Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

Monday, January 18, 2016

Deadly Game of Hide and Seek

This classic ghost story has been immortalized in film, short stories, and in a famous song and poem.

It is known under various names. The Lost Bride, Bride and Go Seek and in England as The Mistletoe Bough or The Mistletoe Bride.

This story was first published in 1809 in Germany in an article entitled The Melancholy Occurrence, which tells the tale of a bride who goes missing on her wedding day.

Samuel Rogers’ poem entitled Ginevra, published in 1823, also tells the moving story of how a bride disappears on her wedding day only to be found years later.

“Full fifty years were past, and all was forgot . . .
The mouldering chest was noticed . . .
‘Why not remove it from its lurking place . . .’
It burst, it fell; and lo, a skeleton . . .”

The full text of this poem can be found here.

Roger’s poem inspired Thomas Bayly to write the lyrics for a ballad song entitled, The Mistletoe Bough, music written by Sir Henry Bishop, in the 1830s. Here is a part of this song.

“They sought her that night, and they sought her next day,
And they sought her in vain while a week passed away . . .
At length an old chest, that had long lain hid,
Was found in the castle—
They raised the lid,
And a skeleton form lay mouldering there
In the bridal wreath of that lady fair!”

The entire song lyrics can be read here. A popular version of this ballad is shared below.

By 1859, this song in England was so popular it was shared in most households at Christmastime. Many knew the heart wrenching lyrics “by heart.”

This story was retold in two short stories: The Old Oak Chest by Susan E. Wallace in 1887 and The Romance of Certain Old Clothes by Henry James in 1868.

The story was also made into a silent film in 1904 by Percy Stow; this short film has since been restored and is below. Two other films based upon this story were made in 1923 and 1926.

Percy Stow film
This story has been told for over 2 centuries now. Various versions of this myth have circulated in America. A popular version was told in the early 1970s.

Alfred Hitchcock produced his own version of this story in 1948 in his film entitled Rope. In his film the main character, Brandon Shaw hides the body of a murdered son in a chest.

However, most versions of this story are similar so here is the English version -- The Mistletoe Bough.

A young bride was married to Lord Lovell at Christmastime. After the ceremony she suggested they play a game of hide and seek, which the younger members of the wedding party could enjoy as well.

The young bride was picked as the first person to hide. No one suspected as she went off this would be the last they would see of her.

Her husband, father and the wedding guests searched and searched but she was not found. The wedding guests eventually had to leave, many assured the family as they parted that surely the bride must have just fallen asleep in her hiding place.

The groom, father and the servants continued to search late into the night and the next day but their efforts were unrewarded for the young bride was not found.

The days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months than years but the bride’s disappearance remained a mystery. Lord Lovell grew old and the story was now legendary.

The family home was eventually sold and several years later the home’s attic was emptied. Amongst the old paintings and furniture there was an old oak chest that appeared to be locked.

The lid was pried open and inside was a skeleton dressed in a wedding gown-- it was holding a withered wedding bouquet. At last, the bride was found.

Chest opened.

Bramshill House
Many stately homes * in England over the years have claimed to be the location for this chest. They include: Bramshill House and Marwell House both in Hampshire. Castle Horneck in Cornwall, Basildon Grotto in Berskhire, Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, Exton Hall in Rutland, Brockdish Hall in Norfolk and Bawdrip Rectory in Somerset.

* Some of these homes lay in ruins today.

A number of these homes also lay claim to the ghost of the unfortunate bride that is said to haunt their grounds. She is seen wearing her wedding gown.

Here is a recording of the song, The Mistletoe Bough.



The following is the restored silent version of the 1904 film version of this story. It is short.



Here is a brief video about Minster Lovell Hall and the ghost. Where it is said Lord Lovell can be heard crying for his lost bride.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Uninvited


Dorothy Macardle adapted one of my favorite screenplays from her original book The Uninvited published in 1942.

Her ghost story is set in England in the 1930s. It follows two siblings Roddy and Pamela Fitzgerald as they explore Devonshire in hopes of finding a country house.

Roddy is a young successful London literary critic who wants to get away from the city and hopes to install his sister Pamela in a suitable country home so she can recuperate from caring for their ailing father for the past six years.


The two stumble upon a large picturesque home high above the sea on a cliff and fall in love with it. But there is a catch—the home, Cliff End has been empty for 15 years and the man who owns it—a retired navel commander by the name of Meredith does not want to sell it.

Roddy persists since the siblings want the house and he is attracted to the Commander’s sad but lovely granddaughter Stella who lives with her grandfather in a town nearby.

Roddy and Pamela
The Fitzgerald’s prevail as the Commander reluctantly relents and sells them the house. Shortly after moving in they discover Cliff End is haunted.

In a series of frightening events the sibling hear chilling moans, and sobbing, they feel cold air and smell the sweet aroma of mimosa perfume. They also see a startling vaporous apparition.

Roddy spends time with Stella against the Commander’s wishes and finds out her mother Mary Meredith had died in suspicious circumstances when she fell from a cliff near the home.

Another woman, Carmel who was an artist model for Stella’s father had been implicated in this tragedy in a vague mysterious way.

Roddy notices Stella wears the same mimosa perfume that he and Pamela have smelled at Cliff End each time before the ghostly activity occurs. She tells him that she wears it in warm memory of her mother.

The locals tell the siblings that they believe Mary Meredith haunts Cliff End. As the story unfolds Roddy discovers that the reason the Commander does not want Stella to associate with the new owners is he does not want Stella to enter Cliff End.


The Fitzgerald’s end up spending a lot of time trying to unravel the mystery as to why the house is haunted. Stella and the town’s doctor who takes a fancy to Pamela help.

The four end up battling two ghosts—one good, one dark. Macardle provides a story with many twists and turns including a surprise ending.

Her characters are very likable and she keeps the reader or viewer in the moment by setting her story in an ever-changing atmosphere that keeps everyone guessing.

Macardle adapted her book into a screenplay of the same name that was made into a popular film in 1944, which stars Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell. I talk more about this film here.


What is unusual is many prefer the film to the original book because it gets straight to the ghost story whereas the book has many sub-plots. 

The Hollywood screenwriters that touched up the script changed several character's names--"Rick" for Roddy etc. They also changed the name of the house and made Rick a music critic.

Monday, November 10, 2014

From Time to Time

From Time to Time is the title of a 2009 British film based upon Lucy M. Boston’s 1958 children’s classic novel “The Chimneys of Green Knowe.”

Julian Fellowers the creator and one of the writers of Downton Abbey adapted Boston’s story for the screen. He also directed this film.

From Time to Time is a fun and thoughtful ghost story for the entire family. It stars Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Alex Etel and Timothy Spall.


Through word of mouth it has become a Sleeper hit and is well worth the watch.

It was shot on location at Athelhampton Hall in Dorset, England.

The Plot

The story is about a 13 year-old boy, Tolly who is sent to stay with his grandmother at the family estate in 1944 at the end of the Second World War.

His mother is busy looking for his father who has been declared “Missing in Action.”

Tolly soon discovers that the family home has more than present day inhabitants. He begins to see family ghosts that lived in the home in the early 1800s.

To his surprise his grandmother is aware and accepting of these otherworldly inhabitants, which provides a way for Tolly to form a more comfortable bond with her.

Tolly not only sees these ghosts he interacts with them. He also eventually becomes an active participant in their lives.

He embarks on an adventure that involves a young blind female relative, her faithful companion-- a black boy who her father has saved from slavery-- and a variety of staff and family from the past.

Both of these charming period piece stories run concurrent to each other.

The 1800s story involves several twists and turns including a terrible fire, stolen jewels, and an unscrupulous family butler.


In the end, Tolly saves the family fortune and his grandmother’s home by solving an intriguing mystery that the generations before him were unable to do.

This story leaves the viewer with a sad realistic but comforting ending.

This film can be watched on Google Play, Amazon or Netflix.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Casting the Runes


M. R. James
Montague Rhodes James, i.e. M. R. James, wrote this classic short story in 1911.

James was an English writer. One reason his stories are classics is because his writing style quickly draws the reader in.

James is known for his ghost stories. But by far my favorite story by him is Casting the Runes. This story is not a ghost story but it has many supernatural elements--including witchcraft and the casting of magic spells.

Casting the Ruins is about an evil man, Mr. Karswell who has submitted a paper about witchcraft for consideration to a scientific society. This society then gives it to a member, Mr. Dunning to read. The society rejects the paper at Mr. Dunning’s request.


Dunning then discovers that several years before a critic by the name of John Harrington had laughed at a book Karswell had written entitled, The History of Witchcraft.  Afterwards, Harrington turned up dead under bizarre circumstances.

He learns that others who had rejected Karswell’s work also died mysteriously. Dunning becomes nervous realizing he has rejected Karswell’s work as well.

Karswell manages to track Dunning down and hands him an odd strip of paper. After this, weird things start occurring. Dunning begins to see the name, "John Harrington" in places it should not be and then his household staff is poisoned mysteriously.  

Late one night his house is broken into but he finds no one. When he locks himself in his room he feels something strange under his pillow--he describes it as being a mouth with teeth.

His friends seeing how disturbed and pale Dunning has become connect him with Harrington’s brother, Henry. This man shares the details surrounding his sibling’s death.

“…he was found dead with the most dreadful face of fear that could be imagined.”

Harrington had been chased by something so terrible he had uncharacteristically climbed a tree. He had then fallen when a large limb snapped. He broke his neck and died.

Apparently, Karswell out for revenge had “cast the runes” * on Harrington who found himself defenseless against this spell.

It dawns on Dunning that he is experiencing similar things to what Harrington had experienced.

Dunning discovers that Karswell had also handed Harrington a mysterious strip of paper with odd writing on it.

So Henry and Dunning conclude that he must be under the same kind of magic spell that Karswell had cast on Harrington.

The two men become determined to thwart Karswell. The key that helps save Dunning’s life lies with the strip of paper.

In the end, Karswell gets what he deserves.

M. R. James succeeds in making his main character Dunning sympatric and real to the reader--especially when he has him feel remorse about Karswell’s fate.

* Runes are a set of stones/cards with the Germanic alphabet itched or written on them. Like Tarot cards they are used for divination or enhancement of psychic awareness.

Runen

Here is a link to the text of Casting the Runes.

Here is an audio recording of the story on YouTube.

In 1957, a British Film originally called, Night of the Demon, retitled Curse of the Demon was released. This film is based upon James’ Casting the Runes.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, and the screenwriter, Charles Bennett plus the film's star Dana Andrews during the production clashed with the film’s producer, Hal E. Chester. Chester wanted to insert the literal image of a demon or monster into the film. Unfortunately, he won out.

The result is two scenes with an obvious outdated chintzy effect but the rest of the film is classic film noir and entertaining.

Bennett's screenplay changed several elements of James’ original story but it is still a great horror film. It is available to watch on Amazon’s Instant Video.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Ghost of the "Birdman of Alcatraz”

Robert Stroud’s life story was first told in a book in 1955 and then in a movie starring Burt Lancaster in 1962 both entitled "Birdman of Alcatraz." Both portrayed his life story while he served time for murder first at Leavenworth and then later at Alcatraz. Both portrayed him as a ‘kindly’ reformed prisoner who spent years studying bird diseases and how to cure them. But as usual this Hollywood glossy version reflected only small parts of the real truth.

Robert Stroud was far from a ‘model’ prisoner.

In 1909 Stroud shot and killed a man in Juneau, Alaska. Stroud pimped for a prostitute who was cheated by a “john”. This “john” had paid her $2.00 instead of the expected $10.00. Stroud angry, because he didn’t get his usual cut, went to this man’s residence and shot him five times and then took his wallet. He was tried and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to serve twelve years at McNeil Island prison in Washington State.

Two years later at McNeil Island he stabbed a fellow inmate for being a ‘snitch’. He was tried for assault and six months were tacked on to his sentence. During this time he also viciously attacked a prison hospital orderly. This man had reported him for using intimidation and threats in an attempt to procure narcotics. In 1912 he was transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas—due partially to his ceaseless threats to other inmates.

At Leavenworth, in the spring of 1916 Stroud refused to give a guard his “number’’ which was a minor infraction. The next day a long awaited visit with his brother was cancelled because of this infraction. Stroud during the noon meal that same day in the prison mess hall asked this guard if he had reported him. When the guard refused to respond, Stroud pulled out a concealed knife and stabbed and killed him in front of hundreds of other inmates.

For this crime, he was convicted of first-degree murder. He was to be hanged in 1918. But his mother who had moved to Kansas to be close to him, desperately pleaded for his life. In 1920 President Woodrow Wilson commuted his death sentence to life in prison. The Leavenworth warden because of Stroud’s unpredictable and violent outbursts ordered that he be permanently placed in a segregation unit.

Stroud was an enigma because he had an IQ of 134, but he ate with his fingers, hunched over like an animal. His horrible personal hygiene presented a problem for fellow inmates and prison officials alike. It wasn’t until 1934 that he was formally diagnosed as a psychopath. 

While at Leavenworth, he found an injured sparrow in the yard; he took it back to his cell and nursed it back to health. This started his interest in birds. This interest was his one and only redeeming feature.

The warden at Leavenworth used Stroud’s interest in birds to present a model of  “progressive rehabilitation” to the public. Shroud played along because he had found a way to raise some money for his mother who was fighting for his release. 

Over the next years he raised over 300 canaries, which he sold to visitors at the prison. Stroud’s scientific observations of the canaries he kept did later benefit the research on the canary species. He wrote two books on this subject. He also made a contribution to avian pathology. All of this endeared him to people in the field. 

In contrast to this he allowed his birds to fly freely in his cell, which resulted in quite a mess, which he never cleaned up. The massive correspondence he began to receive also became a burden for the prison for each letter coming in and going out had to be screened—a full-time secretary had to be hired just for this purpose.

Prison officials finally fed up with Stroud’s bird business tried to shut him down. He had Delle Mae Jones, a bird researcher in Indiana, which he had corresponded with alert the newspapers and start a petition drive. A 50,000-signature petition was sent to the President. This worked for the prison even gave Stroud an adjourning cell for his birds and his research. 

Jones became so close to Stroud; she moved to Kansas and formed a business in 1931 with him where they sold his bird medicines under the name “Stroud’s Specific." It was widely debated at the time if these remedies were actually effective.



In 1933 Stroud discovered that there were plans to move him to Alcatraz, he knew he would no longer be permitted to keep birds. Stroud however discovered a Kansas law that forbade the transfer of prisoners if they were married in Kansas. He arranged to marry Delle Mae Jones by proxy, which infuriated the prison officials, who would not let him correspond with his new wife.

The first irony here was Stroud was a violent prisoner —this is one reason that the prison officials kept him from the general prison population. 

The second irony was Stroud lost his business and birds when it was discovered that some of the equipment he had requested for his lab he had actually used to build a homemade alcohol still. 

The third irony is his mother didn’t like Delle—she believed all women were bad for her son. Where once she had been a strong advocate for him, helping with legal battles etc., she now argued against her son’s application for parole, in fact, she became a major obstacle in his attempts to be released. She moved away from Leavenworth and had no further contact with him.

Stroud was transferred to Alcatraz in December of 1942. When he was transferred this note was placed upon the warden’s notebook page with his mug shot. Reason for transfer:

“In view of this man’s homicidal traits and impulsivity dangerous tendencies, he cannot be released in the general population…they feel that it would be possible to confine this man safely at Alcatraz…also wishes to call attention to need for eliminating the insanitary condition…from this man’s bird breeding activities here…Recommend transfer to Alcatraz.”

At Alcatraz, Stroud spent six years in segregation where he did have some contact with other prisoners, but as things worsened he was placed in solitary confinement in an isolated area of the hospital wing for the last eleven years he was at Alcatraz. 

This double cell had no toilet so Stroud used a bedpan. One priest who visited the prison stated he went out of his way to avoid being seen as he passed Stroud’s prison door—even going as far as to duck down. He stated if Stroud spotted him he would endlessly babble on and on.

Stroud having access to the prison library began studying law. He petitioned the government stating that his long prison term amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment”. 

Another contrast—Stroud was a fan of child pornography. He received many letters from people who were fans of his bird knowledge. Some of these fans were children. Prison officials confiscated a few letters from Stroud in response to these children that contained suggestive remarks. 

In 1959, Stroud in poor health was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. In 1963 he died at the age of 73, the day before John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

To this day Alcatraz, a very haunted place, has one cell that is more active than all the rest—this is the double cell that Stroud lived in for eleven years in solitary confinement. Full-body apparitions are spotted in this area.

So Robert Stroud was a cold-blooded killer, but the general public because of the book and film "Birdman of Alcatraz” had a totally different picture of him. I remember seeing this film as a child myself and thinking how cruel it was they never released him. The public in general felt the same because after the release of this film, which Burt Lancaster won an Oscar for best actor, many people protested for the release of Robert Stroud.

One fellow prison inmate who heard about the public outcry for Stroud’s release stated: “They want Burt Lancaster to be set free not Robert Stroud.”