Weird Woman (1944)

Article #420 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-9-2002
Posting date: 10-2-2002

This is the third of the Inner Sanctum series that I’ve covered. Based on a novel by Fritz Lieber, it hones a lot closer to real supernatural horror than do the other movies in the series, and there’s not a single hypnosis subplot to be found. It even manages to approach some of that Val Lewton ambiguity of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Unfortunately, it falls somewhat short of that movie, with a script that gets awfully silly at times, particularly during the native dance sequence that looks like it belongs in a nightclub; in fact, this kind of scene is rarely effective because they always look carefully choreographed rather than spontaneously and passionately religious. At least the story is fairly good this time; another version of the story would be made several years later as BURN, WITCH, BURN. Lon Chaney Jr. is on hand, as well as Evelyn Ankers (in a rare villain role), Anne Gwynne, Ralph Morgan, and Lewton regular Elisabeth Russell.


Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel (1900)

Article #419 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-8-2002
Posting date: 10-1-2002

Uncle Josh spends some time in a spooky hotel.

In what way is this hotel spooky? Well, it has a ghost. What kind of ghost? One of those vengeance-driven, ravening soul-stealers? No, not quite. He’s one of those ghosts who likes practical jokes, such as punching your guest in the arm and vanishing so your guest will think it was you who punched him. Yes, one of those basically benign but annoying ghosts. And that’s pretty much all there is to say about this Edwin S. Porter short from the turn of the last century. And this is now officially the oldest movie I have covered in the series.

Four Sided Triangle (1953)

Article #418 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-7-2002
Posting date: 9-30-2002

When a scientist in love with a woman loses her to his best friend, he creates a duplicate of her for himself.

Practically every plot description I’ve seen of this movie tells a bit more of the plot than I have above, and I think they give away too much. I do know that if you know in advance certain plot points, the first part of the movie seems interminable; as it is, this early Hammer film (before they turned to horror) has more running time than story, the latter of which would neatly fill a half-hour of “The Twilight Zone.” The movie tries to flesh out the story by concentrating on character, which I believe is the proper strategy in this case, but it never really goes far enough; the characters never become compellingly interesting people, and instead you’re left with too many scenes that go on too long, too much unnecessary narration, and too many plot points that are unnecessarily repeated. It’s certainly not your conventional science fiction story, but it’s also not a success, IMO; only a nice try.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Article #417 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-6-2002
Posting date: 9-29-2002

Mike Hammer investigates the death of a woman who stopped his car on the highway, and finds himself caught up in a scheme far bigger than he expected.

There isn’t much in the first hour and a half of this dark, violent film noir to indicate that it will swerve into science fiction before it’s all over; even those who read the novel on which was based would be surprised, as the science fiction element did not appear in the original novel. Though that element of the fantastic definitely gives the movie a bigger ending than it might otherwise have had, the movie probably still qulifies as marginalia. Nonetheless, one of the great things about covering marginalia is it gives you a chance to get a little variety into the viewing schedule, and this great little film noir is a welcome diversion; you know you’re watching something special when the credits roll by in the opposite direction at the top of the movie. There’s a great cast here, with Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Cloris Leachman (in an early role), and Jack Elam. Robert Aldrich would later go on to direct WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, and created a whole new type of horror movie in the process; I suspect he would be one director whose oeuvre would be very interesting to investigate.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Article #416 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-5-2002
Posting date: 9-28-2002

Police are trying to track down a criminal organization. Evidence points to the criminal mastermind being Dr. Mabuse, who is currently locked up in an insane asylum.

This is a tremendously entertaining crime movie with a few horror elements to it, though it takes a little while for these elements to manifest themselves. Mabuse was one of the first supervillains, and this movie was a sequel to Fritz Lang’s earlier DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER. It also borrows a little from M, as Otto Wernicke is playing Inspector Lohmann, the same character he played in that movie. Wernicke is great, especially during scenes where he questions suspects or investigates crime scenes. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is back as Dr. Mabuse, but without giving too much away, you really don’t see much of him. Once again, I marvel at Lang’s visual splendor and his splendid use of sound, particularly in the opening sequence. At this point, this is the only one of the Mabuse movies I have seen, and I am looking forward to the others.

The Terrible Turkish Executioner (1904)

Article #415 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-4-2002
Posting date: 9-27-2002

A terrible Turkish executioner beheads four men; they put their heads back on and exact revenge.

How terrible is he? Well, he can pull out his great big sword and decapitate four men with one blow, which is certainly efficient, and perhaps horrific enough for him to earn the epithet “terrible.” However, since the men don’t die (which is the point of an execution, after all), one might argue that this executioner was totally ineffectual, hence he did a terrible job, thereby making him in another sense of the word, “terrible.” I would therefore conclude that the executioner in question is indeed “terrible” in every sense of the word. And now that I have spent several minutes harping on the pun in the title, I feel the need to point out that the movie is a three-minute Melies short, and it takes less time to watch it than it does to write this. Isn’t that just a little bit pathetic of me, actually?

Dr. Blood’s Coffin (1961)

Article #414 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-3-2002
Posting date: 9-26-2002

Dr. Peter Blood is performing strange experiments in a secret laboratory hidden in an abandoned mine.

Just how long can you watch someone crawling on the ground before you start to get bored? How many conversations about the timidity of scientists who are afraid to test the limits of knowledge can you listen to before you nod off into slumberland? How many times can you see a doctor and a nurse try to have a romantic relationship that goes nowhere and brings the plot to a standstill before you start paying attention to the dustballs under the TV set? And how long are you willing to squint at hard-to-see scenes in abandoned mines before you abandon the effort yourself? And finally, just how long are you willing to sit through all this interminable jabber before the movie sees its way through to finally give you a very mildly exciting but badly-edited action sequence at the end? These are not questions that should be asked, nor do I recommend film directors to search for the answers to them. At the risk of repeating a cliche (something this movie does with almost aggressive regularity), there are some things man should leave alone.

Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932)

Article #413 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-2-2002
Posting date: 9-25-2002

Explorers search for the elephants’ graveyard in Africa, and encounter an ape man by the name of Tarzan.

There were Tarzan movies before this one, but this was the first one with Johnny Weissmuller in the role, and he does a fantastic job with a character who is equally savage, fun-loving, and slightly befuddled (he’s excellent trying to figure out what Jane is talking about). This movie sets some of the scenarios that would become fairly frequent in the immediate sequels, but they’re still pretty entertaining. This is the movie where an elephant carries Tarzan around with his head in his mouth; certainly one of the most jaw-dropping scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. The ending is truly nightmarish and spectacular, and this is indeed one of the Tarzan movies that really does belong in the category of fantastic movies. Eventually, Tarzan (and the whole series) would become domesticated and lose steam, but here it’s in its prime. Truly worth catching.

Tarzan Escapes (1936)

Article #412 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-1-2002
Posting date: 9-24-2002

A hunter agrees to join a safari to find Tarzan because he hopes to capture him and put him on display.

The follow-up to TARZAN AND HIS MATE was made after the Hays office came into effect, and the changes are noticeable; Maureen O’Sullivan’s costume is much more modest this time around, and the brutal violence is toned down considerably from the previous outing. Still, I suspect there was a real chemistry between O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmueller; their scenes together are as playful as ever, and they do look like they’re having a lot of fun. There is still some savagery, but a lot of it has been replaced by cuteness; the treehouse is one example, the mugging of comic relief Herbert Mundin is another. It’s still quite entertaining, though, with some particularly nice scenes involving Tarzan’s escape from a metal cage with the help of Cheetah and a pair of elephants, and a trek through a sulfurous cave that brings the movie a little closer to the horror genre than other movies of the series. There’s also a good performance from Darby Jones, who would later become known for playing Carre-Four in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

Incidentally, this is the Tarzan movie that turned the word “Oongawa” into the all-purpose Tarzan word.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Article #411 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-30-2002
Posting date: 9-23-2002

Ivory hunters try to find the elephants’ graveyard so they can make a fortune off of the tusks, but run into resistance from Tarzan, despite the fact that one of them is an old boyfriend of Jane’s.

If you’ve ever wondered why the Hays office came into being, this movie provides one of the examples of just how much sex and violence Hollywood was putting into their product at the time. This, like the first Tarzan movie, has quite a bit of savage violence, and it’s pretty hard at times to watch the scenes involving wounded and hurt animals; I hope they were just well-trained actors, but this was long before the days when animals were given any protection in the making of movies. Also, Maureen O’Sullivan flashes an amazing amount of skin here; though her nude swim was performed by a double, her regular costume leaves very little to the imagination. I actually wonder how she survives in the jungle; it seems like she gets attacked by a wild animal every ten minutes or so; for that matter, Cheetah has a couple of scenes where he’s at risk, too, not to mention losing his mother in a somewhat shocking scene.

Of course, there’s still the question as to whether the Tarzan movies belong to this series, but since the book I’m using as a source includes them, so will I; it’s certainly more genre than NIGHT UNTO NIGHT, for example. Yes, they’re less fantasies than exotic adventure stories, but I’ve heard it said that Africa bears little real resemblance to the one seen in these movies, so fantasy may be an appropriate category; at any rate, there’s so many Tarzan movies out there that it’s bound to add several more entries to the Musings.