Friday, June 6, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night

If the title of this post sounds familiar, it's not just because you've seen Snoopy write it at the typewriter atop his doghouse in Peanuts. In fact, it's the opening line of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford. You probably haven't read the novel, but might have heard of the author: his name has become synonymous with the florid, stilted style exhibited in that (in)famous opening line. Bulwer-Lytton himself doesn't have much connection to the movies: Fox made a film version of his play Cardinal Richelieu starring George Arliss; one other Bulwer-Lytton work to be turned into a fairly well-known movie is his novel The Last Days of Pompeii.

I wasn't looking to write a post about Bulwer-Lytton, anyhow. The title simply fit because I was awakened last night by a thunderstorm passing through the Catskills. (Technically, I was awakened not by the storm, but by my dog's reaction; the poor thing is terribly afraid of thnderstorms. But I'm not a petblogger.) Instead, I figured this would be a good time to write about the use of thunder and lightning in the movies. Of course, horror movies are the most famous for (over)using thunderstorms; it's always convenient to have one knock out the power when you need a bit of darkness. Alternatively, think of the lightning powering Colin Clive's scientific equipment in the 1931 James Whale version of Frankenstein, leading Clive's Dr. Frankenstein to exclaim, "It's alive, it's alive!" The dog would have been frightened by Frankenstein's monster, too.

Frankenstein isn't the only movie in which lightning is used for its electrical power; a very famous lightning storm drives the climax of the original Back to the Future, which sadly ended up in the news again this week thanks to the fire on the Universal lot.

A completely different use of thunderstorms occurs in Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie; poor Tippi Hedren's Marnie is deathly afraid of thunderstorms, to the point of the audience's being able to parody her fear.

Surprisingly, I have not yet seen James Stewart's Thunder Bay or Robert Mitchum's Thunder Road yet.

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