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Thursday, October 16, 2014

DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (1934)

Morbid, murky & romantically menacing, Alberto Casella’s play has proved remarkably sturdy in many formats. A Pop Liebestod that’s been remade as MEET JOE BLACK/98; revived on tv; and recently musicalized; it's a symbolist-influenced FLYING DUTCHMAN, Richard Wagner by way of Gabriele D’Annuzio.* Here, Death (Fredric March) takes a short break from his usual tasks to taste of mortal pleasures & figure out why no one ever invites him to the party. It’s all very chic, amusing & sophisticated . . . until Death gets Laid, then all bets (and promises of good behavior) are off. As a late Pre-Code film release. it’s clearly physical sex, not chaste love, that forgettable Evelyn Venable is offering, which neatly ups the ante. Mitchell Leisen, showing off visually in an early directing gig, with fine assists from Hans Dreier & Ernst Fegté in the art department and lush monochrome lensing from Charles Lang, starts up in tempting fashion with a drunken, daredevil drive. But it all goes kerblooey about halfway in as high style gives way to a stagebound Maxwell Anderson script that plays out like some sub-Dracula pic. Or maybe it’s the Carpathian accent March uses. Death needs a more stylized package to convince us. Maybe smooth Ronald Colman or ironic William Powell might have unlocked the grand romantic gesture Casella is looking for. But it’s certainly different than your ordinary cinema prestige item.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Casella even bothers to name a rival suitor Eric, just like Wagner in DUTCHMAN.

DOUBLE-BILL: Death takes a forced holiday in ON BORROWED TIME/’39, with world mortality on hold from family sentiment instead of libido. And, in Sir Cedric Hardwicke, a Grim Reaper you can believe in.

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