Since beginning the Fandor Files a little more than six months ago, I have taken nothing but the greatest of pleasures in scouring the site’s vast wealth of films to come up with a pair of titles each month that helped to illustrate the kind of passion and devotion the minds behind this unique streaming service have. Each turn I took was met with insights into classic movies and independent film as well as thought-provoking documentaries and the best of foreign cinema. From three minute-long entries from the silent era to highlights from the Criterion collection, each selection throughout Fandor’s endless library has been the kind of film experience which never failed to excite this particular cinephile.
During the course of the Fandor Files, I had paid tribute to working actresses, explored how classic directors Ernst Lubistch and Alfred Hitchcock took on WWII, and celebrated the great Barbara Stanwyck on her 109th birthday. In contemplating what the last entry in this series would be, I tried both endlessly and hopelessly to come up with a theme for the final issue of the Fandor Files which would blow all previous ones out of the water. However I eventually found myself at a complete loss, despite the many, many options in front of me. While I had been watching title after title, finding each one as compelling as the last, I couldn’t for the life of me carve out a common theme between any of them. So in the end, I have decided there needn’t be one. Instead, I have decided to write about two films, one a 1950s Bette Davis effort, the second a gripping documentary of a historic scandal. While both titles are as different as can be, they both encompass the sheer joy and versatility of Fandor and their mission to showcase the most exciting and compelling stories the film world has to offer.
Another Man’s Poison
One of the lesser-known Davis films sees the actress take on the role of Janet Frobisher, a British mystery novelist living alone in her large home in the English countryside. Not long after settling in for the night, an American named George (Gary Merrill) shows up at Janet’s door insisting he and Janet’s estranged husband have committed a crime together and now he’s arrived to collect his share. When Janet informs George that she has just discovered her husband dead, the two engage in a suspenseful game of wills as both tries to pin the death on the other. Things get even more complicated when Janet’s secretary Chris (Barbara Murray) and Chris’s fiance/Janet’s love Larry (Anthony Steel) arrive.
There are plenty of reasons to embrace this little-seen thriller, the top one being the talent in front of and behind the camera. Besides being one of the rare pairings between real-life spouses Davis and Merrill (both of whom equally act well off of each other), Another Man’s Poison was directed by Irving Rapper, who had previously led Davis to give one of her most memorable performances in Now, Voyager and was produced by none other than Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Apart from the names attached, Another Man’s Poison is one of the earliest of film hybrids. Fans of romantic melodrama will certainly lap up the scenes featuring a somewhat callous Davis trying to steal away her secretary’s fiance. At the same time, noir purists will applaud the very potent cat-and-mouse-like undertones taking place between Janet and George as well as the genuine suspense the overall film gives off. While it may not be revered on practically ANY level today, Another Man’s Poison proves a more than worthy example of the compelling nature of classic cinema.
Video Nasties: Draconian Days
A telling snapshot of England in the early ’80s, Video Nasties spotlights the controversy at the center of the “video nasty” scandal that shook up Britain during the late ’70s and early ’80s, which focused on a large number of underground films such as Driller Killer and The Last House on the Left, which offered up explosive amounts of sex and violence and the efforts of many influential individuals to get them removed from the country. Through archive footage of the films themselves, as well as present-day interviews with many of the scandal’s key players, Video Nasties offers up an insightful and endlessly fascinating look at one of the country’s most defining of pieces of history.
While a number of cinephiles may have found themselves well-versed for the most part in the “video nasties” scandal, mainly due to having seen some of the hunted titles themselves, doubtless many film students will find this documentary as both informative and entertaining. Journalists and politicians who played key roles in the scandal give their accounts of the their experiences during that time and how the outcome helped shape them and their country. Meanwhile, figures including film critic Kim Newman and writer/director Christopher Smith are on hand to give commentary on how the “video nasties” themselves greatly influenced the state of such filmmaking in the country, and whose presence has been felt in the decades since. However, Video Nasties turns out to be a film about something more than paying tribute to the disservice done to a collection of now-beloved cult films. In the end, Video Nasties is a stark account of a modern-day witch hunt where video store owners and fans alike found themselves prosecuted in various ways, proving that the notion of dictator-like censorship was alive and well.