Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Article #863 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2003
Posting Date: 12-23-2003
Directed by Sidney Hayers
Featuring Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, Margaret Johnston

A college professor discovers that his wife is using witchcraft, and destroys her charms, thus opening the door to supernatural revenge from an enemy.

Title check: Both titles are appropriate, though they don’t make much sense until the end of the movie.

This is the second cinematic adaptation I’ve seen of Fritz Lieber’s ‘Conjure Wife’, the first having been the Inner Sanctum movie WEIRD WOMAN. This one is more ambitious and plays up the horror elements to a much greater degree; it’s also somewhat more hysterical and sacrifices some of the subtlety of the earlier movie. The professor I found to be quite stupid at times, and at others inexplicably perceptive, and some of the scenes that are supposed to be scary actually come across as a bit silly. Nonetheless, it builds up to a much tenser climax than the earlier film, and even if some of the symbolic moments are a bit too obvious (it’s a little too blatant about the word that gets eradicated from the sentence on the blackboard), and the very ending a hair too convenient, it works well enough. It should be interesting to read the original novel sometime to see which of the movies is truer to it.

Things Happen at Night (1947)

Article #862 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2003
Posting Date: 12-22-2003
Directed by Francis Searle
Featuring Gerry Marsh, Olga Linda, Beatrice Campbell

A poltergeist takes possession of a young woman, and a psychic investigator tries to exorcise it.

Title check: Technically, many things do happen at night in this movie, so I can’t find any fault with the title.

I don’t know how many movies were made about poltergeists, but this appears to be one of the earlier ones. Since it’s largely a slapstick comedy, it’s certainly not one of the scarier ones, as this poltergeist’s particular trick seems to be to drop vases on people’s heads. The beginning is confusing, but after you sort out the characters, it settles down, and though it never really becomes hilarious, it’s congenial enough. All in all, a minor but fitfully enjoyable British ghost comedy.

Men Must Fight (1933)

Article #861 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2003
Posting Date: 12-21-2003
Directed by Edgar Selwyn
Featuring Diana Wynyard, Lewis Stone, Phillips Holmes

A woman becomes pregnant by a man who then dies during World War I. When a new war begins in 1940, she tries to prevent her son from going to war.

Title check: The title is quite appropriate in its way, considering the way the story works out.

As far as anti-war movies go, I prefer ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT or J’ACCUSE (the sound version of this one also falls into the category of fantastic cinema); this one has its points, but it is endlessly preachy. It falls into the category of science fiction as it takes place seven years after the year it was made; the Euroasian war of this movie bears a much greater resemblance to WWI than it does WWII, starting off as it does with an assassination. It does explore something of the difficulty of standing up against a war when patriotism runs rampant and pacifism is interpreted as cowardice. There is some footage of New York getting bombed, but it takes up no more than a minute or so of screen time; the rest is stagebound talk. The ending is even a hair ambiguous; we do not learn the ultimate fate of the son, for example. Nevertheless, this movie could be used as an effective starting point for discussions on the nature of war, pacifism, courage and other related issues.

Tarzan’s Revenge (1938)

Article #860 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2003
Posting Date: 12-20-2003
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
Featuring Glenn Morris, Eleanor Holm, George Barbier

An expedition out to trap a white alligator encounters a wild jungle man named Tarzan.

Title check: Except for picking up a man who tried to shoot him and throwing him on the ground, there is precious little vengeance going on here.

It’s tempting to write this movie off as a defanged and laundered take on the Weissmueller series, and for the most part the movie fulfills that function. The meeting between Tarzan and Eleanor here is far too reminiscent of the meeting between him and Jane in the Weissmuller films; they even go swimming together. However, the savagery of the Weissmuller films is not to be found here; this Tarzan is just one real nice animal-loving guy. Nonetheless, it is not without merit; the soundtrack was quite nice, and it does manage to add a touch of gentle lyricism to the mix that doesn’t appear to have been lifted from its inspiration; it’s a touch that this movie can definitely call its own. No, it’s not up to the Weissmuller series, but it’s not an embarassment, either, but I suspect that those who like the character of Tarzan for his violent savagery will find little to entertain them here.

The Ghost of Rashmon Hall (1947)

Article #859 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2003
Posting Date: 12-19-2003
Directed by Denis Kavanagh
Featuring Valentine Dyall, Anne Howard, Alec Faversham

A couple buys a house that is haunted by ghosts.

Title check: At a certain point in this movie, they pronounce the name of the Hall, and it certainly doesn’t sound like ‘Rashmon’; the title of the house also appears as a word in a book, and it looked far too long to be ‘Rashmon’. Maybe they made a movie about the wrong ghost…

There’s some interesting twists that pop up in the story towards the end, and the painting that has characters appearing, moving and disappearing is an interesting touch, but overall, this is just another ghost story. It’s creaky, slow-moving, and not particularly scary, and I’ll probably forget all about it before another day passes. This one is for ghost movie completists.

Man With Two Lives (1942)

Article #858 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-21-2003
Posting Date: 12-18-2003
Directed by Phil Rosen
Featuring Edward Norris, Marlo Dwyer, Eleanor Lawson

When a man dies from shock after a car accident, he is brought back to life by a scientist; however, since he was revived at the same time a criminal was executed, the criminal’s soul has taken over his body.

Title check: It’s an appropriate enough title for this one.

The movie opens with a dog’s heart being kept alive, which I thought was amusing since I had just seen LIFE RETURNS before this. The basic idea is interesting enough, and the movie seems well acted throughout, though it is somewhat reminiscent of BLACK FRIDAY. It’s pretty standard stuff, though; entertaining, but a bit predictable. And someone should have had the good sense to cut out the last two minutes of the movie, in which a hoary old plot twist is trotted out that is doubly bad since the story was already over at that time.

Life Returns (1935)

Article #857 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2003
Posting Date: 12-17-2003
Directed by Eugene Frenke
Featuring Onslow Stevens, George Breakston, Valerie Hobson

A scientist working on life resuscitation loses his job and then his wife, and then discovers that the law wants to send his son to a juvenile home.

Title check: It refers to the central gimmick of the film; see below.

This movie was built around footage of Dr. Robert E. Cornish bringing a dead dog back to life; this footage does indeed look like stock footage of a real life event rather than original footage, and the dialogue during this sequence has the quality of having been said rather than written, which is not the case during the rest of the film. I wasn’t sure whether to call this science fiction or not, but I’ve heard the revival of a dead animal is highly dependant on how soon you can get to it after it dies; since I suspect the span of time implied in the plot of the movie is most likely longer than the span of time of the real life event, I’ll call it science fiction. I am somewhat amused that rather than filming the story of the doctor himself, they seem to film the story of a fictional associate that then becomes a tear-jerking children’s movie, where the scientist’s wife dies of something that no one bothers to explain. Part of the plot revolves around the child trying to save his dog from an evil dogcatcher who plans to gas him. It’s corny, silly, and poorly written, though I’m willing to bet if I saw it as a child I would have been in tears. Still, it is a curious approach to telling this type of story.