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Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Werewolf Remembers -- The Talbot saga


Review by Doug Gibson

To get an even better overview of genre scholar Frank Dello Stritto's new book, "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot," I urge readers to go to our Plan9Crunch interview with Frank about six weeks ago. Then read this review.

The book, as well as others by Dello Stritto, is published at Cult Movies Press. You can also buy it at Amazon.

Readers, particularly genre fans, will be awed by the knowledge the author possesses of both the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s as well as the other studios' -- small and large -- offerings during that golden period. There are dozens of films that have reference in this mock testament of cursed Wolfman Larry Talbot, as well as a observational chapters from his biographer researcher narrator.

"Condemned to Live," the Frankenstein films, the Dracula films, "Return of the Vampire," any film with Lawrence Talbot, of course, "Werewolf of London," films from PRC and Monogram, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," even characters from "Bride of the Monster," "The Alligator People" and "Thriller" TV series flit through this unique book.

What Dello Stritto has managed to do is provide a continuity to the films that involve Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster. This is not an easy task as these monsters continually die and are continually (inexplicably) resurrected. In Talbot's testament, he describes a deep non-living stage, a stagnant location on the path the deceased take to eternal life. There, unable to move on, exist Talbot, the Frankenstein monster and Dracula. Talbot and Frankenstein's monster are victims. Dracula represents evil. Periodically the trio are returned to an earthly existence.

Genre fans, and hard-core enthusiasts will enjoy this book the most, but even the casual viewer of several Universal horrors would enjoy "A Werewolf Remembers." Lon Chaney's Talbot eventually became the central character of the Universal horror films and in his final appearance, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," he goes after his major nemesis, Count Dracula. This film serves as the climax of "A Werewolf Remembers." What drives Talbot on his pursuit to destroy Dracula I'll leave for readers to discover.

Some characters are explored in more detail than others. Dr. Yogami, who Warner Oland played in "Werewolf of London," is an altruistic man trying hard to cure Talbot with the tmariphasa plant. That fails and Talbot infects Yogami. Another hero of Talbot's testament is Dr. Edelmann of "House of Dracula," who sacrifices his sanity and life to provide relief, albeit temporary, to Talbot. It's nice to see Talbot's gypsy protector, Maleva, have a dignified end to her life in the book.

But the book goes beyond the horror genre. Dello Stritto has created a family line of the Talbots and familial customs. In order to make good use of the many, many photo stills that serve as historical records, he has created news services, city and town archives, police photos, entertainment photos and an even a Talbot historical society that remains in the family home. In the book, Lawrence, not a first-born son, is exiled, per tradition, to America in the late 19th century, where he spends time in the Alaska gold fields and eventually California. He rubs shoulders with, among others, Jack London and the characters from several films, including "King Kong," Murders In the Zoo," The Most Dangerous Game," "Mad Monster," "Jungle Woman" and "Return of the Ape Man."

(The time frame is necessary to fit Talbot's presence in the many different films and time periods. As he explains in his testament, he ages very slowly.)

I need to mention that Lawrence Talbot is considered a "Red Talbot," more nomadic and wild. There are "White Talbots," who stay home and are more studious. Dello Stritto's conception of Lawrence Talbot is faithful to his movie portrayals as a man who seeks death and deeply suffers over his affliction, which makes him eagerly attack, kill and eat human prey. If he fails to do that when the moon is full, he suffers. He is tortured with regret.

The final chapters, where Talbot, in pursuit of "Dracula," interviews his past victims, including characters played by Helen Chandler and Nina Foch, are fascinating reading. The ending is appropriately open. But there is unspoken hope, as its apparent that no sightings of Talbot or the other monsters have appeared since the late 1940s. Maybe he gained peace after grabbing "Dracula" at the end of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

The book is structured well. It is told in fast-paced sections within larger chapters, some lasting only a few to several paragraphs. Also, the testament, followed by the narrator's observations provide agreeable change of pace.

As mentioned, the author's knowledge of nearly a half century of research, dozens of essays and several published books provide the continuity and knowledge necessary to create a mock documentary that sticks to the genre facts and makes it a real treasure for readers. Trust me, you'll be amazed by the tale(s) the author has weaved throughout this book. Only reading the book can do it justice.

At Plan9Crunch, we have articles on Dello Stritto's writing and observations here, here, here, including a review of the remarkable, well-researched book, co-authored with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Gun Crazy is on Turner Classic movies



On Sunday, July 16, 2017, Turner Classic Movies will air the B-movie classic "Gun Crazy." It starts at 8 a.m. MST. We urge film buffs to watch this low-budget film that packs a powerful impact. It's mentioned in Danny Peary's book Cult Films. Director Joseph H. Lewis was an A director in low-budget films. For example, he was easily Bela Lugosi's best Monogram director, helming "The Invisible Ghost." Here's a short review below.

Gun Crazy: 1950, King Brothers Productions, Peggy Cummins and John Nall. 4 stars - This low-budget gem is a film noir classic of the lovesick male with a reform school past who falls for the bad girl and follows her to both of their dooms. Cummins and Nall, little-known actors, generate real sparks as greedy sharp shooters who don't have the patience to live a normal life. When she kills in a robbery and the law closes in on them, the claustrophobic atmosphere director Joseph H. Lewis creates is outstanding and final love to the death moments between these two losers is moving. There's a reason Gun Crazy is taught in many film schools. Don't miss it. It's easy to buy and pops up on TV often.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Voodoo Man; one of Bela Lugosi's better Monogram films





Review by Doug Gibson

I really like 1944's Monogram film, "Voodoo Man," the last film Bela Lugosi starred in for Sam Katzman's Monogram/Banner film company. It was released, however, prior to the earlier Lugosi film, The Return of the Ape Man. I love all of the Monogram Lugosi films, the wild plots, the very low budgets, the dank lighting, the dreary non-horror leads, the typed-last-night dialogue. "Voodoo Man" for a long time was not seen as much as other Lugosi Monograms, and it took a while years ago to find and buy. However, with the Net generation, you can watch it above courtesy of YouTube. Still, I never see it on Turner Classic Movies or other television, even today.

That's too bad, because it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall). In typical Monogram nonsensical fashion, he lures his prey (and he has a home full of zombie-like beautiful women) with the help of a service station owner, George Zucco, who sends the girls to Lugosi via a roadblock. Lugosi, watching them on that newfangled thing called a television transmitter, sends an electrical ray that stops their cars. At that point, two moronic but relatively gentle henchmen, played by John Carradine and Frank Moran, kidnap the lovelies and take them to Dr. Marlowe's lair, where Zucco, a high priest to the God, Ramboona, attempts to transfer their lives to Marlowe's "dead" wife.

OK, you're wondering why I call this non-convoluted. My only defense is to recount the other Lugosi Monogram plots but I don't have 100 pages to do so. ... Back to the film, a Hollywood screenwriter, Ralph Dawson, off to marry his sweetheart, is sent by his studio boss (named SK, an inside Sam Katzman joke) to write a screenplay about the missing girls, which has, not surprisingly generated a lot of news.

The film, 62 minutes long, moves swiftly and carries the viewer's interest. It may be outlandish, but it's never dull. Lugosi is, actually, a his biographer Arthur Lennig notes, a sympathetic character, despite his kidnappings. He's endured 22 years of his wife's zombie-like state, and conveys his despair well. "Voodoo Man" has a dream cast, with Lugosi and Zucco together. It's a lot better than their other pairing, "Scared to Death." Carradine is cast out of type as one of the henchmen and has been criticized but I like his work in the film.He seems to be having fun and even manages to look creepy when he bangs the drums during the Ramboona God ceremonies. Moran, a former prizefighter, is good as his partner.

Monogram starlets Louise Currie and Wanda McKay are two of my favorites. Both are gorgeous and capable actresses who worked with Lugosi more than once. In fact, Katzman called Currie the low-budget Katharine Hepburn because of her striking beauty. Unlike most Monogram.Banner romantic male leads, who tend to be stiffs, Michael Ames' Ralph Dawson has energy and personality on the screen. He later changed his screen name to Tod Andrews and guest starred on both and early late Andy Griffith Show episodes, Veteran actor Henry Hall is well cast as the amusing sheriff and has a fun time saying "Gosh All Fishhooks!" when the script calls for it.

But the best, and perhaps most famous line, is delivered by Ames' Dawson in the film's epilogue. Handing the script to the producer, he turns to movie company's president and suggests a casting choice: "Why don't you get Bela Lugosi. It's right up his alley!"

It certainly was, but it was Lugosi's last Monogram film role. Initially, things looked better for Bela in 1944. He was in a higher-budget horror spoof, "One Body Too Many," for Fine Arts Productions and then signed a three-picture deal with RKO that included "The Body Snatcher." But his film career would dry up in the latter 1940s, and he only made two films in that decade after the RKO deal. One, fortunately, was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." As the decade progressed, most of his earnings would come barnstorming the country, on the stage in summer stock and other venues, usually performing as "Dracula" or as "Jonathan Brewster" in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

It's A Gift (1934) – One of W.C. Fields' Best


Review by Steve D. Stones


It's A Gift, from Paramount, is one of comedian W.C. Fields' best films. The funny gags in this film will have you rolling in the aisles. Watch for a hilarious shaving scene by Fields early in the film.

Fields plays a humble middle class New Jersey grocery store owner named Harold Bissonette who is constantly hounded by his overbearing wife Amelia, played by Kathleen Howard. After a blind man accidentally breaks his store front windows and a display of light bulbs, and a child spills a barrel of molasses on the floor, Bissonette decides he has had enough of the grocery business and sells the store. He has dreams of moving to California to start an orange grove business.

Bissonette's uncle Bean is ill and eventually dies from choking on an orange, which is ironic – since Bissonette dreams of running an orange grove one day. Bissonette receives some inheritance from Bean. Bissonette purchases a ranch in California where the orange grove business is prosperous.

To get some sleep from his constantly nagging wife, Bissonette goes outside on the second floor deck to sleep. Here he is tortured by an infant, played by Baby LeRoy, who pours grapes down a hole in the floor to hit Bissonette in the face as he tries to sleep. Bissonette is also pestered by an insurance salesman on the bottom floor. A milkman also arrives while loudly banging milk bottles. Will Bissonette ever get any sleep? The viewer really sympathizes with Bissonette's challenge to try to get some sleep during this long scene.





After informing his wife that he no longer owns the street corner grocery store, he makes plans to head out to west with his family to California to start his orange grove business. When the family arrives in California, they find a run down land with an old shack that is not in livable condition. This of course angers Amelia. Luckily, a race track owner arrives to offer to buy the property for $44,000 so he can build a race track on the land.

What I find particularly funny in this film is when Bissonette continually walks out on his wife in every scene when she nags at him. Instead of disagreeing with her and arguing, he simply agrees with her, but then walks out of the room when her back is turned on him. She continues to nag and nag, even long after Bissonette leaves the room. Bissonette seems to keep his cool with all the women in his life, even in the opening shaving scene with his daughter Mildred, who pushes him away from the bathroom mirror as he shaves.

For further information about the career and films of W.C. Fields, see author James L. Neibaur's book – The W.C. Fields Films, published by McFarland in March 2017. Happy viewing.

Art by Steve D. Stones