The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

Article #945 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2003
Posting Date: 3-14-2004
Directed by Joe May
Featuring George Sanders, Vincent Price, Margaret Lindsay

Two brothers and a cousin fight over the possession of a house which lies underneath a curse.

I’ve never really considered Nathaniel Hawthorne a horror writer; he merely used certain elements common to horror stories as background to tell his allegorical tales. I’ve also never read this particular work of his, so this movie is my first exposure to the work; if it’s the least bit faithful to the novel, it might well be worth a read sometime, and it certainly seems as if it would be an easier read than ‘The Scarlet Letter’. Both George Sanders and Vincent Price give fine early performances in this one, though I’m always a little put off by the sound of the voice of the younger Price. The aforementioned curse and the gothic feel of the house are the primary horror elements, though they don’t play out as horror. This one is of definite interest to fans of marginal horror and Price afficiandos.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

Article #944 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-15-2003
Posting Date: 3-13-2004
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Featuring Jack Benny, Alexis Smith, Dolores Moran

An angel is sent down to Earth to blow the final trumpet at midnight, but runs into resistance from a couple of fallen angels.

Jack Benny used to joke about how bad this movie was, but in truth it really isn’t all that bad; in fact, it’s quite clever and amusing at times. However, I do understand somewhat where he was coming from; Benny’s comedic talents largely relied on cerebral subtlety and character; you got to know his persona so well that he could get laughs with the slightest of his expressions because you knew what he was thinking. Unfortunately, that style of comedy is somewhat lost in the slapstick that rules in this movie, which is more reminiscent of the comedy of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD than of the type of comedy of which Jack Benny was a master. However, it has some fun ideas, and the cast has a lot of familiar faces, including Franklin Pangborn, Margaret Dumont, Mike Mazurki, and a very young Robert Blake. All in all, it’s a mixed bag and a curiosity piece, but not totally without merit.

Hold That Ghost (1941)

Article #943 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-14-2003
Posting Date: 3-12-2004
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Richard Carlson

Two gas station attendants are present at the death of a gangster, and become heirs to his property, where it is believed a fortune is hidden.

There really is nothing new or novel about an old dark house comedy; almost every comedian of the time made at least one of these, and Abbott and Costello would revisit horror extensively in the latter part of their movie career. Thay were, however, at the peak of their form and their popularity at the time this one was made, and it has a greater deal of freshness than some of their later forays, the gags being a little more creative and the timing somewhat sharper. There are really no ghosts to speak of, and much of what happens doesn’t make much sense, but it’s lively and quite entertaining. The gag I remember most as a kid (involving bedrooms turning into casinos) is here in fine form, and it’s entertaining to see Evelyn Ankers and a young Richard Carlson, as well as smaller roles for Shemp Howard and Mischa Auer.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Article #942 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2003
Posting Date: 3-11-2004
Directed by Alexander Hall
Featuring Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Rains

A fighter’s soul is snatched prematurely from this world by an over-zealous angel and his body is cremated before he can be returned to it. Therefore, the forces that be have to find a way to return him to the land of the living.

This movie is regarded as a classic, but for some reason whenever I watch it, I feel it falls just a hair short of the greatness that its reputation implies. This is despite many of the movies elements that I really do admire; it has a good story and a clever script, and I always love to see Claude Rains and Edward Everett Horton in action. I also quite like the spirited performance from Robert Montgomery. If I had to choose a reason for my disappointment, it would be that I think the pacing is not quite up to the pitch it really needs to be, and there are moments when I find myself wishing the story would move on along a little faster. This feeling does not arise, however, when James Gleason is on the screen; his portrayal of the perpetually confused Max Corkle is one of the great comic performances of all time, and he steals the show from the rest of the cast. It would be no surprise that he would prove the centerpiece of the semi-sequel, DOWN TO EARTH, though that movie is certainly nowhere near the quality of this one. The movie also features the familiar faces of John Emery and Evelyn Keyes.

The Haunting (1963)

Article #941 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2003
Posting Date: 3-10-2004
Directed by Robert Wise
Featuring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson

A scientist investigating the paranormal takes a team into Hill House to investigate reports of its being haunted.

One of the reasons I embarked on this MOTD project was to finally organize my watching in such a way that I was bound to explore many of the great genre movies that had somehow eluded me for many years. This is one that I’d never had the pleasure of seeing, though I had heard many things about it. In some ways, it’s interesting to compare it with HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL; the Castle movie is a carnival spook-house ride, whereas this one takes itself quite seriously indeed. The characters are also more complex and better developed than those of the Castle movie, and the scares are less blatant and more subtle. It’s also interesting to realize that one of these movies attempts to debunk its thrills towards the end, while the other makes no such concession. I love the way this movie uses sound to convey its horror (many of the scary moments are heard rather than seen), and I also sense a subtle use of distorted visuals to make the house feel wrong; when I first see the house, I can’t help but notice that it doesn’t look quite straight, and a later comment about none of the edges in the house ever coming to a perfect right angle adds to that sense of unease. It also looks like a movie that would be great for re-viewing, as I can sense the subtle similarities between the characters of the researchers and those of the various residents of the house who have died over the years. I’m very glad I got a chance to finally see this one, and I agree that it’s one of Wise’s masterpieces.

Happy Land (1943)

Article #940 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2003
Posting Date: 3-9-2004
Directed by Irving Pichel
Featuring Don Ameche, Frances Dee, Harry Carey

A pharmacist is wracked with grief and bitterness when his son loses his life in the navy during World War II, and is then visited by the ghost of his grandfather.

There’s must be a special category of ghost stories in which the ghost is largely a plot device to lead us into a long flashback sequence; after all, that’s basically the use of the ghosts in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. In this case, the flashback takes most of the movie, and this sequence is fairly predictable; it’s your typical story of a boy growing to manhood, and it gets tiresome before it’s through. However, the opening and closing sections of the movie are quite strong and very moving indeed, and it is here that the movie’s sincerity and unhysterical approach work very well indeed. Don Ameche’s performance as the grief-stricken father is definitely one of the movie’s strengths. By the way, the son is played by Rocky Jones himself, Richard Crane, and his friend from the Navy is played by Harry Morgan.

Also, special note should be taken of the presence of Frances Dee in this movie, who is known to fans of fantastic cinema as the protagonist from I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (which came out the same year as this movie). Her death was just a few days ago, and I dedicate this MOTD to her memory.

Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

Article #939 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-10-2003
Posting Date: 3-8-2004
Directed by William Bowsky, Orestes Calprini, et. al.
Featuring the voices of Jessica Dragonette and Lanny Ross

Gulliver lands in the land of Lilliput and gets caught up in their war with Blefiscu.

This was Fleischer Studio’s attempt to get in on the full-length animation market that Disney had opened with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, but this one was something of a failure. For one thing, there didn’t seem to be any attempt to change the approach they used for shorts in making the movie; the movie’s plot is weak, not to mention nonexistent for good stretches of the running time. Furthermore, the ‘realistic’ characters (Gulliver, the prince and the princess) are stiff, bland and seem to come from another movie entirely; when Gulliver’s most memorable lines are “Well, well.” and “My, My.”, you know you’re not dealing with an exciting and vibrant character. The more comic caricatures work better, though Gabby is annoying and the music is largely forgettable. There are some very evocative moments here and there, but you know the plot is stalled when Gulliver doesn’t even wake up until the movie is half over, and even after that, most of the footage consists of his interactions with the various characters that neither advance the plot nor are interesting in and of themselves. It’s not a disaster but a disappointment, and in the long run, it’s no surprise that Fleischer Studios are better remembered for their shorts than their features.