Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Golem, Peter Lorre and Guy Kibbee

By Doug Gibson

Because I write about 10 editorials/reviews a week and work 50-plus hours a week in my paid job, I thought I'd try a weekly missive mentioning, albeit briefly, films I watch that I just don't have the time to review now, although I may well do so in the future. These reviews will only be a paragraph, but there will be links to more information and usually at least one will have a video web link.

So, here we go:

I saw "The Golem," from 1920, finally and all I can say is WOW, what a magnificent movie. It's pre-code sexy, compelling and the German expessionist genre, with winding, narrow, looming street, staircases and interiors, is as strong as "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." The story involves a rabbi in the 16th Century Prague who invokes black magic to create a Golem, a man/monster that will protect the Jews from the secular leaders/royalty. The Golem, played by Paul Wegener, invokes the emotions, sounds and characteristics that Boris Karloff would place into the Frankenstein monster 11 years later. Watch it above.

"The Face Behind the Mask," 1941, may be Peter Lorre's most understated masterpiece. He's superb as kind, pacifistic immigrant Janos Szabo, who is disfigured in an accident. His appearance kills his career as a watchmaker, so he embarks on crime and is very successful, buying a mask to alleviate his appearance. One day he meets a beautiful blind working woman, played by Evelyn Keyes, and they fall in love. Szabo leaves his crime gang, but they won't let him go. The final 20 minutes or so of this film has the impact of a punch in the gut. Ironically, I learned on TCM's commentary that Lorre hated the film, and was usually half-bagged by noon.

Plan9Crunch readers know I'm a Guy Kibbee fan and 1937's "Don't Tell the Wife" is a great mild Kibbee comedy. He plays "Dinky" Winthrop, a seemingly dense financial columnist for a hick newspaper who is used as a patsy by a gang of con men pitching worthless gold mine stock. Una Merkel is very funny as well playing the chief con man's disapproving wife. This is one of those pleasant hour comedies where you know nothing really bad is going to happen. Kibbee's patsy character turns out to be a lot smarter than the grifters realized.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Troll 2 videocast directly from 'Nilbog'!

Hello cult film fans, this is Doug Gibson. My co-blogger Steve D. Stones and I, along with Jennifer Van Dyke and Alexander Van Dyke doing technical work, were in Morgan, Utah, and Portervile, Utah, on June 18, 2013, visiting some of the sets where that wonderful cult film, Troll 2, was filmed. We visited the now-empty building that was the "general store" in Morgan and then headed to the own of Porterville and visited the ruins of the historic Mormon church that was used as the exterior of the home of the "Goblin Queen." It was a lot of fun and we hope you enjoy our show! Here's some links to earlier posts we've done about Troll 2. Here is one, and here's another.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Finally, a new book on Ed Wood's films with interviewsl

By Doug Gibson

The first thing that grabs me while reading the new book, "The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood," by Andrew J. Rausch and Charles E. Pratt Jr. (BearManor Media, 2015) is that there's virtually no contributions from Wood's "old guard," the folks that were around him from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's a strength of the book, to bring new blood to Wood study. We've heard too many of the old stories in print and screen.

But there's another bittersweet reason for the many omitted. Kathy Wood, Lyn Lemon, Paul Marco, Dolores Fuller, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Loretta King, Norma McCarty, Don Nagel, David De Mering, Bunny Beckinridge, Mark Carducci, Valda Hansen, and others. They're all dead, some in the last few years. The main Wood friend of that long-gone era still kicking is Conrad Brooks and he's barely mentioned, and even dissed in an interview with a mini micro-budget Wood film auteur. Even Wood's initial stepladder to fame, Bela Lugosi, keeps a small presence in this volume.

"Cinematic Misadventures ..." is far from perfect, but it is a valuable book. Its ability to gather a collection of younger, eclectic characters to go on the record about their associations and obsessions with Ed Wood is evidence of the lingering influence of Wood's movies, and yes, legacy, folks. This man's going on 40 years dead and people are still talking about him while others, say, Samuel Arkoff, are interred into the cemetery of footnotes.

The strongest part of Rausch and Pratt's Ed Wood book is the interviews (there's 89 pages of Q and As, and bookended forwards and afterwords by Wood "scholars" Ted Newsom and David C. Hayes. The former did the still-awesome "Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora," and the latter examined Wood's fiction career in the book "Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Jr."

The interviews are great reading. There's one with Rudolph Grey, who still has written the best Wood book, "Nightmare of Ecstasy." He provides the interesting nugget that it's likely that portions of a lost Wood film, "Cry of the Banshee," are tucked into Wood's "Night of the Ghouls." I'm inclined to believe Grey, and assume he's referring to the exterior stock footage of ghost Jeannie Stevens, who harasses Valda Hansen in the film.

Speaking of stock footage from "... Ghouls," there's a fascinating interview with a pair, including Marco's nephew, who discovered and had restored the once-lost "Final Curtain," a long scene of which is stock footage in "Ghouls. It has Duke Moore, in tuxedo, roaming an old stage and discovering ghost Stevens. I've always loved the improvisation of Wood, how he manages to make that insert work by having "Night of the Ghouls" policeman Moore in tux readying to go to the opera. It's also interesting to learn from the interview that decaying film smells like vinegar.

There's an entertaining interview with Rob Craig, who wrote an eccentrically interesting criticism of Wood's work a few years ago, and has since tackled Andy Milligan. I don't always agree with Craig, but I appreciate his taking the time to deconstruct the filmmakers who worked far away from the roads covered in tinsel.

I have a hard time sitting through 10 minutes of Andre Perkowski's $500 film homages to Wood's previous works, but the interview with this micro-micro budget filmmaker was extremely interesting. He says he's read about 50 of Wood's novels, so for about $25,000 maybe we'll see 48 or 49 more Perkowski Wood homage films.

And former Apostolof/Wood actress Brenda Fogarty is just brilliant in responding to a theory the authors have that the content of Wood's films must have reflected his personal, cultural and political beliefs. (That's like claiming Stephen King is a racist if he has a character use the "N word.) Fogarty points out that the misogyny and male fantasy rape in the turgid, offensive porn that Wood and Apostolof produced was grinded out to appeal to the dysfunctional, maladjusted audience for that cinema sewer, and cannot be ascertained as the filmmakers' personal beliefs.

The same argument is applicable to the author' criticisms of Wood's moralistic stance in "The Sinister Urge," the "anti-pornography" hypocrisy in that film, and the overly moralistic tone in "The Violent Years." Those films were pre-porn-era  titillation, which regularly used "moral lessons" as a hook to bring in the peepshow crowd. Heck, "Orgy of the Dead" used faux morals too to present bad strip acts! To sum up: you can criticize Wood for making depraved films, but you can't definitively tag him as that in real life, no more than you can tag George Orwell as an anti-Semite for statements in his classic novel "Down and Out in Paris and London," or Charles Bukowski as adopting what his characters in novels say, and the list goes on.

The movie summaries of Ed Wood's resume are the weakest part of the book. There are, however, much-needed and appreciated pages on three Wood-scripted films that have not been covered much. They include the early 1960s' films "Shotgun Wedding" and "Married Too Young," and the really interesting "Venus Flytrap," from 1970. I've got to see this film via amazon instant video, because it seems like a gem based on its description. There's also tidbits of interesting new info such as learning that "Jail Bait" star Clancy Malone previously delivered Wood's groceries, or that Apostolof was so fed up with Wood's drinking during the "Orgy of the Dead" shoot that he didn't use him again for several years.

Also, there's a long chapter on the 1998 "I Woke Up Early the Day I Died," scripted by Wood and directed by Aris Iliopulos, who attracted a good cast and budget. The authors tag this as "Wood's masterpiece." I'd like to test that theory but legal problem have kept this film from U.S. distribution. There is also an interesting interview with Iliopulos. (Look at the cast of "I Wake Up ..." It's incredible.)

The book's chief flaw is that far too many pages are devoted to Wood's appallingly bad pornography efforts post-"Orgy of the Dead." Films such as "Necromania," "For Love and Money," "One Million AC/DC," "Young Marrieds," "Nympho Cycles," "Snow Bunnies," etc. could have all been dispensed with one or two paragraphs. The only two Wood-involved films that merit chapters after 1965 are the aforementioned "Venus Flytrap" and "Fugitive Girls," a Wood/Apostolof R-rated film that almost, the authors appropriately note, reaches the level of AIP drive in fare of the 1970s.

The porn chapters are boring, the authors despise the turgid quality of the films and pay homage to such poor quality by offering the worst writing of "Cinematic Misadventures." I never, ever want to read this again in any Wood-themed book: In the chapter on "Necromania," the authors write: "... the women's vaginas are so grotesquely hairy that they look like they've got bear heads in leg locks."

That simply jumps the TMI shark,

Despite all, this is a valuable addition to Wood's films study, and well worth buying for genre fans (it's available via Kindle too). Rausch and Pratt have accomplished what was clearly a goal; to find new information on Wood's career and legacy. The interviews and the film chapters accomplish that, with wide variances of worth and quality in the wealth of information gathered.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ed Wood directs Jail Bait, the film with a twist ending

Jail Bait, 1954, 72 minutes, Howco, B and W. Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Starring Lyle Talbot as Inspector John, Dolores Fuller as Marilyn Gregor, Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Boris Gregor, Steve Reeves as Lt. Bob Lawrence, Clancy Malone as Don Gregor, Timothy Farrell as Vic Brady, Theodora Thurman as Loretta, Bud Osborne as the night watchman, and Mona McKinnon as Miss Willis. Conrad Brooks has a cameo. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

Jail Bait is a cult film lover's delight. It's Ed Wood's first foray into crime pictures, and except for a very annoying musical score, it's not a half-bad film. Of course, it has Wood's mark of organized chaos, where he simply didn't have the budget to make this picture, but that just adds to the viewing fun.

The plot concerns a young man gone bad from a nice family (Malone) and his sinister confederate in crime (Farrell, who really is good in the role). Malone is eventually killed by Farrell, who then takes the slain gangster's sister (Fuller) and father (Rawlinson) hostage. The dad is a plastic surgeon, and he has a few tricks up the sleeve for Farrell at the end of the film. Talbot and strongman Reeves (in his first film) play cops assigned to catch Malone and Farrell. Theodora Thurman, who was a top model in the 1950s, plays Farrell's moll. (According to the new book on Wood's films, Malone delivered Wood's groceries prior to his sole acting credit.)

The acting is, of course, weak, and Wood hurries through each scene, reflecting the tiny budget. But Wood's eccentric personality is on full display. Depending on which print you view, action is interrupted for a minstrel show or a very faded scene of a striptease. (my copy shows the striptease) Also the climax of the film takes place at a motel, where Wood stole shots. Wood tries hard to achieve a type of film noir atmosphere, and almost succeeds at times, particularly with Farrell.

Like any Wood film, the story behind the movie is just as interesting as the film. Watch silent film star Rawlinson very closely during his scenes as the aging dad/plastic surgeon. If he appears tired it shouldn't be a surprise. He died the morning after filming. Rawlinson's role, in fact, was intended for Bela Lugosi, but he was too sick to do it. Also, Reeves took 27 takes to tie his tie, which must have driven the thrifty Wood mad. The great actor Jimmy Cagney was visiting the motel where Wood and cast was stealing a scene shot. Cagney offered to be in the film, but everyone was chased from the motel by the irate manager. If you are a Wood fan, buy Jail Bait. It's a must for your cult films collection. But even those who aren't Wood fans will find it worth a $2 rental. By the way: Jail Bait in the title refers to a gun, not a woman.

Watch "Jail Bait" here.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, June 14, 2015

'Bela Lugosi In Person' captures the stage, personal appearance career of screen 'Dracula'

Review by Doug Gibson

Gary D. Rhodes has been writing books on Bela Lugosi for a generation but the last several years he's moved toward deconstructing the first film Dracula's career and life, doing some admirable research into various aspects of Lugosi's career. Several years ago, with Bill Kaffenberger, he wrote "No Traveler Returns: The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi," which detailed the barnstorming last half of the 1940s, a time filled with long vehicle journeys with wife, Lillian, summer stock, personal appearances and spook and magic shows, and one gold mine, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." 

Rhodes' latest book, also with Kaffenberger, is an historical prequel to "No Traveler Returns." Bela Lugosi In Person" (BearManor Media, 2015) details the stage and appearances Lugosi made from his time as the vampire on Broadway to roughly the end of World War II. Except for a dry economic spell in 1937 and 1938 -- due more to a British influence at Universal rather than the usually blamed British horror ban, opines Rhodes -- Lugosi enjoyed mostly star status for roughly 15 years, and was a success economically, on stage and film. He may have been paid far less than screen rival Boris Karloff, but he worked hard, traveled extensively, and had consistent offers.

He was a star, and a gracious star, attentive to fans and charmingly tongue-in-cheek sinister with the media, particularly local media, which pursued him often during his long stage assignments. Lost in dusty old-media files and updated media websites are reviews of the many plays Lugosi entered, as star, or supporting role. Perhaps the strongest part of this wonderful book is the carefully detailed play and vaudeville histories of Lugosi's stage career. Some of the stage productions covered include "Murder At the Vanities," "Tovarich," "Stardust Calvacade," "Arsenic and Old Lace," and a successful 1943 revival of "Dracula" in 1943.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter of the "Dracula" revival. Interestingly, by 1943 the iconic play was already beginning to be seen as old-fashioned, hokey, melodramatic and even mirthful in spots, as some reviews say. Nevertheless, Lugosi still commanded high respect from nearly all the critics tallied in the book. The 1943 revival, with the claims of an outdated "Dracula," were similar to the same complaints that would be tagged almost a decade later, when Lugosi starred in a British production of the Dracula play, a period of history covered in detail by genre historians Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks.

It was interesting to learn more about Lugosi's vaudevillian "Dracula" sketch that he did in theaters in 1933, as part of entertainment that included a feature film. That's certainly of era of theater entertainment that we may never see again. Also, the book notes that Lugosi was not as passive an actor as many have tagged him as. He didn't sit around waiting for offers. He tried to form a production company that would have featured him in a film version of "Cagliostro." It didn't pan out, but he regularly tried. Lugosi regularly pitched himself to New York agents for stage productions.

The book tends to confirm that the latter half of the 1930s was a time Lugosi harbored a better chance to move out of horror typecasting. He was in "Tovarich," did some personal appearances not as a horror star but an actor, had small parts in "Ninotchka" and "The Saint's Double Trouble" and roles as the heavy but not a monster in serials. But, that was also the period he earned the least, and lost his home. "Son of Frankenstein" in 1939 was a big hit and re-booted Bela in the horror genre with his portrayal of Igor. His career would pick up but there would be no more serious forays into non-horror.

Rhodes has a scholar's joy in uncovering new tidbits of history and he may have tracked down the origin of the lost Lugosi compilation film, "Lock Up Your Daughters," which played in Britain 55-plus years ago. Bela Lugosi In Person reveals a 1950 TV listing that notes an hour-long show called "Bela Lugosi and Murder," that had Lugosi hosting an edited version of an old Monogram film, likely "The Invisible Ghost." It may all be a coincidence, but the TV listing, with Lugosi hosting, sounds a lot like "Lock Up Your Daughters," which also boasted Lugosi as a host of sorts.

I could go on, but just buy the book. If you're a big Lugosi or genre fan, you'll delve with appetite into the details of the stage and other appearances. More general fans may skip by the many reviews but will learn a lot about a cinema icon as well as how hard an aging film star worked to maintain strong paydays in a tough, always competitive environment.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bela Lugosi's worst film? Murder by Television

Review by Doug Gibson

"Murder By Television" probably doesn't merit too much discussion or analysis, but if you love Bela Lugosi, or are a completist as to his films, hey, it's out there. Released in 1935 from a film production company called Cameo, it's almost an hour's worth of a very mediocre entertainment.

The plot involves a professor, played by character actor Charles Hill Mailes, who has made a great discovery on transmitting that new-fangled, vaguely science-fiction-ish thing called television. A hos of baddy business interests are trying to find out his secrets and/or bribe him (Lugosi is one of the baddies). Anyway, while broadcasting info about his discovery the good inventor drops dead.

At that point the film turns into a particularly boring drawing-room murder mystery, a sort of fifth-rate Agatha Christie-type mystery with Lugosi, who ends up having two roles, turning into a third-rate Hercule Poirot, saddled with inane dialogue and poor plot twists as he spends the final 10 minutes gathering the suspects together and solving the crime. I won't give it away, lest one wants to watch the film on YouTube. Cast members include vets Henry Hall and June Collyer.

Lugosi biographer Arthur Lenning considers "Murder By Television" Bela's worst film, and he's right; maybe there's a silent out there worse but among his talkies "Murder By Television" lacks the camp value and cast energy of another poor Bela outing, "Scared To Death." Also, "Scared to Death" can grow on you; I've seen "Murder By Television" three times and so far it's not growing on me.

I do like Lugosi in it, although I am an admitted Lugosi-phile. While he's a bit weak in his first role (the baddie) he has a commanding air in his second role (as the sleuth) that keep us watching him, despite the poor script. With the exception of Lugosi and future Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel, none of the other actors have any energy. Scenes drab on with dialogue spoken listlessly. It almost seems as if some actors are reading their lines.

"Murder By Television" was sandwiched between two of Lugosi's best films, MGM's "Mark of the Vampire," and Universal's "The Raven." Despite its obscure second-feature status, it was still playing in theaters as late as 1937, according to Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger, in their new book, "Bela Lugosi in Person." It amazes me that with $35,000 and Bela Lugosi, Cameo would make a boring drawing room murder mystery. Why not take that money and make a thrifty horror flick that would have easily made the invested money back? You can watch "Murder By Television" below this review and if you like Lugosi, by all means watch it; it's only 54 minutes or so.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The deliriously bizarre Ape Man that was Bela Lugosi

The Ape Man, 64 minutes, 1943, Monogram, Directed by William Beaudine. Starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster, Louise Currie as Billie Mason, Wallace Ford as Jeff Carter, Henry Hall as Dr. George Randall, Emil Van Horn as the ape, J. Farrell McDonald as Police Captain O'Brien and Minerva Urecal as Agatha Brewster. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

This is a screwball horror film, but a lot more entertaining than most viewers will expect. It's sheer pulp horror that doesn't take itself too seriously. The plot involves a scientist (Lugosi) who for unexplained reasons accidentally turns himself into an ape man. Not trusting his sanity, he frequently locks himself up with an ill-tempered ape (Van Horn in a campy performance). Lugosi's ape man needs human spinal fluid to have even a chance to regain his former appearance and posture. This involves murder and when a colleague (Hall) refuses to help, Lugosi literally goes ape, and commits several murders. He's encouraged by his creepy sister (Urecal) a noted spiritualist who records the groans of ghosts. Lugosi's nemesis are a reporter/photographer duo who soon become wise to all the creepy occurrences.

Of such bizarre plots were Monogram cheapies of the 1940s created. It's a lot of fun to watch, even if the production values are predictably bottom of the barrel. Lugosi, as usual, acts far above the product he's pitching, and he manages to make the audience feel sympathy for his plight. His ferocious temper tantrums are effective. He nearly strangles his sister in one scene. Urecal, by the way, is great as the slightly creepy sister. In an Los Angeles Times review (the paper actually liked the film) the reviewer suggested Urecal be given her own horror film to star in. So far as I know, it never happened, although she was also very good in the Lugosi vehicle The Corpse Vanishes. Currie and Ford as the wisecracking journalists have strong chemistry. B movie veteran actor McDonald is also an asset to the film. The film is slightly marred by a truly goofy character who acts as a red herring, cutting into scenes for no reason and offering cryptic comments and warnings. At the end, he reveals himself to be the author of the tale. As The End is flashed on the screen, he remarks "Screwy, isn't it?"

Like any low-budget film, there are amusing contradictions. Why does Lugosi have an accent, and his sister doesn't? Also, why doesn't anyone seem to notice the ape-like Lugosi and his pet ape traipsing through the city? Of course, suspension of disbelief is a requirement to fully enjoy a Monogram film. So just sit back and take in the show. It's a fun hour of escapism and a great treat for those who enjoy the old C and B horror films. Notes: The film's shooting title was They Creep in the Night. In England, it was titled Lock Your Doors. There is a nostalgic reference to the times when Currie chides Ford for being 4F, and consequently not serving in World War II. He retorts that he's scheduled to enlist at the end.

The Ape Man plays ocasionally on UEN's (Utah Educational Network) Sci Fi Friday and has a podcast to go along with it. There are many versions of the film. It is free to watch on the Web. Hopefully, Turner Classic Movies will air a pristine print of the film soon. Watch it below