Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Man and the Snake, The (1972)

Directed by:
Sture Rydman

Ambrose Bierce (one of 13 children from an impoverished Meigs County, Ohio family) was a fascinating figure who not only was a prolific short story writer, but also a newspaper editor, critic, satirist, poet, journalist and soldier who served in the army during the Civil War. He dabbled in both business and politics, was nicknamed 'Bitter Bierce' because of his caustic, sardonic wit, traveled and worked abroad and famously disappeared never to be seen again sometime during the Mexican revolution (the 71-year-old was last seen in the presence of rebel troops). Bierce is perhaps most famous for his 1891 short story 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,' which has gone on to influence countless writers and filmmakers over the years and itself was filmed as a Cannes Award-winning short in 1962. Bierce also wrote several other ghost / horror stories, which leads us to this 25-minute short. I'm not entirely sure where this was first seen, but it apparently played theatrically as a support feature for years before ending up as part of the PBS series The American Short Story Collection. Many episodes of that series were issued on VHS by Monterey Home Video as part of their "Short Story Collection" series. This one was paired with the outstanding ghost story THE RETURN (1973), another Bierce adaptation, for the release. Both tales together run about an hour and are made by the team of director / writer Rydman, producer Elizabeth McKay and co-writer Brian Scobie.

John Fraser (Catherine Deneuve's would-be suitor in REPULSION, amongst other things) and the always-wonderful André Morell (Professor Quatermass, amongst other things) star in this well-acted tale. Tutor Harker Brayton (Fraser) is visiting the home of his student Malcolm and meets the boy's father; scientist and serpent-lover Dr. Theo Druring (Morell). Dr. Druring has an entire room full of snakes; some venomous, some not. His wife Amelia (Madge Ryan), their maid Molly (Brenda Cowling) and their dinner guests; Colonel Gordon (Clive Morton) and his wife (Damaris Hayman), don't really understand the doctor's affinity for the slithering creatures and could care less about their "physical grace," but young Malcolm has followed in dad's footsteps in his love for them. In fact, he often sneaks into his father's "snakery" late at night just to admire them. Mr. Brayton ends up staying later into the evening than he'd anticipated and is talked into spending the night. He's shown his room, gets ready to relax with a book, and then spots a pair of beady, sparkling eyes gazing at him from underneath his bed...

What makes this short work is how it cleverly introduces various snake mythologies into the works to give one a wide array of possibilities once Brayton finds himself alone after midnight with a potentially lethal snake just feet away. During dinner, the Colonel (who's just arrived back from a stay in India) relates a story about how he felt hypnotized by a King Cobra and that he believes snakes are evil and can 'charm' people just as people can 'charm' them. Have Druring's snakes somehow managed to control him and now run amuck in his home? Amelia and Molly admit that the snakes sometime manage to find their way out of their cages and can sometimes be found around the home. Has another one escaped and found a nice hiding spot underneath Brayton's bed? Druring introduces the idea that children don't seem afraid of snakes and vice versa, and that children can handle venomous ones without fear of being bitten. Has mischievous Malcolm put one in Brayton's room? Or is it something entirely different?

While certainly not a visually impressive piece, it's an interesting one that stays faithful to its source material while also expanding a bit upon it. Good performances by all and the ending is fairly intense and well-done.


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

I'm a big fan of Bierce but I didn't know about his adaptation even though I rrmember the PBS series. Maybe I jsut wasn't paying attention!

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