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)

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)

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)

(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)

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.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)

Article #1061 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2004
Posting Date: 7-8-2004
Directed by Ernest Morris
Featuring Laurence Payne, Adrienne Corri, Dermot Walsh

A disturbed man becomes obsessed with a woman who lives in the next house, but she has eyes for his best friend.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a great little story by Poe. I’ve always felt the best element of the story was not the horrific heart-beating-under-the-floorboards concept, but the fact that the murderer is so confident and cocky that he isn’t even aware at how his own madness brings him down. I’d love to see a version of this story that retains that character, and I’m sure there are a few out there somewhere. This version has some very atmospheric moments and a couple of good shock scenes in the second half, but I have real problems with it as a whole. In order to expand the movie to full-length, the story ends up relying on the most unoriginal of storylines, that of the romantic triangle. Once the woman meets her boyfriend’s good-looking best friend, I knew exactly where the story would be going for the next thirty minutes. The movie also loses points for its lack of subtlety; for one thing, after the movie establishes that the woman has a thing for the handsome friend, it belabors the point for ten minutes; just how many times do we need to see the woman staring intently at the friend before we get the picture? Payne’s performance as the disturbed young man would have been better had it been given a greater variety of reactions; as it is, I really get tired of the incessant closeups of his sweaty insane face and his throwing inanimate objects around. And as for the “twist ending”, it’s the type of thing for which I invented the DS Rubber Brick Award (for those movies in which you feel the need to throw something at the TV set).