The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)

Article 3302 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-13-2010
Posting Date: 8-29-2010
Directed by Gene Levitt
Featuring Skye Aubrey, Jack Cassidy, Jackie Coogan
Country: USA
What it is: Masked maniac on the loose

Worldwide Studios is selling their back lots, since all shooting is now done on location. However, there is a secret resident living on one of the back lots, and he doesn’t want them sold… and he’s not afraid to kill those who do.

The story here is no great shakes; it’s basically a variation on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. However, it’s the milieu that makes this movie memorable, as it takes place on the back lots of MGM. My favorite moment in the movie is near the beginning; as the camera pans across the decrepit and decaying buildings of the back lot, we cut to movie scenes where the buildings were used, and, for movie lovers, there’s something very sad about these scenes. It’s actually quite clever for MGM to use the destruction of their own back lot for a final movie there, and I spent a good deal of the movie watching the familiar scenery and trying to remember the movies where I first saw them. Furthermore, there’s something very ironic about the fact that this movie is both shot on the back lot AND location, since the back lot IS the location of the movie. I also liked the touch that the masked villain occasionally is able to walk about in public at times when the lot is peopled by other actors in costumes. A good performance by Jack Cassidy in a dual role is also a plus.


Persecution (1974)

Article 3301 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-12-2010
Posting Date: 8-28-2010
Directed by Don Chaffey
Featuring Lana Turner, Trevor Howard, Ralph Bates
Country: UK
What it is: Psychological horror

A boy kills his mother’s cat out of jealousy, and she proceeds to punish him for the deed for the rest of his life. When the boy grows up, gets married and has a child of his own, his mother begins scheming on how to destroy the marriage. However, she herself has a few skeletons in the closet…

This bizarre foray into psychological horror is much maligned, no doubt due to the over-deliberate pacing and the fact that there’s a sense of absurdity underlying much of the action in the movie. Nevertheless, the movie has its supporters, and I count myself among them. I find something fascinating here about the ways in which the mother torments her child, and I’m entranced by the way that every atrocity that is committed in the household has a parallel atrocity at another part of the story. I’m not sure exactly what role the cat plays in the story, but I suspect that it serves the most evil person in the house; notice how the son can only embrace the cat when he himself turns the corner into madness. It’s a very sad story at times; watching the son burn his boyhood toys one by one, and then reliving his mother’s rejection of a Christmas present is hard to take. There’s certain moments that bother me; I’m not sure to what degree the death of the baby is an accident or intentional (due to the ambiguity of the role of the cat), and I think the final line of the movie overdoes things just a bit, but I generally found the movie interesting and satisfying.

The Phantom (1943)

Article 3299 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2010
Posting Date: 8-26-2010
Directed by B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Tom Tyler, Jeanne Bates, Kenneth MacDonald
Country: USA
What it is: Masked hero jungle movie

A masked hero known as the Phantom must protect the native tribes from a group of spies planning to build a secret airstrip in a lost city.

If you can get your mind around the patently absurd premise (that for years a family of white men have been protecting the native jungle tribes under the guise of the masked bejumpsuited immortal hero known as the Phantom) and the strangeness of seeing an urban-style masked hero in jungle settings, you should find this to be one of the sturdier and more enjoyable serials out there. At least one advantage of the jungle settings is that we don’t have a single bail-out cliffhanger in the bunch, for one thing. Western actor Tom Tyler does a good job as the title character, and Kenneth MacDonald does one of the better jobs of playing a villain who manages to successfully cover up that role when dealing with the heroes. The plot also has enough story to avoid being repetitive, but not so much to be confusing. One of the episodes had to be redubbed due to the deterioration of the soundtrack, and you’ll spot the episode right off the bat with the opening narration. The most prominent fantastic content surrounds the legend of the Phantom’s immortality (which we know is faked); outside of that, it’s mostly marginally fantastic in that jungle-movie sort of way. This is one of the better serials out there.

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

Article 3287 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-24-2010
Posting Date: 8-14-2010
Directed by Henry Cornelius
Featuring Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray
Country: UK
What it is: Political science fiction comedy

When a bomb is actually set off in the small community of Pimlico in London, it uncovers treasure as well as documentation attesting to the fact that the area in question actually belongs to the country of Burgundy. When the residents realize that this status as a foreign territory relieves them of adherence to some of the more annoying British laws, they decide to stand by their rights to be Burgundians rather than Britons, a move that starts an escalating chain of events as Britain and Pimlico must come to terms with each other.

When I saw this movie many years ago, it never occurred to me that it could be interpreted as science fiction, and I could understand why some might argue that it doesn’t belong. However, it is speculative political fiction, and it’s very intelligently done as well; it explores the whole world of foreign relations with the twist that the foreigners are practically next door. The movie has a great ensemble cast, and watching the various events unfold (the installation of customs stations, the arrival of an heir to the Burgundian crown, the “closing of the frontiers” in an attempt to force the residents to evacuate, etc.) is fascinating. This comedy becomes even more charming as it goes along, with the scene where three children pioneer a method of saving the Burgundians from starvation a particular high point. This is one movie that is worth rewatching.

Play Misty for Me (1971)

Article 3277 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2010
Posting Date: 8-4-2010
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Featuring Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho thriller

A DJ has a brief fling with an obsessed female fan, but the woman begins intruding on his life. He soon discovers that the woman is insanely jealous, mad… and homicidal.

Clint Eastwood’s fame probably wouldn’t have suffered one bit had he never decided to take up directing; however, he did, and in doing so, developed a career perhaps more distinguished than his acting one. This was his first directorial effort, and though it has a few problems, for a first effort, it is excellent. A strong script and an excellent performance by Jessica Walter are what really make this one work. Jessica’s psycho is the stuff of nightmares; she uses every trick in the book to worm her way into the DJ’s life, and you can feel his frustration when his attempts to break off with here result in only more shrill, spiraling madness. I love the moments in the movie where it doesn’t feel the need to explain or show certain things; you can figure out how the woman knew which bar to go to to meet the DJ without being told, and you don’t need to see her eavesdropping on the phone when the DJ takes a call from his girlfriend. It’s also fun to see director Don Siegel as the bartender. The main problem with the movie is the pacing is occasionally off, and the movie comes to a screeching halt about three-fourths of the way through the picture before picking up with the finale. Eastwood himself does a decent job as the DJ, though I don’t think he would have been my first choice for the role. Still, this was an auspicious directorial debut for Eastwood.

Public Ghost No. 1 (1935)

Article 3260 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2010
Posting Date: 7-18-2010
Directed by Harold Law
Featuring Charley Chase, Joyce Compton, Edwin Maxwell
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

An unemployed man searching for a job mistakes a lunatic inventor for a powerful executive. The inventor talks the man into partnering with him as a professional ghost. When the man is hired by a realtor to drive out residents of a newly-bought home, complications ensue.

This turned out to be a very entertaining comedy short, thanks in part to a scene-stealing performance by Edwin Maxwell as the crazed inventor. It never tries to be scary; it’s obvious the ghosts are being faked from the beginning. Some of the tactics used to scare the residents are truly bizarre, including a silly banjo number, a dog in a skull mask blowing a duck call, and a recording of someone being shot in an argument. The biggest laughs surround the inventor’s Rube Goldberg-like fly exterminator. The story relies on some pretty outrageous coincidences, but that’s part of the amusement.

Prom Night (1980)

Article 3255 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2010
Posting Date: 7-13-2010
Directed by Paul Lynch
Featuring Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Stevens
Country: Canada
What it is: Slasher movie

When a children’s game goes awry and causes the death of one of the players, the other four, fearful they may go to jail, make a pact to keep it a secret. Several years later, the children have become teenagers and are attending the prom. However, there is a maniac on the loose who knows of the accident and who has targeted them for death…

The opening scene with the children’s game is fairly decent, and the initial premise that drives the plot at the beginning is also not bad. Unfortunately, the movie gets caught up in too many subplots, red herrings, and extraneous characters, so that the killings don’t start until two-thirds of the movie have passed. From then on, it’s the usual compendium of slasher cliches, further marred by the fact that much of the action is too dark to make out. All in all, it’s just another slasher film.