Psychic Killer (1975)

PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)
Article 1821 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-10-2006
Posting Date: 8-7-2006
Directed by Ray Danton
Featuring Paul Burke, Jim Hutton, Julie Adams

A man who has been unjustly sent to a mental institution for murder discovers the secret of astral projection. When he is released, he uses the power to cause the deaths of those who wronged him.

This movie has an promising premise (murder by astral projection), an interesting cast (which features Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Neville Brand, Rod Cameron and Whit Bissell), and poses an intriguing question; even if the police know who is guilty of the bizarre and seemingly accidental deaths that have occurred, how can they prove it? The first part of the movie at the mental institution is the best part; unfortunately, once the inmate is released and the deaths begin, the movie takes a nosedive. Its main problem is the way it handles the murders. Though I understand the reasoning behind making each of the victims an unpleasant character so that the viewer is glad to see them offed, this movie makes them so over-the-top in their unpleasantness that the movie turns inadvertently comic during the scary scenes, and since the rest of the movie is taking itself rather seriously, it undermines the movie’s impact. Some of the dialogue is quite bad as well, and the police figure out the culprit far too easily. Ultimately, it’s a failure, but not an uninteresting one.

The Red Shoes (1948)

THE RED SHOES (1948)
Article #1596 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2005
Posting Date: 12-25-2005
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Featuring Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer

A young ballet dancer and an aspiring music composer fall in love against the wishes of a dictatorial ballet impressario.

The fantastic element in this movie isn’t contained in the above plot description, and in some ways, it’s not part of the main plot. It is present within the central ballet of the film, which is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about some red dancing shoes which take possession of the wearers and causes them to dance until they drop dead. This ballet sequence is in the middle of the film, and it is brilliant; despite the fact that the movie introduces it as a work being performed on stage, it is a purely cinematic piece, with special effects and transitions which are only possible through the movie medium. It is also a richly fantastic piece, and even touches upon horror at one point as the dancer encounters some grotesque night creatures. This sequence is definitely the high point of the film.

In truth, though, it can’t be said that the ballet has nothing to do with the main picture; rather, it serves as a metaphor for the three characters who make up the romantic/artistic triangle plot that drives the movie. The plot itself is usually the stuff of soap opera and women’s movies, and would hold little interest for me if it weren’t in the hands of the brilliant directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They transform this story into a transcendent and incredibly moving story of a woman who is forced to make an impossible choice between love and art, both of which are demanding (in the form of the two men in her life) total commitment to one at the expense of the other. The climax of the movie is unforgettable and includes a short reprise of the ballet, only with one significant change. The performances are uniformly excellent, with special kudos going to Moira Shearer as the ballerina and Anton Walbrook as the impresario.

The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)

THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES (1936)
Article #1509 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2005
Posting Date: 9-29-2005
Directed by Lothar Mendes
Featuring Roland Young, Ralph Richardson, Edward Chapman

A cosmic entity grants the ability to work miracles to a random individual on the planet earth.

Producer Alexander Korda had adapted H.G. Wells to the screen with THINGS TO COME, and returned to the author with this movie. Initially, these two movies couldn’t be more different; whereas the events in THINGS TO COME played themselves out in broad strokes on an epic scale, this one seems at first to be light comedy. After all, this massive power has been granted to a slightly befuddled, somewhat meek man named Fotheringay; one need only know that the part is being played by Roland Young to have an idea of what the character is like. However, the light comedy that permeates most of the movie is a bit of a deception; at heart, it’s a long-burning fuse that leads to an explosion that occurs when Fotheringay finally realizes that the power he has been granted is subservient to his will and no one elses, and it is at this point that the guidance he has been seeking from the idealistic but somewhat hypocritical crusader Mr. Maydig (Ernest Thesiger) and the conservative but selfish and brutal Colonel Winstanley (Ralph Richardson) comes to naught. It is at this point that the theme of progress in the movie starts to bear a certain resemblance to the same theme in THINGS TO COME; furthermore, there’s also the theme of the seductiveness of power which strongly recalls the similar theme in another Wells adaptation, THE INVISIBLE MAN. Roland Young is excellent in the title role, as are Thesiger and Richardson as well. The movie also features early performances from George Sanders who, as a mystical creature known as Indifference, is already displaying the arrogance that would be an acting trademark of his, and George Zucco, cast in a very unusual role for him as a manservant. The movie is full of clever touches, and the ending is great. This may be the finest adaptation of Wells to date.

Return of the Frog (1938)

RETURN OF THE FROG (1938)
(a.k.a. NOBODY’S HOME)
Article #1395 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2005
Posting Date: 6-7-2005
Directed by Maurice Elvey
Featuring Gordon Harker, Hartley Power, Rene Ray

Inspector Elk from Scotland Yard is called back from a fishing trip to investigate reports of further crimes being perpetrated by criminal known as the Frog.

When a title has the word “return” in it, you’re most likely watching a sequel of some other movie. That’s the case with this one; it’s a sequel to a 1936 movie called THE FROG, which wasn’t listed in the reference work where I came up with this title. I suspect that the earlier movie has no fantastic content, which wouldn’t surprise me, as the fantastic content in this one (science fiction content involving an early form of television, and very meager horror content with the concept of a criminal cult of sorts) is slight. On the plus side, this movie is well-acted, is full of amusing one-liners, and features Una O’Connor. On the minus side, the plot is confusing and it feels alternately rushed and dull. I get the feeling they were trying to shoehorn too much story into its 73 minute running time, and as a result, it feels cramped and doesn’t flow well. It’s based on a story by Edgar Wallace, and would be remade in the early sixties as THE INN ON THE RIVER.

The Frozen Dead (1966)

THE FROZEN DEAD (1966)
Article #1162 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2001
Posting Date: 10-17-2004
Directed by Herbert J. Leder
Featuring Dana Andrews, Anna Palk, Philip Gilbert

A Nazi scientist needs a brain in order to test his experiments with which he hopes to revive 1500 frozen elite Nazi officials.

It seems positively perverse to me that this glum, turgid movie doesn’t have the word “brain” in the title; after all, its plot plays like a cross between DONOVAN’S BRAIN, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE , and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN. Unfortunately, the movie is a little closer in quality to the latter two than to the former, and even at that, it lacks somewhat the chutzpah that make those two fairly memorable. Dana Andrews does all he can to keep his dignity throughout; but he’s a long way here from NIGHT OF THE DEMON. The real villain here is his assistant, Karl who (like his namesake in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, another movie that deals at least partially in brains) is not only homicidally proactive but dumb as a keg of neck bolts as well; he claims he’s doing it out of loyalty to the party, which just goes to show the dangers of blind adherence to party platform. It’s all in the cause of reviving frozen elite Nazi party members, most of whom are in Germany but the rest are scattered around the globe (so check your refrigerator). So far, his attempts at revival have resulted in a basement full of subhuman idiots (like the basement in Dr. Cadman’s castle in THE BLACK SLEEP, who got that way from operations on their – you guessed it – brains). And this isn’t even mentioning the wall of arms, which reminds me of a similar wall in Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (a movie that has nothing to do with brains, but whose title is remarkably similar to that of THE LADY AND THE MONSTER, an early version of DONOVAN’S BRAIN).

Suggested retitling: I’VE GOT BRAINS ON MY BRAIN AND IT’S HURTING MY BRAIN.

Sherlock Holmes (1932)

SHERLOCK HOLMES (1932)
Article #1057 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-5-2004
Posting Date: 7-4-2004
Directed by William K. Howard
Featuring Clive Brook, Miriam Jordan, Ernest Torrence

Sherlock Holmes must track down his old enemy Moriarty to prevent him from taking revenge on those who sent him to prison and beginning a new crime wave.

This Sherlock Holmes movie takes several risks with the character; it takes place in modern times, Holmes is given a girlfriend, and at one point he dresses up as a little old lady in one of his disguises. Fortunately, the movie itself is so witty that the only problem I have is with the girlfriend. I even forgive a longish sequence which gets away from the main story and concentrates on a tavern owner who finds himself the target of a protection racket, largely because the stoic stiff-upper-lip attitude of the character results in one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Ernest Torrence is a great Moriarty; he is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in the role. Clive Brook plays Holmes, and Reginal Owens plays Dr. Watson; Owens would go on to play Holmes himself in the next year’s A STUDY IN SCARLET. Overall, this is a fun if occasionally bizarre take on the story, what with the subplot of Moriarty trying to adopt the methods of the American gangsters in his plots. However, the fantastic elements are fairly nonexistent, so it really only belongs marginally to the covered genres here.

Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941)

DICK TRACY VS. CRIME INC. (1941)
Article #1056 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2004
Posting Date: 7-3-2004
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Ralph Byrd, Michael Owen, Jan Wiley

Dick Tracy tries to discover the identity of a criminal called The Ghost who is doing away with members of a city crime council.

There are four Dick Tracy serials in this series; I’ve covered the first two (DICK TRACY, DICK TRACY RETURNS) but have yet to see the third. This, the fourth, dispenses with Mike McGurk and Junior, and you know, I don’t miss them a bit. For one thing, the villain in this one has the power to turn invisible, giving the movie a much stronger science fiction element, and also giving Tracy his most interesting foe. The opening cliffhanger is a doozy, but I would expect that of any cliffhanger that borrowed footage from DELUGE. In fact, there seems to be quite a bit of borrowed footage; several of the action sequences seem awfully familiar, and there are some recognizable moments from the other Tracy serials. Still, I’d rather have it do that than borrow footage from itself for one of those “remember-when-we-started-on-this-case” reminiscences that pop up in these serials occasionally. Incidentally, I thought episode six did an exemplary job of pacing its non-stop action, and the final fight scene is done in negative photography, which makes it a lot of fun. I definitely prefer this to the two others that I’ve seen of the series.