Inner Sanctum (1948)

Article #1149 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2004
Posting Date: 10-4-2004
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Charles Russell, Mary Beth Hughes, Dale Belding

A man kills his fiance and disposes of her body by leaving it on the rear end of a train, an action that is seen by a young boy. He then finds himself trapped in the small town where he committed the murder due to flooding, and finds himself staying at the boy’s home.

Despite the title, this movie is not part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series even if Fritz Lieber’s head resembles that floating head in the crystal ball that usually opened those films. This oddball, almost comic film noir stands on its own. Actually, I’ve never seen a noir quite like this; you know that the murderer is fated to be caught, but fate seems to have decreed here that he must deal with a bewildering array of somewhat comic characters in the process. There’s the boy who is afraid to say what he knows, not so much because he’s afraid of being murdered by the killer, but because he’s afraid of being walloped by his mom. There’s the doting mother herself, a cheerful and talky newspaper editor, and two eccentric old men, one of whom goes down to the flood waters and lays claim to a hoard of beer that he found in the water. The movie has some great lines and tense moments as well, but it’s the comic undertone that really makes this one rather unique. The fantastic aspect of the movie is found in the framing device in the character of the aforementioned Lieber, an oddly prescient character who is telling this story to a woman on a train.

Dr. Orloff’s Monster (1964)

Article #1148 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2004
Posting Date: 10-3-2004
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Hugo Blanco, Agnes Speak, Perla Cristal

Dr. Conrad Jekyll uses a robot monster to murder women to whom he has given necklaces.

I really dread covering Jesus Franco films, not necessarily because I find them unwatchable but rather because of his reputation; his merits as a director are so hotly contested that you can find opinions as diverse as those that consider him an unqualified genius and those who consider him the worst director of all time. You would think that any director capable of inspiring these strongly divided reactions would at least inspire some strong reaction in me, but such is not the case. I find his movies neither particularly unwatchable nor particularly compelling.

In the case of this movie, I find the story coherent but ordinary. The characters in the story are developed serviceably enough to get by, but I don’t find them all that interesting. He has a nice visual sense at times, but it never really seems to inspire me to anything more than a comment like “That’s a nice shot of a castle.” His most striking quality is his tendency toward sleaze, but here that seems muted; the movie features nudity that feels both gratuitous but passionless. My overall reaction after watching the movie was somewhat akin to my reaction to driving to work in the morning; it’s not something I react to but something that I do because I have to.

In short, I have no idea as of yet as to why Franco elicits the reactions that he does. Maybe I’ll know with the next movie of his I see. Maybe not.

Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour (1931)

Article #1147 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2004
Posting Date: 10-2-2004
Directed by Leslie S. Hiscott
Featuring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Philip Hewland

Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder that takes place in the strongroom of a bank in which no money has been stolen.

As this movie was based on the tales “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House”, I found myself scanning the cast list to see who was playing Moriarity, and was somewhat surprised not to see the name appear. The reason is actually quite clear; the identity of Moriarity is a mystery for most of the movie. However, you should have no trouble figuring out his identity as it seems fairly obvious. This would be the first of five movies to feature Arthur Wontner as Holmes; Ian Fleming appears as Watson and would do so in most of the others as well. It’s fairly creaky, and the sound is bad on my print, but it’s also got a fairly entertaining story (which involves cheating at bridge, gold fillings, counterfeit money, criminal bootmakers and a talking painting) which should hold your interest. The fantastic elements are fairly slight; basically, there seems to be a bit of science fiction in the presence of one of those new-fangled weapons that may not exist in real life.

As a side note, here’s a little trivia quiz. I saw a gadget being used in this movie that surprised me, not because I’ve not seen it before, but rather because it has popped up in three times in the last month. I don’t know if the gadget is just a prop or an item that’s used in real life, but since it looks the same and has the same function in all three movies, I’m willing to bet it’s real and used commonly in the making of movies. Given the following clues, can anyone tell me what it does?

– It appears not only in this movie, but in THE CRIMSON CULT and THE MIRACLE RIDER.

– It’s a hand-held item with rotating fan-like blades.

Answer: It’s a machine that makes cobwebs.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Article #1146 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2004
Posting Date: 10-1-2004
Directed by Victor Fleming
Featuring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner

A doctor experiments with a drug that ends up bringing out his evil side.

There is a controversy among horror fans as to which version of the Robert Louis Stevenson story is better; this one featuring Spencer Tracy or the 1932 version with Fredric March. First of all, I find it interesting that these two in particular are singled out for the competition, whereas the John Barrymore version from 1920 doesn’t enter into the fray. Having now seen the Tracy version for the first time in years, I’ve developed a bit of a theory about that, and that is that these two movies are so similar (I think there are several chunks of dialogue that are identical) that in watching them both, you get the sense that one of them is unnecessary. The question is – which one?

Rouben Mamoulian was a very flamboyant director, whereas Victor Fleming was more the seasoned professional; the 1932 version is certainly more audacious, but there are times where the direction in that version distractingly calls attention to itself, a problem that never occurs in the 1941 version. I also like certain touches and details in this one, including that of allowing Hyde to look much more human than in the 1932 version; after all, Hyde’s monstrousness is psychological rather than physical. I also think the acting is slightly better throughout the 1941 version, and the movie has a subtler touch throughout.

However, one big problem with the 1941 version is that it was made after the Hays office went into effect. As a result, much of the ferociousness of the 1932 version is not to be found here; everything looks neater, cleaner and classier, and the whole movie feels a lot more polite. Also, this version is a good 20 minutes longer than the 1932 version, and this is most noticeable during the scenes with Ingrid Bergman, which go on much longer than the equivalent scenes in the 1932 version, no doubt increasing the size of her role. Furthermore, though I think she’s a better actress than Miriam Hopkins, she also feels a little too classy for the role, and when she’s trying to be seductive and sexy, I find her less believable. As to which does a better job with the title characters (Tracy or March), I’m willing to call that a draw, as I really don’t have a preference.

So how does it balance out? Well, in my case I’d have to go with the March version. Not only do I feel it’s a more efficient telling of the story, but the first time I saw it, it blew me away, and that’s something the Tracy version never managed to do. Not that this will settle the controversy, by any means; I feel both movies will be watched and discussed for years to come.

The Devil’s Messenger (1961)

Article #1145 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-3-2004
Posting Date: 9-30-2004
Directed by Herbert L. Strock and others
Featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Karen Kadler, Michael Hinn

The devil picks a recent suicide to deliver items to various people to lure them to hell.

How about that; I’m watching a movie that consists of several episodes of a failed TV series that is hosted by a horror icon. When was the last time I covered one of those?

This time, the series was a Swedish horror anthology from Curt Siodmak called “13 Demon Street”. The individual episodes here aren’t bad, but they don’t exactly sparkle, either. The first one is probably the best; it involves a photographer who finds himself haunted by one of his photographs after he commits a rape/murder. The second starts well (a woman is found frozen alive in a block of ice for 5000 years), but ends lamely, and the third (about a man discovering his destiny in a dilapidated old building) is just average. The linking story is fun, though; Lon Chaney Jr. really seems to be enjoying his role as the devil If it does seem to be taking a long time to wind up after the third story, you might want to stick with it; it has one of those meaningful endings that is quite likely to elicit horselaughs because it comes totally out of left field. And wait until you find out who will receive the last delivery.

The Miracle Rider (1935)

Article #1144 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2004
Posting Date: 9-29-2004
Directed by B. Reeves Eason and Armand Schaefer
Featuring Tom Mix, Joan Gale, Charles Middleton

A Texas Ranger tries to protect the indians of a reservation from the machinations of an industrialist trying to scare them off of their lands.

As of yet, I haven’t covered any of the many western serials that were made, but the reason for this is that the western serials were the ones least likely to have any fantastic elements. There are exceptions, of course; one of the more famous serials is THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, which is chock full of both western and science fiction elements. This lesser-known serial also has definite science fiction elements; the possession of a powerful element known as X-94 is the drivng force behind the plot, and the first few episodes feature a remote-control flying mini-plane used to scare the indians. This would be the last film of silent western star Tom Mix, who was well into his fifties when this was made, but he still seemed pretty energetic. He wore a big hat, and furthermore, he knew how to use it; there are a few times here where it serves as a decoy to draw fire. The serial itself is not bad, but then I also just enjoyed the novelty of watching something a little different from the usual serials I’ve watched. Some of the cliffhangers go beyond cheating to outright lying; a cliffhanger that shows him about to be trampled by horses is so completely redone in the following episode that the peril vanishes altogether.

Destination Nightmare (1958)

Article #1143 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2004
Posting Date: 9-28-2004
Directed by Paul Landres and others
Featuring Boris Karloff, Denise Alexander, Tod Andrews

Boris Karloff hosts four tales that pierce the veil.

If the above plot description doesn’t clue you off, then I’ll tell you this is another compilation of episodes from the unsold TV series “The Veil” stitched together to make a feature. The series was fairly uninspired and the episodes were indifferently written. Despite the presence of Karloff as both host and various characters, they weren’t really trying for scares; since they were based on purportedly true stories, the emphasis was more on making us wonder about the mysteries of the beyond. Unfortunately, the end result was all too often to have a lot of the running time being spent watching people be puzzled about the events without making any attempt to really understand them; it does make for a rather shallow experience.

This anthology does have a theme binding all four stories together; in this case, the theme is that of the dead influencing the lives of the living. Roughly, this divides into two different types of tales; the second and fourth are both ghost stories, of which the second (involving an apparition seen in the cockpit of an airplane) is the more interesting, as the fourth is predictably hackneyed. The first and the third deal with people who have been taken over by the personalities of dead people, the first via possession (an unsatisfying story that has some potential but really goes nowhere) and third involving reincarnation and the memory of a previous life. Both of these stories suffer quite a bit from the aformentioned “puzzled” sequences, though the third one does manage to have a real story to tell. Still, the main attraction here is the parade of familiar faces. Outside of Karloff, you might recognize Tod Andrews, Whit Bissell, Roy Engel, a young George Hamilton (in one of his earliest roles), and Myron Healy.