Shakespeare week – Theater of Blood

This is Shakespeare week. Apparently when you fail to give an actor of the Bard his due, you may be in for some trouble. Theater of Blood is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Theater of Blood (1973) – NR

“Vincent Price channels his peerless talent for playing refined madmen into the character of Edward Lionheart, a proud London actor who goes dramatically bonkers when he fails to receive a coveted award. While riverside tramps foil his attempt to drown himself in the River Thames, the world believes he has met a watery end. The thespian uses this cover to exact grisly — and fitting — revenge on the critics who ignored his genius.”

“O pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers.”

The concept of having a Shakespearean actor take poetic revenge on his critics is certainly a fun one and this one is milked for all it is worth beginning on the Ides of March. The murders are quite inventive and each is taken from a different Shakespeare play. They were gory for the time but seem quaint today.

Much as Richard III was yesterday, Theater of Blood is essentially a one-man show. If you do not enjoy the theatricality (or hamminess if you prefer) of a Vincent Price performance then you probably will not enjoy this. This is not his best performance (see Witchfinder General – also available on instant Netflix) but ranks up there with Dr. Phibes as one of his most enjoyable.

Diana Rigg acquits herself well in her second billed role as Edwina Lionheart, daughter of Edward. This is probably her best role after her fabulous stint as Emma Peel in The Avengers but no one steals a scene from Vincent.

Actress Coral Browne, who plays Miss Chloe Moon here, first met Vincent Price on this movie. They were married the following year and, unlike traditional Hollywood marriages, stayed married until her passing in 1991.

The rest of the cast reads like a list of Hammer supporting players – Madeline Smith (Vampire Lovers), Diana Dors (Hammer House of Horror), Ian Hendry (Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter), Michael Hordern (Demons of the Mind), Dennis Price (Twins of Evil) and even the voice of Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out).

This film is a huge amount of fun and could be watched just for the early 70s fashion. The Shakespeare references are plentiful and much of his dialogue is included as well. Theater of Blood is a showcase for Vincent Price and he shines so watch it already. Besides which, where else are you going to see a swordfight on gym equipment?

People Watch: When Vincent Price retired from his stint of hosting Mystery for Masterpiece Theater, his co-star in this film, Diana Rigg, took over hosting duties.

The Night of the Generals – Nazis Gone Wild! week

This is Nazis Gone Wild week! The Night of the Generals is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Night of the Generals (1967) – Rated PG.

“It is 1942 in Warsaw, and tenacious Wehrmacht Intelligence Maj. Grau (Omar Sharif) is led to Paris as he attempts to pinpoint who of three generals is responsible for killing and then slicing up a hooker. Among the suspects is Nazi Gen. Tanz (Peter OToole), a known sadist. Anatole Litvak directs this grand-scale World War II film based on the Hans Helmut Kirs novel. Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray co-star.”

“The Fuhrer has ordered General Tanz to solve the problem of Warsaw.” – “How?” – “Meticulously.”

Major Grau stops the Doctor in his detailed description of the crime – “Thank you Doctor – there is no need to be vivid.”

Ha ha – right away you can tell this is a late 60s film. The first scene involves the discovery of the butchered prostitute.

Earlier than the 60s and you could not have this subject matter. If it were a 70s film, they would have shown you the body. If it were the 80s then the corpse would be nude. If it were 90s or later then they would have shown you the actual murder in excruciating detail.

Still this was a difficult movie to film as the production code was still in effect. The MPAA would replace the production code in 1968 with our now familiar ratings system. This film had to hide a lot of the sexually related material. You can even catch a shocking if brief conversation referring to homosexuality – something unheard of with the code in effect.

Direction is a little off. Up until the third act, the few scenes set in the 60s seem disjointed and most do not segue well back into the story. On the other hand some of the segues, particularly one that removes modern tourists and replaces them with German soldiers, are very nicely handled.

The film seems quite bloated at 2 hours and 23 minutes as, even though this is a murder mystery, they wanted to include a lot of the detail on the razing of the Warsaw Ghetto (a little misplaced time-wise) and Operation Valkyrie.

Omar Sharif is the investigator Major Grau. He positively beams with joy upon finding out that the murderer is most likely a General. His makeup is quite interesting as it is used to allow him to pass for German. Unfortunately his performance really consists of that one note of impishness.

Peter OToole is his usual flamboyant but eminently watchable self. He could make reading from the phone book fascinating. He is wonderful at playing damaged psyches. His General Tanz here is quite fascinating and is based somewhat on Joachim Peiper.

Peiper was a wunderkind but is perhaps best known for performing the massacre at Malmedy during The Battle of The Bulge. Peiper survived the war but served time for war crimes. Much like Roschmann from The Odessa File, Peiper was alive while this was filmed but was assassinated in 1967.

There are a lot of funny parts in casting. Donald Pleasence, Nigel Stock and Gordon Jackson play General Kahlenberge, Otto and Captain Engel respectively. Here they all play German soldiers and earlier in The Great Escape, they were all trying to escape from German soldiers.

Charles Gray and Donald Pleasence both do a great job of playing Generals here. Later they would both oppose James Bond as Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Gray in You Only Live Twice and Pleasence in Diamonds are Forever). Joanna Pettet plays Ulrike here and Mata Bond in Casino Royale (1967).

I recommend this film but with some reservations. The film runs a little too long. Shaving a half hour off the run time would have improved the pace quite a bit. Overall the film is worth watching for the performances of the three Generals (OToole, Pleasence, and Gray) and for watching what one of the last production code films could get away with.

Just as a side note this film was a little glitchy on my Roku box. I had to watch part of it on my computer.

People Watch: There is a cavalcade of British character actors in the background here. Look for Patrick (Night Creatures, The Devil Rides Out) Allen and Harry (Theater of Blood, The Medusa Touch) Andrews in small parts.