Macumba Love (1960)

MACUMBA LOVE (1960)
Article 2288 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-30-2007
Posting Date: 11-17-2007
Directed by Douglas Fowley
Featuring Walter Reed, Ziva Rodann, William Wellman Jr.

A researcher investigates a voodoo cult, and finds himself and those around him threatened by the local voodoo priestess.

Actually, this is probably one of the better voodoo movies out there from the era, but it really wasn’t a great time for voodoo movies. On the plus side, its shock moments certainly work well enough. It also feels quite unlike the other voodoo movies I’ve seen, at least partially because it was shot in Brazil (they apparently wanted to shoot in Haiti but couldn’t due to lack of cooperation). The voodoo sequences are effective enough, and there’s some lively calypso music to enliven things, including “Dance Kalinda”, a song in which two people perform a dance together under the tails of parrots (must be a funky Brazilian version of Russian Roulette). The story is okay, but the acting is pretty uneven throughout. The worst problem I had with the movie may be a problem only with my print; though shot in Eastman color, everything has a strong yellowish tint to it which makes everything look more than a little unpleasant (especially the swimming scenes). This was the sole directorial effort of Douglas Fowley, who mostly worked as an actor.

 

Streamline Express (1935)

STREAMLINE EXPRESS (1935)
Article 2287 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-29-2007
Posting Date: 11-15-2007
Directed by Leonard Fields
Featuring Evelyn Venable, Victor Jory, Sidney Blackmer

A theatre director manages to sneak aboard a new superspeed train destined for California in order to convince his leading actress not to run away and get married.

The first ten minutes of this movie is so full of hokey dialogue and bad writing that it’s a little amazing that it eventually won me back, but it did. For one thing, the writing does get better. For another thing, Victor Jory is having so much fun in a comic role that I started to have fun, too. it also helps that there is some snappy comic banter that netted a few laughs for me, particularly during the conversation where he convinces a steward to allow him to take over his position on the train. The plot is pretty silly, but it makes do. The fantastic content is the superspeed train; it’s somewhat similar to the super airplane in NON-STOP NEW YORK (a much better movie, by the way), but you only see the train from the outside during some static shots near the beginning of the film, so you never actually see it on the move, which is a real disappointment. This is supposedly a low-budget remake of the previous year’s TWENTIETH CENTURY, though that movie has no fantastic elements; I haven’t seen that movie, but knowing that it was directed by Howard Hawks makes me understand why a remake would try to capture his gift for fast-moving dialogue. My favorite moment; the passengers are being searched for a missing gem, the person who has it hides it in his drink, and while he’s being searched, the nonstop drinker comes along, sees the unattended glass, and… well, it just gets more complicated from there.

 

Les Portes de la nuit (1946)

LES PORTES DE LA NUIT (1946)
Article 2286 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-28-2007
Posting Date: 11-15-2007
Directed by Marcel Carne
Featuring Pierre Brasseur, Serge Reggiani, Yves Montaud

In post-war France, a mysterious tramp who claims to be Destiny predicts that one man (Jean Diego) will meet and fall in love with a beautiful women, and predicts another man (Guy Senechal) will die a horrible death. As it turns out, their paths are intertwined; the beautiful woman is married and also a sister to Guy, and Guy turned over Jean’s best friend to the Gestapo during the war. From there, the presence of the tramp guides them to their respective fates.

I knew full well that I wasn’t going to be seeing a subtitled version of the movie when I got this one from a French website, so I took a little time to find some simple plot descriptions to help me along. Along with one I found, I discovered the sad history of the movie itself; it was an incredibly expensive one for France in its time, it was originally supposed to star Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich and was written for them, but Dietrich backed out and Gabin proved so demanding that he was replaced by the then unknown Yves Montaud. The movie was a critical and commercial flop, as it touched on certain subjects that were highly sensitive to Frenchmen in that era. That time is now gone, and the movie is ready for reevaluation.

Nevertheless, since I don’t understand French, I certainly can’t be the one to do so here. Nevertheless, there were some things that I really liked. One is the presence of Jean Vilar as the tramp, who does more than predict; he reappears in scene after scene, subtly guiding the characters to their respective fates; he has a nice intense presence. Certain scenes stand out; the scene where Jean Diego first discovers that the woman he loves is married, the fight between Guy and Jean in the chicken coop, and the rest of the movie from the moment that Guy hands the gun to the husband in the hope that he will kill Jean. I can only hope they subtitle it and release it here so I can get the full impact of it.

 

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917)

SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE (1917)
Article 2285 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-27-2007
Posting Date: 11-14-2007
Directed by Hugh Ford
Featuring George M. Cohan, Anna Q. Nilsson, Hedda Hopper

A writer of melodramatic novels takes a bet that he can write a novel in 24 hours, and is allowed to use Baldpate Inn as his place to do this as it is closed and he is unlikely to be interrupted. However, (as is obvious from the title), he doesn’t have the only key to Baldpate inn…

This is the third version of this popular melodrama that I’ve seen to date, as well as the earliest. I don’t know how close it is to the Earl Derr Biggers novel, but I’m willing to bet it’s fairly close to George M. Cohan’s play version, seeing how Cohan himself appears in the lead role. This was his first of only a handful of screen appearances, and he does a fine job. It’s still fairly short on fantastic content; outside of the possibility of it falling into the “old dark house” genre, the only other element is that the character of the misogynistic hermit (perhaps the most entertaining “guest” at Baldpate inn) occasionally pretends to be a ghost. The plot is far-fetched and sometimes confusing, and the fact that some sections of the plot are replaced by title cards doesn’t help, but I like the backstory, and there’s definitely an air of parody to the proceedings. At this point of time, I’d have to say it’s my favorite version of the story. My favorite moment; the reaction of the police chief when he’s handed two hundred thousand dollars.

 

Down in the Deep (1904)

DOWN IN THE DEEP (1904)
aka Le Pecheur de perles, The Pearl Fisher
Article 2284 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-26-2007
Posting Date: 11-13-2007
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown

A vision of beautiful women causes a man to dive into the ocean in search of pearls. There he encounters a variety of sea beasties, and hunts for his treasure in a giant clam.

This early silent fantasy may lack the wit of a film by Melies, but it does have a charming fairy-tale quality somewhat similar to that of THE GOLDEN BEETLE. Still, there are a few laughs, usually from his encounters with some of the ocean beasties (including a big-eyed octopus, a shark, and giant lobster). I don’t know who played the fisherman, but he does a nice job of pantomiming a walk on the ocean floor, and the gentle sense of fantasy is what really brings this one to life. This is one of the more interesting early fantastically-themed silents that was not brought to us by Melies.

 

The Blancheville Monster (1963)

THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER (1963)
aka Horror
Article 2283 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-25-2007
Posting Date: 11-12-2007
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Gerard Tichy, Leo Anchoriz, Ombretta Colli

The daughter of a count comes home to find out that her brother is now in charge of the manor, the old staff has been replaced, and her father has been horribly disfigured. The father is also crazy; he believes that in order to save the family from a curse, he must kill his daughter before she reaches the age of twenty-one.

I will give this Italian horror thriller a few pluses; the plot is a bit different from the usual Italian horror movie of the sixties, and there are a number of scenes that show a real sense of atmosphere. Unfortunately, the story isn’t particularly good (and you’ll probably see the final twist coming a mile away), and the bad dubbing does some real damage; there’s a potentially powerful scene where we hear the thoughts of a woman about to be buried alive (but unable to speak or move) while we see from her point of view her friends and family, one by one, leaning down to kiss the glass above her face, and this scene would have been a real knockout had the voice acting been up to par. As it is, it’s quite dull in spots and lacks any real impact.

 

The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964)

THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET (1964)
Article 2282 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2007
Posting Date: 11-11-2007
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Don Knotts, Carole Cook, Jack Weston

A meek bookkeeper, frustrated by the fact that he can’t get into the navy and by a wife that doesn’t understand him, gets his fondest wish when he falls off a pier at Coney Island and is transformed into a fish. Then, when World War II breaks out, he decides to help the navy by locating Nazi u-boats.

Don Knotts was one of my favorite comedy actors when I was a kid, and this is perhaps the movie for which I most remember him. Of course, this was many years ago, and I often find that when I dig up childhood favorites for rewatching for these reviews, that I emerge disappointed. And, to be truthful, I fully expected this one to lose its allure. My expectations were indeed fulfilled, though I do feel the need to exempt Don Knotts himself from that disappointment; watching his movies as an adult, I’ve grown to really admire his acting ability, his subtlety, and his command of character-oriented comedy, and if, as I suspect, he never really gave us a movie that was an undisputed classic, it was because he never really found the perfect vehicle to do so. Being that Knotts himself only supplies a voice for most of the movie, it only has the full benefit of his talents while in his human form. The movie isn’t bad; it’s mildly entertaining, but timid and mostly unimaginative in its use of the concept, but I didn’t really expect more from director Arthur Lubin, who has plenty of experience with talking animals, as he directed most of the “Francis the talking mule” series, as well as a couple of episodes of “Mister Ed”. Still, it’s fun to see Jack Weston and Andrew Duggan in action, and Paul Frees has a lot of fun as the voice of Crusty. For me, the most interesting sequences in the movie were the scenes with the Germans; it eschews both subtitling and “English with a German accent”, instead relying on real German (with emphasis on words that are understandable in both English and German), and a kind of quasi-German lingo that uses a smattering of English words. You don’t have to know German to understand these sequences, and these scenes show a real imagination to them.

 

Alias John Preston (1956)

ALIAS JOHN PRESTON (1956)
Article 2281 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-21-2007
Posting Date: 11-10-2007
Directed by David MacDonald
Featuring Christopher Lee, Alexander Knox, Betta St. John

A wealthy man makes a splash in a small town where he has just arrived. However, he begins to suffer from nightmares, and calls on a psychoanalyst for help.

Madness is the fantastic element of this thriller, but it never really becomes a horror movie and remains more of a mystery/drama. The mystery is basically centered around the nature of that madness, but you’ll probably figure out the significance of John Preston’s dreams long before the movie reveals them. In fact, the whole movie goes on too long; the movie doesn’t really get going until its second half, and the first half is largely filler, with an unnecessary romantic triangle and overly elaborate coverage of Preston’s rise to prominence in the community. Quite frankly, the movie could have been condensed to a thirty-minute TV episode without losing anything important. Good performances by Christopher Lee and Alexander Knox help, but don’t really save the movie. The best moment is towards the end, after Preston relates his last dream and then sees the back of his psychoanalysts head.

 

Alabama’s Ghost (1973)

ALABAMA’S GHOST (1973)
Article 2280 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-20-2007
Posting Date: 11-9-2007
Directed by Fredric Hobbs
Featuring Christopher Brooks, Lani Freeman, Karen Ingenthron

An employee named Alabama at a music club dreams of becoming a magician. When he accidentally runs a forklift through the wall in the basement of the club, he comes by the remnants of the equipment of dead magician known as “The Great Carter”. He uses what he finds to blackmail the sister of “The Great Carter” into introducing him the Carter’s assistant, who teaches him Carter’s magic secrets. When Alabama becomes a magician, he soon finds himself tussling with vampires and ghosts.

This is one of those movies that left my jaw hanging open. Imagine, if you will, a cross between a hokey melodrama, a blaxploitation flick, and an underground art movie. Then weave into the plot the following elements; magic, psychedelic rock music, female Nazi scientists, vampires (who feed from their victims on an assembly line), black magic, robots, frogs, ghosts with beating hearts outside of their bodies, dixieland jazz, and an elephant. The end result, in this case, is pretty awful, but at least it’s awful in an interesting way, though it does get more than a little shrill on occasion. Whatever you can say about the movie, it does appear that director Fredric Hobbs had a vision of sorts, and I find myself all that much more curious now about what is perhaps his best known movie, GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS. Believe me, low-budget horror doesn’t come much stranger than this one.

 

The Whistler (1944)

THE WHISTLER (1944)
Article 2279 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2007
Posting Date: 11-8-2007
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Richard Dix, Gloria Stuart, J. Carrol Naish

A businessman, depressed at having lost his wife in a boating accident, pays to have himself knocked off by a hit man. However, he changes his mind when he discovers his wife is still alive. Unfortunately, the man who served as a go-between between him and the hit man (who have not met) has died in a police shootout, and he has no way of getting in touch with him.

This is the first of Columbia’s “The Whistler” series, and, like so many of the others, the sole fantastic content is the Whistler himself, who narrates this tale of destiny. The movie is slightly less marginal in its fantastic content in that his presence at one point is felt by the characters, but this doesn’t develop into anything more. The plot set-up is great, it’s full of interesting characters and good performances (with J. Carrol Naish particularly effective as the hit man, who tries to see if he can actually scare his prey to death). However, it’s one of those stories that you don’t want to examine to closely afterwards, as the holes start to appear before your eyes. Nonetheless, this is a very enjoyable entry in the series, and keep your eyes for an effective little performance from Bowery Boy Billy Benedict as a deafmute.