Highly Dangerous (1950)

Article #1640 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-10-2005
Posting Date: 2-7-2006
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Margaret Lockwood, Dane Clark, Marius Goring

A female entomologist agrees to visit a foreign country to do some spying; specifically, to investigate reports of a plot to use germ warfare and to bring back insects slated to be used as carriers.

Genre-wise, the germ warfare element nudges the movie towards science fiction, but it’s only a nudge. There may be another fantastic element as well, but I can’t quite nail it down. And therein lies the problem I had with this movie. Though it has an interesting and somewhat offbeat plot and has a good pace, I didn’t enjoy the movie as well as I could have. The reason is that the movie has a flaw that I can only describe as “free-floating vagueness”. It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, but throughout the movie, I kept having the sense that certain elements weren’t clearly explained and certain scenes don’t quite make sense. The other fantastic element I mentioned above is a prime example; in an early scene in the movie, the woman listens to an action / adventure show on the radio, and it momentarily makes her increase the acceleration of her car. Then, later, when she is given a drug to make her tell truth, she starts to act as if she’s either a character in that radio show, or somehow involved with those characters. If I’m not explaining this well, it’s because I myself am very vague on just what is going on here. Is it a form of self-hypnosis? Split personality? Something else altogether? I don’t know whether I missed a subtle explanation somewhere in the script, or whether the script itself (or the acting, direction or editing for that matter) is at fault. It might even be that my copy of the movie (which is short by a few minutes of the running time and shows signs of having a few scenes lopped off) may simply be at fault. Whatever the cause, this vague sense of not quite knowing what’s going on permeated my whole experience of viewing the movie, and though it didn’t exactly ruin the movie, it did mute my enjoyment of it quite a bit. In some ways, it was like having an itch I needed to scratch but couldn’t reach. All in all, a strange viewing experience for me.


Menace (1934)

MENACE (1934)
Article #1639 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-9-2005
Posting Date: 2-6-2006
Directed by Ralph Murphy
Featuring Gertrude Michael, Paul Cavanagh, Henrietta Crosman

A game of bridge inadvertently sets up a chain of events that brings about the death of the supervisor of a dam. Unfortunately, the supervisor has an insane brother who holds the other three bridge players responsible for the death and vows revenge.

In terms of his connections to the genres I’m covering for this series, I mostly associate Ray Milland with several films he made for AIP in the sixties and seventies. What surprises me is how often he seems to pop up in genre movies from the thirties and forties as well. Granted, with a small handful of exceptions (THE UNINVITED, for example), most of these are marginal to the genre, but there are quite a few of them. And even though he isn’t one of the leading performers, here he is again as the man whose death sets the movie in motion.

Though it doesn’t really sound like it from the description, this is one of those “old dark house” films, where several people trapped in an old house are stalked by a killer. It’s also a very good one. It takes itself very seriously indeed; the murderer has a strong savage streak to him, the knife murders are more explicit here than usual for this type of movie, and though it possesses humor, the movie remains more grim than jokey. It also has one of the most suspicious butlers in history, with Halliwell Hobbes giving a great performance in the role. Granted, it is the type of role that screams out “Red Herring”, but I’m not going to let on whether he is or not, because his character is so well used, there will be moments you will wonder about that yourself. Incidentally, the movie also features John Lodge, who, like Ray Milland, would assay the role of Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond one time during the series featuring that character from the thirties.

The Mark of the Whistler (1944)

Article #1638 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-8-2005
Posting Date: 2-5-2006
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Richard Dix, Janis Carter, Porter Hall

When a bum discovers that he almost shares the same name with someone with a dormant bank account, he is tempted into engaging in fraud to get the money for himself. Unfortunately, complications arise when he discovers that the man he is impersonating has some enemies…

The genre resource which supplied this title for my hunt list admits that it will include all movies of a series if only some of the movies in the series have fantastic elements. This apparently doesn’t apply all across the board; they don’t list every Bowery Boys movie, despite the fact that several of them qualify. But it does include the entire Whistler series, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if a certain movie is included because of elements of its own or due to its connection to the series. This is one of those ambiguous ones.

Granted, the whole Whistler series could be considered fantastic, since they’re all narrated by the unseen, shadowy Whistler, who might be considered a mystical character of sorts. Still, since he serves only as a narrator, this is a fairly weak element. The only other element of this movie that could cause it to even remotely qualify is that the revenge-driven villain of the piece may be mad, but I don’t think he goes over the edge to insane-psycho-killer mad, so that’s another weak element. At any rate, this movie remains extremely marginal to the genre.

Nonetheless, it’s a great little movie about guilt and fate, and it has a good sense of tension and some wonderful plot twists, as well as strong direction from a pre-horror William Castle. Richard Dix is excellent as the bum whose plot to get a fortune backfires on him, and you may want to keep your eyes open for an uncredited cameo by Willie Best. I certainly don’t mind covering marginalia when it’s as good as this one.

Golden Earrings (1947)

Article #1637 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-7-2005
Posting Date: 2-4-2006
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Featuring Ray Milland, Marlene Dietrich, Murvyn Vye

A British spy in Nazi Germany before the outbreak of World War II disguises himself as a gypsy in order to get hold of the formula of a poison gas. He meets and falls in love with a gypsy woman named Lydia.

Once again we find ourselves in the realms of marginalia, those movies which on the surface contain no fantastic elements, but which do yield up a little on closer inspection. The poison gas edges the movie ever so slightly into the realm of science fiction. However, of far greater value is the role that gypsy mysticism plays into the story; Lydia believes in various water spirits, and engages in palmistry. The most telling scene in this regard is the one in which the spy, after having spent some time as a gypsy, discovers that he too has picked up the ability to read a man’s fortune in his palm, and this mystic quality is what gives the movie its touches of fantasy.

At heart, though, it’s a love story / spy melodrama, and a fairly entertaining one. The spy story is actually pretty run-of-the-mill, but the middle sequence of the movie in which the spy meets the gypsy woman, disguises himself as a gypsy, and then must adjust not only to their ways but to Lydia’s earthy character is the real high point of the movie. Marlene Dietrich is simply marvelous in her characterization, and her passionate lack of reserve as played against Ray Milland’s sense of propriety provides the movie with some truly hilarious moments. One is almost disappointed when the movie is finally required to return to its spy plot during the final third of the movie.

tom thumb (1958)

tom thumb (1958)
Article #1636 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-6-2005
Posting Date: 2-3-2006
Directed by George Pal
Featuring Russ Tamblyn, Alan Young, June Thorburn

An elderly couple make a wish for a son, even if he’s no bigger than their thumb. The Forest Queen grants their wish.

I really enjoyed this version of the fairy tale when I first saw it. When I viewed it again years later, I was less impressed with it. I fully expected to repeat that reaction with this, my third viewing, since I watched while suffering from stomach flu and was in a rather foul mood. Instead, the movie had the opposite effect on me; the simple charms of the movie cheered me up immensely, and I ended up fully enjoying the experience. Like many of the better Disney features, the plot is pretty late in coming, but it makes up for its slowness in its substantial charm; Russ Tamblyn gives an energetic and spirited performance as tom (especially in the dances), and it was great seeing George Pal resurrect some of his puppetoon animation for the movie. It’s not as grim as the original story, but rarely are the works of the Grimm Brothers presented that way. The songs are a little on the weak side, the movie runs a hair too long, and Peter Sellers has a role that’s almost too easy for him (though he does very well indeed). All in all, I have to say that this is one of my favorite of George Pal’s movies.

Roogie’s Bump (1954)

Article #1635 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-5-2005
Posting Date: 2-2-2006
Directed by Harold Young
Featuring Robert Marriott, Ruth Warrick, Olive Blakeney

A young boy is rejected by his bullying peers who won’t play baseball with him. He then meets the ghost of a pitcher, who causes a bump to grow on his arm that gives him super-pitching power. This catches the attention of the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and…

It would be so easy to chalk this one up as a ridiculous children’s movie and have done with it; the premise is certainly silly, some of the scenes of him using his pitching power are laughable, the dialogue is full of unintentional double entendres, and much of the story is pretty clichéd. In fact, having seen this one before, I was fully prepared to merely poke fun at it at this time. Instead, I found myself somewhat appreciating some of the things the movie does right. Sure, it’s silly, but it’s also unassuming and sincere. It also has a point, and the point is also something that may be too sophisticated for the children’s audience; if the movie is about anything, it’s about the way that publicity and exploitation has taken over the sport. No, the movie never becomes a satire, though the elements are there; it does remain a movie for the kids. But it does have its serious side, and in its way, the movie is quite true to itself. It’s also a movie that could be enjoyable to fans of the Dodgers, as it features several players from the team appearing as themselves. Best of all, the story does not include a storyline in which Roogie is kidnapped before the big game. Director Harold Young directed some minor Universal horrors from the forties, and William Harrigan (who plays the ghost of Red O’Malley) is probably best remembered for playing Kemp in THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Neutron vs. the Amazing Dr. Caronte (1963)

Article #1634 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2005
Posting Date: 2-1-2006
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Wolf Ruvinskis, Julio Aleman, Rosa Arenas

Neutron must do battle with the resurrected Dr. Caronte, who is still trying to get his hands on the Neutron bomb.

Yes, it’s more fun with Neutron, and this one is a direct sequel to NEUTRON VS. THE DEATH ROBOTS. Dr. Caronte is back, with his dwarf sidekick and his hairy faceless robots to help him. It’s more of the same, with musical numbers instead of wrestling matches for filler (actually, this movie is fairly light on them), a foreign agent who is also after the neutron bomb, the use of magic spells from the great Merlin, and a scene where Nora finally has to choose between her three suitors. The latter scene is a hoot; all three men give lame proposals, and, of course, she picks the man who gives the lamest of the lot. Neutron is called “The Masked Avenger” at the end of the movie, an appropriate if rather hackneyed title, but I’m still trying to figure out why he’s referred to as “The Atomic Superman” during the opening titles – he’s not atomic (though I will admit that neutrons are parts of atoms) and he’s not super (though I will agree that he’s a man).

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Article #1633 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2005
Posting Date: 1-31-2006
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Featuring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders

A widow decides to move into a cottage by the sea despite the fact that it is believed to be haunted by the sea captain who once lived there.

When I first saw this movie years ago, I went into it with fairly low expectations; first of all , it was one of my least favorite cinematic forms (the love story), and secondly, the main experience I had had with the title up to this point was with the late sixties TV series, a show which I haven’t seen in years but which struck me as exceedingly bland at the time. The movie is something else again, and much of the thanks goes to the fine performances from all concerned (especially Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison), the fine and assured direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the superb score by Bernard Herrmann (I am all too lax in crediting the work of composers during this series of write-ups, but I couldn’t help but notice how well the music underlines the emotional tenor of the scenes in this one), and the story itself. One of the reasons I don’t usually like love stories is that the barriers set up between the lovers are all too often artificial and contrived; here, with the barrier between the lovers being that they actually live on separate planes of existence, the barriers are profound and can only be gotten around by the slow, steady march of time, and I like the fact that when the Captain decides to leave the life of the widow, the movie does not rush to the ending but understands how a deliberately paced study of the passing years is necessary to give the ending its maximum impact. I also like the fact that it is a drama rather than a comedy. Yes, it does contain some comic scenes and moments, but I’m glad it avoids some of the easy traps of a comedy; in particular, it avoids (with the exception of one appropriate scene) the Topper-style shtick of having someone talk to the ghost while in the presence of others and being thought crazy. It’s a tribute to the movie’s skill that the ending does bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.

The Zodiac Killer (1971)

Article #1632 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2005
Posting Date: 1-30-2006
Directed by Tom Hanson
Featuring Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch

A homicidal maniac known as The Zodiac Killer is on the loose in San Francisco.

The opening of this movie takes pains to point out that it is a true story, and that if some of the dialogue sounds strange, the viewer should remember that it all really happened. I don’t know the actual details of the case, so I can’t say how accurate this movie is, but as for our psycho, he’s apparently a rabbit-loving, woman-fearing ex-postman who believes that all his victims will be his slaves in the afterlife, which also has something to do with the rising of Atlantis. There’s an interesting user comment on IMDB about this movie from someone who claims to know the makers of the movie; he says that the purpose of the movie was to catch the killer himself, who would of course have found a movie about himself to be irresistible. Since the killer was never caught, I’m assuming that it didn’t work. If the movie has any message, it’s probably that we should all be scared to death that some psycho will knock us off at any moment and that the world is full of such psychos just waiting for their chance; both the beginning and the end of the movie deliver this message. Unfortunately, some of the murders come off as more comic than terrifying, the movie itself is pretty muddled (for example, a scene with a psychic goes precisely nowhere), and the overall effect it had on me was one of indifference. Certainly, anybody seeing the movie in the hopes of gaining any real insight into the psyches of serial killers will probably come up short.

Womaneater (1957)

Article #1631 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2005
Posting Date: 1-29-2006
Directed by Charles Saunders
Featuring George Coulouris, Vera Day, Peter Wayn

A scientist experiments with a plant that produces a serum that can revive life. Unfortunately, the plant only produces the serum if it is fed a steady supply of nubile young women.

This movie was made in England, land of Shakespeare and Quatermass. It features a truly provocative title. The main character is played by an actor who made a memorable appearance in CITIZEN KANE. And it features a killer plant. Now, with all of these elements, you’d think this movie would have something going for it, wouldn’t you?

Well, truth be told, the most interesting thing about this movie is Vera Day. In particular, the most interesting thing about this movie is Vera Day’s Mamie Van Dorenesque figure. It’s not only the most physically interesting thing in the movie, it’s also the most intellectually interesting thing in it, and that’s not a good sign. The script itself feels like an outline of a science fiction / horror movie; it has about fifteen minutes worth of plot, and the rest of the time seems padded out with shots of people looking at things. It isn’t even much fun on a campy level. Plotwise, it reminded me alternately of KONGA and THE LEECH WOMAN, neither of which I care much for and both of which are much better than this one. Director Saunders and actor Coulouris had previously joined forces with MAN WITHOUT A BODY, another awful movie which at least has a certain amount of unintentional humor going for it.