Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | The Stingiest Man in Town (1956)

I discovered this Christmas 1956 episode of the live anthology show The Alcoa Hour too late to include it in my annual Christmas Carol project, so I was excited when my wife picked it to talk about on this episode of Sleigh Bell Cinema. I cover the Rankin-Bass animated remake every year, but this is the original musical production starring Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge. There's a lot to like about it.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Deadwood, Season 2

Deadwood December continues as the shadow of George Hearst arrives to threaten the camp. Continuing our streak of weekly episodes through the end of the year.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Teen Titans #13 (1968)

The Teen Titans Christmas Carol isn't an adaptation, but an adventure inspired by Dickens' story. The Titans have noticed similarities between Dickens' characters and the people involved with the Titans' current case, so they're using Christmas Carol tactics to try to redeem Ebenezer Scrounge.

Kid Flash poses as a makeshift Ghost of Christmas Past, but there's only one part of Scrounge's past that the speedster references and it doesn't have anything to do with the miser's first job. So what I'm saying is that the Titans version skips this year's scene.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics

Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's version gives not quite three pages to Fezziwig's party. It's a very abridged version, so there aren't many details. Fezziwig isn't even at his desk when he tells Young Scrooge and Dick that it's time to quit working. He's nicely plump though and this may be the first version we've looked at so far that has the full-on white powdered wig. (It appears to be white in Classics Illustrated, but in that version all visions of the past are completely white, so it's impossible to tell what color Fezziwig's hair was originally.)

Old Scrooge notices Dick Wilkins and calls him by name, but he doesn't mention "poor Dick" or that Dick was "attached" to Scrooge. Dick is just another detail to make the vision that much more vivid.

With a festive wreath in hand, Fezziwig commands the boys to clear away and get ready for the party, but we don't get to see the preparations. The next panel after the command is a half-page of Fezziwig and his wife cutting a jig as others dance and celebrate around them. This is a smaller party than I'm used to, but the warmth of Farritor's color palette makes it a lovely, cozy affair. And the fiddler is there at Fezziwig's (sadly normal sized) desk; behind it rather than on it. None of the guests are called by name or their connections to Fezziwig mentioned. It's just a fun party.

No one praises Fezziwig in the scene, so when the Ghost criticizes the party as a "small matter," it seems uncalled for. Like he's goading Scrooge. Which is fine. Scrooge deserves to be pushed. And of course he defends his former boss with dialogue right from Dickens.

He genuinely feels it, too. Because this version is so shortened, Scrooge's transformation has started early and he's been quite emotional in Christmas Past so far. When he talks about the happiness that Fezziwig gave, he's got a lovely, gentle smile. And he looks profoundly pensive and then remorseful in the next panels as he thinks about his relationship with Bob Cratchit.

Friday, December 06, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar give almost two pages to Fezziwig's party. It begins with Old Scrooge and the Ghost appearing in the warehouse and Fezziwig's desk is elevated above everyone else. Dickens never says why this is so, but the way the office is laid out in this version makes me wonder if it's so Fezziwig can keep an eye on everything. Not in any kind of micro-managing way, naturally, but just so he can know what's going on at a glance if he's needed. And maybe so all the employees can know if he's available.

That's one thing different about this version: all the employees. It's not just Scrooge and Dick at work; there's a whole staff. I suppose that's to help explain the crowd at the party, but in Dickens the party-goers seem to be made up mostly of Fezziwig's household (maids, bakers, cooks, milkmen, etc.) and people who don't have anywhere else to celebrate. It's hard for adaptations to point out that social outsiders make up so much of the party, but this one obfuscates it even more by creating a whole other source of celebrants. It doesn't even specifically mention Fezziwig's family, though the crowd does grow when the party begins, so clearly it's not just employees.

We never get a great look at Fezziwig or his hair, but he does seem a bit plump and he's probably wearing some kind of old-fashioned, brown wig.

True to Dickens, Old Scrooge points out Dick Wilkins and mentions that "poor Dick" was "very much attached" to Young Scrooge without going into any more detail about what that means or whatever happened to Dick.

Fezziwig instructs Scrooge and Dick to put up the shutters, which is curious since there are so many other employees in the room as well. As Fezziwig's apprentices, maybe Scrooge and Dick have some kind of leadership responsibilities over the rest of the staff.

There's just one panel of the actual party and I couldn't pick out the fiddler in it. It's just a shot of people dancing with narrative text describing food and festivities of the evening. If Belle is there, she's not mentioned.

Scrooge watches most of this pensively, but there's a little smile on his face throughout. Text from Dickens tell us that "his heart and soul were in the scene," but he's not visually exuberant about it. Which is totally cool. The impression I get is that the scene is giving him some peace and I very much like that. I've been running a theory that this Scrooge's ghosts and visions may all be in his head and that his mind is working to heal itself after a lifetime of building unhealthy, perhaps even sociopathic walls between him and the rest of the world. He may or may not have supernatural assistance in this, but either way, Scrooge's brain would be trying to calm itself by recalling these scenes. And it seems to be working.

The text mentions Scrooge and Dick's "pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig," but it's during the party, not after. The party-goers don't even leave the warehouse until a couple of panels later as Scrooge is still defending Fezziwig's generosity.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2008)

The Fezziwig scene gets five pages in Classical Comics' version by Sean Michael Wilson and Mike Collins, so there are a lot of details included that were missing from Classics Illustrated and Marvel's version. The first panel inside the warehouse has Scrooge and the Ghost looking up at Fezziwig from the floor below, so his desk is pretty high up there. And then later we see Fezziwig hopping down from it. He's wearing a wig, but it's not a Welsh wig and it's not powdered white either. It does look old-fashioned though. And Fezziwig is pleasantly plump.

Young Scrooge and Dick Wilkins look like preteens in this version, which isn't something I'd considered as a possibility. They're apprentices, so it makes sense; I'm just used to so many versions introducing Belle as a love interest at this point, so Scrooge is usually at romancing age: In his late teens or early twenties.

Scrooge refers to Dick as "poor Dick" and follows up with a "dear, dear," which is right out of Dickens. I didn't call attention to it when I reviewed Dickens' text, but "poor Dick" makes it sound like maybe something bad happened to young Mr Wilkins. Hard times or an untimely death? I don't think we ever find out, but Scrooge clearly feels sorry for his former friend. He also mentions that Dick "was very much attached to me," implying that maybe Scrooge didn't reciprocate Dick's attachment or appreciate the boy as much as Scrooge now feels he should have. It's another sign of growth, which is characteristic of Wilson and Collins' version. Their Scrooge is well on his way to becoming a better person.

Fezziwig calls for the boys to help close up the shop and clear away furniture for the party. And there's a panel showing them putting up the removable shutters. Another smaller panel has Young Scrooge sweeping up as Dick carries away a chair. And then the guests arrive.

There's a page-and-a-half dedicated just to dancing and fiddling and looking at food. The fiddler is never explicitly shown sitting at Fezziwig's desk, but there are a couple of close-up panels where he stops to mop his brow and then starts fiddling again, and behind him you can see the same bookshelf that was behind Fezziwig when he was at the desk. I like the attention to detail. The fiddler could have been stationed anywhere the way the panels are framed, but clearly Wilson and Collins are working to be as faithful as possible.

The party itself has no dialogue (except for some general merrymaking sound effects: "hurrah!" "whoop!" "hoho!" etc.) or even narrative text, so if you're not familiar with the story you don't know who everyone is. I spotted at least a couple of Fezziwig's daughters, but I didn't see any of their suitors and there's no way you'd know that any of the guests are people who've been marginalized by the rest of society. These just seem to be Fezziwig's friends and family.

Young Scrooge does have a dance partner in one panel, but she's not named and her hair appears to be a different shade from Belle's, once Belle appears in the following scene. I imagine that Scrooge's dance partner is just someone at the party - maybe even one of Fezziwig's daughters - and not someone he has a particular attachment to.

The narrative text reappears after the party to explain what Old Scrooge has been feeling during all of this (using Dickens' words, of course). And it fits with the expressions we've seen on Scrooge during the scene. He's wide-eyed and smiling; thoroughly taken in by the whole experience. And though there's no scene of Young Scrooge and Dick praising Fezziwig after the party, Old Scrooge of course gets to defend Fezziwig to the Ghost. And he looks sorrowfully thoughtful in the last panel as he expresses his desire to talk to Bob Cratchit just then.

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Noel Thingvall (Masters of Carpentry, Schumacast, Greystoked, Thundarr Road) and I take a sleigh ride to New England and spend the hunky-dunky holidays flippin' flapjacks with Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Una O'Connor, and SZ Sakall.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Essentiality of Magic

I've started reading Briana Saussy's book Making Magic. I'm not pagan, but my Celtic ancestors undoubtedly were and I increasingly share paganism's focus on and admiration of nature. What most attracted me to the book though was its promise to discuss "a way of directly engaging with the extraordinary in your everyday life." I'm skeptical by disposition, but like Fox Mulder, want to believe. And I do believe that there is much more in the universe than I'm aware of. Call it faith or magic or whatever you want, I love the idea that some things are best left mysterious and not fully knowable. And I paradoxically love that idea even as I can't help skeptically seeking to uncover those mysteries so that I can know and understand the truth behind them. It's a weird, inconsistent balance.

My hope for Saussy's book is that it'll help me embrace and celebrate and even seek out mysteries that I don't intend to solve. I'm encouraged by this passage early on:
"All mysteries, so we are told, have been discovered, named, bagged, and tagged. There is nothing unknown, nothing of wonder to find here, nothing to see. This conventional wisdom has been the greatest teacher in the present age, and it has taught us incorrectly. A world without wild things is greatly diminished; this we know. The same is true for lives lived without the touch of magic. In all places we look, magic is a mark carrying depth and scope, an essential ingredient for a life well lived."
I'm even more encouraged by this insightful and sensitive paragraph a couple of pages later. It begins with a warning about cultural appropriation and ends with reassurance that magic can be found wherever we live without stealing it from someone else:
"Many who seek magic look for it in faraway places and exotic lands, convinced that it has been housed and preserved in its pure form somewhere out there by indigenous peoples and tribes. The hard truth is that no culture exists in pristine form, unfractured, unfragmented. Further corrosion of these already damaged cultures takes place with each attempt to capture, cage, and smuggle out ways, traditions, and practices from their native lands, transplanting them, without thought to harm or health, into unfamiliar habitats that are not made to support them. Appropriation of indigenous cultural practices is often done in the belief that some people in some places have a deeper relationship to the things that matter than we are capable of in our wealthy, developed, formally educated societies. While it is true that there are tribes and communities of people who live within vast wilderness areas with a high diversity of wild creatures, it is also true that access to the wild animal that is magic has never been truly closed - even, sometimes especially, in the most urban concrete-and-asphalt streets or the most urbane boardrooms and classrooms, and even in such unlikely places as the digital realm. Our work is to see this and remember it. Furthermore, we shall come to realize that the intentional or unintentional theft of another person's or people's magic comes at great cost - the ignorance and neglect of our own deeper good and the harming of those we claim to hold in highest esteem."

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Deadwood, Season 1 (2004)

This month on Hellbent for Letterbox, Pax and I are celebrating Deadwood December, continuing our streak of weekly episodes through the end of the year and leading up to Hellbent's 75th episode! In this one, Pax and I start with the first season of the HBO series Deadwood from 2004.

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Marvel gives two pages to Fezziwig's party in its adaptation. Weirdly (for Christmas Carol adaptations), Fezziwig appears to be just a normal, everyday businessman. He wears no wig of any kind, isn't even fat, and his desk is just the normal kind.

Dick Wilkins is named and Scrooge observes, "Look -- look what a good friend he was to me!" It's an odd exclamation, because at that moment Dick isn't really doing anything other than standing with Scrooge and receiving instructions from Fezziwig. But that doesn't really matter. Scrooge is feeling the emotion of his old friendship and it doesn't have to be because he's actually witnessing a particular act at the moment. Just seeing Young Scrooge and Dick together again is enough to trigger the memory.

Which makes me wonder now whatever happened to Dick. I don't think Dickens ever says and I've never thought about it before. Maybe he's dead by Scrooge's present?

Fezziwig instructs Scrooge and Dick to "have the shutters up" and "clear the room." We don't get to see them putting up the removable shutters, but there's a panel of them scooting desks and chairs away to make room for the food tables and dancing that will replace them.

As a crowd of people enter the room (the fiddler among them), a caption box lets us know about the guests. It mentions Fezziwig's three daughters and their "followers." The text also says that the other guests are made up of Fezziwig's other employees, both from the warehouse and in his household. There's no mention of anyone that makes Fezziwig sound like he's especially compassionate towards outsiders, though. He's very kind and generous towards his guests, but they're all already his people. Belle is not one of them either, but that's a) true to Dickens, and b) to be expected from a version that's already condensed for space.

So far Marvel's Scrooge has appeared to be seriously mentally ill. He had extreme mood swings and hallucinations in the opening scenes, but I found even more evidence at the schoolhouse flashback. That flashback may have been more therapeutic than I realized (in conjunction with the Ghost's possibly putting a healing touch on Scrooge's head), because Scrooge seems better at Fezziwig's. He enjoys watching the party and he defends Fezziwig's kindness when the Ghost facetiously questions it. And he looks appropriately remorseful when Fezziwig's kindness makes Scrooge think about his own treatment of Bob Cratchit. This is the first time I've actually felt any kind of hope for this Scrooge. I wonder if it'll continue to get better. Since most of my reading is based on trying to make sense of inconsistent art - which is a problem I doubt improves as the story progresses - I'm fearful that we're going to get a relapse at some point. Fingers crossed.

There's no scene of Young Scrooge and Dick praising Fezziwig after the party. As with the Classics Illustrated version, Old Scrooge's defense to the Ghost takes place during the party itself and then the Ghost whisks them both away to the next scene.

Monday, December 02, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

The Classics Illustrated version is only a page-and-a-half, so as usual with this adaptation there's not much room for anything but laying out facts. And as with the schoolhouse scene, Fezziwig's warehouse and its inhabitants are just colorless, ghostly outlines: figures for Scrooge to observe, but there's no temptation to interact with them.

Fezziwig is a slightly overweight, jolly-looking man in an old-fashioned powdered wig. We see him at his desk, but only in close-up, so there's no telling how high the desk might be.

Dick Wilkins is named and a caption box identifies him as Scrooge's fellow apprentice (with a note to young readers that an apprentice is "one who is learning a trade"). There's no sense of Scrooge and Dick's relationship other than co-workers. Scrooge is excited to see him, but he's been enthusiastic about all of these visions so far. He might just be into the experience of seeing these memories brought to life. Although we did see signs of (supernaturally assisted) empathy at the schoolhouse, so maybe that's genuine pleasure Scrooge is feeling about seeing a former chum again.

Fezziwig instructs the boys to clear away the shop for the party, but we skip right past the preparations and go straight to a single panel of Scrooge watching ghostly people dancing. There's no mention of who any of them are and you can't even see the fiddler. Certainly there's no Belle.

There's also no sign of Fezziwig's being an especially kind person. He is kind and he certainly loves Christmas, but there are no signs that he takes a special interest in Scrooge or anyone else. There's not even a conversation between Scrooge and the Ghost about Fezziwig's effect on his employees. He's just a good, nice boss. 

Scrooge enjoys watching the party though and a caption tells us that "his heart and soul were in the scene." He's not necessarily learning any more empathy, but the Ghost is at least successful at lowering Scrooge's defenses and making him less mean. It's a small victory though and I still feel like this Scrooge has a long way to go before he sees a real need to change.

Of course there's no scene of Young Scrooge and Dick cleaning up after the party. Old Scrooge is still enjoying the scene when the Ghost says that they need to get moving. Time is growing short.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Dickens

Illustration by John Leech.

As I talk about Dickens' original version of the scene, I'm going to copy the entire text in bold italics and insert commentary. That'll help identify elements that we want to pay attention to in the adaptations.

Although they had but that moment left the school behind them, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city, where shadowy passengers passed and repassed; where shadowy carts and coaches battled for the way, and all the strife and tumult of a real city were. It was made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops, that here too it was Christmas time again; but it was evening, and the streets were lighted up.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

“Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here!”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement:

“Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

A Welsh wig isn't an actual wig as depicted in most adaptations. It's a knit wool cap. I doubt we'll see an actual Welsh wig in any version, but it's something to keep an eye out for. I like the antiquated, powdered wig that's most identified with Fezziwig, so I'm not complaining. It makes Scrooge's old boss seem pleasantly old-fashioned and out of touch.

I'm curious to see if any adaptations have Fezziwig's extremely high desk.

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice: “Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”

According to Michael Patrick Hearn's Annotated Christmas Carol, most shops of this kind closed around nine o'clock, so Fezziwig is shutting down super early.

From the description of his "capacious waistcoat," Fezziwig's jolliness extends to a healthy appetite, so let's see which versions play this up.

The "organ of benevolence" refers to the part of Fezziwig's skull just above his forehead. It's a phrenological term, referring to the pseudoscience of using skull shape and size to indicate someone's character and mental ability. Phrenology was popular in the nineteenth century, but Dickens doesn't seem to be actually endorsing it here with any editorializing about Fezziwig's faculties. It's just a Victorian pop culture reference.

Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-’prentice.

“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick! Dear, dear!”

We'll keep an eye out for how important Dick Wilkins is to the scene. I'm especially curious about the Reginald Owens version, because it mentioned Dick as one of Scrooge's schoolmates in the previous scene.

“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’s have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, “before a man can say Jack Robinson!”

Jack Robinson is another pop culture reference, but it goes back all the way to the late seventeenth century. There was a popular song about a guy named Jack Robinson who would show up to parties and then leave again before he could even be announced. So, he'd be gone before the doorman could say, "Jack Robinson."

You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it! They charged into the street with the shutters—one, two, three—had ’em up in their places—four, five, six—barred ’em and pinned ’em—seven, eight, nine—and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.

I like the image of having to go outside to put up the store's removable shutters. I wonder if any versions will have that. And if not, what other preparations will they assign Scrooge and Dick instead?

“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!”

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life for evermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon a winter’s night.

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.

I love the image of the fiddler playing from atop Fezziwig's lofty desk. Let's see if that shows up in versions. There are some interesting characters among the guests that we can keep track of, too. For instance, how many adaptations feature the three Fezziwig daughters and their suitors?

I've seen a stage adaptation that identified the "particular friend" of the cook's brother as his gay partner. I don't recall seeing that on screen or comics page anywhere, but it's a cool interpretation. The Fezziwigs appear especially receptive and kind to society's outsiders. I love how their guests include a kid "from over the way" who's not getting enough to eat from his own employer and a girl or young woman who's being abused by hers. The Fezziwigs clearly don't care about convention or appearances. They care about taking care of their people. And their people includes anyone who needs help. I'm going to keep an eye out for adaptations that convey this compassion for outcasts in some way.

People with more beer knowledge than me probably already know this, but I had to look up that the "porter" the fiddler plunges his face into is a kind of ale.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.

There are a lot of party terms in this paragraph. A forfeit was any king of turn-taking game where if you missed your turn you had to pay a penalty. Originally it was small amounts of money, but by the early 1800s that had been changed to a kiss. The whole fad was out of favor with the London crowd by Dickens day, though, so this is another example of the Fezziwigs' being sort of antiquated and just really not caring.

Negus was a wine (usually a port or sherry) mixed with hot water, sugar, nutmeg, and lemon juice. So I guess you could call it a mulled wine? Sometimes there would be an orange stuck with cloves that would get dipped in or float in the punch bowl.

I'd never heard of Cold Boiled, but it's exactly what you'd think. Like Cold Roast it's a way to prepare beef or mutton. First you boil it, then you leave it out to cool and serve it cold.

I don't imagine that mince pie needs a lot of explanation except that I learned the ingredients were intended to suggest the wise men's gifts and the pie was often oblong, like a manger.

The "Sir Roger de Coverley" was a popular country dance. It was especially energetic, so it was often the last dance of the evening.

I love the description of some of the dancers as "people who were not to be trifled with." These folks take their dancing seriously, even if they don't do it very well.

But if they had been twice as many—ah, four times—old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that’s not high praise, tell me higher, and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, hold hands with your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig “cut”—cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

A lot of dancing terms to comment on, starting with "hold hands with your partner." That's a term that Dickens was apparently uncomfortable with, because he changed it several times through various drafts and even printed editions. For instance, my copy of Hearn's annotated edition has "hold hands with," but the version on Project Gutenberg has "both hands to your partner." Other ways that Dickens tried to describe it were "seize" and "turn." According to Hearn, Dickens was trying to describe a move where the dancers take the hand nearest to each other when they're standing side by side, so "hold hands" is a perfectly natural way to describe that. Maybe there's something else he had in mind, too, though, that "hold hands" doesn't perfectly capture.

A corkscrew is a move where everyone joins outstretched hands while face to face, then the couple at the top end of the row threads their way in and out of the other couples doing little turns with the other couples as they go. When they get to the end of the line, they take their place there and the next couple at the top go.

Threading the needle is a complicated figure where the bottom couple joins hands to make a horseshoe shape, then the top couple threads their was down the line pulling the rest of the dancers behind them and somehow it all ends up okay at the end. I can't even imagine. British country dancing is hard.

Fezziwig's "cut" describes his jumping into the air and quickly crossing and uncrossing his feet before landing on the floor again.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two ’prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.

A lot of adaptations insert Belle into this scene, either as Scrooge's introduction to her or just the audience's. She doesn't appear in Dickens' version until later, but I'll keep an eye out and see which versions bring her in early and what they do with the opportunity. It makes sense to have an early scene when she and Scrooge are happy, just as contrast to their break-up scene later on.

During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon its head burnt very clear.

The Ghost continues to use the same tactic it used in the schoolhouse scene: showing these vivid memories to Scrooge in order to get past the mental defenses he's built up over the years and speak directly to his emotions. It seems to be working.

Every iteration I can think of highlights this, so I won't comment on them individually, but it's worth pointing out in the novel as part of Scrooge's transformation. He's forced to remember what it was like to be an outsider - part of the "surplus population;" a "silly folk" as the Ghost says next - himself.

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

I know at least one adaptation has Scrooge and Dick praising Fezziwig after the party. Let's see if there are any others.

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.

“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.

“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.

“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”

His former self turned down the lamps as he gave utterance to the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.

Seeing his younger self at school gave Scrooge empathy for the young urchin singing in the cold in Scrooge's present. Likewise, remembering his own early days as an employee has created empathy in him for Bob Cratchit. I imagine that Scrooge has intentionally suppressed these early memories of hurting and needing comfort. It's an understandable tactic. But forgetting is harmful when it makes us unable to relate to people who are currently going through circumstances that we've already overcome. That's exactly the moment when we should embrace and deepen that connection in order to comfort someone whose experiences we've shared.

So here's what we're on the look out for this year:
  • Fezziwig's appearance. Does he have the wig? Is it an actual Welsh wig? Is he fat? Does he sit at a ridiculously high desk?
  • Dick Wilkins. Is he named? How close do he and Scrooge seem? I want to pay especially close attention to Reginald Owen's version since that one also had Dick and Scrooge as childhood schoolmates.
  • Does Scrooge help close up and get ready for the party? If so, what's he doing? Are there shutters?
  • Is the fiddler sitting on the desk at the party?
  • Does Fezziwig have three daughters? Does the adaptation mention or focus on their suitors at all?
  • Do the guests seem like social outsiders? If not, is Fezziwig's compassion for outcasts conveyed in some other way?
  • Is Belle at the party? If so, how does the adaptation foreshadow her future relationship with Scrooge?
  • How does Old Scrooge react to this whole scene? Is he having a good time? Is he learning empathy?
  • Is there a moment where Scrooge and Dick praise Fezziwig after the party?

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Michael DiGiovanni (Classic Film Jerks, Pop Culture Retrofit) and I consider Clark Griswold and his slapsticky attempt to create Christmas memories for his family. Is it just dumb fun or is something shockingly profound going on?

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Christmas Carol Project | “Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!”

Young Charles Dickens by Margaret Gillies (1843)
Thanksgiving is past and the Christmas season is Officially upon us. And that means that it's going to be a busy time on this blog.

There's a lot of Sleigh Bell Cinema coming, including three episodes dedicated to Christmas Carol adaptations, but it's also time for the long-standing tradition of covering A Christmas Carol scene-by-scene, paying attention to the way the story has been interpreted and adapted to other media over the years. I’ve broken the story into scenes (or sometimes parts of scenes) in order to look at their translation to the following 19 films, TV shows, and comics:

• Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)
• Marvel Classics Comics #36 (Marvel; 1978)
• A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (Classical Comics; 2008)
• A Christmas Carol (Campfire; 2010)
• "A Christmas Carol" in Graphic Classics, Vol. 19: Christmas Classics (Eureka; 2010)
• Teen Titans #13 (DC; 1968)
• A Christmas Carol cartoon (1971) starring Alastair Sim
• The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) starring Walter Matthau
• Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) starring Scrooge McDuck
• A Christmas Carol (2009) starring Jim Carrey
A Christmas Carol (1910) starring Marc McDermott
Scrooge (1935) starring Seymour Hicks
A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen
Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim
"A Christmas Carol" episode of Shower of Stars (1954) starring Fredric March
Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney
A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) starring Michael Caine
A Christmas Carol (1999) starring Patrick Stewart

In this year's scene the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to revisit his first job. I'm pretty sure this one shows up in every version of the story and it's always one of my favorite parts. Scrooge's boss, Fezziwig was a kind man, full of Christmas spirit, and he threw a great party.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Disney Dracula, Starring Mickey Mouse by Bruno Enna and Fabio Celoni

I've been exploring the Disney Comics line lately. It's weirdly organized, spread across two or three different publishers. Disney publishes some things directly (I especially like their Weird West Mickey series) while IDW has the license for classic series like Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Uncle Scrooge, but also Tangled and another series or two. What I've most been into though are the literary adaptations, published by Dark Horse, that feature Mickey and Friends in their own versions of stories like Treasure Island, Frankenstein, and even Hamlet. And of course Dracula.

I've read Frankenstein and Dracula and they both have great art and a funny, kid-friendly twist to their monsters. In Frankenstein, Victor Duckenstein (Donald Duck) animates a creature made of cardboard. The story talks about responsibility to the things we create, but not in a dark way. Duckenstein's separated from his creation through an accident, not because he abandons it. There are no murdered children.

In Dracula, the vampire is all about eating beets, not sucking blood. I mean, that's almost as gross, but you get the point. Mickey is Harker (renamed Ratker, which isn't great, but okay) and Minnie is (and this is great) Minnina. Goofy plays Van Helsing, which I don't love any more than I like him as Marley in Mickey's Christmas Carol, but that's probably where he needs to be plugged in.

I'm not as enthusiastic about the tweaks to Dracula as I am about the ones to Frankenstein, but that may be because Frankenstein has always been more about themes to me. My fondness for Dracula has a lot to do with the lurid prose and the way the story unfolds. It's easier to riff on Frankenstein's plot and keep the themes intact than it is to riff on Dracula and keep what I most love about that book.

I will say though that Celoni's art makes Disney Dracula something I'll want to go back to even if elements of the story don't translate super well. The look is gorgeously atmospheric and gothic.

And it's not like I actually dislike anything in the story. If you're going to tell a story about vampires to kids... well, look, kids can handle vampires, so I don't actually see the need to substitute blood-sucking for something else. If you're a parent handing a book called Dracula to your kids, you don't really get to complain about there being blood in it. But if you are going to change the blood to something else, beets are funny and clever. And the rest of the book is, too.

Rating: Four out of five Minas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Dream-Casting Dracula

In the comments to some of my posts about Dracula adaptations, an Anonymous person and I got to talking about our own fan casts for the story. Anonymous mentioned Jeremy Irons as a possibility for Dracula and suggested Christoph Waltz as a potential Van Helsing. Waltz is an especially cool choice since he's actually the actor I imagined for the Van Helsing-inspired character as I was reading Dacre Stoker and JD Barker's Dracul. Anonymous went on to offer Saorise Ronan as a promising Mina, which would be awesome. I'll watch Ronan in anything, but especially as my favorite gothic hero.

This of course got me thinking about my own preferences for a Dracula cast. In the interest of variety, I'm intentionally picking actors that Anonymous did not mention, but my dream version would absolutely steal one of their ideas: splitting the story into two films.

I tried to think of cool subtitles for each movie, but couldn't, so I'm going the same route as the recent It films and just calling these Dracula, Part One and Dracula, Part Two.

Part One would skip the Harker-in-Transylvania stuff and go straight to Mina and Lucy in Whitby. It would be all mystery as the Demeter arrives in port and Lucy starts sleepwalking again before getting sick. Meanwhile, Mina would express worry over her missing fiancé and would leave to find him just about the time that Van Helsing shows up to assist with Lucy. The film would end with Lucy's final death at the hands of Van Helsing and her suitors. Then, as an epilogue - maybe a post-credits scene - Mina arrives back in London, newly married to Jonathan, and he spots Dracula in the street. I love that chilling image as a way to finish the movie. All credit to Anonymous for thinking of it

Part Two would open in flashback to Jonathan's arrival in Transylvania and his captivity at the castle. When he escapes and is hospitalized, the nuns send for Mina, who arrives to marry him and transport him back to England. That's where they learn about what happened with Lucy, and Mina becomes Dracula's new target.

So who plays whom? Let's start with Mina and Lucy, since they're the focus of the first film. Mina was easy for me to cast, because when I think of horror and young actors these days, Anya Taylor-Joy is the first person to pop into my head. From The Witch and Morgan to Split and Marrowbone, Taylor-Joy has embraced the scary stuff and she's extremely good in it.

For Lucy, I like Mia Goth. I mean, to start with, I just love her name. Mia Goth. But she's another cool actor with a lot of horror already in her filmography. She was in Marrowbone with Taylor-Joy, but also A Cure for Wellness and the recent Suspiria remake. She and Taylor-Joy also both have great looks. They're not just beautiful, they're eerily beautiful and will look great running around ruined abbeys, castles, and cemeteries in white dresses.

Lucy's fiancé Arthur is usually cast as blonde and generically noble-looking. And honestly, that's how I usually imagine him. But why not do something different and cast a face with some character? Will Poulter has already played a gothic nobleman in The Little Stranger and he's got this quietly dangerous strength that would bring great tension to the scenes when he's questioning Van Helsing's theories about Lucy.

Quincey Morris is an American cowboy, so I wanted a young, rugged actor from the States and preferably from Texas. After racking my brain to come up with someone in the right age range, I decided that accents can indeed be faked and went with my heart. I'm casting John Boyega.

That leaves Jack Seward from Lucy's suitors. The good doctor will do nicely as a thin geeky type, so I'm casting one of my favorite British young people, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, The Maze Runner).

Sneaking around the background of Part One will be Dr Seward's patient, Renfield, a man whose purpose in the plot won't be fully revealed until Part Two. According to Seward in the novel, Renfield is in his late 50s. This has got to be someone with some range, so I picked Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, The World is Not Enough, Once Upon a Time).

And finally - for Part One - we need to cast Van Helsing. Anonymous' Christoph Waltz probably would have been my first choice, but since I'm intentionally trying to pick differently, I think Werner Herzog would be really cool. He has the added benefit of having directed his own Dracula movie with 1979's Nosferatu the Vampyre.

In Part Two, we bring in the other two, important characters starting with Jonathan Harker. I like Dev Patel. Harker needs to be heroic; someone to relate to and feel bad about when things go horribly for him. Patel is super charismatic and he's already got experience in the Victorian setting with the upcoming The Personal History of David Copperfield.

And finally, we need a Dracula. A few years ago, I would have hesitated to suggest Benedict Cumberbatch for the only reason that he was on the verge of becoming over-exposed. He's not as ubiquitous these days though and he's easily my top preference for the part: thin, handsome, dangerous, and that voice. (Second choice - after seeing that photo with Mia Goth above - would be Jason Isaacs.) We'll have to age him up for the Transylvania scenes, but I prefer that over casting an older actor to age down.

So that's how I'd do it. I'd love to hear thoughts or suggestions of your own in the comments. This kind of exercise is most fun when discussed.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Wild Bunch (1969)

Shawn Robare is back to help Pax and I sift through Sam Peckinpah's classic The Wild Bunch. But "classic" doesn't mean that we like it. Not all of us, anyway.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker

Dacre Stoker is the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker and he's working hard to be Bram's spiritual descendant as well as his biological one. Dracul is the second book Dacre's written (this one with co-author JD Barker) that inserts Bram and other Stokers into the world of Dracula.

Dacre's first book was Dracula the Un-dead (with co-author Ian Holt), a sequel to Dracula that has Bram meet the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker as the young man researches the vampire that destroyed his parents' lives. I haven't read it and don't know if I will. I loved Dracul, but I'm not clear on how well it and Un-dead tie together. I've read some things that make me suspect the continuity is a bit wonky, so if that's the case, I'll skip Un-dead. I need to do some more looking into that, though.

Dracul is a prequel to Dracula that features Bram and his siblings in major roles. In real life, Bram Stoker was a sickly child until around the age of seven. No one today knows exactly what was wrong with him. If anyone knew during Bram's life, they didn't write it down for us. But we do know that Bram suddenly got better around seven-years-old for equally mysterious reasons. Dracul offers a cool, supernatural explanation for the recovery in the form of a necromantic nanny who was helping raise the Stoker children.

I don't always like prequels, because they're often just exercises in checking off items on a list of events that have to happen in order for the original thing to take place. Dracul doesn't do that. It's its own mystery as Bram and his siblings try to figure out what happened to him when he was seven, just who this nanny was, why she disappeared shortly after Bram got better, and why does she still feel so intimately and paranormally connected to the family?

Of course it ties into a deadly, undead nobleman from eastern Europe and the investigation turns up things and people who will go on to inspire Bram's greatest work, but it all goes down in a natural way and I never felt like either the plot or I were being manipulated.

There is one, unnatural thing about Dracul though that I didn't care for. That's the use of the same, epistolary format from Bram's novel. Dracula made great use of it, but it's not needed in Dracul, which feels like a found-footage film straining really hard to explain why someone is recording all of these events as they happen. And then weirdly, Dracul drops it by the end. I was happy for that, but it made me question even more why Dacre and Barker felt the need for it in the first place.

Other than that, though, it's a super engaging book with great characters and I came away wanting to learn more about the real-life Bram Stoker. Best of all, it's actually scary with chilling scenes and images that will haunt me for a while.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dracula (2002)

Who's in it?: Patrick Bergin (Sleeping with the Enemy, Robin Hood, Frankenstein), Giancarlo Giannini (Mimic, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace), and Stefania Rocca (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Love's Labour's Lost).

What's it about?:An adaptation of Stoker's novel set in the 21st Century.

How is it?: I'm impressed with how well it updates Stoker's story to modern times. It keeps all of the main characters, even Quincey, and their relationships to each other are all sound. Jonathan and Mina are engaged. Mina's best friend is Lucy, who has three different suitors before she finally settles on Arthur.

Writer (alongside Eric Lerner)/director Roger Young makes a couple of big changes though, neither or which I like. The first is how he introduces Dracula. In this version, Jonathan and Mina are vacationing in Budapest when the story opens. Jonathan proposes to Mina and surprises her by having all of their friends - Lucy, Arthur, and Quincey - show up. (Dr John Seward doesn't know them yet, but enters the story quickly.) While all of this is going on, a middle-aged man named Vlad Tepes introduces himself to Jonathan with a business proposal that requires Jonathan to travel to Transylvania. I don't mind the prologue to set up the events of the novel, but what's weird is that Tepes claims to be the nephew of Count Dracula, the elderly nobleman whom Jonathan's going to work for.

Bergin plays both versions and he's good, but it's never made clear why he keeps at this deception. I don't see the advantage he gains by switching from old to young and back again multiple times. In Stoker's novel, Dracula appears old at the beginning because he's basically been hibernating in Transylvania for hundreds of years. I'm reading between the lines some, but the impression I get is that the locals are wise to him and it's hard for him to hunt. But once he gets to London's fresh supply of ignorant humans, he's able to drink freely and regain his youth. In Young's version, Dracula's elderly and youthful appearances are just parlor tricks.

The other change I don't like is how Young and Lerner make greed and materialism a theme for some reason. Jonathan and his friends suspect that what Dracula wants Jonathan to do isn't entirely legal, so conversations are had about whether he should agree. The materialistic Quincey is all for it - money justifies everything - while Arthur takes a more conservative approach. Jonathan ultimately agrees with Quincey, but comes to regret it, seeing the horror that follows as the consequence of his greed.

You could make a cool connection between the hunger for wealth and the hunger for blood, but Young/Lerner don't go far enough with it. If anyone is going to be hurt by the deal that Jonathan's getting involved in, that's not made clear. The only risk is to his own conscience (and perhaps his freedom, if he's caught). In order for the greed/vampirism analogy to work, someone needs to be drained of something by Jonathan's actions. The film glosses over other aspects of the caper, too, like just how Jonathan's friends are going to be involved in the scheme and why their agreement to it is important.

But I do love how surprisingly faithful the film is in other ways. I was worried briefly that Mina was getting sidelined and dumbed down from Stoker's version, but that ended up being a trick that the film was pulling on me. Rocca's Mina ends up being pretty awesome, not just as a vampire-fighter, but also as a strong, moral center for the group. And it's also great to see Giancarlo Giannini (from the first couple of Daniel Craig Bond movies). His character's not named Van Helsing, but that's who he's playing and he's a charming one. If it weren't for the changes I mentioned, some of the acting (English is clearly not a strong language for a lot of the cast), and CG effects that are truly horrendous, I'd love this version.

Rating: Three out of five Minas.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Better Off Dead... (1985)

Shawn Robare (Cult Film Club, Branded in the '80s) and I put on our top hats, pop the yule log tape in the VCR, and examine an '80s classic: Savage Steve Holland's absurdist comedy starring John Cusack, Diane Franklin, and Curtis Armstrong.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Professionals (1966)

Pax and I are joined by Shawn Robare (Cult Film Club) to ruminate on Richard Brooks' end-of-the-West saga starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan, Claudia Cardinale, and Jack Palance.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Who's in it?: Francis Lederer (Pandora's Box), Norma Eberhardt (Problem Girls, Live Fast, Die Young), and John Wengraf (The Thin Man Goes Home, Wake of the Red Witch)

What's it about?: Dracula (Lederer) flees Transylvania in the 1950s, pursued by a vampire hunter (Wengraf), and assumes the identity of an artist in order to hide among the man's family in a small, California town.

How is it?: Shockingly great. I always have a fondness for black-and-white films from the '50s and '60s, so I expected to enjoy it visually, but I'm surprised at how well-acted and actually scary The Return of Dracula can be.

The Dracula-in-Smalltown-USA concept could have been cheesy, but everyone plays it straight and gives honest performances. Lederer is a darkly handsome and sinister Dracula; the kind of person you want to like even while fearing that you're disappointing them with everything you do. And that's exactly the situation that his "family" finds themselves in. Greta Granstedt is the widowed head of the family, raising her teenage daughter Rachel (Eberhardt) and young son Mickey (Jimmy Baird) on her own. They all want to welcome their cousin Bellac into their home and he seems pleasant enough, but he also keeps strange hours and is reluctant to communicate or get close to them.

The story follows the Dracula formula by having a friend of Rachel's become Dracula's first victim before he begins focusing on Rachel herself. It's about that time that Dracula's pursuers catch up to him from Europe, replicating the Van Helsing role. Wengraf is competent as the main hunter, but Eberhardt excels as the terrified daughter. I felt her fear. Baird is also very good as the little brother, nailing his own emotional scenes. There's also a neighbor boy (Ray Stricklyn) who's more or less dating Rachel and their relationship feels authentic. They argue just enough to be realistic without ever making me question why they like each other.

The film gets bonus points for setting the story at Halloween, including a procedural detective story as Dracula's pursuers try to locate him, and inserting a startling, sudden splash of color when Wengraf drives a stake into the heart of Dracula's first victim.

Rating: Four out of five Minas

Friday, November 15, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Holiday Inn (1942)

I'm joined by Lizzie Twachtman (Random Chatter, The Thrifty Duckling) to talk about a movie that's so full of holiday spirit, Christmas alone can't contain it. We break down Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and the many positive aspects of the film while also talking about its troublesome approaches to gender and race.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Son of Dracula (1943)

Who's in it?: Lon Chaney Jr (Man Made Monster, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Tomb), Louise Allbritton, Robert Paige (The Monster and the Girl, Hellzapoppin'), Frank Craven, J Edward Bromberg (Invisible Agent, Phantom of the Opera), and Evelyn Ankers (Hold That Ghost, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Captive Wild Woman).

What's it about?: A Southern heiress (Allbritton) courts a vampire (Chaney) with a familiar name for her own, mysterious purposes.

How is it?: I love the Southern Gothic setting and the complicated morality of Allbritton's Katherine. She's playing a dangerous game for reasons that I won't spoil and don't agree with, but I totally understand why she thinks she's right. I didn't expect that kind of intricacy in a Universal Dracula sequel, though I probably should have after Dracula's Daughter.

Two things don't work for me. The smaller issue is the character of Katherine's boyfriend, Frank (Paige). He has a tragic arc as Katherine's plan has the unintended consequence of driving him insane. That's pretty cool, but Frank goes from normal to crazy too quickly, implying (if I'm generous in my reading of him) that he was already pretty close to nuts to begin with. (If I'm not generous, it's just bad film-making.) As soon as Count Alucard steps in as a rival and lays hands on Frank, Frank pulls out a gun and shoots the count. I don't really know why Frank's carrying a gun to begin with, but he's not entirely the calm, Southern gentleman he presents himself as. After he tries to murder Alucard, he spirals down from there. Once he's on that path though, the rest of his journey is captivating.

The bigger problem is Chaney Jr as the count. He looks great, but makes no attempt at a Hungarian accent or really appearing to be European at all. The effects around his vampire powers are pretty great (especially one chilling scene where he floats across the surface of a bayou), but he still isn't very scary. He comes across as a mundane bully, not Lord of the Undead. I guess it's better not to try an accent than it would be to have him do a horrible one, but if he's not capable, then he just feels miscast.

There are interesting things to think about from a continuity standpoint. The Dracula legend is widespread enough in this world that Alucard is a lousy pseudonym if the count is actually trying to hide his identity. The local doctor (Craven) figures it out in the very first scene and is immediately on Alucard's trail. When he calls in a Hungarian folklore expert (Bromberg) for assistance, they speculate about who Alucard might actually be.

The folklore guy, Professor Lazlo, wonders if Alucard might be a descendant of Dracula. That's as close as the movie gets to explaining the connection or justifying the Son of Dracula title. "Son," in this case, doesn't necessarily mean "direct offspring." And since it's just speculation by Lazlo, there's no reason to believe that Alucard is actually, biologically connected to Dracula at all.

Alucard clearly wants some sort of relationship to exist, though, and sees himself at least as the spiritual heir to Dracula's legacy. That's why he adopts such a ludicrous, easy to decipher alias. He wants people to make the connection. He may not even be Hungarian, or even European. That would explain his accent. I imagine that he's a completely American vampire who traveled to Europe and adopted a connection to Dracula before meeting Katherine and following her back to the States. He's a poseur, but he's a powerful one.

One last continuity observation and it's an important one: In relating Dracula's story to Dr Brewster, Lazlo explains that Dracula was destroyed at the end of the nineteenth century. That fits with Stoker's story, but not with the Universal adaptation that took place in the 1930s. There's no mention of any of the events of that film or Dracula's Daughter, so the easiest interpretation is that Son of Dracula is a sequel to the original novel and not the other two Universal films. Meaning that there are two separate realities.

I don't like that, though. I enjoy Son of Dracula too much to just put it aside in a pocket universe. Instead, I prefer to think that Lazlo is simply mistaken about when Dracula was defeated in the Universal films. It also makes more sense for the other sequels that followed if Son of Dracula takes place in the same world as Dracula and Dracula's Daughter, but I'll get into why that is later. It's a weird mistake for Lazlo to have made, but I think that's the best explanation.

Rating: Three out of five Minas.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dracula 2000 (2000)

Who's in it?: Gerard Butler (300, RocknRolla), Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), Justine Waddell (Mansfield Park), Jonny Lee Miller (Dead Man's Walk, Mansfield Park, Eli Stone, Elementary), Vitamin C (The WB's Superstar USA), Jennifer Esposito (Samantha Who?), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager), Omar Epps (Major League II, House), Danny Masterson (That '70s Show), and Nathan Fillion (Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Castle).

What's it about?: A hundred years after the events of Bram Stoker's novel, Van Helsing (Plummer) and a freshly resurrected Dracula (Butler) search for the woman (Waddell) who is the legacy of them both.

How is it?: Much much stronger than a movie called Dracula 2000 has a right to be. I love how it makes itself a sequel to the novel while expanding the mythology in cool ways. I say that it makes itself a sequel to the novel - and it mostly works that way - but there is a weird flashback to Dracula's defeat in the 19th Century that doesn't exactly match up with the way Stoker described it. It's still a cool defeat though. And Van Helsing's method of prolonging his own life into the 21st Century makes sense.

I also love the explanation of Dracula's origin and how it ties together and justifies some of his classic weaknesses. It's a clever bit of speculation and world-building that reminds me of some of the stuff White Wolf Publishing used to do with vampire history in their Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game, tying vampires back to the Mark of Cain in Genesis. Without going into detail, Dracula 2000 has its head in a similar place.

The cast is pretty great, too. Plummer is the tired, but determined Van Helsing. Miller is his tough, but sympathetic protégé. Butler plays a sultry and dangerous Dracula. And Waddell is the frightened and confused woman who has to figure out how she's connected to Dracula and Van Helsing, then rise to the challenge of finding her own place in the story. Add to all that cool, smaller roles for Esposito, Epps, Masterson, Ryan, and Fillion and you've got a super watchable story.

One thing keeps me from loving it more, though. Mary is obviously a Mina-like character, which is fine, but her roommate's (Vitamin C) name is Lucy Westerman. That's a tough coincidence to swallow considering that Lucy Westernra is also a person who existed in this world. It's a small thing, but it pulled me out of the story when her name was revealed.

Rating: Four out of five Marys

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | I Can't Quit You

Christian Nielsen and Kay join Michael May to talk about a phenomenon that's plagued nerds since the beginning of time (or at least, nerd time). Why do we latch on to some series or characters so hard that we feel compelled to watch or read even iterations that don't look that appealing to us? Looking at specific examples like The Addams Family, Batman, Robin Hood, and Star Wars, the panel attempts to figure this out.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Blood of Dracula (1957)

Who's in it?: Sandra Harrison (an episode of Adventures of Superman), Louise Lewis (a different episode of Adventures of Superman, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, The Vampire), and Gail Ganley (sadly not in any episodes of Adventures of Superman).

What's it about?: A teenage girl (Harrison) attends a boarding school where her anger issues are exploited by a science teacher (Lewis) who wants to turn her into a bloodsucking vampire. You know, for science. Ganley plays a fellow student who's also the teacher's aide/lackey.

How is it?: First up, this is not actually a Dracula movie. It's a sequel to neither the novel nor another Dracula film, though I think I can make it one in my imagination.

I don't know why it wasn't officially titled I Was a Teenage Vampire when it was made by the same people who did I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. It also has the same tone as those and really the same basic plot as I Was a Teenage Werewolf. The Blood of Dracula title seems intentionally misleading, especially when the only mention of Dracula is plural and as a synonym for all vampires. The line basically goes, "What if the murders were committed by vampires... you know, Draculas?"

As hilariously ridiculous as that is (and it's not the only hilariously ridiculous thing... hello, vampire makeup), and as disappointing as it is to see someone hypnotized into becoming a vampire instead of becoming one the usual way, I like the boarding school setting and the '50s teen shenanigans (secret "initiations" that are just parties where girls dance to records; midnight scavenger hunts, etc.).

I also like how the hypnosis for the vampire transformation is aided by an ancient amulet from the Carpathian mountains. If I want to work at it, I can imagine a backstory that does somehow involve the actual Dracula. Perhaps the amulet belonged to him and has become corrupted by his evil. Or perhaps it was somehow instrumental in his own transformation from Transylvanian count to undead bloodsucker. Whatever it is, I believe that it's the amulet's power and not Miss Branding's skill at mesmerism that actually transforms poor Nancy Perkins.

Rating: Three out of five vampire Nancys.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Iron Man 3 (2013)

I'm joined by William Bruce West to examine the set-at-Christmas Iron Man 3. Is it a good Christmas movie? Is it a good Iron Man movie? Remember that game, Barrel of Monkeys? This is more fun than that.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Happy Bram Stoker Day!

I do a spotty job celebrating the birthdays of my favorite authors on this blog, but I'm so deep into Dracula lore these days that I can't let Stoker's birthday pass without a mention.

Born 172 years ago today and I'm super glad of it.

Fairy Tale Friday | Fables, Part 7: The Last Castle

Fables: The Last Castle was a one-shot special in 2003 that offered more insight to the Fables' homelands; specifically the closing days of the Adversary's invasion, the final stand of the defenders, and the last group of refugees to escape. The series had been slowly teasing out information about the mysterious Adversary and his campaign against the homelands, so the revelations of The Last Castle were a big deal and an appropriate subject for a fancy, stand-alone story like this.

It also answered a question that was on the minds of a lot of fans: With Bigby Wolf such an important part of the Fables series, whatever happened to his legendary prey, Red Riding Hood?

The framing of the backstory takes place because Little Boy Blue is depressed, as he always gets this time of year. Snow White finally asks him about it and he tells her that it's the anniversary of the escape of the final survivors from the homelands. Every year, those survivors gather for a private ceremony and Blue has special reason to mourn the experience.

He shares his story with Snow White and the bulk of the book describes an epic battle full of legendary characters like Robin Hood and his men, the Grimm Brothers' Bearskin, and of course Red Riding Hood, who barely makes it into the defenders' keep alive. All of it is beautifully drawn by P Craig Russell, himself a legend of fantasy comics for his Elric and Jungle Book adaptations, Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, and various volumes of Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

It's a dark, emotional story and I would have liked it more if it didn't handle Red in a way I don't care for. That's super subjective though and Fables is such an unpredictable series that there's always room for it to come back to her in a way that I like better.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Die Hard (1988)

It's time to put this baby to bed once and for all. I'm joined by Nerd Lunch's Jeeg to officially declare whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Maybe. If we can agree on it.

But whatever our opinions about its seasonal suitability, we 100% agree that it's one of the greatest action movies of all time. And we're 100% happy to discuss why that is.

Filthy Horrors | That Razor in the Apple

Last week was Halloween, so Darla, Jess, and I released a holiday episode of Filthy Horrors talking about everyone's favorite spooky time of year. After a history lesson on the holiday, we hollered about why Halloween is important, our childhood memories of it, how we celebrate today, and the best (and worst) candy to find in your plastic Jack O'Lantern bucket. We also talked about a Halloween field trip and a bunch of other spooky stuff including:
  • Flatliners (2017)
  • Hammer House of Horror TV series (1980)
  • Nomads (1986)
  • Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker
  • Disney Frankenstein, starring Donald Duckby Bruno Enna, Fabio Celoni, and Luca Merli
  • It Chapter Two (2019)
  • It (1990)
  • The Little Stranger (2018)
  • Halloween (2018)
  • The Dark (2018)


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