, nearly all of them are engulfed in their cellphones. There are a few parents with children and one stroller driven by an exhausted mother.
The bus smells like Dunkin Donuts coffee and hums along further.
The winding roads are slowly replaced by straight ones and the trees by houses and then buildings, followed finally by grey skyscrapers as the bus nears its destination.
A woman dressed in black boots, black pants and a light pink blouse stands up, book still in hand, eyes glued to the book. She manages to put on her jacket whilst reading and only closes the book briefly to get out of the bus at 7th Street, nearly the end of the line.
“Morning, Victoria,” the receptionist says to her as she enters the building around the corner from the 7th Street bus stop, and she begins her work day.
On her way home, Victoria waits at the 7th Street bus stop on the opposite side, ready to do the morning commute in reverse. Her colleague, Lily, has joined her, so she can’t read her book, but Victoria was raised to have proper manners, so she chats with Lily.
Unfortunately the conversation with her colleague goes from bad to worse when Victoria has to sit through the different names of the fish Lily took pictures of whilst scuba diving in Thailand. Her mind begins to drift.
The commute feels longer than usual. Victoria starts to think about her evening.
Finally back home, Victoria grabs her gown and make-up and heads over to the local bar/club, where she’ll eat some dinner before singing a set. They always treat her to a meal when she sings and they even serve vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, or wheat-free dishes, if you’re into that kind of thing.
I’m sitting in a chair, staring at my reflection in a beaten up old mirror backstage and I look elegant. Not that I shouldn’t – I’ve been getting made up and dressed up for the past hour here.
It’s almost time to sing. I’m not nervous – I kind of wish I was. I miss those days. But I’ve done this gig so many times now. It’s fun – I’m content with it.
“Victoria, you’re almost on!” Stella shouts to me.
I smile at myself in the mirror as I stand up – at my long, black evening gown, hair pulled up, revealing browned, bare shoulders. I heard that tonight’s show would be full.
As I sing my set, some family friends will accompany me (the old guys from down the street). They play fantastic back-up and I get to sing what I want – covers and jazz standards. I’ll start with “I Can’t Get Started” tonight, for irony’s sake. After the show I’ll go home to read. I’m addicted to romance novels, unbeknownst to all.
I am not an isolationist (that’s what I tell myself). I sing once or twice a month here and I talk to people at my office, where I work as a secretary, as well as my family of course. My family silently wonders whether I am a lesbian (or at least it seems like they do), and they can’t understand why I crave solitude. They almost never come watch me sing.
Maybe I am too picky but there is no one that pulls or interests me. But my romance novels…that’s where my heroines and heroes exist. Tonight I’ll pretend I’m singing for Siegfried, the latest hero in one of my books (things got really exciting with him on my bus ride this morning). He’s strong and intriguing and the game will make singing more fun.
“Vicki, now!” Stella says, with slight irritation. “I’m here – sorry,” I say and rush to enter the stage with the other musicians.
In the bright lights it’s hard to see the audience but I can tell that the hall is full to the brim. I wonder who is here tonight. Maybe the city folk coming to see the up-and-coming rock band performing after me? “Twisted Allies” is their name and they grew up in this town, which is why they even do this gig at all.
I get a little nervous. I let the musicians know what song we’ll start with and we go to town. Halfway through “I Can’t Get Started” I see a man in the audience who looks startlingly like Siegfried from my book. I know what he looks like because he’s drawn on the book cover, with his big muscles and piercing blue eyes. Sometimes I like to examine the book covers, studying every detail.
This Siegfried look-alike is at the bar and he is staring at me as I sing. His stare frightens me somehow. I try to ignore it and make a plan to get out of this gig as soon as possible. As intriguing as Siegfried is in my book, the prospect of any real contact with some Siegfried look-alike intimidates me, terrifies me.
Dashing out the back door into the cool night in a baseball cap, small polka-dotted scarf and an unglamourous oversized black jacket, I leave the loud, energetic songs of “Twisted Allies” to rev up the crowd inside. I’m sure the “Siegfried Starer” has no interest in looking for me and I am just running and hiding for no good reason, but I’d like to get home. I’ve got a book to read.
“Excuse me, miss…excuse me!” I hear a voice calling out. Surely that’s not meant for me. “Victoria, wait!”
Having recently seen (and wrote about) Witch Hunt (1994) I was looking forward to seeing this mash up of supernatural and noir, largely because I figured Fred Ward would play the part of PI Harry Philip Lovecraft a lot better than a rather wooden Dennis Hopper did in the later film. That guess was correct.
Ward immediately gets what the film is meant to be a plays the noir elements with an edge of satire and humour. He channels the classic Bogey Spade but with a sense of irony, knowing this is a crazy mash-up of elements and an exercise in nostalgia. Ward is an underrated actor who always bring a everyman sensibility and a weight of intelligent emotion to every part he plays. He brings life to the part and a reality despite the clichés, over-the-top dramatics and clunky dialogue.
Because the rest of Cast a Deadly Spellis not up to his abilities. That includes a young Julianne Moore who is given next to nothing to do apart from lip syncing to someone else’ song and carrying out every cliché in the femme fatale playbook. You can almost see her composing a strongly worded letter to her agent. Yet at moments she makes us believe in her Connie (heart of) Stone, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast.
David Warner phones it in. Lee Tergesen is quite good with very little help, despite being literally gay-bashed. I thought the role of Lovecraft’s witch partner, Hypolyta Kropotkin, was too small in Witch Hunt, but it’s miniscule in this film. Arnetia Walker gets very little to do except save Lovecraft’s ass.
The Lovecraft storyline intertwines with a Big Sleep-style detective narrative; nonsense with a virginal debutante (Alexandra Powers) that attempts to evoke both the Sternwood sisters at once. Needless to say the Lovecraft garbage is vile. It’s also incredibly boring and clichéd. Virgin sacrifice? Really? Oh hey, Necronomicon. Admittedly less of a cliché in 1991, but secret book of secrets has been a staple of horror films for a very long time.
Worse are the Gremlins. And they are really called that in the credits. Someone recently shared a meme about how cretins believe the moon landing was faked with an image of what SPFX looked like in 1969. The ‘old ones’ in this film really look like cheap knock offs of the Gremlins films (the first in 1984, which gives you an idea of the quality). Rubber monsters age poorly, but they would have looked out of date in 1991. I know, low budgets and all (this is an HBO made for tv movie) but Witch Hunt shows how much more effective you could be with more subtle effects. That movie is looking better now.
A shame because the concept of supernatural noir is such a great one and has been done really well (*cough* by people associated with this site). Fred Ward was so good. If you’re more forgiving of bad FX and hokey plots, you might find it ‘A great way to spend an evening!’ as Entertainment Weekly did. Potato, po-tah-toe.
You are tired, (I think) Of the always puzzle of living and doing; And so am I.
Come with me, then, And we’ll leave it far and far away — (Only you and I, understand!)
You have played, (I think) And broke the toys you were fondest of, And are a little tired now; Tired of things that break, and — Just tired. So am I.
But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight, And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart — Open to me! For I will show you the places Nobody knows, And, if you like, The perfect places of Sleep.
Ah, come with me! I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon, That floats forever and a day; I’ll sing you the jacinth song Of the probable stars; I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream, Until I find the Only Flower, Which shall keep (I think) your little heart While the moon comes out of the sea.
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net & Rhysling nominated sonnet stalker. Her sonnets have stalked journals like Glass, Yes, Five:2:One, Luna Luna and more. She is the author of seventeen books of poetry including Pink Plastic House (Maverick Duck Press), Crow Carriage (The Hedgehog Poetry Press), Flutter: Southern Gothic Fever Dream (TwistiT Press), The Meadow (APEP Publications) and Golden Ticket from Roaring Junior Press. She is the founder of Pink Plastic House a tiny journal and co-founder of Performance Anxiety, an online poetry reading series. Follow her on Twitter: (@lolaandjolie) and her website kristingarth.com
A cold winter night in the secret city. A collection of short monologues and flash fictions highlighting some of the individuals that call Hainesville “Home”. These are stories about people who live outside the margins that define civility and exist in the moment on the edge of a razorblade.
This is a pulp future-present inspired by neo-noir, retro nostalgia and some cyberpunk aesthetics.
Written, Spoken & Produced (except where mentioned) by Sam HaiNe Directed by Sam HaiNe.
Tracks: 2 &15, produced by The Green Dutch (Jade Palace Guard) Track: 3 produced by DJ QUAZZAR Track: 5 features Theo Copeland reading as Richard Applegate Track: 6 features Logan West as the Salesman Track: 7 & 9 produced by $need the Jade Badger (Jade Palace Guard) Track: 9 written by The Broke MC Track: 14 produced by JK/47 Track 16: Originally produced and mixed live by Mr.Chi-202 & the Jade Badger (Jade Palace Guard)
Shout Out to : AmorKillz, JK/47, The Green Dutch, The Jade Palace Guard, New Retro Wave, Victim1ne/Thor, Vinyl Fatigue, Real Vision Radio, Tha Night of the Goonz, DJ Polarity, Paul D. Brazil, the Taco Cartel, Ghost Decibels, Cutey Calamity, Cult Classic Goods, The Dead End Kids, 21215, Void Vision, Harlem-NYC, Philadelphia, Crazy Eddie NYHC, Rec.Real, Anthony Danza, Broke MC, Demetrius Daniels, J.Hexx Project, King Vision Ultra, Mia Tyler, Logan West, The Foley-Mcnair-Fladness family, Chef Alison Fasano, Terrence and everyone from O.L.L. class of 96′; LyeBway, Chuck Locc, Dunny, Melo, Meter, Black & everyone from 148th street, Sugar Hill, Harlem.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Mark Levin of the High Road Cafe, R.I.P.
The world seems like a horrible, harsh place when you’ve only just received two weeks worth of benefits, and already you are broke. All I get is £10 per day, if you’re from a country where you don’t receive a thing, this may seem like a lot of money. But, when it’s all you’ve got to feed, clothe yourself, keep yourself warm. Buy deodorant, shaving foam, razors, shower gel, shoes, and all the other little things that you don’t think of. Then you realise, it’s nothing at all. I’ve paid at least, thirty years of income tax, so I reckon that they must owe me something. I never asked them to spend it on nuclear weapons, or illegal wars. So, the way I see it, they owe me a lot more than £10 per day. At least enough to reasonably live on.