Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)

Article 1877 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2006
Posting Date: 10-2-2006
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O’Sullivan, Johnny Sheffield

Boy is taken to New York by a circus trainer when it appears that Tarzan and Jane have died in a fatal accident. However, thanks to the quick thinking of Cheeta, Tarzan and Jane survive, and make their way to New York in the hope of getting Boy back.

It was a real treat to go back to one of the earlier movies in the Tarzan series after spending a couple of movies towards the end of the Weissmuller era. This one, despite spending a good half of its running time in an urban environment, has more animal action and savage natives than the other two movies combined. In particular, I couldn’t help but notice how the later movies were somewhat short of elephants; this movie has plenty of them, and they play a massive role in the exciting climax of the movie as well as providing some of the cuter animal moments that don’t involve Cheeta. There is, of course, the great novelty value of seeing Tarzan in a place where he doesn’t belong, and the movie makes good use of the concept. In particular, I liked the sequence where Tarzan is trapped by police on the Brooklyn Bridge. A good supporting cast helps as well, and it features Charles Bickford as the villain, Chill Wills, and Mantan Moreland (in a cameo in which he has a phone conversation with Cheeta). According to IMDB, an uncredited Elmo Lincoln is one of the circus people.

Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

Article 1876 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2006
Posting Date: 10-1-2006
Directed by Robert Florey
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, George Zucco

An unscrupulous trader makes money by disguising himself as the god of a native tribe, whose members offer pearls to him. When he decides to take one of the native girls for his bride, she escapes and runs into Tarzan. When she is kidnapped by the natives, Tarzan comes to her rescue.

It’s rather instructive to watch this, the last of the Weissmuller Tarzan movies, right after having viewed the previous one in the series, TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS . The departure of Johnny Sheffield is felt; there is very little of the interplay between the characters that made the last movie in the series enjoyable; Cheeta even seems rather dispirited, and her antics consist of little more than stealing and strumming Benji’s guitar. The whole production seems cheaper than the previous one as well, and though it’s fun to see George Zucco as the high priest, his costume unfortunately reveals how scrawny his arms and legs were at this point, and he looks emaciated and frail. The fantastic content of this one is somewhat higher than that of the previous one, though; though I neglected to mention it in my previous review, other than the slight fantasy content inherent to a Tarzan movie, there was little else that could be called fantastic. Here, the hint that a native god is alive gives it a stronger touch, and you’re actually a little startled the first time you see him move. This would be the last Tarzan movie for Weissmuller; though the official story was that Weissmuller was getting old and out of shape, the prologue to the AMC showing of this movie I have on tape suggests that the true reason was the producer’s desire to find a Tarzan who would work for less money, and given how much cheaper this production looked than the earlier ones, I find that quite plausible. Boy’s absence is explained by his having been sent off to school in England.

Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)

Article 1875 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-3-2006
Posting Date: 9-30-2006
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield

A safari of hunters conspires with some greedy natives to assassinate a native king who is restricting the amount of trapping the hunters can do. When the new regime allows the hunters to capture animals without limit, Tarzan takes action.

The opening parts of this movie are the best, as they feature Tarzan, Jane and Boy all having fun with each other; these scenes show that a real chemistry had developed between all the actors concerned. Cheetah is also on hand, and she proves to be one of the great animal comedians of all time; her quest to get hold of the huntress’s compact is one of the highlights of the movie. These scenes go a long way to compensate for the fact that the plot this time was pretty tired; most of what happens here has happened before in other Tarzan movies, and it is very short of real surprises. Still, it is, like all of the Weissmuller Tarzan movies, rather enjoyable, even if the savagery was long gone by this point. This was, however, Johnny Sheffield’s last movie in the series; his contract had expired and he had signed up with Monogram to make Bomba movies. Weissmuller himself had only one more Tarzan movie in him, though Brenda Joyce would hang around in the series long enough to welcome Lex Barker into the role.

Sucker Money (1933)

Article 1874 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2006
Posting Date: 9-29-2006
Directed by Dorothy Davenport and Melville Shyer
Featuring Mischa Auer, Phyllis Barrington, Earl McCarthy

A reporter (who used to be an actor) is assigned to answer an ad that the editor thinks will turn out to be a great human interest story. The job turns out to involve impersonating people for a phony spiritualist.

The movie claims to be an expose of the spiritualistic racket, and despite the fact that the movie would have you believe you’re watching the reenactment of a true story, the fact that the mystic can hypnotize people to make him do their bidding gives it away as a piece of fiction. Still, this is a potentially interesting story, but the direction and camerawork is so painfully creaky that it becomes sleep-inducing. It doesn’t help that the reporter is discovered far too early in the proceedings and has to spend the second half of the movie as a hostage, thus taking the character we’ve been following most closely out of the action. A plethora of seance scenes and the acting of Mischa Auer offer a few attractions, but only Mae Busch’s character as an alcoholic assistant to the swami is strong enough to hold your attention through the creakiness. This is not one of the better forgotten horrors out there.

Murder at the Baskervilles (1937)

aka Silver Blaze
Article 1873 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2006
Posting Date: 9-28-2006
Directed by Thomas Bentley
Featuring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Lyn Harding

Sherlock Holmes returns to the Baskerville estate and finds himself dealing with a double murder and a stolen race horse.

Sometimes I marvel at attempts to make a property more commercially appealing. I was quite amused that the writers of this adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story “Silver Blaze” was modified to bring in not only Dr. Moriarty, but the main character from “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as well. It’s been a while since I’ve read the original story, so I can’t say how close it keeps to it (though I do remember the role that the lame sheep played into it), but Arthur Wontner was a fine Holmes and Ian Fleming a good Watson. The main problem with the Wontner series was the static direction that plagued most of them. The fantastic elements are minimal here; in fact, they may be nonexistent if you don’t see how the presence of Henry Baskerville makes it something of a sequel to “The Hound of the Baskervilles” or how the machine gun disguised as a camera might be science fiction device of sorts. In fact, I have to say that none of these aspects quite cuts it for me either, and as far as fantastic content goes, this one is a red herring. For me, one of the most interesting things was that it was not Holmes that has the big scene with Moriarty, but Watson.

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

Article 1872 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-30-2006
Posting Date: 9-27-2006
Directed by Roy William Neill
Featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill

Sherlock Holmes helps an inventor with a new bomb-sight invention escape to England, but there must contend with the fact that Dr. Moriarty has designs on the inventor and his invention as well.

This is another one of the “Bad-Haircut” Holmes movies; those first few movies after Universal took over the series from Twentieth-Century Fox and moved Holmes into a modern wartime setting; they are marked by heavy use of propaganda and Holmes’ bad haircut. This one is an improvement over the previous one in the series; they eased up on the propaganda quite a bit, the invention gives it a higher level of fantastic content, and Holmes’ haircut is often obscured by the fact that he spends a good deal of the movie in any variety of disguises. It also helps that Lionel Atwill is on hand as Moriarty; he does well, though I prefer either Zucco or Daniell in the role myself. The movie borrows the cipher from the “Adventure of the Dancing Men” story from the Holmes canon, but it does add a few interesting twists to the matter. Watson is even afforded a greater amount of dignity here as well; outside of falling asleep at one point, he proves to be resourceful and helpful to Holmes throughout. Not a bad entry in the series, by any means.

Black Magic (1944)

aka Charlie Chan in Black Magic, Meeting at Midnight
Article 1871 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2006
Posting Date: 9-26-2006
Directed by Phil Rosen
Featuring Sidney Toler, Mantan Moreland, Frances Chan

Authorities are baffled when a man dies from a bullet wound at a seance, but no bullet is found and none of the suspects carry guns. Charlie Chan is forced to cancel his trip to Honolulu when his daughter becomes a suspect in the case.

This is another of the Monogram Charlie Chan films, and though it’s fun enough, it pales next to the Twentieth Century Fox series that preceded it. The horror content is fairly noticeable in this one, as the mystery involves a seance, hypnotism, magicians, and Mantan Moreland being convinced that there are spooks in the house. Fans of Moreland in particular should like this one; though most of his gags involve him being scared, his timing is impeccable as usual. It’s interesting to have one of Chan’s daughters appear in this one rather than one of his sons, and, if IMBD is correct, the actress playing Frances Chan is also named Frances Chan, who appeared in only a handful of movies during the early forties. I think the mystery is a little on the weak side, but there is a nice sense of fun at times.

The Return of the Whistler (1948)

Article 1870 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2006
Posting Date: 9-25-2006
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
Featuring Michael Duane, Lenore Aubert, Richard Lane

When his prospective bride disappears from a hotel in a small town, a man hooks up with a private detective in an attempt to locate her.

This was the last of the eight films based on the radio character, The Whistler. It’s not bad, mostly because the story (by Cornell Woolrich) is fairly decent, it’s efficiently directed, and fairly well acted. It is, however, devoid of the fantastic content that makes me cover these movies; other than the Whistler himself (who, since he exists more as a narrative device than a character, is extremely marginal to begin with), there is nothing here that puts it in the realm of the fantastic, and there really is no horror mood to speak of. I do somewhat miss the presence of Richard Dix, who appeared in all of the other seven movies in the series, but he had retired from acting by this time, and since he wasn’t playing a continuing character, his presence really wasn’t necessary. The Whistler is used a little clumsily in this one; I don’t mind him appearing at the beginning, and adding his voice to the proceedings at certain points, but having him reappear on the wall each time is just a little corny. Fans of THE BLOB may want to keep their eyes open for Olin Howlin, who appears here as a caretaker of an estate and adds a bit of comic relief to the proceedings.

More Than a Miracle (1967)

aka C’era una volta…
Article 1869 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2006
Posting Date: 9-24-2006
Directed by Francesco Rosi
Featuring Sophia Loren, Omar Sharif, Georges Wilson

A willful prince meets and falls in love with a fiery peasant girl, but the path of true love never runs smooth…

Usually I like quirky movies, but I’m afraid that this one does nothing for me. I like some of the touches (a flying monk, an eccentric chef, a miracle involving three thousand eggs, and a dish washing competition), but the movie has a way of making all these touches seem rather pointless. It also doesn’t help that I don’t care much for either of the main characters, even if they’re being played by two very charismatic actors, Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif; the prince in particular comes across as mean-spirited, and I really don’t find myself caring at all whether they get together at the end of the story. The dubbing is fairly decent, but that’s usually the case when a movie seems to be slated more for the art house circuit. I suspect most men will like the dish-washing sequence the best; Sophia Loren certainly knew how to make such a mundane task look incredibly sexy.

Miracles for Sale (1939)

Article 1868 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2006
Posting Date: 9-23-2006
Directed by Tod Browning
Featuring Robert Young, Florence Rice, Frank Craven

A magician finds himself drawn into a murder mystery by a beautiful woman, who is somehow tied to a female spiritualist.

This was Tod Browning’s last film. It isn’t bad; the story is rather amusing, and there’s a lively and fun cast at work here. Nevertheless, it is a little on the disappointing side, though it’s a little difficult to say just why. Part of it is that there is a certain incessant cuteness at work here; there are a number of clever fake-outs and tricks here, but there may be too many; after a while, you get the same slightly annoyed sensation you get when a child does an antic that makes you laugh, and then he proceeds to do it again several times in quick succession. Though the mystery does take some very interesting turns, somehow the movie never really builds up much in the way of suspense, an unfortunate side effect to the fact that most of the character are quirky and likable. It’s biggest problem is that it lacks the moodiness you expect from a Browning film; in fact, if I didn’t know he directed it, I would have never guessed it. Still, there is something a little eerie to the fact that both of the murder victims are found lying in those circles drawn on the floor to conjure demons, even if the movie resolutely refuses to go in the direction of supernatural influence. The seance also works up a bit of mood, but it is broken all too quickly. All in all, it’s interesting, but not quite successful.