Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)

Article #745 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2003
Posting Date: 8-27-2003
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield

Tarzan tries to prevent a group of adventurers from discovering the secret home of the Amazons.

In TARZAN ESCAPES we saw how the Hays office had taken steps to declaw the Tarzan series and remove the savagery and the violence. Here we are, nine years later, and the series has been thoroughly domesticated. I don’t think there’s a single fight with a wild animal this time, and the emotional center of the plot is Tarzan’s relationship with Boy, which becomes strained when he takes a liking to the adventurers. Maureen O’Sullivan is long gone, and there’s a lot more talk than action this time around, and Tarzan’s most violent act is breaking Boy’s hunting bow. It’s not bad, but it’s a long way from what fans of the Tarzan character may expect. As far as the Amazons, they appear for a couple of minutes towards the beginning and then disappear from the story until the last third, so those watching the movie to catch those particular charms may be excused for taking a forty minute break in the middle of the movie. And even though Maria (Maleva, the old gypsy woman) Ouspenskaya is an excellent actress, the fact that she is playing the leader of the tall, statuesque, leggy and youthful Amazons is nothing short of anomolous.

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Article #744 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2003
Posting Date: 8-26-2003
Directed by Billy Wilder
Featuring Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim

A down-on-his-luck writer hooks up with an actress from the silents intent on making a comeback.

The issue here is not the quality of the movie; it is recognized as a classic and one of Billy Wilder’s finest moments, and I plan to say nothing to the contrary. It is chock-full of memorable dialogue, fascinating characters and great acting from all concerned. It also has a priceless set of cameos of Hollywood personalities playing themselves (Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, etc.), and gives Erich von Stroheim, the man you love to hate, one of his most sympathetic characters. No, the issue here is why I am covering this film noir in my survey of fantastic films. The answer is quite simple; the movie has several elements that bring it within shoulder-rubbing distance of the horror genre. The whole story is narrated by a corpse, to start with. Then the subplot about the interment of the monkey has a sense of grotesqueness that would not be out of place in a horror film. Norma Desmond’s decrepit mansion could very well make a fine setting for a horror movie, and finally, her inevitable descent into madness touches upon another horror theme. Not that it every really becomes a horror movie; it definitely remains in the realm of marginalia. But if you think about it, it really is only a couple of small steps away from WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, which may mean that it is a little closer to horror than it would initially seem.

The Sphinx (1933)

Article #743 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-28-2003
Posting Date: 8-25-2003
Directed by Phil Rosen
Featuring Lionel Atwill, Sheila Terry, Luis Alberni

The main suspect in a series of murders of stockholders is a deaf-mute; however, witnesses all claim he can talk when it has been proven medically impossible for him to do so.

I was able to think up at least four explanations as to how this movie would pan out before I reached the actual ending, and my first explanation turned out to be correct. I would have to say therefore that this mystery wasn’t really very mysterious. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t entertained; on the contrary, I found it quite enjoyable. Part of the reason is that the dialogue was quite witty at times, particular some of the lines of the reporter hero. Another big factor was Lionel Atwill’s strong performance in a role where he rarely speaks a word; except for the fact that his sign language looked less than convincing, he did a very convincing rendition of a deaf mute. However, the horror elements are perhaps too slight to qualify the movie as horror, so I have to consign this one to the realm of marginalia as well.

Sinister Hands (1932)

Article #742 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2003
Posting Date: 8-24-2003
Directed by Armand Schaeffer
Featuring Jack Mulhall, Mischa Auer, Phyllis Barrington

Police try to solve the murder of a wealthy man who was killed during a seance.

There is a point in this movie where the rich man confronts the boyfriend of his daughter, who he has discovered is a gangster. The rich man says “You’ll marry my daughter over my dead body.” The gangster says, “Very well – I will marry your daughter over your dead body!” After the gangster leaves, the rich man turns off the recording machine that was running. It was precisely at this point that I realized several things:
1) This was a murder mystery.
2) The rich man was going to be a murder victim very shortly.
3) The recording would show up during the investigation.
4) I knew for sure of one suspect who was going to turn out NOT to be guilty.

In a very short period of time, I also figured out several other suspects who would also be innocent. I also knew that the police investigator’s assistant’s irritation at people calling him Watson (his name is Watkins) would be a running joke. In fact, I pretty much zeroed in on who the real murderer would most likely be, because if there is any rule one should keep in mind for murder movies of this ilk, it’s that the real murderer will be the one who doesn’t have a motive that was established in the first half of the movie. In short, there are no surprises here.

Yet, on one level, I enjoyed this cheap little movie, despite the cookie-cutter plot and the indifferent writing, direction and acting. It was so spare and so obvious that it almost seemed more like a template for a murder mystery. It reminded me of a comment I’d heard about the rock group The Ramones; that their early albums sounded as if they had wanted to see how much they could take away and still have music. In this movie, everything is perfunctory; the characters are developed only to the point that their motives are established and the facts that establish their guilt (or innocence) are displayed. Yet I felt that if I wanted to write a murder mystery, I might well use this movie as a model on which to build my story; in this way, the movie has its uses.

The fantastic elements are slight; in fact, Walt Lee omits this movie from his books do to the lack of fantastic elements. However, Don Willis does include the movie, and I think it is due to the seance sequences. At any rate, this one goes in the realm of marginalia.

Samson in the Wax Museum (1963)

Article #741 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2003
Posting Date: 8-23-2003
Directed by Alfonso Corona Blake
Featuring Santo, Norma Mora, Fernando Oses

Samson is called onto the case when a series of mysterious disappearances occur in the vicinity of a wax museum.

A couple of movies ago I posed the cinematic question; How did Samson end up in thirteenth-century China? Now I ask what he was doing in a Wax Museum, a phenomenon somewhat even farther from the biblical times from which Samson hearkened. The answer is simple; it’s not Samson, it’s Santo, the Silver Maskman; in fact, if you listen during the crowd scenes in the wrestling matches, you can hear them calling out ‘Santo! Santo! Santo!”, not “Samson! Samson! Samson!”. Of course, all the other dialogue is dubbed (and badly), but that’s to be expected. The movie trots on for about forty minutes pretending that no one has any idea who is responsible for the disappearances (anyone in the movie, that is; the average viewer should figure it out in ten seconds). There’s some nice horror scenes of wax figures coming to life, and some scattered fun throughout. Incidentally, there are three wrestling scenes; this translates into three trips to the refrigerator, though you may want to catch Santo’s cocky opponent in the third match. Incidentally, the climax of this movie bears a slight resemblance to the one in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.

Tomorrow at Seven (1933)

Article #740 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2003
Posting Date: 8-22-2003
Directed by Ray Enright
Featuring Chester Morris, Vivienne Osborne, Frank McHugh

A murderer known as the Black Ace threatens to murder a man at seven o’clock the next day.

I’d have to say this is one of the better forgotten horrors I’ve seen. It has some unusual choices of locations for a murders, a very effective opening scene, and the comic relief is much stronger than usual for this type of thing. For the latter, thanks must go to Frank McHugh and Allen Jenkins, who make a great team as the two detectives on the case, though Charles Middleton also has some fun in his appearance as Simons. It’s also interesting to note that the only role for a black performer is not a comic relief role, and he ends up playing a serious role in the proceedings. Though it hovers in that grey area between murder mystery and horror, this is probably one I would recommend for those interested in experimenting with the world of forgotten horrors.

How Doooo You Do!!!! (1945)

HOW DOOOO YOU DO!!! (1945)
(a.k.a. HOW DO YOU DOOOO?)
Article #739 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2003
Posting Date: 8-21-2003
Directed by Ralph Murphy
Featuring Bert Gordon, Harry von Zell, Ella Mae Morse

Various performers on a radio show take a vacation at a resort where a murder is committed.

All right, this has been driving me crazy for some time, so let me get it out of my system. The title of the movie comes from a catchphrase of Bert Gordon’s character known as the Mad Russian. The reason for the several ‘o’s in the title is that when he said the phrase, he would stretch out the word “do”. Unfortunately, neither of the two titles gets it right; HOW DOOOO YOU DO!! puts the extra ‘o’s on the wrong “do”, but gets the punctuation right; HOW DO YOU DOOOOO? puts the ‘o’s in the right place, but he never said it as a question, so the punctuation is wrong. It should be HOW DO YOU DOOOO!!!

Oh, I suppose I should say something about the movie as well, shouldn’t I? From what I gather, Bert Gordon could be quite amusing, so I suspect that this PRC cheapie didn’t really do him justice; in fact, it would be the last movie he would make. Everyone is largely playing himself, and there are some nice musical numbers, and I do find the concept that Gordon invites several actors who play detectives to appear at the hotel in the belief that they will solve the mystery to be somewhat amusing. Nonetheless, the comedy is tepid indeed, and the movie never really gets off the ground. There are slight horror and science fiction aspects that don’t pop up until late in the story, and the ending is quite bizarre. I think this one might be mostly interesting to anyone interested in catching a bit of Bert Gordon’s schtick.

Gang Busters (1942)

Article #738 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2003
Posting Date: 8-20-2003
Directed by Ray Taylor and Noel Smith
Featuring Kent Taylor, Irene Harvey, Ralph Morgan

Police try to break a ring of gangsters known as The League of Murdered Men.

I have to confess to not being a particular fan of action movies; mere action in and of itself doesn’t really interest me. For the action sequences to catch my interest, there have to be other conditions that serve as an incentive; either the characters need to have really grabbed my attention, or the action choreography has to have been particularly well-done, or the fights are peppered with a good sense of realism, or the movie has to have really built up the right amount of suspense, etc. All too often, I see nothing but bland, predictable characters throwing their fists at each other, and this simply leaves me cold, especially when the good guys look just like the bad guys. This is perhaps why I’ve never been fond of action-oriented serials (in contrast to adventure-oriented ones); watching fisticuffs break out every five minutes leaves me tired rather than thrilled, no matter how many people they throw into them. GANG BUSTERS is an action serial, but I’m thrilled to say that I find it a refreshing change of pace from the others I’ve seen.

Part of it is a strong sense of grittiness that pervades the story; everybody is playing it serious, and I like that. The characters are more interesting than you usually find, particularly Ralph Morgan’s villain, Dr. Mortis, who shows from time to time a greater range of emotion than most villains in this type of thing. The episodes never skimp on the suspense, and there’s just a lot of details I really like, from the villains’ wonderful hideout (underneath a manhole found between the tracks of a subway train, so that even the act of getting into the hideout is fairly harrowing) to the creative way each episode segues into its cliffhanger; instead of narration explaining the last episodes, various characters in the middle of the action discuss the events that lead up to the cliffhanger, which is then recreated. Add to this the emphasis on actual police detection methods (fingerprints, chemical analysis, etc.), and a plotline that throws out the usual scientist-with-a-new-invention-gets-kidnapped-by-gangsters storyline with a simple revenge-driven motive coupled with the science fictional concept of gangsters being revived from death, and you have a novel story indeed. I’ve seen several people put this serial near the tops of their lists of favorite serials. It’s definitely at the top of my list so far.

Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World (1961)

Article #737 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2003
Posting Date: 8-19-2003
Directed by Riccardo Freda
Featuring Gordon Scott, Yoko Tani, Helene Chanel

A strong man named Samson comes to the aid of the Chinese in the thirteenth century to help them throw off the yoke of the evil mongols.

Ever get the feeling of Deja Vu, that weird sense that you’ve lived through something before? When I watched HERCULES AND THE BARBARIANS, I asked myself how Hercules managed to find himself in thirteenth century China; now I find myself asking how Samson got there. Of course, the answer is the same; he’s not really Hercules/Samson, but just someone who is really strong that took on the name. Furthermore, the Italian titles on both the movies indicate that the hero is really Maciste, but that doesn’t really answer the question, as Maciste first appeared in Roman times in the movie CABIRIA. And the Seven Miracles? Well, I can’t tell you what they are, because the wise man who keeps track of them doesn’t appear until the last twenty minutes of the movie and we have to take his word that five of them have already happened. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; it’s sword-and-sandal, which usually means that what you get is a random assortment of action set pieces only vaguely tied together by a plot. Samson/Maciste uproots a tree, saves some Chinese rebels from a horrible execution (probably the most memorable scene of the movie), rings a bell, and causes an earthquake after being buried by a dwarf. And me, all I do is sit here and write reviews. Let’s face it; some people have more interesting lives.

Possessed (1947)

Article #736 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2003
Posting Date: 8-18-2003
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt
Featuring Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey

A disturbed woman is placed in a psychiatric ward, where under the use of drugs she recounts the events that brought her there.

Thematically this movie might have been marginally horror merely in its use of madness, but as the madness involves hallucinations of a certain sort, the movie pushes a little farther into the horror realm than it might otherwise. This accounts for its inclusion here; beyond that, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s a Joan Crawford vehicle, and that says quite a lot right there; the trouble is, I’ve never been quite sure how I feel about Joan Crawford as an actress. Partially, this is due to the fact that I’ve heard so many rumors of what her life was like offscreen, and though these wouldn’t usually make a difference, it’s somewhat jarring to see some of these rumors reflected in the roles she played; considering that “Mommie Dearest” was written by her daughter, it leaves a bit of a chill to see her have so many bad relationships with daughters (or daughter-figures) in her movies. As for evaluating her work as an actress, I’m also a bit at sea; there are times here when she is brilliant, and there are times I feel she’s a little too campy and overdone, but overall I don’t get the feeling that she’s playing the same character from scene to scene, and this leaves me feeling somewhat ill at ease. Maybe you need to be a fan of hers to really get her, and I’m not one of them, though there is no doubt she has a powerful presence. The movie also features BLACK FRIDAY’s Stanley Ridges.