The Hole in the Wall (1929)

THE HOLE IN THE WALL (1929)
Article #1071 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2004
Posting Date: 7-18-2004
Directed by Robert Florey
Featuring Claudette Colbert, Edward G. Robinson, David Newell

A woman joins a phony medium racket and plots to take revenge on the woman who falsely sent her to prison.

This movie is well-directed by Robert Florey and features two performers who were both on their way to stardom; Claudette Colbert and Edward G. Robinson. Colbert does a fine job, but it’s Robinson’s performance that sucks me into the movie; he was a great actor even at this stage of the game, and he had the ability to imbue some very ordinary lines with an emotional depth that adds immensely to the proceedings. It’s a good thing this movie has some strengths going for it, because the story is sometimes howlingly bad; at least one major plot contrivance has one character performing an act that is so supremely stupid that you’ll find it hard to believe. As for Donald Meek and Barry Macollum, I can’t decide which actor is saddled with the more degrading nickname, Goofy or Dogface. The fantastic aspects are minor initially; the phony spiritualism racket is one and the character of Dogface is a subhuman character that could have been considered a monster if they had given him something to do. As it is, I do like the talk about returning him to the carnival from which he came because it would save them money on raw meat. However, the movie does momentarily move clearly into the realm of fantastic cinema late in the game via a plot twist that I can’t give away here.

Henry Aldrich Haunts a House (1943)

HENRY ALDRICH HAUNTS A HOUSE (1943)
Article #1070 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-18-2004
Posting Date: 7-17-2004
Directed by Hugh Bennett
Featuring Jimmy Lydon, Charles Smith, John Litel

A teen tries to impress a girl by taking a large dosage of a medicine that is supposed to give him the strength of three men. He loses consciousness from the drug while passing a haunted house. The next day, he wakes up in his bed and discovers that the principal of his school (who was in the haunted house last night) has vanished.

I didn’t expect too much from this movie; it seemed to be your basic example of the “haunted house” episode of any series comedy at the time. However, much to my surprise, I ended up enjoying this one thoroughly. Part of the reason may have to do with the fact that this was my introduction to the Aldrich characters; I’d heard about them for years, and was familiar with parodies of the characters (the comedy album by the Firesign Theatre called “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” is in part a parody of the series), but this was my first direct experience with them, and there is something rather archetypal about them . Another thing I like is that some of the gags are quite inventive, including two mirror gags; one is of course the classic one-person-imitating-the-movements-of-another (they’re wearing suits of armor), and a second in which a character talks to his reflection. It also helps that the haunted house is actually a bit scary, and gives us a real “monster” despite the fact that the ending is all too typical for this sort of movie. It also manages to fit a mummy’s curse into the mix. All in all, this is actually one of the better haunted house comedies I’ve seen.

The Lost Jungle (1934)

THE LOST JUNGLE (1934/I)
(Serial)
Article #1069 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2004
Posting Date: 7-16-2004
Directed by David Howard and Armand Schaefer
Featuring Clyde Beatty, Cecilia Parker, Syd Saylor

A noted lion tamer crash-lands on a strange island with an unusual assortment of animals; there he runs into sailors threatening to mutiny over the possession of a hidden treasure.

This serial doesn’t appear to be well liked, but I have to admit to a fondness for any serial with a good gimmick. I loved the Houdini serial THE MASTER MYSTERY because they allowed him to use the cliffhangers as excuses to do his escape routines, and this one allows Beatty to use his animal-taming tactics. The fantastic aspects here are the island itself (it was supposedly part of a strip of land that connected Africa and Asia, thus explaining the existence of wildly divergent species such as lions, tigers and bears) and Beatty’s hypnotic powers that will cause tigers to lie down. Syd Saylor is the comic relief cowardly sidekick who threatens to become annoying (he has a scared reaction that involves a bobbing bowtie and rolling eyes that is more bizarre than funny), but fortunately he doesn’t overdo his bit and actually proves to be fairly useful on occasions. The movie also has a cast of characters that I can actually tell apart, which is pretty rare for a serial. All the animals are real with the exception of the gorilla (which is a man in a suit), and I couldn’t help but note the irony that this becomes the only animal that Clyde actually kills during the course of the serial. It’s not great, but for a Mascot serial, it’s better than average.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1916)
Article #1068 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-16-2004
Posting Date: 7-15-2004
Directed by Stuart Paton
Featuring Allen Holubar, Dan Hanlon, Curtis Benton

A scientist goes on a voyage to investigate a sea monster; it turns out to be a submarine helmed by the mysterious Captain Nemo.

When I checked IMDB for some information about this movie, I discovered a rather interesting fact; the entire cast of the movie is uncredited. Jules Verne’s name is mentioned repeatedly, producer Carl Laemmle gets a credit, and most of the attention goes to George and Ernest Williamson, who developed the first underwater photography that was used in this movie; in fact, these two are featured in the opening of the movie. In some ways, this is certainly appropriate; this movie could not have been made without the work of these two, though you would think that the actor who played Nemo would at least get a credit (by the way, he’s Allen Holubar).

In a sense, the movie undertakes a daunting task; not only does it take on the Verne novel of the title, but “Mysterious Island” as well. Furthermore, it comes up with an elaborate backstory about the history of Captain Nemo (and the credits tell us that Verne didn’t tell us this part), and in some ways, that sequence is the most exciting in the movie. The structure of the movie is somewhat bizarre; in some ways, it only glosses over the two Verne novels and spends more time and energy on the characters in the backstory, plus it only tells the backstory after the most of the rest of the movie has ended. Still, it’s the spectacle that rules this one, and the underwater scenes are fascinating to watch, even if things are a little hard to see in them. In particular, the scenes of the divers walking against the undertow are very memorable. However, I do feel the need to point out that as far as squids and octopi go, you’re better off with the squid fight in the Disney version than you are with the rather lame and obviously fake octopus that pops up in this one. Incidentally, one of the many uncredited cast members is none other than Noble Johnson.

Trapped by Television (1936)

TRAPPED BY TELEVISION (1936)
Article #1067 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2004
Posting Date: 7-14-2004
Directed by Del Lord
Featuring Mary Astor, Lyle Talbot, Nat Pendleton

A young man who has just invented television finds himself the target of crooks who don’t want him to sell his product.

The movie has an intriguing enough title, but underneath it all it’s a pretty ordinary melodrama with a better-than-average cast and only slight science elements (the television of the title). There are some nice things about the movie; there’s a villain who plays darts with a blowgun, Nat Pendleton walks around constantly saying “Science is my hobby” but has trouble pronouncing “cathode-ray tube”, and there’s an appealing cast. The down side is that there’s simply not much depth to it; it’s entertaining enough for the ride but pretty forgettable once it’s all over. Still, it’s worlds better than MURDER BY TELEVISION, and it would be best not to mistake the two.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1965)

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965)
Article #1066 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-14-2004
Posting Date: 7-13-2004
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook

A noblewoman falls in love with a strange man who lives in an abandoned abbey and obsesses about his former wife.

I’m currently in the midst of reading the complete works of Poe, but I haven’t gotten to “Ligeia” yet, so I can’t say how close the movie is to the story. I can say that it does contain some elements of the other Corman Poe movies; we have the heightened senses of HOUSE OF USHER (sight rather than hearing this time), a black cat running around, and the basic disturbed nobleman and his wife that pops up quite a bit in the other movies. This one was scripted by Robert Towne, and it’s perhaps the most subtle of the Poe scripts; in fact, some people consider this the best of the Poe adaptations, and I can see why. It’s a beautiful movie, especially in the shots of the abandoned abbey, and Price gives one of his most restrained and very best performances here, and Shepherd also does very well in a dual role. However, the movie has its detractors, and I can see why; Towne’s script may be subtle and literate, but sometimes it’s a little too talky and slow for its own good. Still, this is a classy Poe adaptation, and has some fine work from directer Roger Corman and cinematographer Arthur Grant.

Santa Claus (1959)

SANTA CLAUS (1959)
Article #1065 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2004
Posting Date: 7-12-2004
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Jose Elias Morena, Jose Luis Aguirre, Cesareo Quezadas ‘Pulgarcito’

Santa Claus prepares for his yearly delivery of presents, but must deal with the the dastardly machinations of a devil named Pitch sent to foil him.

In the United States, we have a certain vision of Santa Claus that is not necessarily shared by that of other countries. In this Mexican take on the legend, Santa does not live at the North Pole; he lives on a cloud. He does not have elves helping him out; instead, children from all nations help him with making gifts, though they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time singing (very badly) songs from their native countries. The reindeer aren’t real; they’re mechanical, and they turn to dust when the sunlight hits them. It actually takes a bit of work to adjust to these differences, but this being a Mexican movie, there are plenty of other weirdnesses to deal with. In fact, here is a list of striking moments and memories from watching this bizarre kiddie movie.

1) The opening musical number features Santa boogieing out on a cheap-sounding organ while children from all nations sing. It’s like a cross between “It’s a Small World After All” and the most amateur grade school Christmas pageant you’ve ever seen.

2) The most surreal dancing devil sequence this side of HELLZAPOPPIN’.

3) It’s creepy enough seeing the mechanical reindeer jerkily coming to life when Santa winds them up, but when one of them starts laughing, you just might want to grab your smelling salts.

4) Listening to Santa ponder the possibility of replacing his reindeer with sputniks.

5) Watching Santa work out in weight-reducing machine (you know, the kind with the vibrating strap) so that he can fit down chimneys.

6) Watching the little girl Lupita tormented by creepy dancing dolls trying to convince her that she must take up stealing.

7) An actually quite touching sequence where Santa allows a lonely young boy to see him as he really is.

8) Watching Santa at work on the strange machine on the observation deck; it has an ear attached to a fan, an eye at the end of a metal conduit, and a pair of creepy lips that talk.

9) The climax of the movie features Santa in a real predicament. He’s been treed by a dog.

10) That prancing, skinny devil is the stuff of nightmares.

Inspiriational line: “Hurry, Mr. Merlin. This is no time to play horsey. Santa’s in danger!”

My conclusion? I have none. Movies like this are so bizarre they almost defy analysis. There are creepy moments, touching moments, jaw-dropping hilarious moments, and dull stretches, all jumbled together in a way that is unique. And in its own way, it’s pretty irresistible. I can only thank Mexico for making movies like this and K. Gordon Murray for having undertaken to bring them to us. It hardly matters if the movies are good or bad; just the watching of them are experiences to be reckoned with.

Sabaka (1954)

SABAKA (1954)
(a.k.a. THE HINDU)
Article #1064 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-12-2004
Posting Date: 7-11-2004
Directed by Frank Ferrin
Featuring Nino Marcel, Boris Karloff, Lou Krugman

A young Hindu elephant trainer wants to take vengeance on a fire cult for the death of his sister.

There are several familiar faces to be found in this exotic adventure tale; Boris Karloff and Victor Jory are on hand, and it’s nice to actually see the face of June Foray, who is primarily known for her voice work throughout the years. Unfortunately, they’re all consigned to fairly minor roles. The star is Nino Marcel, and the only credit I see for the rest of his career is as a regular on the Andy Devine kiddie show, “Andy’s Gang” playing the same character. For that matter, Foray also appeared on “Andy’s Gang”, as did Lou Krugman, who played a Maharajah in both places. Isn’t it interesting the things a little research will dredge up?

Originally, I thought this was shot in India, because the exotic locations and animals steal the show; apparently, such is not the case. Unfortunately, the story is dullish and uninspired, and Marcel just doesn’t have the star appeal of Sabu. It’s only marginally horror, and that’s due only to the fire cult elements. Karloff plays a general and has maybe three minutes of screen time altogether. It’s a curiosity, to be sure, but little more than that.

The Thirteenth Guest (1932)

THE THIRTEENTH GUEST (1932)
(a.k.a. LADY BEWARE)
Article #1063 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-11-2004
Posting Date: 7-10-2004
Directed by Albert Ray
Featuring Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, J. Farrell MacDonald

A detective investigates a series of murders that have something to do with a fatal dinner party that occurred thirteen years ago.

I once heard that Alfred Hitchcock wondered how a movie audience would react if he killed off the leading lady in the first reel; PSYCHO was his take on that idea. It wasn’t the first time that idea was used, though; Ginger Rogers turns up dead five minutes into this movie. Of course, the similarity ends there; Rogers does pop up again before the movie is over, but to give away the circumstances would be to give away hefty chunks of the plot, so I’ll leave that a surprise. I like the script and the basic story of this one; it’s one of the more creative of the “old dark house” genre, with an unusual backstory, a creepy hooded villain, and a fairly insidious way of committing murder. However, the low Monogram budget, uninspired direction and turgid pacing all sap quite a bit of the life from the proceedings, which is too bad, as this could have been one of the best of the forgotten horrors. As it is, it’s also worth catching for the early performance by Lyle Talbot as well as for Ginger Rogers.

The Night Has Eyes (1942)

THE NIGHT HAS EYES (1942)
(a.k.a. TERROR HOUSE)
Article #1062 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-10-2004
Posting Date: 7-9-2004
Directed by Leslie Arliss
Featuring James Mason, Joyce Howard, Mary Clare

Two schoolteachers decide to spend the summer investigating a moor where a fellow teacher vanished the year before; when they get caught in a storm, they take shelter in an isolated house inhabited by a mysterious man with a dark secret.

For the most part this movie is only borderline horror; it’s more gothic romance a la “Jane Eyre”, and after a while that’s the sort of story you grow to expect. Granted, gothic romance shares quite a bit of the same mood as horror, and the foggy moors, mysterious house and dreadful secrets are all elements that make up either genre. However, the story becomes more overtly horror as it goes along; the mysterious secret turns out to be a fairly compelling, though I was able to figure out how it would all end once you take into account how true love always triumphs in this sort of movie. The movie is also helped by some good performances and some odd touches. And remember, it’s not a monkey, it’s a capuchin.