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Gary F. Taylor "GFT" RSS Feed (Biloxi, MS USA)
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Transylvanian Clockworks
Transylvanian Clockworks
Price: $7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gothic Poetry for the Stage, October 18, 2014
Don Nigro (b. 1949) has won several notable awards, but he may actually be best known for volume instead of quality: to date he has written in excess of three hundred plays, with approximately half published and performed. THE TRANSYLVANIAN CLOCKWORKS was originally performed in 1977; although it remains very much a ‘cult’ sort of play, it has gradually drawn a somewhat wider audience.

The play requires four men and three women, the men of varying ages, all of the women in their mid-twenties. Costume is ideally of Victorian period, but there is some flexibility. Set, lighting, and sound can be done in any number of ways, but in my opinion the play benefits tremendously from a mysterioso style. The play is performed in two acts and has a running time of about two hours, excluding intermission.

The play itself is difficult to describe, for it hinges on several unexpected twists that cannot be told without destroying its impact for a first-time reader or playgoer. In a general sense, CLOCKWORKS combines the basic story line of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA with flourishes of the story of Jack the Ripper, Victorian London’s notorious serial killer. The result is an unexpectedly abstract play in which few characters or events are what they appear to be.

Plays are intended to be seen instead of read, and I think CLOCKWORKS will prove difficult for most readers to see inside their heads. It is also, I think, a play that requires remarkably powerful actors and extremely imaginative staging and design to perform well on the stage. It is an extremely unusual piece; recommended for those whose taste runs to the shadow worlds of the poetic gothic.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


The Broadway Melody (Special Edition)
The Broadway Melody (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Bessie Love
Offered by HARVEST MOUSE, LLC
Price: $29.99
32 used & new from $4.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Once Innovative, Now Of Mainly Historical Interest, October 11, 2014
Nothing looks so old fashioned as something that was once considered innovative—and such is the case with THE BROADWAY MELODY OF 1929, a backstage melodrama about two sisters, smart and talented Hank (Bessie Love) and beautiful Queenie (Anita Page), who fall in love with the same man, Eddie (Charles King.)

The film is generally considered the first “true” movie musical. Some of the songs, including “Broadway Melody” and “Wedding of the Painted Doll,” are explained by their presence in a stage show; “You Were Meant For Me,” however, is presented as plot point, something that would not really become common until several years later. The performing style of the era was a mixture of frenetic and clunky, and the film captures this perfectly—but from a modern point of view the choreography feels awkward and the chorus girls are unexpectedly chunky.

The film is also sometimes accused of being unacceptably static. It isn’t true that the arrival of sound prevented cinematographers from moving the camera, but quite often directors had enough to worry about with the new sound technology and they preferred simple set ups—and that seems to be the case here. You won’t find any pans or boom shots here, but at the same time BROADWAY MELODY isn’t nearly as ghastly as the Marx Brother’s film THE COCONUTS, so it’s all relative.

At the time, all three stars were noted players, and Bessie Love would receive a Best Actress nomination for her performance. (She lost to Mary Pickford in COQUETTE.) The film was very racy for its time, frequently showing Love and Page in their undergarments and Page in the bathtub; in one particularly memorable scene, King and Page argue back stage while King, still wearing his boxer shorts, dresses for his next scene. This, and back stage characters that include a very limp-wristed homosexual costume designer and a possibly lesbian matron, made for pretty hot stuff, and today the film works best when it is backstage, for such scenes have a camp appeal that has managed to transcend the years.

Overall, BROADWAY MELODY OF 1929 is of most interest to students and hardcore musical fans and to those determined to see every single movie that won an Academy Award for “Best Picture.” The DVD is very nice, with the film in good (if not pristine) condition and a host of extras (especially clips of popular Vaudeville acts) that will fascinate those interested in the era. Recommended, and four stars for its place in history, but the modern audience will be limited.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Ghost Rock Mystery
Ghost Rock Mystery
by M. C. Jane
Edition: Paperback
33 used & new from $1.41

3.0 out of 5 stars Ghostly Gallops, September 12, 2014
This review is from: Ghost Rock Mystery (Paperback)
A mother, homemaker, and elementary school teacher, Mary C. Jane (1909-1991) drifted into juvenile literature when she decided it was easier to encourage children to read when the book was a mystery. She wrote more than a dozen children’s mysteries between 1955 and 1970. THE GHOST ROCK MYSTERY was published in 1956, and along with her other novels it was popular in children’s libraries for two decades. I myself read it in the early 1970s, when I was about ten years old.

The story is rather perfunctory. Aunt Annabelle is the family eccentric, and when she buys a guest house in a very remote part of Maine, her distraught sister sends her own children, Janice and Tommy, to visit Annabelle for the summer—and report back on conditions. The two children are soon enjoying vacation with Annabelle and her son Hubert. They help to renovate the house, and they make friends with various locals, most particularly with Mr. Grant, an officer with the Border Patrol.

The children are concerned by the strange atmosphere of the guest house, and Mr. Grant tells them a local ghost story that brought the guest house into local disrepute, a story that concerns two deaths, a ghostly horse, and a legendary boulder said to echo the horse’s hooves. Soon the children are working with an agenda, hoping to clear up the mystery and help the guest house become a success.

The plot is very loose, the characters are 1950s stereotypes at best, and most moderns may find the whole thing a bit politically incorrect in its phraseology. The solution to the mystery comes completely out of the blue, without any sense of structure. This is not “great children’s literature”—this is a milder and shorter version of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books—but even so it is entirely harmless. I remember that I liked it a lot when I was a child, and if you read it in your childhood you too may enjoy it again. Recommended for nostalgia’s sake.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Isle of the Snake People
Isle of the Snake People
DVD ~ Boris Karloff
Price: $9.95
15 used & new from $2.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother, September 2, 2014
This review is from: Isle of the Snake People (DVD)
People tend to shake their heads over the state of Bela Lugosi, who ended his life in a series of hilariously dire movies directed by Ed Wood—and manage to forget about the equally awful movies made by Boris Karloff near the end of his life when he signed a contract to appear in four Mexican-made horror films.

At this point Karloff was in extremely poor health, and his doctors forbade him to travel to Mexico. In the upshot, Karloff shot all his scenes on a Hollywood soundstage and the rest of the scenes were filmed in Mexico using a Karloff double when necessary. The resulting films were vile, with THE ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE (also known as SNAKE PEOPLE) released in 1971, about two years after Karloff’s death.

The plot is extremely haphazard. A young woman travels to an island to live with her uncle (Karloff) and becomes romantically involved with a law enforcement officer and accidentally involved with a Voodoo-like cult that seems to involve a cootchie dancer who dances with a snake. There are also a few zombies, a few cannibal women, and lots and lots of out-of-focus shots in an effort to add an arty aura to a film that doesn’t make any sense.

Now, truth be told, I have indeed seen worse Karloff films (some of the Corman films are unwatchable), and this isn’t quite as bad as the worst. Even so, I don’t recommend it unless you are a die-hard fan determined to see everything Karloff put on film.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Snake People
Snake People
DVD ~ Boris Karloff
Price: $13.48
20 used & new from $6.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother, September 2, 2014
This review is from: Snake People (DVD)
People tend to shake their heads over the state of Bela Lugosi, who ended his life in a series of hilariously dire movies directed by Ed Wood—and manage to forget about the equally awful movies made by Boris Karloff near the end of his life when he signed a contract to appear in four Mexican-made horror films.

At this point Karloff was in extremely poor health, and his doctors forbade him to travel to Mexico. In the upshot, Karloff shot all his scenes on a Hollywood soundstage and the rest of the scenes were filmed in Mexico using a Karloff double when necessary. The resulting films were vile, with THE ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE (also known as SNAKE PEOPLE) released in 1971, about two years after Karloff’s death.

The plot is extremely haphazard. A young woman travels to an island to live with her uncle (Karloff) and becomes romantically involved with a law enforcement officer and accidentally involved with a Voodoo-like cult that seems to involve a cootchie dancer who dances with a snake. There are also a few zombies, a few cannibal women, and lots and lots of out-of-focus shots in an effort to add an arty aura to a film that doesn’t make any sense.

Now, truth be told, I have indeed seen worse Karloff films (some of the Corman films are unwatchable), and this isn’t quite as bad as the worst. Even so, I don’t recommend it unless you are a die-hard fan determined to see everything Karloff put on film.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


The Pit and the Pendulum (Midnite Movies)
The Pit and the Pendulum (Midnite Movies)
DVD ~ Vincent Price
Offered by Outlet Promotions
Price: $19.88
68 used & new from $1.88

4.0 out of 5 stars The Atmosphere Here Is Heavy, August 31, 2014
In the original 1842 Edgar Allan Poe short story, a nameless narrator is condemned to death by the Spanish Inquisition. He is first placed in a dark room where there is a deep pit in the floor, into which he almost stumbles. Although he avoids this trap, he awakens to find himself strapped to a table over which a mechanical, clockwork blade swings, descending toward him with each swing. He manages to escape the machine, but now the walls become red hot and push him toward the pit. He is rescued at the last possible moment by the French army, which has taken the city. The story is memorable for the way in which Poe describes the various tortures--but in spite of this, and in spite of its fame, it has little in the way of character or plot, and it is essentially a description of the elaborate tortures the narrator endures.

Enter Roger Corman, a "B" director best known for creating drive-in dreck on a low budget and insanely fast shooting schedule. When these films began to fall out of favor, Corman coaxed American International Pictures into backing a color adaptation of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." Filmed for $300,000 in fifteen days and starring Vincent Price, the film grossed $1,450,000 and spurred everyone concerned to a follow-up. After various complications (Corman originally wanted to film Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," a film he would make with Price in 1964), everyone agreed on "The Pit and the Pendulum." Like THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, it was filmed for $300,000 in fifteen days--and this time racked up $2,000,000 in its original release. Corman and Price would go on to make a total of eight films together, all but one one (The Terror) at least vaguely based on various works by Poe.

Only the last ten or so minutes are actually based on Poe's story. The main body of the film seems inspired by a number of Poe stories and borrows rather liberally from Corman's earlier THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. When he receives word that his sister Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) has died under mysterious circumstances, Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels from England to Spain to confront Elizabeth's husband, Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), who resides in a gloomy fortress with his own sister, Dona Catherine (Luana Anders.) After considerable deception on Don Nicholas' part, Francis learns that Elizabeth died of fright after becoming fascinated by the castle's ancient torture chamber, which was presided over by Don Nicholas' long dead father. Don Nicholas is plauged by the fear that Elizabeth was not dead, but was buried alive, and he believes her ghost has returned to exact revenge upon him for this. The plot, already complicated, takes several more twists before its characters arrive in the lowest depths of the torture chamber, where Francis finds himself strapped to a table beneath the infamous pendulum.

In some ways the film is slightly ridiculous. In theory, the film is set in Spain about 1850. In practice, it is a 1960s notion of a Spanish Never-Never Land in which men still wear doublets and everyone speaks with either English or American accents. Barbara Steele was much admired for her horror films, but her appearance here is little more than a cameo. Kerr is a bit stiff and Anders is a bit throwaway, and the film essentially rests upon Vincent Price, who is at times remarkably subtle and at times pure ham. Nonetheless, the film looks great and it moves at a tremendous clip. The thrills and chills it offers may be a bit dated, but it is never dull, and more than fifty years later THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM still has the most jaw-dropping final shot I've ever seen in any horror film. The film is also noteworthy for occasional psychedelic flourishes, most particularly in the opening and closing credits, the pendulum sequence, and the odd, often electronic inflected music.

The film has been widely available on DVD in several issues. The MGM "Midnight" edition has several extras, including a mildly interesting commentary by Corman himself. Whatever the case, this is a great popcorn movie: gather the family, break out the refreshments, and let Vincent and friends carry you away. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


At Home at the Zoo - Acting Edition
At Home at the Zoo - Acting Edition
by Edward Albee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.67
38 used & new from $3.96

3.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunate Expansion and Adaptation of a Classic, August 25, 2014
Written in 1958, THE ZOO STORY was a startling one-act play in which two men meet by chance at a bench in the park. Although it was originally rejected by American producers, within a remarkably short span of time it became a modern classic, and Edward Albee was recognized as a major new voice in world theatre. Albee would go on to create a number of famous one-act plays and then explode in the American conciousness with WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, which was followed by a series of critically lauded and commercially viable plays including A DELICATE BALANCE and THREE TALL WOMEN, among others. Some fifty years after its debut, he returned to THE ZOO STORY, creating a first act and adapting the original into a second act. Retitled AT HOME AT THE ZOO, the play premiered in 2004 to tepid response.

The first act, titled 'Homelife,' introduces Peter and Ann. They are a 'successful' upper middle class couple on the far side of middle age. Peter is a publishing executive and they have two daughters. As the play begins, Ann interrupts Peter's reading to tell him they "need to talk." The ensuing conversation is disjointed, for Peter and Ann tend to talk at each other instead of with each other, and it becomes obvious that they have fallen into the habit of hiding behind courtesy. Even so, Ann eventually makes it clear that she is sexually bored. Peter, somewhat to his own surprise, recalls an unsavory college incident that may explain why is lovemaking lacks animal spark. Ann is titilated by the story, but they do not seem able to break through each other's barriers, and Peter leaves the house to continue reading in the park.

The second act is essentially THE ZOO STORY, slightly revised and brought up to date. Peter is sitting on a park bench, reading, when he is approached by Jerry, who is something of a social opposite. Peter at least has the surface of success: a career, financial stability, a marriage, two daughters. Jerry has none of these things: he is poor to the point of destitution, has no family, no meaningful relationships. Jerry forces a conversation on Peter, and as in 'Homelife,' the characters have significant difficulty communicating. Ultimately, Jerry unwinds a monologue of everything that is wrong with his life, and when Peter attempts to break away, he discovers that Jerry has a frightening agenda.

The essential problem with AT HOME AT THE ZOO is that the first act is a trivial dialogue written below Albee's ability and the second act is the brilliant THE ZOO STORY, which needs nothing beyond itself. Amazingly, once Albee wrote 'Homelife' and attached it to THE ZOO STORY, he refused to allow professional productions of THE ZOO STORY in its original form, thereby cutting the throat of his first great theatrical achievement. It is very, very strange, and one can only wonder whatever possessed Albee to wreck this one-act masterpiece. 'Homelife' is merely a tired rehash of Albee's battling couples. But THE ZOO STORY is an essential. Skip the first and read the second.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


The Old Dark House
The Old Dark House
DVD ~ Tom Poston
Price: $14.49
22 used & new from $13.90

2.0 out of 5 stars Ho Hum And Minus Some, August 23, 2014
This review is from: The Old Dark House (DVD)
Vaguely based on J.B. Priestly's 1927 novel BENIGHTED, James Whales' 1932 film starring Boris Karloff was a comic take on the already cliched "old dark house" genre--and it became something of a classic. Producer-Director William Castle revisited the material in 1963, and the result was significantly less inspired. With a script by Robert Dillon and starring Tom Poston, Janette Scott, and Robert Morley, this version leans harder toward comedy--but sadly, it is comedy that doesn't really come off.

Tom Penderel (Tom Poston) is an American car salesman in London, where he shares a flat with Caspar Femm (Peter Bull.) Caspar desperately urges Tom to visit him at his country estate--but when arrives Tom finds that Caspar is dead and his very odd family are forced to live under unhappy terms of a very odd will. Tom is attracted to both good girl Cecily (Janette Scott) and bad girl Morgana (Fenella Fielding), but it seems clear that someone in the family is trying to kill him, not to mention all the others as well. There are various comic death traps and several comic deaths before the killer is exposed, but none of it is greatly inspired.

Rumor has it that Boris Karloff, who appeared in the original, turned down a role in the film because he thought the script stank--and this was at a point in his career when he was doing Roger Corman-type films, which says a great deal indeed. To say THE OLD DARK HOUSE is uninspired is an understatement. It isn't awful enough to be funny, and you might get a giggle or two out of on a sleepless night, but it's not something most people will care to sit through, much less return to. Ho hum and minus some.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


A Delicate Balance
A Delicate Balance
by Edward Albee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.51
59 used & new from $4.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious, Odd, Inexplicable, August 21, 2014
This review is from: A Delicate Balance (Paperback)
Edward Albee (b. 1928) is best known for the landmark WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?--but he is also the author of numerous other distinguished plays, including TINY ALICE, ALL OVER, and THREE TALL WOMEN. First performed in 1966, A DELICATE BALANCE was an immediate critical success, and although it has not been as popular with the public as some other Albee works, it has been widely studied, performed, and frequently revived.

The play is performed in three acts, with two scenes in the second act. It is played on a single unit set, displaying an upscale living area on the first floor of a wealthy home. The cast includes four women and two men. Three of the women and the two men are in their fifties. The fourth woman is in her thirties. The script is extremely demanding and requires expert players; past performers have included Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Elaine Stritch, John Lithgow, and Martha Plimpton, among others.

Many of Albee's plays have an "experimental" quality, and this is particularly true of A DELICATE BALANCE, which does not have a cohesive plot and which possesses an open-ended quality in which little is explained and we are left to wonder at the characters' motivations. In Act One, Agnes and Tobias, an wealthy but aging couple, are seen having drinks after dinner. Agnes' manner drifts from vague to sharp; Tobias, however, seems permanently vague. They are interrupted by Claire, Agnes' sister, who lives with them. Claire is an alcoholic and Agnes despises her. They argue in a nasty but oddly random sort of way until Harry and Edna, their best friends, arrive. They have suddenly become frightened in their own home, and, running from their unspecified fears, have come unannounced to spend the night.

In Act Two, the situation is complicated by the arrival of Julia, Tobias and Agnes' daughter. Julia has left her fourth husband and is outraged to find Harry and Edna in her room. As the play progresses through Act Two and Act Three, the various characters begin to assume each other's identies. This is particularly true of Edna, who becomes remarkably like Agnes in terms of speech and manner. In a very real sense they battle over territory, over who has the right to stay in the house and who does not. At the end of the play, Harry and Edna go their own home--but the fear that drove them is never specified, and we are left to suspect it is a fear of the status quo, ennui, and emotional emptiness that seems to characterize all the personalities in the play.

A DELICATE BALANCE is a fascinating read, and in the hands of a master cast it would no doubt be fascinating to watch. But this is not an easy play, for there are few things in terms of character or plot that you can cling to. Which ultimately seems to be the point of the play as a whole. Recommended, but not a light read.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


A Delicate Balance
A Delicate Balance
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious, Odd, and Inexplicable, August 20, 2014
Edward Albee (b. 1928) is best known for the landmark WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?--but he is also the author of numerous other distinguished plays, including TINY ALICE, ALL OVER, and THREE TALL WOMEN. First performed in 1966, A DELICATE BALANCE was an immediate critical success, and although it has not been as popular with the public as some other Albee works, it has been widely studied, performed, and frequently revived.

The play is performed in three acts, with two scenes in the second act. It is played on a single unit set, displaying an upscale living area on the first floor of a wealthy home. The cast includes four women and two men. Three of the women and the two men are in their fifties. The fourth woman is in her thirties. The script is extremely demanding and requires expert players; past performers have included Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Elaine Stritch, John Lithgow, and Martha Plimpton, among others.

Many of Albee's plays have an "experimental" quality, and this is particularly true of A DELICATE BALANCE, which does not have a cohesive plot and which possesses an open-ended quality in which little is explained and we are left to wonder at the characters' motivations. In Act One, Agnes and Tobias, an wealthy but aging couple, are seen having drinks after dinner. Agnes' manner drifts from vague to sharp; Tobias, however, seems permanently vague. They are interrupted by Claire, Agnes' sister, who lives with them. Claire is an alcoholic and Agnes despises her. They argue in a nasty but oddly random sort of way until Harry and Edna, their best friends, arrive. They have suddenly become frightened in their own home, and, running from their unspecified fears, have come unannounced to spend the night.

In Act Two, the situation is complicated by the arrival of Julia, Tobias and Agnes' daughter. Julia has left her fourth husband and is outraged to find Harry and Edna in her room. As the play progresses through Act Two and Act Three, the various characters begin to assume each other's identies. This is particularly true of Edna, who becomes remarkably like Agnes in terms of speech and manner. In a very real sense they battle over territory, over who has the right to stay in the house and who does not. At the end of the play, Harry and Edna go their own home--but the fear that drove them is never specified, and we are left to suspect it is a fear of the status quo, ennui, and emotional emptiness that seems to characterize all the personalities in the play.

A DELICATE BALANCE is a fascinating read, and in the hands of a master cast it would no doubt be fascinating to watch. But this is not an easy play, for there are few things in terms of character or plot that you can cling to. Which ultimately seems to be the point of the play as a whole. Recommended, but not a light read.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


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