Au secours! (1924)

AU SECOURS! (1924)
Article #1345 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2004
Posting Date: 4-18-2005
Directed by Abel Gance
Featuring Max Linder, Jean Toulout, Gina Palerme

A man takes a bet that he can spend an hour in a haunted house.

Max Linder was a popular French comedian of the silent era. The concept of getting laughs by placing a comedian in a haunted house was probably old even when this movie was made, and if this movie consisted of nothing more than comic scare gags, there wouldn’t be much to recommend here. However, the movie was directed by Abel Gance, whose early movies emphasized bizarre visual tricks. As a result, this short is much weirder than anything you could imagine, with a startling array of bizarre creatures and weird imagery; it’s actually a little scary at times. As a result, this may be one of the best examples of the comic haunted house subgenre, and it’s definitely worth catching.


The Secret of the Telegian (1960)

Article #1344 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2004
Posting Date: 4-17-2005
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Featuring Koji Tsuruta, Akihiko Hirata, Yoshio Tsuchiya

A mysterious murder with a bayonet takes place inside a cave of horrors. Policemen come to believe that the perpetrator is a man believed dead for fourteen years with access to a teleportation machine.

I tend to group this movie along with THE H-MAN and THE HUMAN VAPOR; all three came from Toho, they all were made within a couple of years from each other, and all couch their science fiction men-with-special-powers themes into a crime story plotline. Also, all three of these movies had remained unviewed by me until I began this series, and it’s nice to finally get around to seeing them.

This one is quite good, though the dubbed dialogue is quite awful at times. The premise itself isn’t particularly fascinating, but I like certain touches; my favorite is the fact the overheating vacuum tubes cause the teleported man to occasionally flicker with static. All in all, I prefer THE H-MAN, which I thought was much scarier, but this one has a great ending, and some very strange moments throughout. This was Jun Fukuda’s second directorial effort; he would go on to direct several of the Godzilla movies.

An Angel for Satan (1966)

Article #1343 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2004
Posting Date: 4-16-2005
Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque
Featuring Barbara Steele, Claudio Gora, Ursula Davis

When a statue is dredged up from the bottom of the ocean, a woman who bears a resemblance to it starts to act strangely, and pretty soon, murders are being committed.

Most of this plot description comes from other summaries of the plot, which I checked as soon as I realized that my print was in Italian without subtitles. I found enough info to help me out, so sorting this one out was a much easier job than trying to work on LE MONDE TREMBLERA. First of all, this movie uses much more visual storytelling, and it’s also helpful if you’re familiar enough with Italian horror and know the favorite themes of that particular subgenre. It also helps that Barbara Steele was a very expressive actress; even if you don’t know what she’s saying, you can read quite a bit from her expression. I managed to glean enough of the story that a reviewing may actually help to elicit some of the details further. Still, I wish it was subtitled; this does appear to be one of the better Italian horrors of the period.

Change of Mind (1969)

Article #1342 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2004
Posting Date: 4-15-2005
Directed by Robert Stevens
Featuring Raymond St. Jacques, Susan Oliver, Janet MacLachlan

A white man has his brain transplanted into the body of a black man, and then must adjust to the changes this makes in his life.

This is one of those premises that could easily go in a very obvious direction, and I went into the movie hoping that it would do more than just go in that direction. Fortunately, the movie is somewhat more sophisticated than that. It doesn’t just exploit the issues of racism; it tries to look at it from a variety of different angles, and also explores other issues on the side, such as the way that simply being in another person’s body can be an interesting experience. The acting is very good throughout, and it was nice to see Leslie Nielsen in one of his earlier roles that didn’t use him merely as a familiar face. I’m less impressed with the direction, but at least it dispenses with the shaky hand-held camera scenes after the first fifteen minutes. The movie never really becomes compelling (it’s a bit too muted for that), but it does remain interesting.

The World Will Shake (1939)

Article #1341 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2004
Posting Date: 4-14-2005
Directed by Richard Pottier
Featuring Claude Dauphin, Madeleine Sologne, Roger Duchesne

A scientist creates a machine that can predict a man’s moment of death.

I find it quite plausible that the invention of a machine that could predict anyone’s exact moment of death of anyone would have repercussions that would lead to rioting, and I would really like to see a movie that would deal with this subject. However, I find myself once again in that familiar bind; the only print I’ve been able to find of this one is in unsubtitled French, and since the concept requires talk, that’s what fills most of this movie. In short, I found it very difficult to follow; I only got as much out of it as I could glean from short plot summaries in reference books. This being the case, my favorite moments are obviously visual ones, including some comic scenes of a man setting up a booby trap to have himself killed (there does seem to be quite a bit of comedy to this movie), a scene of the scientist finally testing the machine on himself, and any of the scenes with Erich von Stroheim, who not only serves as a familiar face, but he knows how to use a cane as a prop in an entertaining way. Still, this one must be filed away for future reference. There’s also the chance that I may be disappointed; it’s rating on IMDB at the time of this writing (4.1) seems to reflect that the movie isn’t exactly considered a classic. Still, I’d rather decide that for myself.

Goliath Against the Giants (1961)

Article #1340 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2004
Posting Date: 4-13-2005
Directed by Guido Malatesta
Featuring Brad Harris, Gloria Milland, Fernando Rey

Goliath must return to his native country to dethrone a tyrannical usurper.

If there’s any type of movie that needs to be in color, it’s a sword-and-sandal movie. As far as I know, all of them are, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some black and white prints floating around, and apparently I’ve managed to snag one of those for this movie, and I do have to admit that it tempers my enjoyment of this one somewhat. The usurping king plot is probably the most common of the sword-and-sandal storylines, and this one really doesn’t add much new to the formula. Still, you can sit back and enjoy Brad Harris taking on crowds of soldiers as well as various beasties, including a sea serpent, a lion, a strange ape-like creature, a dragon, and several big chunky guys with bad skin conditions (I think these are the “giants” of the title). He rescues his friend and his girl from torturous executions (the one with the wheel of knives looks pretty nasty). He also picks up big heavy things and throws them. However, he doesn’t bend the bars back; instead, in a real show of he-manship, he pulls the whole network of bars out of the cave wall. There’s the occasional rather odd lyrical moment here and there, and the sea monster sequence uses some truly eerie special effects. All in all, pretty standard sword-and-sandal fare.

Oh, and I also figured something out. If you were a stunt man who had wanted to work in a sword and sandal movie, what talent would you most need to develop? My answer would be to find creative ways of falling off of a wall / cliff / any high place, especially after being shot with an arrow. This movie is chock full of scenes of men tumbling off of high places.

Uncle Was a Vampire (1959)

Article #1339 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2004
Posting Date: 4-12-2005
Directed by Steno
Featuring Renato Rascel, Sylva Koscina, Christopher Lee

After his castle has been burnt to the ground, Baron Roderigo the vampire has his body shipped to his only remaining relative; a nephew in Italy. Unfortunately, the nephew has been forced to sell his castle to pay off his debts, and now works as a bellboy at the hotel to which it was converted.

At this point, I don’t think I’ve had the experience of covering an Italian horror comedy, so this movie presents something in the way of novelty value. It’s all pretty silly, and it plays fast and loose with vampire lore, even changing it from one moment to the next depending on which character is the vampire. Christopher Lee is the uncle, but apparently his voice was dubbed by another actor for the U.S. version of the movie. They did manage to find someone who sounded a little like him, though I don’t know why the vampires speak through an echo box half of the time. Renato Rascel is the main comic character, and becomes a vampire himself during the proceedings, and manages to have one of the busiest nights of any vampire I’ve seen. The movie is sporadically funny; the funniest scene involves Rascel desperately trying to talk a rooster into crowing.

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Article #1338 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2004
Posting Date: 4-11-2005
Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Featuring Edward D. Wood, Jr, Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot

A policeman consults a psychiatrist in order to understand the causes behind the suicide of a transvestite.

Fantastic content: This expose on transvestism and sex changes features Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist/ commentator, and the devil features prominently during a bizarre dream sequence.

“There’s no mistaking the thoughts in a man’s mind!” Bela Lugosi intones at one point in the proceedings of this, Ed Wood’s first movie. Though I think the statement in itself is open to question, somehow it seems appropriate when dealing with the work of Ed Wood. As a writer, he rarely edited his words; they flowed out of his mind onto the paper and stayed that way. His direction and editing only enhanced the sense of a wandering mind jumping around a subject in no logical fashion. His plea for the understanding and tolerance of transvestites and transsexuals is impassioned and sincere, but his attempts at logic and reason are ridiculous; in particular, the attempts to find a connection between tight hats and baldness is more likely to elicit horselaughs than serious thought. Still, there is no doubt that this is Ed Wood’s most personal movie. It’s also his most surreal, especially during the dream sequence where Wood faces the demons that plague him.

On the other hand, a question does come up for me; just how much of the movie I’m watching was actually the work of Wood himself? I recently purchased the DVD of this movie after having had a VHS copy of it for years. I found that some scenes were omitted, new ones added, and I don’t think it was Ed Wood himself that did this. It is known that George Weiss wasn’t all that happy with Wood’s work, and that the movie was rereleased over several years with different titles. I’m willing to bet that a lot re-editing went on as well. Here are a couple of differences I noted.

1) The DVD had a scene where Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood react to a series of lurid bondage and S&M footage (fairly tame). The music is totally different from the rest of the movie during this sequence. I do not believe that this scene was part of the original movie.

2) There is a scene where two working men discuss the sex change headline (I assume they work at a steel mill and that the shots of white-hot metal bars going in and out of narrow openings isn’t intended solely as sexual suggestion). On the DVD, the scene ends with one saying goodbye to the other. On the VHS, there is an extra moment; the other man returns the goodbye, only in a woman’s voice. In short, the DVD version removes the punch line to the scene.

There are other differences, but I think this illustrates them. I wonder if there are several different edits of this movie out there under various titles. I wonder if someday some researcher might take the time to go through the various copies of this movie and map out the various differences. I suspect that my VHS version is much closer to Wood’s original vision.

Trilogy (1969)

TRILOGY (1969)
Article #1337 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2004
Posting Date: 4-10-2005
Directed by Frank Perry
Featuring Mildred Natwick, Geraldine Page, Martin Balsam

A trio of stories by Truman Capote are presented.

Fantatstic content: Truman Capote isn’t a genre author, but the opening story here (“Miriam”) does have a fantastic premise; a retired nanny finds herself dealing with a mysterious and somewhat rude child who turns out to be not strictly human.

Dealing with loss is the theme that strikes me most from having watched these three adaptations of Truman Capote stories. In the first, a retired nanny has trouble coping with the fact that her lifelong devotion to her charges has actually alienated them rather than endeared them, and she builds up fantasy scenarios to cope (“they just couldn’t have the wedding without their old nanny” is a paraphrase of her every statement). The second, “Among the Paths to Eden”, deals with two lonely middle-aged people who meet in a cemetery. This one is perhaps the weakest of the lot due to the fact that it goes on somewhat longer than is necessary; you should be able to figure out what’s actually going on fairly early in the proceedings. Nonetheless, it still works, mostly due to the sheer likability of the performances of both Martin Balsam and Maureen Stapleton; you end up caring about both of them. The last one is the most memorable; it deals with a man’s childhood memories of the last Christmas he spent with a dotty old aunt (Geraldine Page is great in the role) who proves to be the sole relief from the smothering joylessness of the rest of the family. Most of the story centers around the aunt’s yearly ritual of making fruitcakes, which she distributes not to her immediate friends and family, but to any stranger who strikes her fancy (she sends one to President Roosevelt every year). My favorite scene in the movie involves her attempts to procure some whiskey for the recipe, which, being illegal, is only available for purchase from an intimidating Indian known as Mr. Haha. The direction is fairly humdrum, but the acting is right on the mark, and the movie is quite enjoyable.

Boys of the City (1940)

Article #1336 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-10-2004
Posting Date: 4-9-2005
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Featuring Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Hal E. Chester

The East Side Kids agree to stay in the country in order to avoid being sent to reform school, but end up getting mixed up in a murder in an old haunted house.

This is probably the earliest movie from the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Little Tough Guys/Bowery Boys aggregate series that featured elements of the fantastic; it was released in July of 1940, one month before JUNIOR G-MEN was released. This one was from the East Side Kids, which featured Jordan and Gorcey from the original Dead End Kids, the rest having been placed in the Little Tough Guys series.

This one is still early enough that they could still be called “boys”. They hadn’t entirely made the transition to comedy yet; I only heard one malaprop during the whole movie (“confusion” for “conclusion”), and it didn’t even come from Leo Gorcey. Most of the obvious comedy comes from “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, who spends most of the movie as a quivering mass of fear, thereby exploiting a rather annoying racial stereotype. It’s pretty standard “old dark house” trappings, with secret passages, people disguising as ghosts, etc. Minerva Urecal steals the movie as a creepy caretaker; she even seems to be channeling Eva Moore from THE OLD DARK HOUSE at times; check out her speech to Inna Gest and see if it doesn’t remind you of a scene from that movie. The East Side Kids would be back in a haunted house in a couple of years with SPOOKS RUN WILD.