The Greed of William Hart (1948)

Article #440 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-29-2002
Posting date: 10-22-2002

Two ghoulish men provide corpses for a doctor to use in medical examinations.

If there had been a market for malevolent glee, Tod Slaughter would have cornered it years ago. I find it totally unsurprising that he would have tackled the Burke and Hare story; it seemed a natural for him. There’s not a whole lot to comment on here; it’s Slaughter doing his thing; killing people, spouting mean but witty dialogue, and enjoying the whole thing immensely. There’s also plenty of other interesting and fun roles in this movie; unfortunately, my print ran only 53 minutes, and I know there are longer prints out there. This one will have to go on my upgrade list.

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

Article #439 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-28-2002
Posting date: 10-21-2002

Two entertainers find themselves stranded on an island with a mad scientist performing experiments on evolution.

There are only two reasons why this movie is as well known as it is; the first is the title. The second is the presence of Duke Mitchell and (especially) Sammy Petrillo, a comic duo that specialized in an impersonation of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo’s impersonation is the most amazing; he even looks like Jerry Lewis. Unfortunately, he’s never as funny as Lewis; he is aggressively lame, and the presence of some decent humor was the only thing that could have saved the movie. As it is, there are way too many jokes centered around the fat native girl. I’ve seen this movie three times; the first time is understandable; natural curiosity. The second time was to double check if it was as bad as I remembered it; it was. The third time was for this series of Musings. That is two times too many, at least, and if wasting time turns out to be a sin of some sort, then I’m going to have a lot to answer for to my maker.

Bedlam (1946)

BEDLAM (1946)
Article #438 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-27-2002
Posting day: 10-20-2002

A protege of Lord Mortimer takes it upon herself to reform conditions in a local insane asylum, only to find herself committed there for her troubles.

I’ve always been a little bit disappointed with this Val Lewton movie; the ambiguity that I found quite prevalent in his other movies is noticeably absent here. In fact, I find it hard to think of it as a horror movie at all, though it does contain some definite horror elements (some of the asylum scenes and the basic concept of madness that is inherent to the subject matter). It is a historical drama that uses the maltreatment of the mentally ill to explore any number of issues; corruption, political expediency, the flightiness and unpredictability of public figures, and ultimately the nature of morality. This may be the only one of Lewton’s horror films where he really allows himself a hero; Anna Lee’s character is flawed and has to grow into the role, but that is ultimately what she becomes. Her performance, as well as an excellent performance by Boris Karloff as Master Sims, are definite plusses. Actually, I enjoyed this movie much more this time than I have previously, because I found it to be very rich in what it had to say, and it’s ability to look at the world as a very complex place indeed. It helps to just not think of it as a horror film at all.

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Article #437 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-26-2002
Posting day: 10-19-2002

Local residents believe that the disappearance of a cowboy’s cattle is due to a monster that lives within a mountain surrounded by a swamp.

I believe that this is the first real take on Willis O’Brien’s Gwangi concept combining cowboys and dinosaurs. It’s not really very successful; the movie is three-quarters through before we ever get a glimpse of the beast, and most of the preceeding sixty minutes is fairly dull by monster movie or western standards. Things do pick up around the forty minute mark; there is a scene in a graveyard that actually generates a fair amount of tension, and a stampede sequence that is probably the highlight of the movie. The monster itself is generated via stop-motion, but using a series of static models versus a poseable model; this gives the dinosaur a range of expressions that it wouldn’t have gotten conventionally, but it’s far jerkier and less effective than more standard stop-motion, and you see entirely too much of the dinosaur sticking his tongue out and waving it around. It must have been a difficult and expensive process, too; that’s probably the main reason the movie takes so long to get to its few dinosaur scenes. Still, the second half is much better than the first half.

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Article #436 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-25-2002
Posting day: 10-18-2002

A lonely old doll maker shrinks various people to keep him company.

After several movies about giant people, Bert I. Gordon does a reverse take and makes one about shrinking people, which makes a certain sort of sense. The special effects are pretty standard Bert I. Gordon fare. I just wish the script was better, because it had possibilities; as it is, it falls short of what it could have accomplished. The strong part of this movie is very strong indeed; John Hoyt as the lonely puppeteer-turned-doll-maker gives a great performance, and he is the character you will remember. When I emerged from the movie, it was his history and his life that I really wanted to know more about; as it is, we only get a few hints, and we are given no explanation as to where this guy got the scientific savvy to pull off his shrinking trick. As it is, he is the only full-blooded character in the movie: if they had given June Kenney’s character a more complex relationship with him, they could have come up with a really interesting movie. Plus it wouldn’t have hurt if they had fleshed out the character of Emil (Michael Mark); as it is, he’s just a plot device. Unfortunately, the action sequences not only come far too late in the movie, but are substandard and unnecessary.

The Man With Two Faces (1934)

Article #435 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-24-2002
Posting day: 10-17-2002

An actor uses his thespian abilities to protect his sister from the influence of her evil husband.

This is an entertaining version of a play called “Dark Tower,” written by George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woolcott, and it is quite witty and a lot of fun. Edward G. Robinson has a great time as Damon Wells (the actor), Mary Astor is his sister, and Louis Calhern is witty and sinister as the husband. Of course, as entertaining as it is, there is still the question as to why it’s included here; by normal standards, it certainly doesn’t qualify as fantastic cinema. The answer lies in the fact that the husband may be using hypnotism to secure the services of his victim, and Mary Astor’s somnambulent performance when she comes under his influence backs that up. Granted, this still makes this movie the most marginal one I’ve covered since NIGHT UNTO NIGHT, but I’ve always believed that to understand the definition of fantastic cinema, it always pays to look at the stuff hovering around the edges.

Samson Vs. the Vampire Women (1961)

Article #434 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-23-2002
Posting day: 10-16-2002

When a man discovers that his daughter is under a curse to be taken away by vampires, he calls up Santo to protect her.

Forget that the name Samson is in the title; this is no sword-and-sandal togafest. Samson is Santo, the masked Mexican wrestler. There are four types of scenes in this movie; firstly, there are the creepy and quite effective scenes of the vampire women (and their rough and tumble wrestling vampire men) in their crypt; then there are the dull, static exposition scenes, which largely consist of people sitting around talking; then there are the wrestling sequences (which can be even duller than the exposition scenes if you’re not a fan), and finally, there are the scenes where Santo, the Vampire Women, and the plot all come together for action; these scenes would be more effective if the plot didn’t seem cobbled together in the first place. Still, it has some fun with vampire lore; I like the scene in the restaurant where our heros identify the vampires by noticing how old and decayed they look in their mirror reflections (instead of not being able to see themselves in mirrors, maybe they just don’t like how they look in them). Nonetheless, these Mexican wrestler movies, though silly and sometimes dull, can also be a lot of fun; these guys don’t even have superpowers to compensate for the fact that they’re running around in tights. And don’t miss Santo’s wrestling bout with a werewolf (and did you know that the hair grows only on their faces?)

I’ll Never Forget You (1951)

Article #433 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-22-2002
Posting day: 10-15-2002

A man finds himself transported back in time to eighteenth century England.

I’ll come flat out and say I’m not a fan of photographed stage plays; much of the magic of a live drama is that the actors are right there in front of you, and this is what gives live drama its power and immediacy; photographed stage plays lose this vital element, and in order to compensate for their loss, they should have employed more cinematic techniques. This is why I have trouble enjoying BERKELEY SQUARE; it remains for all practical reasons a photographed stage play. This remake uses a more cinematic approach to the story, and I find it more enjoyable. The added subplot of the main character encountering some of the horrible conditions in England of that period and wanting to use his scientific knowledge to help improve things is a little on the trite side, but it does allow the movie to take the occasional break from what could easily be an endless succession of talky scenes. Tyrone Power is not quite the actor that Leslie Howard is, but Dennis Price easily steals the movie as Tom Pettigrew. There are problems; the opening scene in a nuclear research facility does establish the characters scientific background, but it goes on too long, though we still reach the time travel plot point much earlier in the proceedings. Also, the scene where our hero encounters Dr. Johnson and tries to impress him by quoting epigrams from Ben Franklin and Oscar Wilde verges on the embarassing, but this is fortunately a short moment. Michael Rennie is also on hand in a small role. Actually, it does make me want to go back and take another look at the original movie.

The Innocents (1961)

Article #432 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing day: 5-21-2002
Posting day: 10-14-2002

A governess takes over the care of two children, but begins to believe that they are possessed by the evil ghosts of their previous governess and the valet.

Years ago I tried to read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, but back then I didn’t have the patience to really follow the subtleties of the story; since then, I’ve learned a bit more about how to read him. I may give the story another shot, if for no other reason than to find out if it’s as relentlessly ambiguous as this cinematic adaptation of the story. In fact, this movie is so intent on not tipping its hand one way or another it becomes a little tiresome; however the literate script and the exquisite performances by every person in the cast more than compensate for this. I’d seen this movie years ago, but the only thing I remembered back then was the haunting final moment; it’s still here, and more than that I can also appreciate the fine direction and the wonderful use of sound; I’ve always believed that nothing can enhance the mood of a horror movie like creative use of sound effects, and this movie uses a lot of them.

The Astounding She Monster (1957)

Article #431 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 5-20-2002
Posting date: 10-13-2002

A radioactive alien lands on earth and frightens a geologist and some kidnappers in a mountain cabin.

The title is quite catchy, and the poster is very memorable; between the two of them they probably constitute seventy-five percent of the budget. Certainly, they show more creativity than anything actually in the movie; when I say that the most impressive thing in the movie is the blurry camerawork they use when photographing the alien to show its radioactivity, I’m grasping at straws. There are also rumors that Ed Wood was somehow involved with this, mostly I suspect because of the presence of Kenne Duncan and the general incompetence on display, but if he did have a hand in it, I suspect it would only be with some bits of the script that have a slight Woodian edge to them. The direction is far more lethargic than anything I’ve seen from Wood, and my overall impression of the movie is that everyone involved is bored as hell; the only moment I sense any fun being had is during a sequence where the alcoholic girlfriend of the gangster runs out of booze, and finds herself tempted by her two captives into going for a bottle in the next room, thereby giving them a chance to escape. Of course they never make it to the other room; that would have required building a whole new set, skyrocketing the whole movie over budget. This may well be the cheapest movie of all time.