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.

The Genie of Darkness (1962)

Article #1335 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-9-2004
Posting Date: 4-8-2005
Directed by Federico Curiel, Alberto Mariscal, et al.
Featuring German Robles, Domingo Soler, Julio Alemain

The professor once again pits his wits against the cunning will of the vampire Nostradamus.

Hey, I’ve figured out the gimmick behind naming this vampire after the famed prophet; he keeps predicting the deaths of his victims! All right, I’ll admit that I feel pretty slow in taking so long to come to that revelation, but at least I’m not scratching my head about it anymore.

This is the third of the four Nostradamus the Vampire movies. Each movie was edited out of several episodes of a serial, and as usual, it is best to keep that in mind when watching these movies, because if you take the movie as a single entity, it doesn’t work; it seems bizarrely plotted, incomplete and confusing. It’s only if you take it as part of series that it starts making sense, with some plot threads that run through several episodes. At the same time, each episode makes a certain amount of sense on its own terms, with a story arc that gives it its own sense of unity.

As usual, it’s a bit of a struggle, but I think it’s worth the effort; as a whole, the Nostradamus series has some fun ideas. The dubbing is quite awful, with highly inappropriate voices; Leo the hunchback sounds entirely too much like Goofy, and his mother the witch (whose death scene is the highlight of this movie) has a thick New York accent. Of course, the chances of anyone bothering to put out a decent subtitled copy of the whole serial are highly slim, so you may have to make the best of it.

Francis Goes to the Races (1951)

Article #1334 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2004
Posting Date: 4-7-2005
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Donald O’Connor, Piper Laurie, Cecil Kellaway

Peter Stirling and Francis the talking mule become involved with horse races and gamblers.

I quite liked the first movie in the series (FRANCIS), but I was only a few minutes into this one before I felt that the bloom was off the rose. What happened? I can think of two main problems. The wartime setting of the first movie set the stakes rather high; the information given to the main character by the talking mule was vital to national security, and so it required that he act on it. Unfortunately, being a member of the military, he was often forced to reveal his sources, and this would get him into the trouble. We ended up feeling for the guy and relating to his frustration. Here, the stakes are significantly lower, and the main character gets into his scrapes not so much through circumstance but more due to his own stupidity, and this isn’t really as satisfying. Furthermore, the movie doesn’t really extend or explore further the comic premise of a talking mule, so most of the scenes are repeats of situations from the earlier movie (Stirling tries to convince someone that Francis can talk, but the mule won’t talk in front of them; two people are with the mule, and when he talks, one person thinks the other person made the comment, etc.). Granted, there’s only so much you can do with the premise of a talking mule, and unless subsequent movies find more to do with the idea, there should be no need for anyone to see more than one movie in the series. Even Cecil Kellaway and Jesse White aren’t given much to do here.

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945)

Article #1333 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2004
Posting Date: 4-6-2005
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Dennis Moore, Linda Stirling, Roy Barcroft

A man from Mars crashes on Earth with the intention of stealing our scientific secrets in order to launch an invasion of our planet.

I’ll admit I’m a happy camper with this one, but that may well be due to the fact that for once I’m watching a serial where the science fiction elements are prominent rather than hovering around the edges. The Purple Monster has a neat trick; he has a gas that can kill humans and allow him to take over their bodies. This concept is introduced in the first episode, but if you miss it, don’t worry; they repeat the footage of having him possess the body of Dr. Craven or of having him leave Dr. Craven’s body in every episode. I’m pretty sure it’s the same footage as well; why does he always stand by the same door when he’s taking his gas? At any rate, it allows the Purple Monster to be both a spy (in the doctor’s form) and to take part in the fist fights that occur regularly (in his purple monster form). Roy Barcroft does a fine job in the title role; he even seems comfortable in that silly costume. Naturally, with such an interesting villain, Serial Rule #1 ( Interesting Hero = Dull Villain; Interesting Villain = Dull Hero) applies, and Dennis Moore does little more than fight and dress snazzily. Linda Stirling plays the female interest, but I thought she was more interesting in PERILS OF THE DARKEST JUNGLE, though I’ll have to admit that the costume may be responsible for that. Despite a certain amount of repetitiveness, this is a good one, with lots of science fiction gadgetry, some excellent cliffhangers, particularly one where the hero is trapped in an alcove with a pay phone between a wall of spikes and a moving wall forcing him into them; his solution to his dilemma is truly memorable.

Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball (1946)

Article #1332 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2004
Posting Date: 4-5-2005
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Featuring Morgan Conway, Anne Jeffreys, Lyle Latell

Dick Tracy tries to solve a series of murders that revolve around the theft of some rare diamonds. The killer is a bald ex-convict known as Cueball.

Fantastic aspects: Other than that Cueball strangles people with his hatband (which gives the movie only a slight tinge of horror), there are none. This movie was included in a reference book that had the habit of including all movies from a series in which only a few movies of the series actually had more pronounced fantastic elements.

Before “The Golden Turkey Awards”, the Medveds had put out an earlier book about bad cinema called “The 50 Worst Films of All Time” (this title may be approximate). DICK TRACY VS. CUEBALL was one of the movies singled out for this unfortunate award, and though the movie is no classic, it certainly doesn’t rate that low. The main thrust of their argument for its inclusion was the extreme sadism of Cueball. There is a certain amount of truth to this point; the murder scenes are a bit too nasty for what is essentially supposed to be light-hearted fare. Still, I don’t think it sinks the movie completely; in fact, I found the movie quite entertaining.

I’ve seen two of the Dick Tracy movies so far and three of the serials, and quite frankly, I like the movies better. I think it’s because the movies actually tried to get a bit of the flavor of the comic strip into them; the serials just plugged a comic strip character into standard serial plots. The comic strip sense is strong here; there is a jeweler named Jules Sparkle, there is a tavern called The Dripping Dagger (complete with a great little animated neon sign to go with it), and it is run by a character named Filthy Flora who allows criminals to hide out there. Dick Wessel’s Cueball is not the smartest crook on the block (actually, he’s pretty dumb), but his brutality makes him a bit of a threat. Ian Keith has a field day as the pill-popping and florid Vitamin Flintheart, and any movie that gives us the cadaverous Milton Parsons (even as an antique dealer, he can’t escape association with undertaking; he ends up serving a man intent on furnishing his crypt) and the photogenically ugly Skelton Knaggs (talk about an actor who would have been great as an ugly villain in a Dick Tracy movie) can’t be all bad.