A quartet of antique horror films

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For the sixth year in a row, my yearly October salute to vintage horror films celebrating landmark anniversaries kicks off with grand master Georges Méliès. So much of the language and development of early cinema was his creation.

Released 3 May 1901, Blue Beard (Barbe-Bleue) was based on Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairytale. This popular and famous story is the reason the word “bluebeard” is synonymous with a man who marries and murders one wife after another.

Rich aristocrat Barbe-Bleue (Méliès) is eager for a new wife, but none of the noblewomen brought to meet him like what they see. Not only is he ugly, he’s also been married seven prior times.

However, Barbe-Bleue’s riches convince one man to bestow his daughter in marriage (Méliès’s future wife Jehanne d’Alcy).

Barbe-Bleue gives his wife the keys to his castle before going on a trip, and warns her to never enter a certain room. While deciding between curiosity and fear, an imp (also Méliès) appears to tempt and taunt her. An angel tries to prevail upon her to stay away.

Curiosity gets the better of her, and she enters the room to discover a most macabre sight—seven bags that turn out to be Barbe-Bleue’s first seven wives hanging from a gallows in a torture chamber. In shock, she drops the key and becomes stained with blood she’s unable to wash off.

That night, she dreams of seven giant keys.

When Barbe-Bleue returns, he finds out what happened and tries to murder her too. She flees to the top of a tower and screams for her siblings to help her.

Barbe-Bleue is slain when they come to the rescue, and his first seven wives are resurrected and married to lords.

The Devil and the Statue (Le Diable Géant ou Le Miracle de la Madonna) was also released in 1901. A young man serenades his lover, then goes out a window. Presently a devil appears and begins growing to gigantic proportions.

A Madonna statue comes to life and makes the devil shrink, then opens the window so the lover can return.

The Haunted House (La Maison Hantée, also known as La Maison Ensorcelée) was released in April 1906. Though Méliès appears as one of the three characters, it was directed by Segundo de Chomón (Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz). Señor de Chomón is widely considered the greatest Spanish silent film director, and often compared to Méliès because he used many of the same magical illusion tricks and camera work.

In 1901, he began distributing his films through the French company Pathé, and moved to Paris in 1905. He remained with Pathé even after returning to Barcelona in 1910.

Three people take refuge at a house on a dark and stormy night, and spooky things immediately begin happening—chairs that appear and disappear, ghosts flying through the air, flying flames, the house tilting and rotating, the bed sliding across the floor, a knife cutting a sausage and bread by itself, a slice of sausage moving all over the table, a teapot pouring by itself, napkins moving.

This entire film is so fun! It made me eager to seek out more of Señor de Chomón’s work.

And finally we come to L’Inferno, which premièred 10 March 1911 at the Mercadante Theatre in Naples, not to be confused with the other 1911 Italian film of the same name, which I reviewed in 2016. This film was produced by Helios Film, a much smaller company than Milano Films, and made in a hurry to try to beat the other film to theatres and take advantage of the huge wave of public anticipation. It did arrive three months earlier, but is only 15 minutes long as opposed to over an hour.

Eleven major episodes from Inferno are depicted—the dark forest, Virgil’s meeting with Beatrice, crossing Charon’s ferry across Acheron, Francesca and Paolo, Minòs, Farinata degli Uberti in his flaming tomb, the usurers in a rain of fire, Ulysses, Pier della Vigna in the Wood of the Suicides, Count Ugolino, and Satan.

This L’Inferno uses only 18 intertitles (drawn right from Dante’s own words) and 25 animated paintings, compared to 54 in the full-length feature. However, the special effects are quite sophisticated, such as the lustful being blown around and Minòs’s gigantic stature.

Like the other L’Inferno, this one too is strongly based on Gustave Doré’s famous woodcut illustrations. And while both films feature nudity, the short film is more sensual regarding Francesca.

When the parade goes by without you

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While I’d still have to say my favourite of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books is Carney’s House Party, I have to give the nod to Emily Webster as my favourite of her characters. As a fellow introvert who wasn’t part of the popular crowd and didn’t come from a cushy bourgeois family, I can really relate to Emily. I also deeply relate to her as someone whose life hasn’t unfolded on the same timetable as that of most of my peers.

Emily Webster (based on Marguerite Marsh, a year older than Mrs. Lovelace but two years younger than her Doppelgänger Betsy) lost her mother in infancy and her father at two years old. Her grandparents stepped up to raise her, but her grandma died when Emily was ten years old. Now Emily lives alone on the edge of town with her grandpa Cyrus Webster, an 81-year-old Civil War vet.

Emily of Deep Valley (Deep Valley, #2) by Maud Hart Lovelace

When Emily graduates high school in 1912, all her peers head off to college—the University of Minnesota, Carleton College, Vassar, a few local schools. But because Grandpa Cyrus has no one else to take care of him, Emily is unable to pursue higher education. It’s not even something she weighs the pros and cons of. Staying with Grandpa is just something she must do without question.

Because Emily lives so far on the outskirts of town, and because she has so many heavy responsibilities, she hasn’t had the cliché kind of high school experience Betsy did. Though she is frequently invited to come along to get-togethers and events, and does take up some of these offers throughout the book, it seems obvious she’s invited more out of sympathy and obligation, and that she’s always on the periphery of this crowd.

Emily is very intelligent and serious, though, and was the only girl on the acclaimed debate team. She loves reading, history, and politics, and her dream is to become a social worker like her shero Jane Addams. Emily’s graduation speech (which she has to memorize instead of reading from a paper!) is about Ms. Addams.

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Emily does have extended family, though—her beautiful, sophisticated, glamourous second-cousin Annette, and Annette’s parents, whom Emily calls Aunt Sophie and Uncle Chester, despite not being related to them in that way. Aunt Sophie regularly has new clothes made for Emily by town dressmaker Miss Mix, and has Emily and Grandpa over for holidays.

There’s also love interest Don Walker, who was on the debate team with Emily. Over the summer, he regularly visits and discusses books. One time, he brings Emily a book of Robert Browning poetry. But it’s obvious to everyone but Emily from the jump that Don isn’t very sincere or nice.

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Emily sinks into despondency when her erstwhile friends leave for college. They’re all going places in their lives and having fun, while she’s stuck in Deep Valley as Grandpa’s full-time caretaker. At first, Emily tries to lift her spirits by attending a high school pep rally for a football game, but a comment from the new coach is like a lightning bolt that wakes her up and makes her realise she’s unhealthily clinging to the past and not moving forward into a new adult life.

Instead of going to the game, she hurries home to put her hair up in a Psyche knot. Prior, she wore her hair in a braid with a huge ribbon like an overgrown schoolgirl. Emily also gets some new hats to accommodate this change in hairstyle, and a few new clothes.

After this, it’s like a magic wand has been waved. Because she finally looks her age, Emily begins getting attention from a slightly older crowd who’s still in town. For the first time, Emily feels like she’s found her tribe, people with serious interests that match her own. One of her new friends, Cab Edwards, takes her out to several dances. (I found Cab much better-developed in this book than in the Betsy-Tacy series!)

And slowly but surely, Emily starts coming into her own and making lemonade out of the lemons life handed her. She might not be a college girl, but there are so many other rewarding things she can do, like start a Browning discussion group, help the people in Little Syria, and resume music lessons.

I really enjoyed watching Emily’s gradual growth into a strong, confident woman who knows her own mind and how to find fulfillment and happiness. I can also relate to her more than Betsy (who makes a brief appearance that really feels shoehorned in). Emily faces a lot of real challenges that aren’t easily, quickly resolved; she’s not Miss Popularity; boys aren’t beating a path to her door; and she doesn’t have class privilege.

Emily is truly Mrs. Lovelace’s most mature, complex character, with a storyline to match.

Caught between loves new and old

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Carney's House Party (Deep Valley, #1) by Maud Hart Lovelace

I really, really enjoyed this book! Of the eleven Maud Hart Lovelace books I’ve read to date, this was my absolute favourite. I read it in one day, and was left wishing for more books about Carney. Frankly, I like her more than Betsy after reading this! This book also fills in some of the gaps between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World (much better than the infodumpy backstory in Chapter Two of the latter).

I suppose I loved this book so much because the characters are now 19 and 20 years old, at university, stepping into a more mature stage of life. While there are plenty of picnics, dances, daytrips, and such with “The Crowd” in this book, they don’t feel as shallow as they did in the high school books, since that’s not all they do anymore.

Carney’s relationships with Larry and Sam also feel more realistic and mature than Betsy’s relationship with Joe. There’s just more depth and emotional development.

Carney's House Party (Deep Valley, #1) by Maud Hart Lovelace

It’s June 1911, and Caroline Sibley (Carney) is concluding her sophomore year at Vassar. Though there are a lot of strict controls on the students, to keep their minds on academia and prevent too much contact with men, Carney and her friends still manage to have a whole lot of fun. Unlike Betsy, Carney also really likes college.

But there is one dilemma weighing upon Carney’s mind as the spring semester draws to a close—whether or not to invite her roommate Isobel Porteous to visit her house back in Deep Valley, Minnesota. As much as she genuinely likes Isobel, Carney fears her small Midwestern town won’t make a great impression upon a sophisticated Long Islander steeped in Eastern culture, customs, and refinement. How could Deep Valley ever possibly hope to compare to New York City and the Hamptons?

Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Two Deep Valley Books - Kindle edition by Lovelace, Maud Hart. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Carney hopes to throw a house party over summer vacation, since her old friend Bonnie is back from Paris. In a letter, Mrs. Sibley cheerfully suggests Isobel can stay there too. But while the Sibleys clearly seem to be upper-middle-class, they still don’t have oodles of servants, a pool, a tennis court, a mansion, nothing Isobel is used to.

A big brouhaha erupts when Isobel has a male visitor. Not only does she entertain him in a parlour in the dorm, she also brings him to dinner and the mandatory daily chapel service. All her friends are mad with curiosity to know just who he is and how serious they are. This storyline is handled very well through the book, keeping the reader wondering until near the end just what the truth between Isobel and Howard really is.

Carney's House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace (2003-09-22): Maud Hart Lovelace: Amazon.com: Books

Carney is very glad to be home with her parents and three little brothers. I loved the depictions of their warm family life, and the character development of each Sibley. One of the things I’ve struggled with in the Betsy–Tacy series is lack of deep character development. Some secondary characters do emerge as more than just names on a page, but because of the cast bloat, it can be hard to discern any real difference between, e.g., Cab and Dennie or Alice and Irma. No wonder Mrs. Lovelace’s editors advised her to make Winona a composite character instead of adding yet another new person!

Anyway, Isobel arrives after July Fourth, and she and Carney take a daytrip to Murmuring Lake. While there, they meet Sam Harris, whose rich family just moved to the area. Carney isn’t impressed with his extra pounds, unkempt hair, unshaved face, and horrible habit of charging everything, but Isobel seems quite taken.

This development makes Carney very happy, since if Isobel and Sam become an item, it’ll assure Isobel’s visit is a smashing success.

Presently, there’s a masquerade party, and who should arrive but Betsy, whom everyone assumed was still in California with her grandma! She becomes the fourth girl on the sleeping porch during Carney’s long house party. With another guest added, there’s even more fun to be had.

And then another guest announces his impending arrival—Carney’s long-distance beau Larry Humphreys, who moved to California after their sophomore year of high school. They’ve written weekly letters ever since and assumed they’d eventually reunite and live happily ever after.

But though Carney still has great affection for Larry, that old romantic spark just doesn’t seem to be there anymore, and she’s not making any effort to go off with him alone. He seems more like a buddy than a boyfriend. In comparison, Carney loves spending time with Sam, and talking with him comes so naturally, even about personal feelings.

Will she choose the old love with her high school sweetheart or the new love with a man who seems perfectly matched in so many ways? And just what is going on with Isobel’s love life?

A Grand Tour on the eve of destruction

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Betsy and the Great World (Betsy-Tacy): Lovelace, Maud Hart, Neville, Vera: 9780064405454: Amazon.com: Books

Over three and a half years have passed since Betsy’s high school graduation, and she’s been at loose ends for some time. Early in her freshwoman year at the University of Minnesota, a bout of appendicitis interrupted her studies, and she went to her grandma in California to recover.

When she returned to school, she was overcome by depression at being a year behind her old friends. Though Betsy became actively involved in a sorority and the school newspaper, academia just didn’t agree with her. She also sort-of cheated on her almost-fiancé Joe, which led to their breakup.

Finally, Betsy confesses to her parents that she’s not getting much out of her education, something that’s been obvious to them for a long time. She only wants to write, and her parents feel a trip to Europe would provide wonderful inspiration and hands-on experience.

Betsy and the Great World: Lovelace, Maud Hart: 9780606141628: Amazon.com: Books

But the book doesn’t open with that. No, it opens as Betsy is preparing to board a ship sailing to Europe in January 1914. The story of the last three and a half years is told in a long backstory infodump in the second chapter. We also learn in this chapter that Mr. Kerr’s grooming and aggressive pursuit of Tacy was successful and that they’re now married.

Why couldn’t there have been a few books about Betsy’s university days, year in California, and split with Joe? These events have less emotional resonance because we’re told about them after the fact instead of experiencing them along with Betsy as they unfold.

The death of Tacy’s father merits a single line in this long infodump. There was a lot more time and care given to the death of a secondary character’s father in Betsy Was a Junior! How do you just gloss over such a huge event in the life of a main character?!

Amazon.com: Betsy and the Great World/Betsy's Wedding (9780061795138): Lovelace, Maud Hart: Books

Anyway, Betsy has a grand time on the S.S. Columbic, making lots of new friends, enjoying dances and dinners, hobnobbing with society people, flirting with a much-older guy who turns out to have a wife and five kids, taking daytrips to a few islands and cities along the way to Naples. These first seven chapters were my favorite part of the book.

The first stop on Betsy’s itinerary is München (Munich), where she stays in a pension (i.e., a boardinghouse that provides meals) full of people from all over the world. She falls in love with the city, and makes several good friends.

During this time, Betsy also gets $100 for a story published in Ainslee’s magazine.

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Betsy comes off really poorly during a daytrip to Sonneberg, the toy and doll capital of the world. Despite initial opposition, she manages to talk her way into touring a doll factory. After learning the doll heads are assembled in people’s houses, Betsy peeks in windows to see the process.

None of the children have any dolls of their own, which greatly puzzles Betsy. Shouldn’t they have their pick of the best dolls when they live in a city renowned for making them? But Betsy is reassured everything is peachy-keen when a little girl shows her a headless doll.

Betsy returns to the factory to buy a fancy doll she admired earlier, though she feels very silly walking through the streets with a doll in her arms at her age. She doesn’t give it to one of the children, but keeps it for herself.

She still shows no self-awareness when she decides to give the doll to Tacy’s potential daughter.

Another daytrip is to Oberammergau, which has been putting on Passion Plays since the 17th century. Betsy is enthralled by the town and how seriously people take their roles. If she’d stayed long enough to see the next play, I doubt she would’ve picked up on the blatant antisemitism built into this play until a major update in 1950.

Betsy then jaunts off to Venice, where she spends six weeks. During her stay, a young man named Marco falls in instalove with her.

Then it’s off to Switzerland and Paris, skimmed over in a chapter written by Mrs. Lovelace’s daughter Merian. So much of this book reads like a shallow travelogue instead of an actual novel!

Amazon.com: WW1 Newspaper Poster Replica - GERMANY DECLARES ALL EUROPE IS IN ARMS - Size 8.3x11.7 inches - WWI 1914 Military Memorabilia Wall Decor: Posters & Prints

During Betsy’s stay in London, where she happily acquires a group of friends called The Crew, war is declared. Though the events described are gripping, there’s never any real doubt Betsy will get a ticket for a ship home. She’s upper-middle-class and has many well-connected friends.

This book is the weakest in the series. Not just writing-wise, but in Betsy’s lack of emotional growth. She never goes off the beaten path in any of her travels, and reacts with naïveté and willful blindness when confronted with people who weren’t lucky enough to be born into the privilege she takes for granted. She develops zero perspective or class consciousness from seeing how the other half lives.

Betsy also never has to navigate her travels all by herself, as she always has multiple people looking out for her. And what 21-year-old goes around telling people about her pretend maid Celeste like she’s a real person?!

BBC News | Enlarged Image

Betsy’s declaration of support for women’s suffrage also comes from out of left field. There was never so much as an indirect hint in any of the previous eight books she deeply cared about this issue!

At least this Grand Tour helps Betsy to realize she needs to try to make things right with Joe already, and the ending sets things up for the final book.

Senior year, Edwardian-style

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Betsy and Joe (Betsy-Tacy, #8) by Maud Hart Lovelace

While it seems safe to say at this point that I’ll probably never join the small but committed group of stans for the Betsy-Tacy series, these books and characters have slowly but surely grown on me. One doesn’t have to be a diehard fan or the target audience to genuinely like a series. I just regard it in a different way.

The book opens in summer 1909, as Betsy’s family are on their annual holiday by Murmuring Lake (real-life Madison Lake in Minnesota). Betsy is very excited to get a letter from her longtime crush Joe Willard, who entrusts her with the secret that he’s covering a big land-swindle trial for The Courier News in Wells County, North Dakota.

Joe also invites her to regularly correspond with him, an offer she happily accepts.

Amazon.com: Betsy Was a Junior/Betsy and Joe (9780061794728): Lovelace, Maud Hart: Books

Betsy’s older sister Julia is away in Europe, and constantly sending letters home about her exciting adventures in places like London, Paris, Naples, the Azores, and Amsterdam. After summer ends, she’s due to spend a year in Berlin studying opera.

Though Julia is warmly accepted by a host family, her trunk doesn’t immediately arrive. Everyone keeps carrying on about how awful it is that she hasn’t any proper, new clothes to wear to important events or to impress people, as though there are zero department stores in Berlin or it’s impossible for anyone to lend her clothes.

Betsy and Joe (A Betsy-Tacy High School Story) by Maud Hart Lovelace (1948) Hardcover: Amazon.com: Books

Betsy, now a senior, once again has only a paltry four classes—physics, German (she dropped Latin), civics, and Shakespeare. I truly can’t wrap my brain around a high school even 100+ years ago only offering 4-5 classes to each grade! And to only require two years of math and science (with no trig, chemistry, or biology), and not have gym or electives like art, music, and creative writing!

I wish these books spent more time on Betsy’s academic life instead of being so heavily focused on her social life. E.g., how and why did she choose the classes she did? What kind of homework, papers, and tests did she have? If her parents think it’s so great she’s studying America’s then-unofficial second language her senior year, since so many people in town speak it, why didn’t they have that conversation when she started high school and steer her towards German instead of Latin from the jump? Did Betsy consider studying French? Does the school even offer French, or any of the other courses basic to 99.999% of all high schools?

I also wish there were more details about just what exactly Betsy is writing all these years. We’re told she’s writing novels and submitting stories to magazines, but we know little to nothing about any of these ventures. Only the fourth book explored her writing in any depth, and then her social life eclipsed her writing.

Senior year seems to start off promisingly, with Joe finally visiting the house and going on some dates with Betsy, but a love triangle soon emerges with Tony Markham, whom Betsy had an unrequited crush on in ninth grade. Now that Tony finally has feelings for her, she no longer likes him in that way. Betsy sees him more as a brother.

Because tradition of that era dictated a girl had to accept the first guy to ask her to a dance or other event, Betsy is roped into going out with Tony many times. She doesn’t have the heart to say she’s not interested, and Joe’s work commitments preclude him from asking first on most occasions. Joe also doesn’t let her explain the situation, assumes the worst, and immediately finds another girl to escort.

There’s a pointless subplot about a hot new boy in school, Maddox, joining the football team and becoming an object of ridicule on account of barely participating to protect his handsome face. After he’s publicly mocked in front of the whole school during a pep rally, he lets himself get battered during the last game of the season. I’m so glad modern football helmets protect the face!

Football team in the 1910s

It was jaw-dropping to see Betsy and Tib several times lamenting how Tacy will probably be an old maid because she still shows no interest in dating and boys at the ripe old age of seventeen. Tell me again how Betsy is such an unsung feminist icon of girls’ fiction?

And right on command, shortly after Tacy’s 18th birthday, we meet her future husband, who works with Betsy’s dad and is 27 years old. Mr. Kerr steals a photo of Tacy from Betsy’s photo album and announces he’s going to marry Tacy, no matter how long it takes. He also later sends several bouquets.

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Why would a well-adjusted adult man be interested in a high school girl who has absolutely no experience with men? Betsy’s dad even laughingly says Tacy had better watch out, since Mr. Kerr has a way of always getting what he wants!

Creepy, Wrong, Immature and Pathetic: Older Men Chasing After Much Younger Women – Christian Pundit

Anyway, Betsy grows more mature as the year wears on, and realises she has to be honest with Tony. If she makes it clear once and for all romance is off the table, she just might finally win her dream man.