The Avenger (1960)

aka Der Racher
Article 1887 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-15-2006
Posting Date: 10-12-2006
Directed by Karl Anton
Featuring Heinz Drache, Ingrid van Bergen, Benno Sterzenbach

A man known as the Benefactor has been decapitating people and leaving their heads in packages. An investigator follows the few leads he has to try and track down the identity of the killer.

The Edgar Wallace movies made in a Germany during the early sixties are a bit of mixed bag. I like the story in this one, and there are a number of interesting characters, including a womanizer with a sword collection, a mute and rather monstrous manservant, and a petulant and ambitious script reader. The story itself is quite interesting, and it has some nice atmosphere on occasion. However, the dubbing is a real problem; though the translated script manages to retain an air of wit, the actually sound of the dubbing is dry and lacking in spontanaeity; you are always aware you are watching a dubbed movie, and it tends to distance you from the story. The movie also suffers from poor pacing; despite the interesting story, there are long stretches where nothing important is happening, and the movie feels almost a half-hour too long as a result. Some of the other Edgar Wallace movies from this time feel the same way, and I sometimes wonder if the movie would fare better in subtitled form. Still, there is a sense of dark, morbid fun to the stories, and I suspect that some time in the future, another enterprising movie company will see the appeal of Wallace’s work and make their own series. And, you know, I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Incidentally, the actor credited as Klais Kinski is, or course, Klaus Kinski. Even if they can’t spell the name, you’ll recognize the face.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

Article 1886 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-14-2006
Posting Date: 10-11-2006
Directed by Benjamin Stoloff
Featuring John Loder, Elanor Parker, Bruce Lester

The residents of the town of Morgan’s Head refuse to work the tin mine because it is haunted by a headless ghost who decaptitates its victims. Then, when a doctor on a walking tour arrives in town and vows to visit the mine, the headless ghost strikes again…

I think one of the reasons not many movies are made about headless ghosts is that the special effects are generally unconvincing; in almost every one I’ve seen, the headless ghost is played by someone wearing a headless ghost costume which extends the torso up over the head, but this always makes the arms look like they’re attached far too low on the body and the result is too jarring to be really convincing. Still, it is nice to watch an old-fashioned horror movie again; though it was made at Warners, it really looks like a Universal movie, what with all the swirling fog. The story is a little on the obvious side, though, if you consider the following facts.

1) The movie was made during the war.

2) In order to win the war, the country needs more tin.

3) The tin mine is not being worked because of the headless ghost, a circumstance which must greatly help the Nazis.

Given these facts and a little experience with Scooby-Doo style mysteries, I’ll leave it to you to figure out the likelihood of there being any real supernatural manifestation at work here. And you should be able to figure out one of the final twists in the story if you find it hard to believe that the title character would vanish from the story at the twenty-minute mark, especially if you’ve taken note of the innkeeper’s costume.

Mark of the Gorilla (1950)

Article 1885 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-13-2006
Posting Date: 10-10-2006
Directed by William A. Berke
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Trudy Marshall, Suzanne Dalbert

When a messenger is killed by a man-in-a-gorilla-suit, Jungle Jim is confused; this isn’t man-in-a-gorilla-suit country. He visits a nearby scientific expedition and learns that there is a hidden cache of gold somewhere within the game preserve. Jungle Jim begins to suspect that the man-in-a-gorilla-suit is not a real gorilla, but actually a man in a gorilla suit!

Just because I’m finished with the Weissmuller Tarzan movies doesn’t mean that I’m finished with Weissmuller; there are plenty of Jungle Jim movies out there. This one is pretty silly, in case you didn’t guess that from the plot description. Jungle Jim has an odd trio of animal friends here; there’s a monkey (who steals fish), a dog (who steals fish and smokes cigars), and a crow who is far and away the most useful of the three companions; he is constantly flying off with useful items and bringing them to Jungle Jim, or cluing him in on important discoveries. The movie also has a talking bird who kibitzes on a gin rummy game and is actually rather amusing. Still, I am disappointed a little by the ending. If I were writing the story, I wouldn’t have been able to resist having it end by having the main villain in charge of the gang of men-in-gorilla-suits-playing-men-in-gorilla-suits being killed off by a man-in-a-gorilla-suit-playing-a-real-gorilla. Or at least, I would have a man-in-a-gorilla-suit-playing-a-female-gorilla fall in love with one of the men-in-gorilla-suits-playing-men-in-gorilla-suits, though actually, that’s more of something that would happen to Lou Costello. But then, I wouldn’t be able to resist having one of the women encountering Jungle Jim offer to climb all over him, but then, I’ve been dying for someone to make that joke in every movie of the series.

The Man and the Monster (1959)

aka El Hombre y el monstruo
Article 1884 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-12-2006
Posting Date: 10-9-2006
Directed by Rafael Baledon
Featuring Enrique Rambal, Abel Salazar, Martha Roth

A musician sells his soul to the devil in order to become the greatest pianist in the world. However, there’s a catch; whenever he plays his favorite number, he turns into a murderous monster.

This movie has a great beginning. A woman crashes her car into a tree. She goes out looking for help, and hears piano playing from a nearby house. She knocks on the door of that house, and the playing stops. Suddenly, someone inside the house begins knocking on the door to get out, and a voice begins pleading with the woman to unlock the door. It is then she notices the keys lying outside the house…

I’m not sure if the impact of this scene really registers in the above description, but it is one of those beginnings that really piqued my curiosity and caught my attention, and any movie that can do that in the first couple of minutes is on the right track. I consider this one of the best of the Mexican horror movies; it has some surprising revelations, an interesting story, and a real sense of mood. It does have its problems, however; the dubbing does work to its disadvantage, and the monster makeup is (with its Cro-Magnon nose, its Groucho Marx eyebrows, its badly set teeth, and its protruding tongue) more likely to induce guffaws than chills. Still, look past these problems, and you have an effective little chiller. Abel Salazar (THE BRAINIAC ) produced the movie and appears as its hero; for some reason, I find the horror movies that he’s connected with to be some of the more interesting ones from Mexico, though not always the best; after all, he also gave us THE LIVING HEAD .

Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

aka Uchu Kaisoiku-sen
Article 1883 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-11-2006
Posting Date: 10-8-2006
Directed by Koji Ota
Featuring Sonny Chiba, Kappei Matsumoto, Shinjiro Ebara

Invaders from the planet Neptune attack the earth. Space Chief attempts to thwart their plans. Japanese boys in short pants watch.

Though I would never mistake them for good movies, there’s a certain goofy charm to the Starman series, and to PRINCE OF SPACE as well. That charm is largely missing from this one. Some of the explosion footage is rather impressive, I’ll admit, but a lot of that is stock footage from World War II (hence the giant billboard of Hitler). Other special effects are not badly done. The trouble is that the movie doesn’t put them together in any coherent and meaningful way; it seems plotted at random and there is no attempt to build any sort of suspense. Space Chief may be played by Sonny Chiba, but he is a thoroughly anonymous and uninteresting hero who barely appears in the movie, and the villains are equally anonymous, a fact that is only underlined by the fact that they speak to each other in musical tones that we can’t understand. When the most interesting thing about the invaders is that they walk as if they were all suffering from jock itch, that’s not a good thing. There are some fun ideas and concepts, but without a context, they just get lost in the shuffle. Ultimately, the movie tries to be appealing by concentrating on the most annoying characters; a gang of badly-dubbed children who will simply get on your nerves. The end result is a movie that, despite all the action and explosions, is as dull as dishwater. If you do watch, though, keep your eyes open for a guest appearance by a toy Robbie the Robot.

La nuit fantastique (1942)

aka Fantastic Night
Article 1882 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-10-2006
Posting Date: 10-7-2006
Directed by Marcel L’Herbier
Featuring Fernand Gravey, Micheline Presle, Saturnin Fabre

A student of philosophy is haunted by dreams of a beautiful woman. One night he is awoken by the image in his dreams and follows her in the belief that he is still dreaming.

This charming romantic comedy is somewhat similar to the silent movie I covered some time ago, LAUGHING AT DANGER. Like that one, our character here shows a courage and a forwardness that he usually doesn’t display because he’s under a delusion; in LAUGHING, it was the belief that he was merely being the victim of a practical joke, and here it is the belief that he is dreaming. The fantastic content is elusive; the dream sequences do have a element of fantasy about them, there is a magician central to the plot, and though he is obviously a stage magician, some of his tricks are beyond the scope of stage illusions. There is also the theme of madness, which is one of the common horror themes, but here it is played for comedy, with the heroine feigning madness to avoid a forced marriage and a scene in an insane asylum that is also largely comic. It’s biggest fantastic element, though, is the presence of a blind psychic whose abilities are very much real in the context of the story. It’s a charming and entertaining movie, nonetheless, with good performances by all, and the whole thing feels like a Rene Clair movie.

Prince of Space (1959)

aka Ysei Oji
Article 1881 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-9-2006
Posting Date: 10-6-2006
Directed by Ejiro Wakabayashi
Featuring Tatsuo Umemiya, Ushio Skashi, Joji Oka

Phantom of the planet Krankor plans to take over the Earth, but he finds opposition in the form of a superhero named Prince of Space.

If you’re looking for serious science fiction thrills – look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a confusing but unintentionally hilarious clone of the Starman movies, here’s your cup of tea. Sure, Starman has the edge in the -uh – department of enhancements, but Prince of Space gets to mention repeatedly how guns won’t work against him; the movie is either cobbled together from episodes of a TV series, or was written for people with no short term memory. And if he doesn’t trip your trigger, there’s always Phantom of Krankor to keep you amused; his melodic laugh will no doubt linger in your memory for weeks. I do wonder if “Underdog” got any inspiration for this; the alter ego of Prince of Space is Wally the Shoeshine Boy. Then there’s the little kids with the short pants and the slow-moving giant of Krankor. I won’t tell you to forget the plot; the movie is incoherent enough that remembering the plot shouldn’t become an issue at all. Still, when it comes to this type of entertainment, give me EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE any day; the beak-nosed cronies of Krankor simply don’t compete with atomic mimes.

The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)

Article 1880 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2006
Posting Date: 10-5-2006
Directed by Leslie S. Hiscott
Featuring Arthur Wontner, Lyn Harding, Leslie Perrins

Sherlock Holmes is called out of retirement after a man is murdered in a nearby estate. It turns out that the man had an association with an American secret society known as the Scowlers.

Though this doesn’t complete the list of the Wontner Holmes series, it probably will be the last one I cover; the only one left is THE MISSING REMBRANDT, and, from what I can gather at this point, it is considered lost. This one is somewhat more lively than SILVER BLAZE , and once again, it is based on a specific story (“The Valley of Fear”) with Moriarty shoehorned into the plot. I quite liked this one, because the elements that play into the solution of the mystery are quite odd; clues that lead Holmes to the solution of the mystery are an unlocked door, a candle, and a missing dumbbell. A good half of the movie is backstory about the victim’s involvement with the Scowlers, and these sections are quite exciting. At this point, I suspect that this is my favorite of the Wontner Holmes series, even if the movie doesn’t really effectively weave Moriarty into the plot.

Terror By Night (1946)

Article 1879 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2006
Posting Date: 10-4-2006
Directed by Roy William Neill
Featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray

Sherlock Holmes is hired to protect a valuable diamond from theft while it is being transported by train. When an attempt is made at theft and a man is murdered, Holmes begins to suspect the involvement of a nemesis he’s never meant: Colonel Sebastian Moran.

The fantastic content is slight in this entry in the Rathbone Holmes series. We have a bit of science fiction with the special gun, and touches of horror in the fact that part of the plot revolves around a coffin, and by the presence of Skelton Knaggs (who was always rather creepy). Still, this is one of the most entertaining films of the series; I like the interesting array of characters, the fact that almost the whole story takes place on a train, and the fun series of twists and turns in the story. Unfortunately, Watson is at his most buffoonish here, especially when he decides to conduct interviews without the help of Holmes or Lestrade, though he does redeem himself in the final fight. You won’t really be surprised by the revelation of who turns out to be Moran, but it’s still pretty satisfying to watch everything unfold. Dennis Hoey has probably his most prominent performance as Inspector Lestrade here.

Tarzan Triumphs (1943)

Article 1878 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2006
Posting Date: 10-3-2006
Directed by William Thiele
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Sheffield, Frances Gifford

A princess of a lost civilization flees to Tarzan when her city is overrun with Nazi invaders. Tarzan is reluctant to save her people until the Nazis kidnap Boy.

With this movie, I have now completed the entire Tarzan series with Weissmuller in the role. This was the first one after RKO took over the series from MGM, and the character of Jane is not present since Maureen O’Sullivan had stopped doing the role and no replacement had been found; Frances Gifford serves as something of a mock Jane in the character of Zandra. This series brought back a certain amount of savagery to the series, largely because the advent of wartime propaganda made the savagery fashionable; the Nazis themselves are portrayed as violent brutes, ruthless, heartless and often stupid as well. Because they were Nazis, they were allowed to do horrible things in the movies, and because they were Nazis, it was acceptable to do horrible things back to them. Everyone gets into the act, too; this may be the sole time Boy was allowed to kill someone, and Cheeta even manages to get hold of a machine gun to mow a few of them down. The movie is almost surreal at times; when the monkeys shake the leaves in the trees to cover Tarzan’s body so he won’t be discovered by the Nazis, one can only marvel at how evil the characters must be if even the monkeys can tell. Cheeta steals the show here, though; his constant absconding of a crucial part to the Nazi radio, his screams of terror when Boy is caught and tortured by the Nazis, and the aforementioned machine gun scene are all memorable. Still, I do miss the MGM days when I watch the RKO Tarzans; the MGMs usually had a lot more elephants.