The Magic Face (1951)

THE MAGIC FACE (1951)
Article 1939 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2006
Posting Date: 12-3-2006
Directed by Frank Tuttle
Featuring Luther Adler, Patricia Knight, William L. Shirer

A professional impersonator in Nazi Germany is arrested and thrown into prison when Hitler takes a fancy to his wife. He manages to escape, and hatches a plot to destroy Hitler by murdering him and taking his place.

Given the hysterical and lurid promises of the ad campaign (“See HITLER KILLED IN SHAME MURDER – after wild wine party!” and “See HITLER SLAIN IN LOVE NEST – after shameless champagne party!”) and the far-fetched premise of the plot, the movie actually comports itself with a decent amount of dignity and tries to make itself convincing. I do like the little attentions to detail; they spend some time showing that the actor has to learn the duties of a valet before he takes on the job itself, and we see a number of scenes of the actor closely watching Hitler so that he’ll know how to imitate him. I also think Luther Adler does an excellent job in the role, and at one time or another he gives imitations of Mussolini, Chamberlain and Selassie as well as Hitler.

For this series, though, the question is whether this movie qualifies as genre or not. I’m inclined to say it doesn’t. The closest explanation I could come up with that someone would classify it as such is that the premise bears a certain similarity to ‘alternate histories” in the science fiction genre, but these histories give us a world different from the one we live in, whereas this movie is trying to offer an explanation as to why certain things happened, in particular, as to why Hitler began making major tactical mistakes in his war planning. And, for the record, the only “wild wine party” here is held by the warden of the prison (with Hitler not on hand) long before Der Fuhrer is assassinated.

 

Mr. Drake’s Duck (1951)

MR. DRAKE’S DUCK (1951)
Article 1919 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-16-2006
Posting Date: 11-13-2006
Directed by Val Guest
Featuring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Yolande Donlan, Jon Pertwee

A newlywed bride inadvertently buys a shipment of ducks at a local auction. She then discovers that one of the ducks lays eggs containing uranium, which brings in the military.

I’m mostly familiar with Val Guest as being the director of several excellent science fiction movies (in particular, the first two Quatermass movies), but it appears that he had a long career as a director and writer of comedies. I’m not quite as impressed with his work in this regard, though I do like this one a little better than I do the other one I’ve seen of his, LIFE IS A CIRCUS . The science fiction angle of the story is obvious (a duck has developed a method of laying uranium eggs in lead-lined shells), but the movie never really explores the whys and wherefores of this situation and instead concentrates on how the appearance of the military creates upheaval in their lives. Of course, the orignal British version of the movie might have more information; the U.S. print of the movie is short by ten minutes. It’s only sporadically amusing, but it does have a great cast of character actors; in particular, it’s fun to see a pre-Doctor Who Jon Pertwee as the cranky farmhand. The name of the main character is Donald Drake, and I wasn’t surprised that at least one joke comes up about the name. On a side note, I couldn’t help but be reminded a little bit of “Green Acres”, since that’s the name of the farm, and Yolande Donlan does bear a certain resemblance to Eva Gabor.

 

The Man Who Wouldn’t Die (1942)

THE MAN WHO WOULDN’T DIE (1942)
Article 1905 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-2-2006
Posting Date: 10-30-2006
Directed by Herbert I. Leeds
Featuring Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver, Helene Reynolds

When a recently married woman returns to her father’s home to announce the news, she discovers the family is out of sorts. She thinks it’s because of an investigation being conducted on her father, but, unbeknownst to her, the family had just engaged in the mysterious midnight burial of a stranger. Then, when a mysterious figure takes a shot at her in her bedroom, and the family convinces her not to call the police, she hires a private investigator to pretend to be her husband and investigate the incident.

Sometimes just one crucial moment can make all the difference in how well a movie works. When the shooting in the bedroom occurs, the would-be murderer appears with his eyes glowing; I think it’s the same effect they tried to use with Bela Lugosi in DRACULA (where they didn’t center the lights correctly), but here it works beautifully, adding a touch of eerie horror to the proceedings. This, combined with a plot that implies that a character keeps rising from the dead, and a scene involving a room full of lab equipment that looks like it was out of FRANKENSTEIN , gives the movie quite a bit in the way of fantastic elements.

So far, this remains the only movie I’ve seen in the Michael Shayne series with Lloyd Nolan in the role. I hope more of them pop up on my list; this one was quite enjoyable. The fantastic elements, though incidental, are sharp and memorable, the mystery is very good, and the humor is quite engaging as well. Lloyd Nolan is great in this role, and I like the way his character is something of a cross between a Wallace Ford-style wisecracking reporter and some of the later Humphrey Bogart-style hard-boiled detectives, which is a pretty nice balancing act. Olin Howland is also memorable as a bumbling police inspector, and that’s Jeff Corey as the Coroner. I truly enjoyed this one, and I think there’s just enough here to keep horror fans entertained as well.

Murder in the Blue Room (1944)

MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM (1944)
Article 1899 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2006
Posting Date: 10-24-2006
Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Featuring Anne Gwynne, Donald Cook, John Litel

A man decides to spend the night in the Blue Room in a supposedly haunted mansion. When the room is found empty the next day and locked from the inside, police are called in to investigate.

If you’ve ever watched THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM or THE MISSING GUEST and said, “Hey, I’d really like to see a version of this movie starring a novelty song-and-dance act consisting of three wise-cracking women”, then you’re in paradise here. If not, well, here it is anyway. The fantastic elements are more prominent here; they throw in a ghost in a white derby to enhance the comedy relief, and since no explanation is tendered for the ghost, I’m assuming he’s a real supernatural manifestation. The musical group is called the Three Jazzybelles, and I think they were put together for this movie; the music is peppy and amusing, the dancing athletic, and the jokes are obvious and lame. Still, they come off better than the Ritz Brothers (who were originally intended to appear in this) in THE GORILLA . As for the mystery, it’s a throwaway, especially if you’ve seen SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM or THE MISSING GUEST. Still, this one is pretty watchable.

Oh, and that creepy chauffeur? Though he isn’t credited, he’s played by none other than perennial undertaker Milton Parsons.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

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)

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)

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 .