Francis (1950)

FRANCIS (1950)
Article #980 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2003
Posting Date: 4-18-2004
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Donold O’Connor, Patricia Medina, Zasu Pitts

A second lieutenant is saved from an enemy barrage by a talking mule. His repeated encounters with the mule cause him to be repeatedly put under psychiatric care.

Since talking animals are a fantasy concept, this opens up the floodgates for a huge number of movies and shorts; just consider how many short cartoons I may have to cover. Of course, live action talking animals are a little more impressive, especially if a decent job is done of syncing up the voice (Chill Wills in this case) to the movements of the animal’s lips, which is done admirably here. Despite the silly concept, the humor is a little restrained, but it works well enough for several reasons, such as the immensely likeable performance by Donold O’ Connor, the smartass voice work of Chill Wills (pun intended), and the occasional touch that shows a certain amount of thought and care went into this one. This would be the first of six movies, although the last one would replace both O’Connor and Wills. The movie also features familiar character actor John McIntyre, Ray Collins, Mikel Conrad, and a young Tony Curtis.


The Crimson Ghost (1946)

Article #979 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2003
Posting Date: 4-17-2004
Directed by Fred C. Brannon and William Witney
Featuring Charles Quigley, Linda Stirling, Clayton Moore

An evildoer known as the Crimson Ghost attempts to get his hands on a destructive weapon known as the Cyclotrode.

This is considered one of the better serials out there, and rightfully so; it’s efficient, the fights are well staged, it’s packed with gadgets, and it has a great villain. Well, actually, it’s not so much the villain that is great as the mask he wears; the skull mask is eerie and somewhat gruesome; it’s even missing some of its teeth. I wish I had enjoyed this one a little more than I did, but I attribute my relative lack of enjoyment of this one more to a certain degree of having somewhat O.D’d on these things lately rather than to any real problem with the serial itself; I suspect it will be well worth-revisiting under better circumstances. It’s probably not my favorite; I prefer at this point the silliness of THE LOST CITY or the grittiness of GANG BUSTERS, but this one definitely makes my top ten list of favorite serials.

Decoy (1946)

DECOY (1946)
Article #978 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2003
Posting Date: 4-16-2004
Directed by Jack Bernhard
Featuring Jean Gillie, Edward Norris, Robert Armstrong

A moll intent on getting the fortune of her convicted gangster boyfriend recruits a crook and a naive doctor into her scheme.

Despite the fact that film noirs rely as much on mood as horror movies do, I haven’t had much of a chance to cover them as part of this series because they so rarely cross the line into the fantastic. This one does, however, since part of the plot involves a drug that can revive a man sent to the gas chamber if the body can be retrieved in an hour’s time. This one is quite memorable, with a great opening sequence, a fascinating story, and a scene-stealing performance by Sheldon Leonard as the nattiest flatfoot in town. The title doesn’t make a lot of sense until you get to the end of the movie, so be patient; it’s definitely worth the wait.

Alice in Wonderland (1933)

Article #977 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2003
Posting Date: 4-15-2004
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Featuring Charlotte Henry, Cary Grant, W.C. Fields

Alice goes through the looking glass and falls down the rabbit hole into a strange world.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice books remain to this day my favorite children’s stories of all time. They are also, to my mind, almost unfilmable. Part of the reason is that, despite the many memorable fantastic images present in the stories (the Tenniel illustrations are indelible), the stories are largely driven by a contortionistic verbal illogic that really can only be appreciated by those with a sense of mathematical absurdity. About the only director I would trust with this work is Terry Gilliam, whose years with Monty Python would put him in good stead to take on the absurdity of the work.

As it is, this version is more of curiosity than anything else; it has a plethora of Hollywood stars in costumes that disguise their features (Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, Gary Cooper and Edward Everett Horton are only the most well-known of the bunch), and it has some very nice special effects throughout. It also more or less takes a real stab at being somewhat faithful to the work, with most of the dialogue directly from the stories. What it lacks is real energy and a grasp of the spirit of the whole thing; it feels mannered and perfunctory, cranking out some of the better-remembered moments without ever achieving the sense of absurdist flow necessary to bring the whole thing to life. Nonetheless, as a curiosity piece, it does have its uses, and those who really want to see W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty won’t want to pass it by.

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Article #976 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2003
Posting Date: 4-14-2004
Directed by Allan Dwan
Featuring Ron Randell, Debra Paget, Elaine Stewart

A gangster framed for murder escapes from the police, and ends up on the site of an explosion of a new nuclear bomb. As a result his body combines with steel to make him unkillable, and he seeks out the men who framed him.

Save for the method by which the gangster becomes indestructible, the above plot description bears a strong similarity to the Lon Chaney Jr. vehicle, THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN. Ultimately, I think this one is somewhat more effective; the characters are better developed, it’s certainly better directed, and it’s better thought out and more realistic than the earlier movie. It does have a few problems, mostly because it’s pace is rather sluggish at times, but I found it a lot easier to feel for the characters in this one; despite his determined focus on revenge, I did feel enough sympathy for Ron Randell’s character that the ending is a little sadder than it would have otherwise been. It’s also fun to see Morris Ankrum again (not as a general, but a cop), and Gregg (FROM HELL IT CAME, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US) Palmer is also on hand.

Jungle Manhunt (1951)

Article #975 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2003
Posting Date: 4-13-2004
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Bob Waterfield, Sheila Ryan

Jungle Jim helps a woman filmmaker track down a missing football star, and helps natives deal with a hostile tribe that has been attacking the other tribes.

This entry in the ‘Jungle Jim’ series starts with an exciting attack on a native village before it settles down in to the usual Jungle Jim style, which consists of wandering around from danger to danger until we reach the end of the movie, peppered with the liberal use of stock footage. In other words, this is business as usual. The lost football player is played by Bob Waterfield, a football player in real life, and he’s living with a tribe with which he has helped to develop football-shaped bombs; some of the movie’s funnier moments involve him tossing these things around. There are horror elements here (the invading tribe heralds its attack by having three men dressed as skeletons appear to frighten the natives) and science fiction elements (the creation of artificial diamonds and the appearance of a lost world) pop up, too. As far as the latter elements go, we get two fun little treats, namely 1) the actual recipe for artificial diamonds so you can make them at home (ingredients: melted igneous rocks and sugar) and 2) a surprise cameo appearance of those slurpasaurs of note, Ignatz and Rumsford. These guys should really get along; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had put bandages on poor Rumsford.

Sherlock Holmes (1922)

Article #974 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2003
Posting Date: 4-12-2004
Directed by Albert Parker
Featuring John Barrymore, Roland Young, Gustav von Seyfertitz

Sherlock Holmes matches wits with the arch-criminal Moriarty.

A very interesting cast is to be found here, with Barrymore as Holmes, Roland Young as Watson, William Powell (his first screen role, as well as Young’s), Seyfertitz as Moriarty, and Hedda Hopper. Like the much later YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, this version puts forth the idea that Holmes and Watson met long before the events of “A Study in Scarlet”, though this marks only the first third of the movie. The story itself borrows from several Holmes stories, though A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA is its most noticeable source. All in all, it’s not bad, but it’s a little disappointing; the story is confusing at times, and Moriarty is probably somewhat scruffier than I usuually think of him. Many of the Holmes’ movies are marginal horror, but other than a few of the supervillain trappings dealing with Moriarty, there is precious little fantastic content here. It’s definitely more of a curiosity piece than a must-see.

Let’s Live Again (1948)

Article #973 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2003
Posting Date: 4-11-2004
Directed by Herbert I. Leeds
Featuring John Emery, Hillary Brooke, Taylor Holmes

A nuclear scientist loses his brother in an airplane accident. He then believes a dog he encounters is the reincarnation of his brother.

I first encountered John Emery as one of the scientists in ROCKETSHIP X-M; at that time, I didn’t think of him as a comic actor, and none of the other roles of his that I’d seen led me to believe anything different. Yet here he is, playing the lead role in this comedy about a man who may or may not be suffering from delusions, and after watching it, I’m only more firmly convinced that he isn’t a comic actor; his performance comes across as rather quiet and glum, and this just doesn’t make for good comedy. As a whole, the movie comes across as forced and unconvincing; it never works up any energy and all seems rather pointless. It’s a shame; I’ve been curious about this one for some time based on the plot description, as I believe it could have gone in some interesting directions. As it is, I believe there are good reasons this movie is as obscure and hard-to-find as it is.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Article #972 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2003
Posting Date: 4-10-2004
Directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, et al.
Featuring the Voices of Basil Rathbone, Bing Crosby, Eric Blore

Two stories are told. The first is about a toad whose wild exploits land him in trouble with the police. The second is about a schoolmaster who ends up competing with the town bully for the hand of a beautiful woman.

This was made during the forties, when Disney was reckoning somewhat with the unpredictability of making animated features, where a single feature could take an enormous amount of time which could then be lost if the movie failed to make a profit. One of his solutions was to make some features which actually consisted of several stories at once. I’m not sure what inspired him to combine “The Wind in the Willows” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, other than that they were both adapted from works of literature. I remember reading “The Wind in the Willows” as a child, but I don’t really recall this particular toad adventure, and though it is occasionally entertaining, it certainly isn’t representative of the book as a whole. In fact, this never really comes to life; there are reasons these characters never became Disney favorites. The Ichabod sequence comes off much better, though it too reduces many of the events to slapstick comedy; even the scary headless horseman sequence (the best part of the movie and the part most of interest to horror fans) suffers a little bit from the overuse of gags. Nonetheless, the headless horseman himself is never played for laughs, and the ambiguous ending is retained. Overall, I’d have to say that this was a pretty minor effort from Disney.

Death by Invitation (1971)

Article #971 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2003
Posting Date: 4-9-2004
Directed by Ken Friedman
Featuring Shelby Leverington, Aaron Phillips, Norman Paige

Many years ago, a man was responsible for the execution of a witch. Years later, a woman is killing off a family of descendants from that man.

This movie has a fairly common horror plotline, and if it did nothing more than rehash that plot, it would be of little interest. However, it does try for something more; my problem is I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to do. It appears to be delving into some sexual themes in the story; before the first murder, the woman tells her victim this long extended story about a tribe led by women which connects the dots between sexual domination, sadomasochism, and cannibalism, and though it’s effective in some ways, the story goes on way too long, and when she starts to retell the story at a later point in the plot, you’re very glad that she gets interrupted. However, other elements in the movie just don’t mesh well with anything else; it’s all directed in a rather static, arty style; some of the scenes seem to be comic in nature (especially a pointless sequence in which a man visits an office building and is given horribly confusing directions on how to get to the office of the man he’s visiting), and it’s full of meaningless conversations and awkward pauses. We also have a stupid policeman to contend with, and we get to hear the least relevant graveside biblical readings I’ve ever encountered. It’s also hampered by an extremely low budget, which is particularly problematic during the opening sequence which takes place in a period setting that never looks convincing.

No, there’s no doubt this movie is trying something different, but until I know what it is that it’s trying to do, I’ll have to file it under a big question mark.