The Garden Murder Case (1936)

THE GARDEN MURDER CASE (1936)
Article #711 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-24-2003
Posting Date: 7-24-2003
Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Featuring Edmund Lowe, Gene Lockhart, Virginia Bruce

Philo Vance investigates the suspicious accidental death of a jockey and the murder of a tycoon.

There are a lot of familiar names and faces in this entertaining mystery, though Nat Pendleton steals the proceedings somewhat as one of the dimmest policemen I’ve ever seen. This is the first Philo Vance movie I’ve seen, and if it’s any indication, they should be fairly entertaining. It’s pretty standard, and wouldn’t qualify as fantastic cinema except that a revelation near the end of the movie (which I won’t give away here) does push the movie into marginal horror territory; if you’re on your toes, you should be able to figure out what that revelation will be.

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The Florentine Dagger (1935)

THE FLORENTINE DAGGER (1935)
Article #710 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2003
Posting Date: 7-23-2003
Directed by Robert Florey
Featuring Donald Woods, Margaret Lindsay, C. Aubrey Smith

A man obsessed with the fact that he is a descendant of the Borgias believes that he may have committed the murder of the father of his bride-to-be.

It may take a little while before you realize you’re watching a murder mystery; the first half of the movie is mostly concerned with an elaborate backstory. Yet, that’s no real problem here; the backstory is unusually interesting, and sets up some interesting obsessions and motifs that carry through the movie as a whole. The story (by Ben Hecht) is interesting in that it could have been done equally well as a horror movie by emphasizing certain aspects and downplaying others; in fact, had it been a horror movie, we would have most likely been allowed to see something in the final reel that in this version is kept under wraps. Overall, a quite entertaining movie, with good performances by all the principals, though Robert Barrat (as the unctuous womanizing Inspector in charge of the investigation) is having entirely too much fun, but after all, he gets all the best lines.

Dirigible (1931)

DIRIGIBLE (1931)
Article #709 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2003
Posting Date: 7-22-2003
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring Jack Holt, Ralph Graves, Fay Wray

An attempt to reach the South Pole by means of a dirigible is made.

This early marginally-science-fictional directorial effort by Frank Capra is quite entertaining, even if the romantic triangle storyline that pervades a good deal of it is hackneyed; he is very good at keeping the story moving and holding your interest. However, it’s the special effects which take center stage here, what with the shots of the dirigibles and the planes flying among them. Unfortunately, for this to have maximum effect, you need something that I don’t have; a good print. Mine is in very bad shape, with the sound inaudible at times and human beings occasionally looking nothing more than amorphous blobs, and I hope someday to be able to upgrade to a better print. It is entertaining nevertheless, especially towards the end when it becomes almost harrowing. I find it not at all surprising that Frank Capra went on to a quite distinguished directorial career after making this one.

The Enchanted Cottage (1945)

THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945)
Article #708 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2003
Posting Date: 7-21-2003
Directed by John Cromwell
Featuring Dorothy McGuire, Robert Young, Herbert Marshall

A plain young woman takes a job at an old cottage once set aside for newlyweds, and there encounters a man who is bitter and lonely due to his having been disfigured and maimed in the war.

The fantastic premise in this movie is that the cottage is enchanted by the spirits of all the lovers who have lived there during the years, and at one point in the story it causes transformations in the main characters. It is a movie well-loved by many; as for me, I’ve loathed the movie for many years in my inimitable curmudgeonly fashion, and I looked forward to watching it again as I would look forward to my next root canal. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I didn’t hate it this time; like it or not, it touches a few chords thematically, and it is well acted and has some lovely scenery. But I still do consider it highly problematic; I find it artificial, precious, obvious and contrived, with characters whose functions are so blatantly symbolic that they never take on a life of their own as real living, breathing people. Consequently, I can see the manipulative strings being pulled at every step of the way, and that’s enough to make me keep my distance. I suspect that romantics and love story enthusiasts will find this a lot more compelling than I do; me, I was actually just happy to scratch this one off my list and replace it with a Francis, the talking mule movie.

Dracula (1931) Spanish Version

DRACULA (1931) – Spanish Version
Article #707 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 2-20-2003
Posting date: 7-20-2003
Directed by George Melford
Featuring Carlos Villarias, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton

Dracula moves to London from Transylvania and sets his sights on the daughter of the doctor of a sanitarium.

Shot at the same time and on the same sets as the Lugosi DRACULA, with the same script, but a different cast and crew and in Spanish, this version of the movie was forgotten for many years. The print does not appear to be in the best of condition, but I’m just glad it’s still around for comparison. Despite having the same script, this version runs almost a full half hour longer than the Browning version; I suspect a lot more was cut out during the editing of the latter. Quite frankly, this one is much better directed, eschewing Browning’s static style and staging many of the sequences in a more interesting fashion, and though it could use some judicious trimming here and there, I didn’t nod off at all on this version. Pablo Alvarez Rubio gives Dwight Frye a run for his money as Renfield, and Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing has an insane stare that makes him seem just as crazy. Carlos Villarias is good, but his performance pales next to Lugosi’s star-making turn in the Browning version. I dream of what it would be like to have combined the strengths of each of the two versions and come up with a superior version of the story. Apparently, the director, George Melford, could not speak Spanish and had to work with his cast through translators.

The Vampire (1957)

THE VAMPIRE (1957)
Article #706 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 2-19-2003
Posting date: 7-19-2003
Directed by Paul Landres
Featuring John Beal, Coleen Grey, Kenneth Tobey

A doctor accidentally takes some pills that turn him into a vampiric predator.

Personally, I don’t particularly find the concept of taking a traditional monster and trying to turn him into a science fiction monster to be necessarily interesting, so I didn’t really go into this movie expecting much. However, I ended up really liking this movie; I think it’s very effective, largely because it fleshes out and differentiates the various interesting characters, and the whole thing is quite well acted. In particular, John Beal (in the title role) really projects a sense of the horror of his situation and his desire not to hurt the ones he loves. This compensates a lot for the fact that the monster make-up is pretty lame; fortunately, you really don’t see much of it. The movie doesn’t have much of a reputation; it’s sitting with a 4.1 rating on IMDB, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Atomic Man (1956)

THE ATOMIC MAN (1956)
(a.k.a. TIMESLIP)
Article #705 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 2-18-2003
Posting date: 7-18-2003
Directed by Ken Hughes
Featuring Gene Nelson, Faith Domergue, Peter Arne

An unidentified man in the hospital who has been saved from drowning bears an uncanny resemblance to a nuclear scientist.

I have omitted in the above plot description the intriguing science fiction concept that is included in every other description of the movie; the man in the hospital is living exactly seven and a half seconds in the future. This is definitely an offbeat idea, and I’ve been wondering for some time just how a movie would handle that concept. This movie, however, does precious little with it; it’s merely a gimmick, and could have easily been replaced with the more conventional “he’s in a delirious state” cliche, for all the effect it really has on the story. This is basically an industrial espionage story, very ordinary at best, though there’s some nice acting to liven up the proceedings, but the science fiction aspects are poorly used, and the scientific explanation for his condition is one of the least convincing explanations I’ve heard since the single-cell heart theory in THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.