Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1939)

Article #1081 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-29-2004
Posting Date: 7-28-2004
Directed by James P. Hogan
Featuring John Howard, Heather Angel, H.B. Warner

Captain Hugh Drummond tries to solve the murder of an inventor of a stolen death ray.

I’ve covered several of the Bulldog Drummond movies, and though I find the series thoroughly enjoyable, as of yet, the fantastic aspects have been very slight. This is probably the one so far that would have the most attraction for fans of the fantastic; the death ray (which explodes gunpowder from a distance) puts it definitely in the realm of science fiction, and the main villain is horror mainstay George Zucco (this isn’t giving away the plot; we know it’s Zucco from the beginning). As usual with the Drummond series, it’s all done with a light touch. There is also a talking blackbird, a good joke involving the word “duck”, a running joke involving the phrase “Don’t call me inspector”, and Drummond’s usual cohorts Algy, Tenny and Colonel Nielsen (played respectively by Reginald Denny, E.E. Clive, and H.B. Warner).


Abbott and Costello Go To Mars (1953)

Article #1080 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2004
Posting Date: 7-27-2004
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Mari Blanchard

Two simpletons accidentally start up a rocket and end up going to Venus.

I really like certain aspects of this movie, in particular that it was the first real attempt by a comedy team to take on the science fiction trend that was coming to life during the fifties. The movie touches upon certain aspects of the early space travel movies; the weightlessness, the magnetic shoes, the meteors, etc. that were rapidly becoming cliches. It also takes on one of the silliest science fiction plotlines of the era, that of another planet being made up entirely of women; in fact, it beats most of the other variations of that story to the screen and was smart enough to realize that the concept was best played for comedy. Unfortunately, the jokes and gags are very uneven; the weightlessness sequence is not only highly inaccurate, it’s also bizarre rather than funny. The addition of two comic characters who slightly resemble Bud and Lou also seems unnecessary. My favorite sequence is probably the middle part, where they land in the bayou near New Orleans and visit the town during Mardi Gras under the belief they are on Mars. Lou Costello was immensely popular with children, and this is perhaps the movie where he most plays up that popularity by making his character particularly childlike; his first scene is among children at an orphanage, and he maintains a certain innocent wonder throughout, though this dissipates somewhat when the story shifts into the Venus sequence. Overall, it’s something of a disappointment, but it does have its moments.

Secret of the Blue Room (1933)

Article #1079 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2004
Posting Date: 7-26-2004
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Featuring Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas

In order to prove their bravery, three suitors to a beautiful woman decide to each spend a night in the blue room, which has resulted in the death of all who have stayed in it.

This movie has been remade twice; five years later as THE MISSING GUEST, and then another six years after that as MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM. My local Creature Feature must have shown all the movies at one point, because I remember being inundated by several movies about this mysterious blue room. The story itself is rather ordinary, and the solution to the mystery of how people seem to magically appear in this blue room is rather obvious, but it’s helped by a surprisingly impressive cast (Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold and Onslow Stevens) and an exciting ending. This being primarily a mystery with horror elements rather than a horror movie, you can safely expect the usual red herrings. Incidentally, this movie appears to be a remake itself of a German movie called GEHEIMNIS DES BLAUEN ZIMMERS.

Savages (1972)

SAVAGES (1972)
Article #1078 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2004
Posting Date: 7-25-2004
Directed by James Ivory
Featuring Lewis J. Stadlen, Anne Francine, Thayer David

(Plot description)…?

The movie opens with several primitive natives (the Mud People) frolicking (if that is the correct word) around the forest. They are distracted from their activities (such as they are) by a croquet ball. This eventually leads them to a deserted mansion, which they then inhabit. They place the croquet ball in a container in front of a statue, and then try on the clothes they see lying around.

At this point, the savages become civilized; I originally though that the action had switched to the present (due to the abruptness of the transition), but I have since been informed that such is not the case. Still, one would think things would start making more sense at this point, but no such luck. The residents talk with each other, play croquet, mate, perform odd rituals, have a dinner party, play cellos, drown, dance to “Sitting on the Spaniel”, commit suicide, and finally vanish into the woods hitting their croquet balls ahead of them. I hope I haven’t given away the plot.

So what we have here is one of those abstract films along the lines of BLOOD OF A POET and INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME. No, I can’t explain it, but I do have to admit it held my attention throughout, though your mileage may vary. It’s a Merchant Ivory Production, and though I’ve never actually seen one of their movies previous to this one, this is certainly not what I would have expected from what I’ve heard about them (other than the fact that the movie was destined for the artier houses). It’s probably a fantasy, but that’s most likely because it isn’t anything else. The cast features Sam Waterston and Ultra Violet, and the script was co-written by Michael O’Donoghue, who would later produce “Saturday Night Live”.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971)

Article #1077 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2004
Posting Date: 7-24-2004
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Shelley Winters, Mark Lester, Chloe Franks

Two orphans stow away in a car so they can attend a Christmas Party hosted by a woman named Forrest (who prefers to be called Auntie Roo). The woman becomes attached to the girl orphan due to her resemblance to her dead daughter.

The title certainly makes this one sound like it was part of the cycle of horror movies featuring aging actresses that was kicked off with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, and the presence of Shelley Winters confirms this. The odd thing about this trend is that the movies were not mere repetitions of each other, and I think this may have something to do with the fact the BABY JANE movie was so unique that it really didn’t lend itself to repetition. This one borrows its story from the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale of all things. It was also directed by Curtis Harrington, and like some of his other horror movies, it is rather offbeat. Unfortunately, he’s never made a movie that totally worked for me, and this one is no exception. I think the problem is that it never really becomes either a full-blooded horror movie or an effective variation on the fairy tale. The scare scenes would be more effective if they didn’t seem so arbitrary, and the last third of the movie fails to build up the necessary tension or suspense. As it is, what I most enjoy in the movie is seeing some familiar faces such as Ralph Richardson, Hugh Griffith and Lionel Jeffries, all who are quite entertaining in their roles and severely underused. It’s a curiosity, but little more.

When Knights Were Bold (1936)

Article #1076 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-24-2004
Posting Date: 7-23-2004
Directed by Jack Raymond
Featuring Jack Buchanan, Fay Wray, Garry Marsh

The heir to an ancestral home returns from India to meet his family for the first time. He discovers they are all stiff and joyless, but he falls for his cousin, the Lady Rowena.

You know, some of these movies really do leave me scratching my head when I try to decide whether they rightfully belong in the fantastic movie genres or not, and this is one of them. The basic plot of this musical-comedy certainly doesn’t give any indication of having a fantastic premise, and for most of the movie I was wondering what would come up. However, the last third of the movie consists of a dream sequence in which our hero ends up in the middle ages and must defend the castle against an onslaught of invaders. It’s here that the comedy really takes an anarchic turn, and the question becomes whether outrageous anarchic comedy qualifies as fantastic cinema. However, scenes in which the knights come riding in on bizarre bicycles, and a series of gags involving magnets both push this into the realm of fantasy, so I guess it does qualify to some extent. The movie itself is quite amusing and very British. Barry Fitzgerald and Terry-Thomas both appear somewhere in this movie, though I wouldn’t be able to point them out.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Article #1075 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2004
Posting Date: 7-22-2004
Directed by Irwin Allen
Featuring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden

When the Van Allen Belt bursts into flames, an intrepid Admiral determines that the only way to save the world is to shoot a nuclear missile at it from his submarine.

Irwin Allen is pretty strong on the eye candy; it’s fun to see the submarine tooling around in the ocean and to observe all the gadgetry aboard. He also knows how to keep the action going, especially towards the end when we have several crises occurring at once. I just wish he would make certain concessions to reality. The central crisis is patently ridiculous; the Van Allen Belt is a radioactive belt that follows the magnetic field of the earth outside of its atmosphere; not only is it incapable of bursting into flames, but there’s no oxygen to sustain it if it does. We also have the submarine threatened by sinking chunks of ice (and what does ice do in water?). Another problem is that the characters are so poorly developed that they never seem like real people; some of them have only enough character to make them useful at certain plot points (Joan Fontaine, Michael Ansara); others have the equivalent of no character at all (Peter Lorre in particular is wasted). Also, the movie never varies its level of tension; the ending of the movie should be a lot more exciting than any other part of the movie, but it feels just like every other scene. So the end result is that I never really believe that the world really is in danger and I just don’t feel the necessary suspense. And I’m also afraid that this is another movie that shouldn’t have a romantic theme song, even if Frankie Avalon is in the cast.

The Virgin Spring (1960)

Article #1074 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2004
Posting Date: 7-21-2004
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Featuring Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom

A farmer discovers that vagrants who have turned up at his farm are the men who raped and murdered his daughter.

The basic story from this movie was borrowed by Wes Craven for his notorious horror film THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which to date I have not seen. That movie is usually considered without question to be a horror movie, while this one is never considered one; its inclusion here is due to the final moment of the movie (which inspires its title), and the hint at one point that the events that play out were the result of a prayer to Odin. What marks the difference between a movie being a horror movie and one being a drama is the reason the story is being told. In horror movies, the story exists as an excuse for the violence, whereas in a movie like this, the violence is essential to telling the story. In other words, it is not the violent revenge exacted here that is the point of the story; it is how the events effect everyone and alter their lives. This movie is intensely moving, and Max von Sydow’s silent reaction at one point of the proceedings when he realizes what he’s done is simply one of the finest single moments of acting I have ever seen. This is a sad and powerful movie indeed.

Ugetsu (1953)

UGETSU (1953)
Article #1073 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2004
Posting Date: 7-20-2004
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Featuring Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo, Kinuyo Tanaka

Two ambitious men, one a potter hoping to make his fortune, the other his partner hoping to become a samurai, find themselves in a position to realize their ambitions, but they end up deserting their wives in the process.

At heart this Japanese drama about greed and ambition has a very simple moral lesson about how trying to attain your ambitions can cause you to lose what you already have, and you can pretty much see the lesson coming early on. It’s the attention to detail, the emotional resonance, and the skill of the actors and the director that bring this story to life, and make it a truly wonderful movie. The fantastic aspects don’t pop up until the halfway point, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that certain characters turn out to be ghosts. There is also an eerie sequence during a boat ride where the occupants discover what they think is a ghost boat, an event that spurs the potter into making one of his major mistakes. This is definitely a moving and memorable film.

The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929)

Article #1072 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2004
Posting Date: 7-19-2004
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Warner Oland, Neil Hamilton, Jean Arthur

Dr. Fu Manchu swears revenge on the British regiment that fired upon his home during the Boxer rebellion and killed his wife and child.

This was the first of a series of Fu Manchu movies with Warner (Charlie Chan) Oland playing the evil genius. I’ve seen several Fu Manchu movies over the years, but this is the first one I’ve seen that gives us some of the backstory of Fu Manchu’s life, and explains why he wishes revenge. As you might expect from the year of release, this is an early talkie, and consequently fairly creaky with bad sound, but it’s well written, and fairly engaging throughout. Jean Arthur plays a white woman who was left under Fu Manchu’s care as a child, and which he uses as an instrument of his revenge. Nayland Smith is played by O.P. Heggie, who is best known for playing the blind hermit in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Noble Johnson is also on hand playing a Chinaman; I, for one, would love to see a list of all the various nationalities this man played during his long career. The comic relief is provided by William Austin, whose prissy, effeminate butler is definitely a matter of taste, though I will have to admit at giggling a little at his plaintive pondering as to whether he would live long enough to taste tomorrow’s marmalade.