Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Burned alive

By now you've probably heard the news of how ISIS, the self-styled Islamic state operating in parts of Syria and Iraq, killed a Jordanian pilot by burning him alive. This being a movie blog, I don't want to go that much into my opinions of either this specific incident or the situation in that part of the world in general. But as I was lying in bed the morning, I found myself having morbid thoughts on the subject of classic movies that have scenes of people being burned alive.

The first one that came to mind was Rebecca, which ends with Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) setting herself and the estate on fire, with the flames lapping around her. I'm kind of giving away the ending, except that the movie begins with Joan Fontaine's character returning to a burned-out estate, saying "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay. You can never go back...." After that, the rest of the story is told in flashback. So I'm only giving away how the fire happened; one should recognize two minutes into the movie that something disastrous is going to happen.

Laird Cregar gets caught in a fire in the climactic scene of Hangover Square. I didn't think about it when I first blogged about the movie back in the summer of 2008, but in some ways it's a neat bookend to the film when you remember that Cregar disposed of one of his murder victims by throwing it on a Guy Fawkes Night bonfire.

James Cagney makes it to the top of the world, only for that top to be at an oil refinery that catches fire, in White Heat. Perhaps I should have thought of this one first since it's probably the single best-known burning alive scene, and one of the great Hollywood endings. To be honest though, I only came up with it after a lot of the other stuff in this post.

I suppose I could mention any of the films about Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for whatever reason, which was likely political whatever lessons one learned in school said.

And then there are the movies where characters try to kill another character by burning them alive. The lynch mob in Fury sprung to mind. They burn the county jail where he's being held, and everybody thinks he's been killed, to the point that it causes a national outrage and there's a huge circus of a murder trial held for the people who burned the place down. Tracy, of course, survived the fire, so the dramatic tension of the movie is the decision Tracy has to make.

Lionel Atwill gets horribly disfigured in a fire in the opening scene of Mystery of the Wax Museum. Burning him alive was an accident, although the fire was only an accident to the same extent that Shelley Winters being knocked out of the canoe in A Place in the Sun was. The wax museum was failing and Atwill's business partner figured burning the place and taking the insurance money wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

A different sort of attempted murder by burning comes in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. There, the bad guys trap Bond in a casket and send it through a crematorium oven. Somehow, I don't think they'd burn the casket in real life. Bond, of course, survives.

What's your favorite burned alive scene?

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