The Ghost Talks (1949)

THE GHOST TALKS (1949)
Short
Article 2254 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2007
Posting Date: 10-14-2007
Directed by Jules White
Featuring Shemp Howard, Larry Fine, Moe Howard

The Three Stooges go into a haunted house to remove some furniture, and meet a suit of armor haunted by the ghost of the man who saw Lady Godiva.

This short has a nice sense of atmosphere, some fun special effects (my favorite is the skeleton that takes off his own head), and a few fun sight gags. Unfortunately, the energy level is a bit on the low side, the pacing is a bit slow, and the short tries to get too much mileage out of having the Stooges be frightened of everything. It would have worked better if only one of the Stooges was seeing all the spooky stuff while the others didn’t. As it is, it’s a little too conventional and anonymous in its humor much of the time. The Stooges have done better.

 

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The Giants of Thessaly (1961)

THE GIANTS OF THESSALY (1961)
aka I GIGANTI DELLA TESSAGLIA
Article 2163 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-16-2007
Posting Date: 7-15-2007
Directed by Riccardo Freda
Featuring Roland Carey, Ziva Rodann, Massimo Girotti

Jason and his Argonauts sail to Colchis to find the golden fleece while an evil schemer in Thessaly plans to take his wife away from him.

Just for the record, the giants here are metaphorical; they are giants in the heroic sense, being the perfectly ordinary-sized Jason and his Argonauts. No, this version of the story can’t hold a candle to Harryhausen’s version, but it is somewhat different from the usual sword-and-sandal movie in that it eschews the superstrong hero in favor of more average men, including not only Jason, but Orpheus as well. There are a few nice scenes; I like the battle with the one-eyed monster and Jason’s ascent of the statue, but overall there’s something rather dull about this movie; the characters never really come to life, and there’s too much dull dialogue to slow things down. Still, it looks like a little more care was taken with this one than some of the others I’ve seen; I just wish the results had been a little more interesting.

 

Ghosts of Hanley House (1968)

GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE (1968)
Article 2160 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2007
Posting Date: 7-12-2007
Directed by Louise Sherrill
Featuring Elsie Baker, Barbara Chase, Wilkie de Martel

A group of people stay the night in an old house that is reputed to be haunted. It is.

There are some things I quite like about this movie. I like the non-Hollywood ambiance of the location footage of the town; it looks like the sort of small-to-medium size towns I’m familiar with. I also think the movie does some interesting things with sound. There are even moments where it recalls NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but they’re just moments. Unfortunately, the movie has a lot of problems; both the direction and acting are abysmal, the lighting and sound are inconsistent, and it has the pace of a drugged sloth. As a result, the movie causes you to drift off in your easy chair rather than pulling you to the edge of your seat; even a bloody flashback sequence does nothing to liven the proceedings. It’s a shame; a better production might have brought out some of the nicer touches and made the movie more interesting. As it is, it’s a snoozefest.

 

Gift of Gab (1934)

GIFT OF GAB (1934)
Article 2158 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-11-2007
Posting Date: 7-10-2007
Directed by Karl Freund
Featuring Edmund Lowe, Gloria Stuart, Ruth Etting

This movie recounts the tale of the rise, fall and redemption of a con man turned radio announcer.

What this movie seems to be most famous for is for being an early pairing of Karloff and Lugosi. Maybe someday somebody will add this scene as an extra to some Lugosi or Karloff collection somewhere; this could sate the curiosity of fans of either star without necessitating their having watch any more than two minutes of the movie. It’s basically a musical/comedy with decent music but bad comedy; unfortunately, it’s one of the latter scenes (a woeful murder mystery parody that bears only the slightest whiff of horror, but serves as the only qualification for the movie for this series) that features our horror stars. Edmund Lowe is well cast as the fast-talking Phillip Gabney, but when the story isn’t cliche-ridden, it’s muddled. The primary interest here is star-spotting; Alexander Woollcott appears as himself, Andy Devine pops up as a waiter, Sterling Hollaway is a sound effects man, Billy Barty is a baby, etc. etc. Curiosity value aside, this one is largely a waste of time.

 

The Ghost Train (1941)

THE GHOST TRAIN (1941)
Article 2109 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-24-2006
Posting Date: 5-22-2007
Directed by Walter Forde
Featuring Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Kathleen Harrison

A group of travelers find themselves stranded in a remote train station overnight. The station master tells them that the station is haunted by a ghost train that comes by in the middle of the night.

Now here’s something really scary – being trapped for eight hours in a train station with Arthur Askey! Not that he’s awful, mind you – it’s just that his in-your-face shtick gets on my nerves rather quickly. Consigned to a supporting comic-relief role, he’d be all right, but here he dominates almost ninety percent of the movie. In fact, it’s a good thirty minutes in the movie before you even get to the legend of the ghost train, and a good twenty minutes after that before any of the plot elements surrounding its appearance really start to manifest themselves. It’s a bit of a shame, really; the horror elements, when they do manifest themselves, are quite striking. Nonetheless, they represent a mere fraction of the running time, and with this much lollygagging and comic mayhem going on, what are the chances of the fantastic elements of the tale not turning out to be faked? Yes, we’re in real Scooby-Doo territory here. All we need is talking dog.

 

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1914)
Article 2101 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-16-2006
Posting Date: 5-14-2007
Directed by Winsor McCay
Winsor McCay, George McManus, Thomas A. ‘Tad’ Dorgan

A cartoonist bets that he can bring a dinosaur to life and make it walk and move. He wins the bet using an animated film about a dinosaur named Gertie.

No, this wasn’t the first animated movie – it wasn’t even the first by Winsor McCay, who had earlier made one called HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES, but it is still tremendously entertaining after all these years. I love all the little quirks McCay gives his creation; she can’t resist taking a few seconds from following her orders to snack on a tree or tussle with a woolly mammoth or ogle a bizarre sea serpent. McCay even manages to get himself into the animation at the end when he takes a ride on Gertie’s back. The beginning and end of the movie are live action, and document the story behind the making of the film; I don’t know if the story is true or not, but if it is, it’s almost as if the movie combines its own “making of” documentary with the main action. It even throws in a little slapstick comedy in the mix. At least one imitation was made of this movie, and McCay himself worked on a sequel that was not released.

 

The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972)

THE GROUNDSTAR CONSPIRACY (1972)
Article 2081 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-26-2006
Posting Date: 4-24-2007
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Featuring George Peppard, Michael Sarrazin, Christine Belford

The only survivor of an explosion in a secret government installation is a man known to be a spy now suffering from amnesia. A government agent vows to get the truth out of him, and then decides to let him escape in order to use him for bait to catch the people behind him.

This movie put me off initially; the direction is rather uninvolving, the acting is uneven, and the dialogue is sometimes quite awful. However, there’s an excellent story in the center, and once the story gets moving, the movie’s problems take a back seat and the ride becomes quite enjoyable. The first three-quarters of the movie works in a pretty standard thriller mode, but the last quarter takes some very interesting twists and ends with a memorable showdown between the two stars, George Peppard and Michael Sarrazin. The movie starts out as borderline science fiction (we never really know what was being worked on at Groundstar), but it veers much closer once we learn the twists in the final quarter of the movie. I can’t go into detail without giving away the end of the movie, but suffice it to say that it involves medical techniques that most likely didn’t exist at the time. The movie also deals with a theme that is quite topical indeed; to what lengths should the government be allowed to go to protect itself?