Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935)

SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE (1935)
Article 2152 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2007
Posting Date: 7-4-2007
Directed by William Hamilton and Edward Killy
Featuring Gene Raymond, Margaret Callahan, Eric Blore

A writer moves into Baldpate Inn to write a novel under the belief he has the only key to the establishment. However, when several other people show up (including gangsters, women and a professor), he realizes that there are several keys. He then gets embroiled in a struggle over a big wad of money.

I suppose I could complain about how many versions of this story are out there, but this is only the second one I’ve seen; compare than to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, of which I’ve seen at least nine versions to date. Also, since the story is only marginally fantastic (in this one, a decidedly non-ectoplasmic hermit is the “ghost” haunting the house, and he does precious little of that), most reference books omit them. I’ve already seen the 1929 version, and even though I don’t remember it very well, I get the impression that this version makes a number of changes to the story. Its play version by George M. Cohan must have been phenomenally successful to have this many versions of it made, but I suspect that its magic doesn’t quite translate to the screen; it’s only mildly funny at best, and the fact that the wise-guy writer refuses to be frightened by anything somewhat short-circuits its ability to build much in the way of suspense. Ultimately, it’s a somewhat confusing rehash of “old dark house” mystery elements. Still, the movie is enlivened by some fun performances including Henry Travers as the misogynistic ghost/hermit and a cameo by Walter Brennan as a station agent. It’s only a matter of time before the other versions show up in this series as well.

 

The Red Tent (1969)

THE RED TENT (1969)
aka KRASNAYA PALATKA
Article 2151 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2007
Posting Date: 7-3-2007
Directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili
Featuring Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale

When an expedition to the North Pole via dirigible ends in disaster and leaves a handful of men lost in the arctic regions, the commander does what he can to keep his men safe and to facilitate the rescue efforts underway to save them.

Usually when I list the actors, I just take the first three names listed in IMDB, which usually reflects the order in which they were billed in the credits of the movie. Every once in a while I feel compelled to make exceptions, such as in this case. Peter Finch only receives fourth billing, despite the fact that he is the central character in the story, whereas Sean Connery, though obviously the bigger name star (and it is probably due to this that he received top billing) plays what amounts to a supporting role; his character hardly appears at all during the first half of the movie, and has only a few scenes in the second half. This is not to denigrate Connery’s performance in any way; he gives one of his best performances as Roald Amundsen, and he gets the best lines of the movie (my favorite has to do with the perils of an arctic explorer having too little or too much courage). But it is Finch’s story, as it is his haunted perception of the events that unfold that gives the movie its themes. The fantastic content is something of a plot device; General Nobile is visited by the ghosts of those involved in the story, who sit in judgment of his actions. The ghosts (like those in THUNDER ROCK) are most likely not real, but they do serve the job of helping us understand the themes of guilt and the nature of leadership which are central to the story. This was a joint Russian/Italian production; it originally ran three and a quarter hours, but this version runs just over two hours, and since most of the cast is already speaking English, there’s no real dubbing issue to contend with. I also quite liked the performances of Mario Adorf as the radio operator on the expedition, and Eduard Martesevich as a Swede whose relationship with a nurse (Claudia Cardinale) ends up driving some of the rescue efforts. The movie is not perfect; even in its shorter form, I feel some of the scenes could have used a bit of trimming, but the ending is excellent, and it didn’t really deserve to be the financial disaster it turned out to be.

 

Flesh Feast (1970)

FLESH FEAST (1970)
Article 2150 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2007
Posting Date: 7-2-2007
Directed by Brad F. Grinter
Featuring Veronica Lake, Phil Philbin, Doug Foster

A female scientist has come up with a radical method to reverse aging using flesh-eating maggots. She is hired by leaders of a South American revolution to regenerate their leader.

Veronica Lake’s career thrived in the the early forties. Her career took a nosedive after she changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle, but she continued to work in movies and television for another ten years before disappearing from the industry. She popped up in only two movies after that; one is an obscure Canadian adventure movie, and this one, in which she was convinced not only to star but to invest her own money. It’s pretty awful; horridly written, badly directed, and amateurishly acted. Lake herself is long past her prime as an actress; she has moments here where it seems she has trouble with her lines and struggles with her props. Practically every write-up I’ve seen of this movie also gives away the ending twists, which is a shame; they’re about the only thing this movie has going for it. Up to that point, the movie is dull and confusing. At least the ending scene makes it into the realm of campiness, and Lake overacts monstrously as she exacts a long-awaited revenge. Though it was planned as Lake’s comeback, it ended being nothing of the kind, and she would die only a few years later.

 

First Spaceship on Venus (1960)

FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (1960)
aka DER SCHWEIGEND STERN
Article 2149 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2007
Posting Date: 7-1-2007
Directed by Kurt Maetzig
Featuring Yoko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski

When a strange object is discovered to be a spool with a recording from another planet, scientists discover it must have come from Venus. Attempts to contact the planet prove unsuccessful, so an expedition is planned to take a spaceship to the planet.

With at least fourteen minutes missing, so-so dubbing and an altered soundtrack (it sounds mostly like stock music), it’s really difficult to judge what this movie was like in its original form. It’s confusing on first watching, but it proves more interesting on rewatching, and I suspect that it is somewhat better than its reputation would lead you to believe (it’s currently sitting with a 3.3 rating on IMDB). Still, though it’s interesting, it never quite becomes compelling, and the actual trip to Venus is full of cliches about weightlessness and meteor showers. The high point of the movie is seeing the landscape on Venus; it’s a surreal skeleton of a world, full of bizarre little pieces of technology and other touches, such as a seemingly sentient piece of slime and little hopping metal machines which apparently serve as some sort of tape recorder. I’ve heard that the original version of the movie is also out there, and I may just have to pick it up one of these days; I suspect that it’s a lot more interesting than the USA release. And I do find it an interesting touch that the cute little robot turns dangerous at one point in the proceedings.

 

Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964)

FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1964)
Article 2148 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2007
Posting Date: 6-30-2007
Directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares, Rafael Portillo and Jerry Warren
Featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Yerye Beirute, George Mitchell

Scientists visit a pyramid in Yucatan, and find two mummies, one of which is very much active. The other mummy is stolen and brought to life by other scientists, who are unaware that this mummy is actually a werewolf. Chaos ensues.

Some thoughts on FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF.

1) There were two types of Jerry Warren movies. First of all, there were the ones that mostly consisted of original stories and footage. Then there were those that were cobbled together from foreign movies mixed with original footage to fill in the plot points that were lost because of Warren’s reluctance to use extensive dubbing. If I had to choose, I’d say that this is the best movie he made of the latter type.

2) Of course, just because it’s the best of that type of movie of his, that doesn’t mean it’s any good; it is, in fact, like all of his other efforts in this vein (and most of the others in the other vein) godawful. It is, however, somewhat more watchable than his other exercises.

3) One of the reasons this one works better is that he keeps the number of long pointless insert scenes to a minimum. These were always the worst scenes of these movies; they largely consisted of people sitting around having long-winded and boring conversations that added nothing to the plot. There’s only one scene here that is like that, and it’s relatively short. Be thankful for small favors.

4) Another reason it works a little better is that it’s cobbled together from two movies rather than one. Given the fact that Warren hated trying to sync up dubbing with lip movements, he felt compelled to remove all conversation scenes and keep only scenes of a primarily visual nature. When he was doing this with only one movie, you got lots of inserts. When he had two, there were much fewer. The fewer scenes Jerry Warren himself directed, the better.

5) Of course, given that two different movies were cobbled together (HOUSE OF TERROR and THE AZTEC MUMMY, the latter of which he had already extensively pillaged for ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY), the resulting plot is loopy and confused. One of the more amusing things in this regard is to see how he figures out to kill almost all of the major characters from THE AZTEC MUMMY footage in order to keep us wondering why none of them appear in the second half of the movie, which is mostly made up of footage from HOUSE OF TERROR.

6) In some ways, I have to admire his techniques for getting around the dubbing problem. If he has to dub in dialogue, he almost always has the person who is talking either a) not onscreen, b) with his back turned to the viewer, or c) in the dark so you can’t see his lips. Every once in a while he gets amitious and actually tries to dub words to moving lips; I think this happens with about ten words during the course of the movie.

7) It would be interesting to write a list sometime of pieces of footage that popped up repeatedly in different movies. The footage of the sacrificial ceremony from THE AZTEC MUMMY appears here once again; that footage also popped up in the sequels to THE AZTEC MUMMY as well as ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY.

8) Believe it or not, I think there’s a King Kong reference in the movie. Now, I can buy King Kong carrying a beautiful woman up the side of a building; it’s a little harder to swallow if it’s a werewolf, even if he’s being chased by German “Tin Tan” Valdes.

9) For the record, this movie has the worst moment of editing I’ve seen since EL BAUL MACABRO (where the scene clipboard actually makes it to the final footage), and that’s a scene where we see Lon Chaney Jr. in a cell. He sits down and waits. The scene then cuts to an aerial view of a big city while jazzy music plays. Then the scene cuts to…well, I’ll let you see for yourself. If you’re like me, your jaw will drop.

10) In the lab scene, there is a machine with three clear man-sized tubes that revolves like a merry-go-round. Someday, I hope to find out just what that thing is supposed to do.

 

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS (1965)
Article 2147 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2007
Posting Date: 6-29-2007
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
Featuring Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden

Dr. Who invents a time and space machine. He and his companions accidentally go to a distant world where a race of creatures known as Daleks are at war with a race of human-like creatures known as Thals.

In looking at this movie, it’s useful to remember that “Doctor Who” was originally designed as a children’s show. One of the show’s strengths was that it’s title character was hardly a hero; as played by William Hartnell, he was cranky, irascible, sometimes petulant and unpredictable, more anti-hero than hero at times. This was a surprisingly sophisticated concept for a children’s show when you think about it. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the movie versions is they reduced the character to one of good-natured but dotty eccentricity, and despite the presence of a great actor in the title role, there is really not a whole lot Peter Cushing could do to bring him to any real life. This, combined with the decision to turn the character of Ian into a comic-relief bumbler, made me realize that the real problem with these sixties movie adaptations of the series is the condescending air to them; they know their audience is children and they talk down to them. Still, I think this one works a little better than its sequel, if for no other reason than that the story better adapts itself to feature film retelling; it’s less cluttered with confusing secondary characters. It’s pretty to look at, and the Daleks come in a nice array of colors, but it’s entirely too setbound; it’s hard to believe you’re on another world when everything looks like it’s on a soundstage. The series was better.

 

The Deep (1977)

THE DEEP (1977)
Article 2146 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2007
Posting Date: 6-28-2007
Directed by Peter Yates
Featuring Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte

Vacationers discover a hidden treasure underneath a downed military boat in the waters around Bermuda. They check with a local expert to find the source of the treasure, but run afoul of drug traffickers who are after a large supply of morphine hidden on the military ship.

This movie reunites Peter Benchley and Robert Shaw from JAWS , but if you dwell on that, the movie will only seem that much more disappointing. It’s not a bad movie; it’s just a rather ordinary thriller, too slow-moving at times and confusing at others, especially during the underwater sequences. I do like some of the attention to detail; in particular, the concept that in order for the treasure to really be worth something it must be historically traceable provides an interesting motivation for the continual return to the ship. The fantastic content here is pretty incidental; the drug traffickers’ use of voodoo as a means of frightening people really doesn’t lead anywhere, and the big moray eel in the ship is not my idea of a monster, even if it is the biggest one Nick Nolte has ever seen. At any rate, the classification of this movie as a horror film is highly inaccurate. When you get right down to it, I suspect the primary appeal of this movie is not the thrills, but Jacqueline Bisset’s costumes, especially the white t-shirt that she wears while skin diving in the opening scenes, which was probably just the movie’s way of getting as close to nudity as it could for a PG rated film.

 

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)
Article 2145 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2007
Posting Date: 6-27-2007
Directed by Billy Wilder
Featuring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page

When an amnesiac and nearly drowned woman is brought to the apartment of Sherlock Holmes, he finds himself drawn into a hunt for the woman’s missing husband, a case which brings him to Scotland and to an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.

Billy Wilder does such a fine job is this comic take on Sherlock Holmes that I wondered what it would be like it he did a serious take on the Doyle character. Still, that would be short-changing the movie a little; yes, it is a comedy, but Wilder’s comedies are never just comedies; the story, though a little far-fetched, works fine enough the way it is, and it does provide some truly mysterious and intriguing elements, such as the challenge of discovering the identity of an amnesiac woman who can’t even remember what country she’s from, the curious tale of the missing midgets, the warning from Mycroft Holmes (an excellent performance from Christopher Lee, perhaps the best known name in the cast) to not pursue the case, a parasol, some trappist monks, and the riddle of the green wedding ring and the three white canaries. The horror elements are obvious from the above description, but there is a strong touch of science fiction to add to the mix before it’s all over. The plot doesn’t really get going until about thirty minutes in; the first part of the movie deals with a separate episode designed to elucidate Holmes’s character somewhat by setting up an incident with a Russian ballerina that ends up resulting in extreme embarassment for Dr. Watson. The movie takes itself seriously enough when it needs to, especially in the heartbreaking and powerful final scene. And once again, I find it a little sad that I will be touching on so little of Wilder’s oeuvre whilst covering nearly half of the oeuvre of his less-talented brother.

 

Happy Ever After (1954)

HAPPY EVER AFTER (1954)
aka TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT
Article 2144 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2007
Posting Date: 6-26-2007
Directed by Mario Zampi
Featuring David Niven, Yvonne De Carlo, Barry Fitzgerald

When the head of a hunting estate in a small village in Ireland dies, he leaves the estate to his nephew who was raised in England. The nephew arrives, and alienates the village with his new policies, which involve collecting long-owned debts (which the previous owner waived) and the eviction of people from their homes. The villagers decide to do away with the new squire.

This is a fairly amusing comedy, though it’s a little slow to start. The first part of the movie mostly tries to let Irish stereotypes run the show, and this gets rather tiresome; though Barry Fitzgerald can be an amusing actor, I prefer him in smaller doses. The arrival of David Niven as the nephew adds some variety to the proceedings, but it doesn’t come to life until the movie takes its full turn into black comedy by having the residents decide to kill the squire. When a lottery is held, the job falls to the village idiot, a circumstance which causes the rest of the villagers, sure that he will not succeed, to strike out on their own with their own plans. As a result, they end up stepping on each other’s toes more than providing any threat to the squire. The fantastic content isn’t present in the above plot description because it doesn’t come into play until the last quarter of the movie, but I can say this much; there is a legend that a ghost of one of the squire’s ancestors haunts the estate once a year, and the movie doesn’t allow this little fact to go unused before all is said and done. Outside of the usual assortment of Irish character actors. the movie also features a pre-Munsters Yvonne De Carlo as a widow who is as scheming as the squire is.

 

Messiah of Evil (1973)

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
aka DEAD PEOPLE
Article 2143 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2007
Posting Date: 6-25-2007
Directed by William Huyck and Gloria Katz
Featuring Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang

A woman arrives at a small seaside town to visit her artist father, who is missing from his home. She searches the town for him, and hooks up with some tourists researching an old town legend about a blood moon. They begin to learn the awful secret of the town, a secret that has turned the town’s dead into flesh-eating zombies.

The plot of this low-budget zombie flick is a bit muddled; I’m not sure what the woman’s loss of the ability to feel sensations has to do with the plot (or the significance of her spitting up insects), or what role her father really plays in the proceedings. Nevertheless, this is an effective little horror movie despite those problems, with three memorable and well-staged attack sequences (in a filling station, a grocery store and a movie theater) and the occasional display of a wicked sense of humor (my favorites – a line about stamps, a line about Wagner, and the title on the marquee of the movie theater). Somehow, it all has to do with a stranger (who survived the Donner Party) who appeared in town one hundred years ago. All in all, a fairly decent horror movie which would be rereleased under several titles over the years; its distributors got into trouble at one point for copping the ad line from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. The movie also features Royal Dano (who would appear a few years later in another movie about the Donner party, DONNER PASS: THE ROAD TO SURVIVAL) and Elisha Cook Jr., who shows up just long enough to die a horrible death (wait a minute – there’s an echo in here). Writers and directors William Huyck and Gloria Katz were associates of George Lucas (they co-wrote AMERICAN GRAFFITI with him) and also worked on the sequel to that movie as well as INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and the disastrous HOWARD THE DUCK.