The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934)

Article #530 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-27-2002
Posting date: 1-20-2003

A pacifist journalist hooks up with an ambitious but untrustworthy editor and later discovers his cause has been betrayed.

If you’re like me, you may have first encountered this movie on your local creature feature where it was included with horror packages on release at the time. There are only four reasons I can think of that would cause this drama to be classified as such: 1) the title sounds like it might be a horror movie, albeit an eccentric one, 2) the ending of the movie involves madness and a rather horrifying murder, 3) the presence of Lionel Atwill, and 4) the fact that this was Claude Rain’s follow-up to THE INVISIBLE MAN. All I could remember from having seen this movie in my childhood was the opening scene where Rains talks to a lawyer; since I had been expecting a horror movie, it’s easy to see why I forgot the rest.

On its own, it’s a little slow-moving; certain scenes take too long to make their points, and others go on after they have already made their points. Still, the story itself is pretty solid and interesting. It also pulls off the nice trick of keeping in mind that it is about a character who is a pacifist rather than about pacifism per se; the preachiness inevitable in the subject matter ends up being directed between the characters on the screen rather than at us in the audience, leaving the movie to explore the deeper and more universal issues that are its true themes; idealism, integrity, compromise, and corruption. This is a nice trick for this sort of movie, and one that is rarely pulled off, so I can’t help but admire one that does it well.

The Magician (1926)

Article #529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-26-2002
Posting date: 1-19-2003

A hypnotist trying to discover the secret of life takes control of the will of a young woman.

It’s a crying shame this movie is languishing in obscurity and remains difficult to find; it’s fascinating to watch it in the light of certain movies that appeared afterwards. In particular, the lab scenes and the castle in the last part of the film are astoundingly reminiscent of those in FRANKENSTEIN six years later; between this and the existence of certain themes that also bear similarity to both movies, I’ve noticed that certain people like to describe the movie as a variation on the Frankenstein story. If it is, it never gets off the ground; actually, it is far more similar to another movie, namely SVENGALI, only in this case our villain has much nastier designs on the Trilby character than making her a famous singer. Plotwise, it seems a little shaky in some ways, but it is well acted and has a truly satisfying ending. It’s high time someone took an interest into reviving, restoring, and making generally available this forgotten classic.

Doctor of Doom (1962)

Article #528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-25-2002
Posting date: 1-18-2003

A wrestling woman teams up with another wrestling woman and two detectives to find the maniac who killed her sister, a mad doctor known as The Mad Doctor.

Here we have the mythic origins of the wrestling women, where we learn how Gloria Venus meets the Golden Rubi, and how they acquire their respective boyfriends, two detectives intent on protecting them but are more apt to need to be rescued themselves. The doctor has the aid of a human gorilla, a man with a gorilla’s brain in his skull. Does it sound silly? Well, it is a Mexican wrestling movie, so silliness kind of comes with the territory here. I’ve always felt that Mexican wrestling movies were essentially super hero movies, only with super powers replaced by wrestling prowess. They are, like superspy, sword-and-sandal and Elvis movies, essentially matters of taste; either you go for them or you don’t; personally, I find them irresistible, but I wouldn’t make a whole meal of them, if you know what I mean. I do think this one is more energetic and fun than their encounter with the Aztec Mummy, the only other of their movies that I’ve seen. And one thing that is important to remember with these movies; the wrestling scenes aren’t filler, they’re the reason the movie exists.

The Power God (1925)

Article #527 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-24-2002
Posting date: 1-17-2003

An inventor devises a machine that draws energy from the air, which becomes the target of a criminal intent on making his fortune off of it.

This 15-chapter serial is made by some of the same people who were responsible for OFFICER 444. It has certain similarities to that serial; once again, much of the action revolves around fisticuffs rather than gunplay, the same sense of humor that pervaded that serial is present in a lesser degree here (my favorite moments; the revelation of one of the cliffhangers involving the shadow of a man with a rifle, and the hero’s encounter with an opportunistic justice of the peace and his alert deputy), and the presence of Ruth Royce as the “subtle” aide to the villain (though this time I actually see her taking an active part in the plot). It differs in that the story is much more straightforward and coherent than OFFICER 444; in fact, it reminded me much more of THE MASTER MYSTERY in its general feel. It’s not perfect; certain episodes spin their wheels with very little really happening, some of the plot elements are repetitive, and the ending is a little too corny for my tastes. On the positive side, however, it never drives its plot contrivances into the ground, and manages to find a fair variety of situations within the action, has a number of clever plot twists, and it is refreshingly free of cheating cliffhangers. Overall, quite enjoyable.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

Article #526 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-23-2002
Posting date: 1-16-2003

No plot description; I’ve already written one for four other reviews of versions of the movie, and besides, everyone knows the basic story anyway.

When I first saw this version of the classic story, I’ll admit I was blown away, particularly by the savagery of Fredric March’s performance as Mr. Hyde; he is truly a scary, brutal creature. I also liked some of the visual tricks in the film, particularly the opening sequence where we see all the action from the point of view of Dr. Jekyll (including a nice little moment where he checks himself in a mirror). It is probably the best version of this classic tale (of the ones I’ve seen anyways). However, it is one of those that one watching was enough for me; though I do admire a lot of things about it, I just don’t actively enjoy rewatching it, and I get very little that is new from the experience. Part of it is probably the fact that there are so many versions of the story out there, and most of them are so similar in story construction and there is so little variation on the basic plot that the story has lost any sense of novelty for me. That being said, if you haven’t overdosed on the story, this might be the first one you would want to see.

And I’m also reminded that with the five versions I’ve already covered, I still have the Spencer Tracy version to look forward to in the future. After that, I’m hoping some of the later versions of this story offer some fresh takes on the story.

The Living Dead (1932)

Article #525 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-22-2002
Posting date: 1-15-2003

Several different stories are tied together by the pursuit of a murderer.

UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN has several alternate titles on IMDB; I’ve chosen the title that matches the listing in the book that supplied the title for me. It’s a remake (by the same director) of the 1919 movie UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN, and even though there are several instances of directors remaking older movies, this is the only one I know of that involves remaking an anthology. It’s not a strict remake; only two of the stories return from the original movie, and the linking mechanism has been changed entirely. In fact, this time it plays out like one long story with certain distinct episodes, a very curious way to handle this sort of movie. In fact, it’s a little hard for me to tell where one story leaves off and another begins, partially because my print is in German without subtitles. Nonetheless, I found it fascinating viewing; visually, it is quite strong, and the acting is good enough throughout that they hold my interest even if I didn’t know what they were saying. This one is played more for comedy, and this comes through at times. Of the stories, I definitely recognize “The Black Cat” and “The Suicide Club” (I think that’s the correct title; it was one of the holdovers from the first movie). The best scene is a fight sequence held in the middle of a museum of life-size ambulatory puppets.

Diary of a Madman (1963)

Article #524 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-21-2002
Posting date: 1-14-2003

A magistrate finds that he is possessed by an otherworldly creature known as the Horla after he sentences a murderer to be executed.

Coming on the heels of having watched DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, I found myself enjoying this movie more than I might have otherwise; after the mess of that movie, I really appreciated the straightforward clarity of this one. It has some definite problems; it moves a little slow at times, the direction by Reginal Le Borg is merely adaquate, and the script is a bit wordier than is necessary (the Horla would be a lot more effective if it didn’t chatter on so), but at least it wasn’t confusing, and I could see how each scene related to the story. I also liked Vincent Price’s performance; he’s pretty restrained here, but he’s still definitely enjoying his role (maybe because he’s playing an amateur artist as well as a magistrate), and he has that easy charm and style that makes him very watchable. Except for the violence (the murder is particularly nasty), the movie feels quite old-fashioned, almost like it could have been made twenty years earlier. Not a classic, but for me, it filled the bill at the time.