Sunday, December 30, 2018

Bela Lugosi as Poirot? 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. (A better Lugosi film in which he adopts a Poirot-like character is The Thirteenth Chair, directed by Tod Browning,)

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.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Embers -- one of the greatest novels

Review by Doug Gibson

The late Hungarian Sandor Marai's novel Embers takes place in Hungary in 1940, in a secluded castle. There lives the very old general Henrik, with his even older nanny, who has cared for him most of his life. The general's wife died a generation ago. It is a big night. Coming to dine that evening is Konrad, once the general's closest friend. The general and Konrad have not seen each other in 42 years, nor communicated.

It will be a tense dinner and evening. Prior to Konrad's arrival, the aged nanny places her hand on the general and gently tells him not to get too excited. When Konrad arrives, the pair take the same places they had the last time they met. After dinner, the host begins a discourse, with the guest mostly listening. Traced through the rest of the novel is a deconstruction of a dead friendship. Two lives, friendship, pride, guilt, anger, loathing, deceit, adultery, regret, hunting and thoughts of murder and betrayal are recalled during the long evening spent together by the pair.

Embers is a marvelous, lucid, engrossing novel that deals with male friendships and emotions from a male perspective. Two men with great potential are explored. One betrays the other and runs away without the courage to explain why. As a result the other shields his love from who needs it most, and lives an empty life. The dialogue between the old friends is masterfully crafted. Marai's style compares with Thomas Mann in that this is a European novel that builds slowly with much patience. The reader who delves into Embers one evening may encounter dawn before he turns from the pages.

Notes: Marai was an acclaimed Hungarian novelist 70 years ago but his works were mostly destroyed and he was forced into exile when communists grabbed power in Hungary. He emigrated to America and died in San Diego in 1989. Shortly afterwards, his novels were returned to circulation and his stature as one of the best European novelists of the first half of the 20th century was restored.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve with Andy Griffith and cast

Here's another recap/review of a great Andy Griffith Show episode. From Season 1, "The Christmas Story."

By Doug Gibson

The Andy Griffith Show, Season 1, Episode 11, "The Christmas Story." Starring Andy Griffith, Don Knotts Ron Howard, Frances Bavier and Elinor Donahue. Guest starring Sam Edwards, Margaret Kerry and Joy Ellison as Sam, Bess and Effie Muggins, Will Wright as Ben Weaver.

Most successful TV situation comedies tend to have a Christmas episode and for some reason they are often produced in the first season: think "Mary Tyler Moore Show, "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days." TAGS was no exception producing its Christmas-themed show in the 11th episode. It's a well-paced, funny, heartwarming tale that features Ben Weaver, Mayberry's most prominent merchant, a crochety, stooped-shouldered somewhat Dickensian figure with a well-hidden heart of gold tucked behind his gruff exterior.

The plot involves Weaver (Will Wright) dragging in moonshiner Sam Edwards to the courthouse on Christmas Eve and demanding that Edwards be locked up. A big Christmas party is being planned and Andy asks Ben if he'll let Edwards have a furlough through Christmas. True to form Weaver refuses. It looks like the Christmas Party is off, until Andy invites Edwards wife, Bess, (Kerry), and daughter, Effie, (Ellison), to stay in the jail with dad. In a funny scene, Andy overrides Ben's objections by cross-examing Sam's smiling kin, who admit they knew about the moonshining!

The funny plot seamlessly turns serious as a lonely Weaver, his Grinch-like plans foiled, tries to get himself arrested. Writer Frank Tarloff -- who penned 9 TAGS episodes -- deserves a tip of the hat for his funny, ironic script. Ben's plans to get busted are foiled when party-goers, including Ellie, either pay his fines or donate "stolen property" to him. Finally, in a scene that can bring tears, we see a lonely Ben Weaver, standing in an alley, peeking through the jail window bars, softly singing along with a Christmas Carol sung in the courthouse.

I won't give way the end for the very few who might still have missed the show, but it should be noted that perhaps the reason TAGS never again attempted a Christmas episode is that it could never have topped this. Wright as Ben Weaver is simply magnificent. His page on says he looks as "if he was born old." The grizzled, stooped ex-Western actor actually died at the relatively young age of 68. He played Ben Weaver in three TAGS episodes, the last before his death of cancer. Several other actors played Weaver in later episodes, but only one, Tol Avery, captured even a smidgen of the cranky magic Wright gave the role. He was, and remains, Mayberry merchant Ben Weaver to TAGS fans. In his three episodes, Weaver created a happy Christmas, saved a family from homelessness and gave a tired traveling merchant a job.

Notes: "Family members" Edwards, Kerry and Ellison were the same family Wright's Weaver threatened with eviction in another TAGS episodes. They were the Scobees. Knotts' Fife played Santa Claus, in full costume and "ho ho hos." Donahue's Walker sang "Away in the Manger." Season 1 was a little uneven, with the cast developing their roles. Knotts was still being too often used only for manic comic relief. Taylor's Andy was still the impetus for most humor. In the second season Sheriff Taylor would began to react to the humorous situations of others, and the show would move to its current classic status as a result.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Our favorite Christmas films at Plan9Crunch

Hello Plan9Crunch readers, in honor of the holidays, bloggers Steve D. Stones and I, Doug Gibson, offer readers our five favorite Christmastime films. We hope you enjoy reading our picks and perhaps you will sample one or two as Christmas day approaches. So, here we go!
Doug Gibson’s list of favorite Christmas/holiday-themed films
1). “A Christmas Carol,” 1951: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge. a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster”  Simply put, Alastair Sim best represents Scrooge as depicted by Charles Dickens.  His redemption after visits from three spirits is also the best, most joyfully portrayed on film. Old screen veterans Kathleen Harrison and Ernest Thesiger also add spice and cheer to this adaptation.

2). “A Christmas Carol,” 1984: George C. Scott’s portrayal of London’s meanest businessman is superb, and just a tad below Sim’s definitive portrayal. Scott gives Scrooge a faint of air whimsy and humor, even when he’s coveting pennies within sight of beggars. To be fair to Scott, it translates well to the screen. Edward Woodward, as an imposing, scolding Ghost of Christmas Present, is the best Christmas ghost captured on the screen.

3). “Going My Way,” 1944: Bing Crosby, as Father Chuck O’Malley is a joy for Christmas, mixing wonderful songs with a story about a talented young priest called to a struggling to secretly help a grizzled old veteran priest, Father Fitzgibbon, (wonderfully played by Barry Fitzgerald) back on its financial feet. Perhaps no other film captures life in the heart of NYC so well. The finally scene, in which Father Fitzgibbon is reunited with his mother after a half-century, will cause the driest cynic to tear up.

4). “Miracle on 34th Street,” 1947: This witty tale of Santa Claus on trialbasically made Edmund Gwenn iconic as who Santa Claus is. The most tear-inducing scene is Gwenn’s Santa speaking Dutch with a WW2 orphan girl at Macy’s. There are two main threads in this marvelous slice-of-NYC life film. The first involves a witty court fight to legitimize Gwenn’s Santa. The second is Gwenn’s quiet but effective campaign to teach a cynical mom and her impressionable daughter the true spirit of Christmas.

5) “The Shop Around the Corner,” 1940: I love this Christmas film, where two shop clerks, who initially actually have a history of disliking each other, share love notes as anonymous pen pals. Jimmy Stewart is great as the male lead, and Margaret Sullavan is beautiful as the shopgirl. This is based on a Hungarian play, and is set in “Budapest,” which looks like the most beautiful city on Earth.

Steve D. Stones’  list of favorite Christmas/Holiday themed films
1). Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964). This favorite pick is predictable, but how can anyone resist a Christmas movie with dopey characters named Drop-O, Keemar, Voldar, Girmar and Bomar? The acting, dialogue, make-up, sets and costumes are amateur, at best, but the film has a lot of heart. John Call in the role of Santa Claus is irresistible, and may be the only convincing character in the entire film. Watch for the cheap spaceships designed from toilet paper rolls and toilet plungers are used as ray guns.  No toilet humor is involved. The green Martian make-up is lightly applied to many of the actors, likely for lack of budget. Don’t miss it! See Doug Gibson and I review this film as a video-cast on this web-site.

2). Die-Hard (1988). Yes, believe it or not, this box office action yarn can be considered a “Christmas movie.” Not since Sylvester Stallone played John Rambo in “First Blood” (1982) has Bruce Willis’ John McClane action hero had such great appeal to mass audiences.  His famous “Yippy-Ki-Yah-Mother-Fu*#er” line has become a staple of popular cinema culture. McClane takes on a group of European terrorists on Christmas Eve who have seized a high rise building in Los Angeles.  The result is a dynamite, edge of your seat action film that never lets up, and allows the audience to cheer for the killing of every bad guy McClane chalks up on his arm with a marker. Willis is perfect in this role, and went on to make three more in the series. This is a film where you’ll find yourself cheering for police and law enforcement.

3). Scrooge (1935). Although there have been many screen adaptations with larger budgets of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” classic, this one is a particular favorite of mine because it was the first VHS video I ever bought with my allowance money when I was 13. The dated, worn out look of the film helps add to its nostalgic quality.  Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Sir Seymour Hicks, who also co-wrote the script. Hicks is perfectly cast. The film is as poverty looking as its subject matter, but is worthy of a viewing just to see what one of the first screen adaptations of this Dickens classic looks like. Most public domain prints run 58 minutes, but an extended version runs over 80 minutes. Even the 58 minute versions list the film length on the box cover as 83 minutes. Don’t be fooled by this.

4). Black Christmas (1974). It has often been said that John Carpenter’s 1978 film – “Halloween” ushered in the so-called “slasher” horror films of the 1980s. Halloween owes a great deal to this holiday horror feature. Beautiful Olivia Hussey plays a college girl with boyfriend problems living in a sorority house, who is terrorized on Christmas Eve by threatening phone calls. The phone caller-killer is never shown on screen, adding to the suspense. He hides in the attic of the sorority house, which makes perfect since, considering how cold it is outside on Christmas Eve. The film was also marketed as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger In The House.

5). Santa Claus (1959). Not to be confused with the 1994 Tim Allen movie, or the 1985 Dudley Moore film of the same title, this bizarre 1959 Mexican import is notorious for VHS prints that cut out scenes involving the devil. Santa Claus also shows scenes of children from different countries
singing Christmas carols in their native languages at Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. The film has a moral tale to warn children not to steal the toys they want just because their parents may not have the money to buy them for Christmas.  It’s not known why public domain prints cut out all the scenes of the devil, but those scenes depict the devil as playful and ridiculous and are an important part of the film. Perhaps the scenes were cut so as not to scare children?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Delightfully kitschy Christmas films

(This essay originally ran in the Dec. 20, 2007 Standard-Examiner)

By Doug Gibson

Every December (or after Thanksgiving!)  the best Christmas films pop up on TV: "Miracle on 34th Street," "A Christmas Carol," "Going My Way," "The Shop Around the Corner," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — I refer to the Boris Karloff-narrated cartoon — "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" and, of course, that other Jimmy Stewart classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."

We all have our favorite Christmas cinema moments. George Bailey's joyous run through Bedford Falls, Ebenezer Scrooge dancing for joy on Christmas morning, Macy's Kris Kringle speaking Dutch to a World War II orphan girl, and my favorite, crusty but lovable Father Fitzgibbon's surprise reunion with his mother after decades apart.

There are great holiday films. Much has been written about them. But today let's spill some ink about the other Christmas films, the kitschy ones. They're all over the dial. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel!

Most aren't worth five minutes of our time, but some still spread holiday magic. We've all heard of "A Christmas Carol" or "Scrooge," but how many recall the Fonz — Henry Winkler — starring in "An American Christmas Carol"? There are two well-received versions of "Miracle on 34th Street," but do you recall the kitschy 1973 TV version in which the lawyer was played by actor-turned-newsman David Hartman?

Even the biggy, "It's a Wonderful Life," has a kitschy cousin. Remember "It Happened One Christmas," the gender-switching knockoff starring Marlo Thomas?

Indeed, the competition is fierce for those kitschiest Christmas movies that still entertain us. But here are three finalists, all made on the cheap, yet still being sold and garnering holiday TV showings.

So, without further adieu, here is the best kitschiest Christmas film:

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" — This 1964 film was shot in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, N.Y., using many minor cast members from a NYC stage production of "Oliver Twist." It has a catchy theme song, "Hurray for Santy (sic) Claus," that you'll hum afterward. The plot involves Martians coming to earth, kidnapping Santa and whisking him away to cheer up the Martian kiddies. Two earth children are kidnapped along with Santa. Santa and the earth kids fight off a Martian baddie, prep a goofy Martian to become that planet's Santa, and launch off to earth in the spaceship. We never know if they made it home — perhaps the budget didn't allow that. The acting has to be seen to be believed, but the film has a goofy charm. It was a big hit on the now-gone "weekend matinee" circuit and played theaters for years. Pia Zadora, who was briefly a sexy starlet in the 1980s, plays one of the Martian children. John Call, as Santa, does a mean "ho, ho, ho." (Update, in 2011 holiday season this film played at the North Ogden Walker Cinemas for $2 plus a donated can of food!)

And now, the second-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa Claus" — Don't confuse this 1959 Mexican film with Dudley Moore's "Santa Claus: The Movie" or Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause" films. This import is weird and a little creepy, but it sticks with you. Old Kris Kringle is a sort of recluse who talks to himself and lives in a castle in outer space. He has no elves. His helpers are children from around the world who can't sing very well, though they belt out a lot of songs. Santa's reindeer are, I think, plastic and he uses a key to start them. Santa also works out on an exercise belt to slim down for the chimneys. For some reason Santa hangs out with Merlin the Magician. Enter "Pitch," a devil. His goal is to stop Santa from delivering presents. Pitch is a wimpy fellow in red tights and wears what looks like a short middy skirt. Santa and Merlin foil Pitch's nefarious plans. The film also focuses on two children, a poor girl and a rich, neglected boy, who resist Pitch's temptations. There are magic flowers and even special drinks. Santa glides safely to a chimney using a parasol. If this film sounds to readers like the after-effects of taking two Percocet, you got the gist of it. Watch it below!

Finally, the third-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa and the Three Bears" — If you lived in Southern California long ago, this 1970 blend of live action and cartoon was a Thanksgiving afternoon staple on KTLA Channel 5. The animation is mediocre, but the story has a simple charm. A forest ranger teaches two excitable bear cubs about Christmas while their grouchy mother bear wants them to hibernate for the winter. The ranger agrees to play Santa for the cubs on Christmas Eve, but a storm keeps "Santa" away ... or does it? The best part of the film is the live-action beginning and ending, where the ranger sits by the Christmas tree with his grand-daughter, a sleepy cat and many toys. The ranger is voiced and played by Hal Smith, best known as Otis the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Grumpy Mama Bear was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma on "The Flintstones"). The uncredited director is Barry Mahon, who made soft-core sex films in the 1960s with such titles as "Nudes Inc." and "The Sex Killer."

A footnote: These films can occasionally be found on TV. Indeed, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and "Santa Claus" are usually broadcast a Friday in December on KULC Channel 9 in Utah at 9 p.m. and on TCM. Antenna TV sometimes plays "... Martians" during the Christmas season. Both Santa Claus films mentioned here have also been spoofed by the snarky robots of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny ... seriously

By Steve D. Stones

I thought I had seen all the terrible Christmas movies to be watched, until I recently saw “Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny.” The folks at RiffTrax, formerly Mystery Science Theatre 3000, provided hilarious commentary about the film on the evening of Thursday December 3. Without their commentary, I may have walked out of the theatre. The movie is so bad that it is not listed in any film encyclopedia I own. No film critic seems to be anxious to write about “Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny.” It is on the Internet Movie Database.

Somehow Santa ends up stranded on the beaches of Florida soaking up the sun in his sleigh. His reindeer have abandoned him. He calls on some local children to help him get his sleigh back in operation. Each child is called by their name, except one little girl Santa calls "Kid." The children bring farm animals one by one to try and attach to Santa's sleigh. None of the farm animals, including a sheep and donkey, wants to be hitched to the sleigh.

The children suggest that Santa take a plane back to the North Pole, but he refuses to leave his sleigh abandoned. He complains about the Florida heat and sheds some of his clothing. Since Santa's sleigh is empty, the viewer is confused as to whether or not Christmas is over, or if Santa is just behind in delivering presents to children for Christmas.

With the failed attempt to get his sleigh in operation, Santa decides to take a rest and tell the children a story. Suddenly, the movie abruptly shifts to the story of Jack and The Beanstalk. This sequence was produced by Barry Mahon, a director who made soft-core sex features and films about fairy tales appealing to children. Other prints of “Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny” insert Mahon's Thumbelina (1970).

Jack purchases some seeds from Honest John — a cow salesman. Jack lives in a land where everyone is dressed like the Partridge Family. What follows is a series of bad musical performances by little Jack and the giant he steals a golden goose and harp from. Jack stands in front of out-of-focus, rear-projected images of the giant as he attempts to steal the poorly sculpted paper mache goose and harp on the table in front of the sleeping giant.

As the story of Jack and The Beanstalk finishes, Santa reappears on the Florida beach with the children. Suddenly, an antique fire truck driven by someone in a bad bunny costume appears to take Santa back to the North Pole.

This ice cream bunny makes the evil bunny in “Donnie Darko” (2001) look like the Trix rabbit or Bugs Bunny. He drives the fire truck like a drunken clown, nearly running over a dog and steering into pot holes. The most freaky part is when the bunny winks at a little girl who runs up to him after the fire truck arrives on the beach.

Before “Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny,” RiffTrax screened three Christmas shorts — “Santa Claus's Story,” “The Tales of Custard The Dragon” and “Santa's Enchanted Village.” The three shorts are also really bad holiday entertainment, but the RiffTrax commentary makes them more enjoyable to watch.

The one good aspect going for “Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny” is the beautiful black, white and red poster art created for the film of Santa in the fire truck with the ice cream bunny. This poster is likely a sought after collector's item for fans of bad movies.

For a much better holiday feature by Mahon, see the animated “Santa and The Three Bears” (1970).

This review was originally published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper. Art by Steve D. Stones.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors -- Sixties anthology schlock

By Doug Gibson

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors, 1966, Color, 82 minutes, American General Pictures. Directed by David L. Hewitt. Starring John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Rochelle Hudson, Roger Gentry, Ron Doyle, Karen Joy, Vic Magee and Mitch Evans. Schlockmeter rating: Four stars out of 10.

This David Hewitt cheapie anthology of horror tales of questionable scariness is legendary for the panning it has received from critics of the genre. The critics are right; this a poor film, with an incredibly low budget. For the entire five tales, I counted only two sound stages. In one case, to save money I suppose, a sound stage was darkened in an unsuccesful effort to make it appear to be a London slum.

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors was essentially an attempt to cash in on the horror anthology craze of the mid 1960s; two better films of that genre that come to mind are Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Black Sabbath. According to reviewer Tom Weaver in Cult Movies 17, Gallery of Horrors was shot for either $60,000 (that seems too high) or $20,000, or even $15,000! The narrator for the five tales is the ubiquitious John Carradine. He stands in front of (I kid you not) a rigid screen mat of a castle and shoreline. The mat only takes up half the screen, so the producers filled the other half with a blue background.

The acting, except for Carradine, is atrocious from all the performers, including, unfortunately, Chaney Jr. Actress Karen Joy is at least beautiful. And former '30s starlet Rochelle Hudson adds a little acting heft to one story. The tales are poorly developed. Reviewer John Stanley in Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again described the tales as the "scrapings of the horror barrel." There are "twist endings" but the lazy screenwriting (or perhaps it's the low budget) never allow the "payoff climax" to develop. A viewer will wait for the telegraphed twist at the end but just as it starts, the segment ends without exploring the consequences of the plot.

Like any low-budget poverty issue, the film is full of stock footage. According to Weaver's review, stock footage of castles and background music was lifted from the popular Edgar Allen Poe films of that era and other American International pictures. The special effects are laughable. Animated blood sweeps over the screen clumsily in an effort to end segments, and "fires" dance around stock footage of castles.

None of the five tales is particularly interesting, but some are less mediocre than others. The first concerns a couple (Gentry and Joy) who buy an old house in Salem. They find an old, supposedly 17th century clock (that type of clock did not exist in that era), re-set it, and an old man (Carradine, in the film's best performance, which isn't saying much)appears. He asks for an old family. The husband learns the family contained a witch (who never appears on screen by the way), and that Carradine and the witch are likely back from the dead because the haunted clock was re-started. The husband stops the clock, and Carradine burns up. The twist ending has another couple buying the house, setting the clock, and "presto," Carradine reappears.

The second tale is the worst. It concerns a vampire-like creature marauding London slum residents in the 18th century. The twist ending is embarrassing. The third tale may be the best. It had potential. A cuckolded living dead zombie doctor, murdered by his wife (Hudson) and corrupt colleague, returns with his faithful servant to exact revenge. Again, the low budget destroys any potential for surprise, and there is a laughably long far away stock shot of a carriage racing to the doctor's castle that seems to go on forever.

The fourth tale stars Lon Chaney Jr, as a former colleague of Dr. Frankenstein. Chaney's character is now a respected medical professor. With the help of two students, he resurrects a murderer. It's sad to watch the bloated semi-drunk, elderly Chaney stumble through his role. As Weaver points out, Chaney neither looks nor acts like a doctor and should have played the revived corpse (played by Vic Magee). Also, though it seems a colleague of Dr. Baron Von Frankenstein would be living in the 19th century, Chaney's character checks his wristwatch and answers a ringing 1960s-model phone in this episode.

The final episode is a poor twist on the Dracula legend that ends with Jonathan Harker (Gentry) turning into a werewolf and turning on Count Alucard, played by Mitch Evans, hands-down the worst Dracula in screen history. Despite the poor quality of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, it's worth a rental if it can be found. It's an example of the kind of low-budget, harmless, sometimes fun schlock that played drive-ins and on Chiller Theater on TV in the 1960s and 1970s.

Notes: According to Weaver, Carradine received $3,000 and Chaney Jr. $1,500. Also, Weaver said Carradine was supposed to play Count Alucard, but had to leave to fulfill another acting commitment. Gallery of Horrors was the last speaking role Chaney Jr. had. Like many low-budget films, the film had many titles. Others include The Blood Suckers, Gallery of Horrors, Return From the Past (it's TV title) and even Alien Massacre! In 1981 it was released to video as Gallery of Horror by Academy Home Entertainment. How disappointed many teens must have been after renting this "unrated" title with a misleading cover, thinking it was a very gory horror flick, and discovering a hokey, tame unscary G-rated film! Today the film can be purchased at various online outlets.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The new Halloween movie – is it any good?

Review by Steve D. Stones

Is the new Halloween movie as good as the 1978 original? Will it become a great classic in time as the original? Perhaps only time can answer these questions. I feel that the new Halloween is not as good as its original, but it has plenty of knuckle-biting sequences to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, particularly the last twenty minutes of the film. As I watched the film, I enjoyed picking out references from the first film and finding similarities in how scenes are shown.

References to the first two films can be found throughout this film. A mother carving a ham is hammered in the head by killer Michael Meyers as she is watching something on TV in the kitchen, in a scene very similar to one shown in the second film. A babysitter is also murdered and draped with a white ghost sheet – which gives reference to Meyers draping a ghost sheet over himself when he confronts actress P.J. Soles in an upstairs bedroom in the first film.

When Lori Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is thrown through an upstairs window by Meyers, her body is no longer laying on the ground when the camera cuts away from Meyers standing above her, which is similar to the first film when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is looking out the upstairs window of the Meyers home after Meyers falls to the ground from multiple gunshots at the end.

The director is careful not to reveal the face of Meyers when he is questioned by an interviewer in an opening sequence. He is chained to a block, standing inside a painted square in the yard of a mental institution. Here we see a much older, graying Meyers, but his height and size still make him very imposing.

In the first film, the viewer is not shown how Meyers obtains his iconic mask. Sheriff Brackett simply tells his daughter at the scene of a hardware store burglary that someone stole some Halloween masks and tools from the store, so the viewer assumes that Meyers took the mask from the hardware store. In this new film, the viewer gets to see where Meyers obtains the iconic mask by taking it from the trunk of a car of two reporters who attempt to interview him at the mental institution.

What makes the first film so effective to me is that the violence is much more subtle, and often only implied. This new film uses techniques more appealing to the millennial generation by showing extreme, graphic violence in which the violence is drawn out for a much longer period of time in the scene, such as a gas station bathroom killing sequence near the beginning of the film.

The opening credits also show a similar type face design to the credits shown in the first film, which is a nice touch to the opening of the film. Instead of the camera slowly zooming in on a lit pumpkin as we see in the first Halloween, here we see the pumpkin slowly reshaping itself from being squished.

The new Halloween movie is well worth the price of admission, but only time will tell if it becomes the great classic of the original 1978 film. Happy Halloween!!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bela Lugosi and the East Side Kids; the films

Reviews by Steve D.Stones

Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts On The Loose are two Monogram/Banner Pictures that Hungarian actor Bela “Dracula” Lugosi starred in with the East Side Kids/early Bowery Boys. Of the two films, I have a special preference for Spooks Run Wild, directed by Phil Rosen. Both films make for a fun double feature. Lugosi fans won't want to miss this double feature.

Spooks Run Wild:

A bus transporting the East Side Kids to a summer camp for the needy arrives in a small town known as Hillside. A radio announcer heard on the bus radio warns of a killer monster on the loose in the town. The bus driver stops to check the tires of the bus. A local magician named Nardo, played by Bela Lugosi, is seen in the Hillside cemetery with his midget side kick, played by Angelo Rossitto. Rossitto also played Lugosi's assistant in The Corpse Vanishes (1942), also a Monogram release.

The East Side Kids find their way to the Hillside cemetery. A local grave digger warns them to leave, shooting Peewee, played by David Gorcey, in the back. The group leaves the cemetery to look for medical aide for Peewee. They soon come across the Billings House, a rundown mansion thought to be haunted, according to Hillside locals.

Nardo The Magician greets the East Side Kids at the entrance of the house and allows them to stay the night, but mentions that the house has no telephone to contact a doctor for Peewee. Scruno, played by Sammy Morrison, and Peewee are assigned to a room together. Peewee awakes in a sleep walker state after sleeping for hours, and roams the halls of the Billings House. Scruno is trapped in the room, but is later rescued by the rest of the group as he refers to Peewee as a Zombie.

It's interesting to note that Lugosi dresses in a cape and wears a suit in this film similar to his 1931 Dracula character. This gives the film great appeal to me. Lugosi's appearance greatly adds to this film, but he does not take himself nearly as seriously in this role as he does playing the evil Nazi henchman in the follow up film of Ghosts On The Loose. Lugosi and Rossitto make for a great pairing, as they did in The Corpse Vanishes (1942).

Ghosts On The Loose:

Directed by William “one shot” Beaudine, the title of this film is a bit misleading because there are no ghosts in the entire film. The title is likely an attempt to connect Spooks Run Wild to this film.

Betty, played by Ava Gardner, is marrying Jack Gibson, played by Rick Vallin. Gibson is purchasing a house on 322 Elm Street next to a haunted house as a honeymoon gift to Betty. Emil, played by Bela Lugosi, gets one of his spy henchmen named Tony to approach Gibson and convince him to sell the house. Tony offers Gibson a larger purchase price to discourage him from moving into the home. Gibson takes a small down payment and decides to take his bride on a honeymoon trip instead.

After providing choir services during the Gibson wedding, the East Side Kids break into Gibson's new home to clean and tidy up the home as a surprise to the newly married couple. They notice the home is in need of furniture, so they go to the haunted house next door and remove all the furniture to place it in Gibson's house.

Emil arrives at the house with Tony and his other henchmen. The group attempts to scare the East Side Kids out of the home. Emil and others in his group appear inside portrait paintings hanging on the walls of the home. As Scruno, an East Side Kid, is dusting a picture frame on the wall with Emil standing inside the frame, Emil sneezes, which frightens Scruno. Fans of this film have debated for years as to whether or not Lugosi says the S-word as he sneezes in this scene. It certainly sounds as if he does. I contend that he does say the S-word.

The East Side Kids later find a printing press in the basement of the house and pamphlets entitled “What The New Order Means To You.” Emil and his gang are discovered to be Nazi spies who moonlight in the basement printing Nazi propaganda literature. It turns out that Gibson has actually purchased the haunted house used as a hideout for the Nazi sympathizers, and not the house that the East Side Kids had cleaned.

Ghosts On The Loose appears to have many comical gags, perhaps even more than Spooks Run Wild, but this does not necessarily make it a better film. The cemetery sequences and the interior shots of the haunted house in Spooks Run Wild make for a much more creepy and atmospheric film, mixing both comedy and great atmosphere. As mentioned above, Lugosi's appearance in a cape and suit similar to his Dracula character also adds greatly to the atmosphere of Spooks Run Wild. Enjoy these two features as part of your Halloween entertainment this Halloween. Happy viewing.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The scariest scenes in horror films -- take 2

Editor's note: This month, in honor of Halloween, Plan9Crunch bloggers Steve D. Stones and Doug Gibson will share what they both see as the five scariest minutes in film. First was Doug's five creepy moments, and here are Steve's.
1). Night of The Living Dead (1968) – After witnessing her brother being attacked by a zombie in a Pennsylvania graveyard, Barbara (Judith O’Dea) runs to a nearby farmhouse to hide. She walks up stairs with a horrified look on her face and a kitchen knife in hand. The shadows of the banister cast across her face as the camera quickly zooms in closely to reveal a rotting corpse lying on the floor at the top of the stairs.

2). Poltergeist (1982). – A paranormal researcher investigating reports of ghosts in the suburban home of a young family goes to the kitchen to find something to eat.  He places a raw piece of meat from the refrigerator on the kitchen counter while eating a chicken leg. The meat suddenly starts to crawl slowly across the counter and the piece of chicken in his mouth spits out maggots. He runs to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. While looking in the mirror, he starts to pull the flesh off his face as chunks fall into the sink and blood drips everywhere.

3). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – After being terrorized by an inbred family of cannibals, including Leatherface – a chainsaw carrying psycho wearing a human skin mask, Sally (Marilyn Burns) is gagged and bound to a chair made of human arms. The grandpa of the family drinks Sally’s blood and attempts to knock her out with a hammer, but is too weak. This scene is so grueling that the sweat pouring from the faces of the actors involved heightens the uncomfortable, uneasy feeling the viewer experiences while the scene unfolds.  Sally eventually gets free and jumps out the window as Leatherface chases her once again down with a chainsaw – the most famous scene of the film.

4). Nosferatu (1922) – In this German Expressionist masterpiece of the silent era, Hutter – a real estate agent, is trapped inside the castle of Count Orlock. Hutter discovers the crypt where Orlock sleeps at night. Peeking through the crack of a stone coffin lid, Hutter can see the count lying in the coffin. He quickly pushes the stone lid off the coffin as the count stares directly at the camera in a frozen glance. This scene will chill your blood.

5). Jaws (1975) – Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) are onboard a boat called the Orca to hunt down a giant shark terrorizing the sunbathers and swimmers of the ocean town of Amity. Brody leans over the boat to throw a “chum line” of fish guts into the water to attract the shark.  A giant shark raises its head from the water as Brody throws the line into the water. He immediately stands upright and walks backward with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and quietly says the most famous line in the film to Captain Quint – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Happy Halloween!

Steve D. Stones

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The scariest scenes in horror films, take one

By Doug Gibson

The late-great Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying, “People pay money to be scared.” In honor of this Halloween season I offer my take on the five scariest scenes in film history. If you want more commentary on scary movies scenes, read my blog colleague Steve D. Stones, art professor at Weber State University, offer his five most chilling scenes here.

Without procrastination, let’s get to scariest movie scene 1: It’s the final 10 minutes of “Suspiria,” a 1977 Italian horror flick directed by Dario Argento. It stars Jessica Harper as a U.S. dance student who discovers her European dance academy is run by a coven of witches. The final ultimate scary scene involves a possessed colleague of young Ms Harper who goes on the attack at the film’s climax. Argento’s skills have deteriorated in recent decades but “Suspiria” remains a contender for the scariest film ever made.

To read the rest of this "scariest movie scenes column, go to the Standard-Examiner newspaper site, where I also published this. You can keep on reading here.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The old Dark House, a creepy, witty Halloween offering

By Doug Gibson

The Old Dark House,” James Whale’s 1932 take on what happens when travelers stop at a dreary, tomb-like mansion, with creepy occupants, on a dark and rainy night, is not as well-known as Whale’s other Universal offerings, such as “Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man,” or “Bride of Frankenstein.” That’s probably because it was considered lost for about 30 years. We’re lucky it’s a found film, because it’s a crackling good, creepy horror/comedy.

The plot: Squabbling husband and wife Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart) are driving through the Welsh mountains, thoroughly lost late at night during a brutal rainstorm. In their back seat is their relaxed, witty friend, Roger Penderel, (brilliantly played by Melvyn Douglas). In a superb special-effects scene, the Waverton car barely escapes a massive mudslide. They spot a mansion and stop, requesting shelter for the night. The door is answered by a brutish, very fearsome looking mute servant, Morgan, played by Boris Karloff. Later we learn that Morgan has a drinking problem. Eventually, the trio is greeted by an odd brother and sister pair, Horace Femm, (Ernest Thesiger), and his dourly religious sister, Rebecca, played by Eva Moore. The Femms inform the guests that they have a 102-year-old father, Sir Roderick Femm, bedridden upstairs, Interestingly, a woman, Elspeth Dudgeon, plays Sir. Roderick, although the actress’ sex was kept from audiences in 1932.

Early on there is a very creepy, pre-code scene where Margaret Waverton, very scantily clad in her underwear, is intruded upon by the religious fanatic, Rebecca Femm. While lambasting Margaret for her immorality, Moore’s Rebecca forces her hand on Margaret’s exposed upper chest, just above the breasts. It discombobulates Margaret, who is now very wary of the house. She has good reason; later a drunken Morgan attacks her on the stairs.

Later a couple more travelers seek refuge in the mansion. They are the garrolous, obese, somewhat crude, but wealthy Sir William Porterhouse, played well by Charles Laughton, along with an unemployed chorus girl, Gladys DuCane Perkins, (Lilian Bond), who is Porterhouse’s girlfriend, although there’s no real love between them. He has money, and she has a pleasing body. In one scene, Laughton effectively conveys the inner sadness and tragedy of Porterhouse, a man whose wife is died, feels empty and is no longer attractive enough to obtain love. Eventually, Penderel (remember him) and Bond form an attachment and fall in love, without too much consternation from Porterhouse.

As the weather stays dangerous outside, events inside the old, dark house get more perilous. I don’t want to give away the plot except to mention that we get a chance to see the very feminine-looking 102-year-old Sir Roderick Femm, who informs the guests that there is a third younger Femm, named Saul, who is by far the most dangerous inhabitant of the house. This all leads to a pretty thrilling, and witty at times, conclusion.

“The Old Dark House” is great gothic comedy/horror. It’s based on a long-ago bestselling novel, called “Benighted,” by J.B. Priestley. Whales stuck pretty faithfully to the plot, but omitted a lot of philosophic sophistry from the novel and focused on the action. The director looked for droll, humorous lines in the midst of chaos or fear. Thesiger’s Horace Femm has the best lines, such as “We make our own electric light here, and we are not very good at it. Pray, don’t be alarmed if they go out altogether,” and, when picking up some flowers, says, “my sister was on the point of arranging these flowers,” and then tossing them into the fireplace.”

The film is about 71 minutes long. It pops up on Turner Classic Movies but can be seen at YouTube above. A Blu-Ray version has recently been released. It's a worthy, out-of-the-box choice for a Halloween film selection.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Eegah! - A Prehistoric Caveman Cult Epic

Review by Steve D. Stones

If you're new to the cult of watching bad movies, Eegah may not be the film to get your feet wet with for the first time. As bad as it is, it does improve with repeated viewings and its flaws greatly add to the humor and charm of its badness. The father-son filmmakers of Arch Hall Sr. and Arch Hall Jr. team up to create this outrageous epic caveman movie.

Arch Hall Jr. plays teenage heartthrob Tom Nelson, who works as a gas station attendant, sings in a rock band and dates raven haired beauty Roxy Miller, played by Marilyn Manning. Roxy encounters a giant caveman, played by Richard Kiel, on the highway while rushing home one night. She reports this incident to Tom and her father Robert Miller, played by Arch Hall Sr. Both find her report of the caveman unbelievable.

The trio drive out to the desert highway the next morning and find giant footprints on the desert floor near a place called Shadow Mountain. Roxy's father decides to investigate further by flying a helicopter into Deep Canyon near Shadow Mountain to find the prehistoric man. Miller hopes to find the giant and take a photograph while encountering the caveman.

The pilot who took Miller to Deep Canyon informs Tom that he will not be able to pick up Miller at the scheduled time. Tom and Roxy drive out to the desert in Tom's dune buggy to find Miller.

After no luck in finding Miller, Tom and Roxy camp out on the desert floor near the dune buggy. Here Tom sings a terrible song about a girl named Valerie. In a previous scene, he sang a song about a girl named Vicky. He seems to like singing songs about every girl but Roxy. Roxy doesn't seem too concerned about it, although she does ask who Valerie is.

The next morning, Tom leaves the camp to look for Miller. He takes a shotgun with him, but leaves Roxy behind. The caveman kidnaps Roxy at the camp and takes her to his hillside cave. Here we discover Miller in the cave with a broken collar bone and arm. Miller has named the caveman – Eegah.

What unfolds next is one of the most absurd, terrible sequences in the film, if not the worst in the history of cinema itself. Roxy attempts to communicate with Eegah, but fails miserably, as he continually tries to touch her. She even shaves the prehistoric man with a razor and shave cream. The dialogue in this sequence is hilarious and downright awful.

Watch for young cult director Ray Dennis Steckler, a friend at the time to Hall Jr., in a scene near the end of the film making out with his wife Carolyn Brandt near a swimming pool just before Eegah throws him into the pool. Eegah too finds himself in the pool after the police arrive and shoot him dead as he makes a big splash.

In my opinion, Eegah might just be a better film if all the sequences of Arch Hall Jr. lip syncing songs about girls were cut out, and if the poorly acted and written sequence of actress Marilyn Manning trying to communicate in the cave with Eegah was also cut from the film. However, if these scenes were cut from the film, would Eegah still have its strange cult appeal? Not very likely.

Eegah has gained a strong following in recent years, thanks to the Mystery Science Theater 3000www and Elvira's Movie Macabre treatments of the film. The film was also discussed in Harry and Michael Medved's book – The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. Happy viewing.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

George Arliss is Dr. Syn in 1937 adventure film

By Doug Gibson

Recently, Scarlet: The Film Magazine, a twice-yearly publication that I highly recommend (its website is here) published a lengthy, fascinating piece from Frank Dello Stritto, a film scholar best known for his research on Bela Lugosi, on the Dr. Syn literature and movies. Dr. Syn has fallen into a memory hole, such as Svengali or the old play The Bat, but like those two literary offerings, it was extremely popular long ago and has had more than a couple of screen adaptations. (Dr. Syn, by the way, was a series of books by Russell Thorndike that dealt with a country parson in the southeast of England who in reality was a pirate, Captain Clegg, long thought dead.)

In the most popular book, "Dr. Syn: A Tale of Romney Marsh,' the good Dr. Syn is also leading a group of spirits smugglers. A squadron of British government soldiers are sent to investigate. Smuggling liquor, etc., is a serious business. It can lead to a death sentence. With the squadron is a creature called "the mulatto," who long ago had his tongue cut out, was tortured and left to die by Captain Clegg.

There's a lot more to the plot. Dr. Syn is trying to protect a young girl, Imogene, who loves a man above her station in life. He loves her too, so that helps. There's a brutish confederate of Syn's who wants Imogen for himself, and meanwhile, the soldiers, under Captain Collyer, are getting closer to discovering the spirits operation. It's quite an enjoyable cat-and-mouse game between Syn and Collyer.

In the Scarlet piece, Dello Strito reviews in detail three films that are derived from the Syn. novels. The first was made in 1937, "Dr. Syn." (here) It stars George Arliss, an elderly actor who apparently rivaled Lionel Barrymore in fame generations ago. Arliss is, indeed, a great actor. Although he's likely 20 years too old to play Syn/Clegg, he has tremendous screen presence and a voice that is both soothing and commanding. He has the ability to transform himself from a non-threatening, caring country parson to an angry, threatening force with the mere changing of his countenance, a quick movement, or a change in the timbre of his voice. It's quite impressive to witness.

And truthfully, Arliss is the only real reason to see "Dr. Syn." When he's not in it, it's mostly a creaky film with only adequate performances and little sustained drama. There is one great exception. The opening prologue scene, in which the mulatto is dragged to shore, his tongue cut off, and left to die lashed to a tree with a proclamation over his head. The scene is very strong and quite chilling for an era in Great Britain that frowned on horrific images in films.

You can see "Dr. Syn" on YouTube and it can be purchased easily. In fact, all of the Syn films, including the Hammer "Night Creatures," with Peter Cushing, and a Disney version with Patrick McGoohan, are available via YouTube. Watch the Arliss version above.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Tower of London -- Vincent Price chews the scenery

Review: Tower of London


Wow, I absolutely love this low-budget 1962 gothic adaptation of Shakespeare (well, sort of) that stars Vincent Price as the mad wannabe king Richard who goes around slaughtering anyone who gets in his way, all the while dealing with those voices in his head and derisive laughter only he can hear.

It's directed by Roger Corman, who can stretch a budget as far as it can go without snapping. The black and white adds to the grim mood. There are some chilling scenes. A young maiden is tortured to death on a stretching rack. A man is murdered when a cage with a hungry rat is placed over his head. The scenes of a climatic battle that leads to Richard's death are from the 1939 Tower of London, a fine adaptation starring Boris Karloff.

I want to spend a little time on star Vincent Price's performance. A characteristic of Price's is he can be truly evil while keeping his tongue in his cheek. In Tower, he is clearly mad, and carries a confused, pained expression on his face. It's excellent acting. The audience almost wants to feel sorry for a suffering madman doomed to defeat, but he's simply too evil to care about. Although most critics deride the final battle scene where Price is superimposed over stock footage of battles, I like it. It adds to the hallucinatory atmosphere of Richard's madness.

A great film, easy to find on TV or buy. Also stars Michael Pate, Joan Freeman and Sandra Knight. It's fast-paced at 79 minutes. You can watch the trailer above.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Enemy From Space – A Great Entry In The Quatermass Series

Review by Steve D. Stones

Enemy From Space (1957), also known as Quatermass II, is the sequel to the 1955 science fiction film – The Creeping Unknown (aka The Quatermass Xperiment). Brian Donlevy stars as Professor Bernard Quatermass, a space rocket engineer. Quatermass heads a government funded space travel program near Winnerden Flats in the English countryside. His funding for a space colonization project is slowly being taken away by bureaucrats who want to put a stop to his costly project.

Quatermass' facility of operation detects a barrage of what appears to be meteor fragments falling in the nearby community. As part of his investigation into this matter, Quatermass and a research scientist named Marsh travel to a nearby top secret space facility that is heavily guarded by military personnel. On a hillside above the space installation, Quatermass and Marsh see a series of large domes inside the fenced installation that look very similar to a small scale model found at Quatermass' laboratory. Marsh picks up a strange fragment on the ground. His cheek begins to melt after touching his face. Military trucks filled with armed men arrive and arrest Marsh, but leave Quatermass behind after knocking him out with a rifle.

Quatermass rushes to a local pub in the nearby town to get the help of police. There he is greeted by local citizens who refuse to help him and won't allow him to use the telephone. On the wall of the pub is a sign that states: Remember: Secrets Mean Sealed Lips. This is a clear sign that the locals are trying to hide something. Quatermass is determined to find out what the locals are hiding.

Joining a tour group, Quatermass gains entrance into the heavily guarded space installation to find out what happened to his friend Marsh and to discover the secrets of the installation. He leaves the tour group to do some investigating of his own and runs into a screaming man walking down the stairs outside one of the giant domes. The man is covered in a steaming dark sludge that is burning his flesh. The man had fallen into a large vat of the hot sludge. Apparently this sludge is part of the mixture for a synthetic food of some kind.

The best suspense is saved for last when Quatermass and some locals open fire on one of the large domes, causing it to explode and unleash giant sludge monsters. Like the ending of the first film – The Creeping Unknown, the giant monster is not shown until the end of the film, which helps to build suspense in anticipation of seeing the monster.

Like so many films of the 1950s, Enemy From Space plays on the fears of government secrecy and the conflict of science versus the military. Scientists and military personnel conflict with each other throughout the entire film. The film also addresses the issue of losing ones identity and transforming into a different being, much like Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1957), I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958) and Roger Corman's – It Conquered The World (1956). When characters in the film touch a meteor fragment, their minds and identities change immediately.

Fans of the Quatermass series will disagree with me, but I find Enemy From Space to be an even better, more suspenseful and intelligent film than its predecessor – The Creeping Unknown. The music score by James Bernard has to be one of the creepiest and most intense music scores found in any 1950s science-fiction film.
For other entries in the Quatermass series, don't miss Five Million Years To Earth (aka Quatermass & The Pit) from 1967, The Quatermass Conclusion, a four hour TV series from 1980 and of course the 1958-59 TV show of Quatermass and The Pit. Happy viewing!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Book reviews Andy Clyde Columbia comedy shorts

Review by Doug Gibson

Vintage comedy star Andy Clyde enjoyed a long career. He gained prominence in the silent era and was still making audiences laugh in the 1960s as a character on TV series (including The Real McCoys) and a memorable guest spot as an impoverished maker-of-berries-for women's-hats in The Andy Griffith Show.

It's interesting that his longest running gig, 22 years, is either forgotten by most or woefully under-represented for those interested. That's his 1934 to 1956 tenure making comedy shorts with Columbia studios. Clyde made almost 80 shorts, nearly all of which still exist, as prints or negatives stored at The Library of Congress. His iconic persona and talents, old man with spectacles, a walrus mustache, along with an alarmed comedy double-take that few peers can match, were honed to perfection during his Columbia years.

As James L. Neibaur, author of The Andy Clyde Columbia Comedies, McFarland (2018) (800-253-2187), notes, for a while in the 1930s the Andy Clyde comedy shorts were more popular than The Three Stooges shorts for Columbia. Even after The Stooges grabbed the top comedy shorts spot as money-makers for the studio, Clyde's shorts never relinquished its strong second place.

The Scotland-born Clyde (1892-1967) who migrated to the U.S. in 1912, showed enough talent to grab the attention of Mack Sennett, who liked his versatility and slapstick skills. Late in his silents career, Clyde used makeup, including facial stubble, to make him appear and old man, although he was still in his 30s. As talkies took over, he used this persona for Educational Pictures shorts, initially with Sennett.

Clyde was a natural fit for Jules White, who oversaw Columbia's still-new comedy shorts department. With directors such as White, Charley Chase, and Del Lord, Clyde made his best shorts in the years before World War II, when, as Neibaur notes, budgets were higher for the Columbia shorts. Some of the best include Love Comes to Mooneyville, 1936, and Stuck in the Sticks, 1937, in which Clyde and actor Robert McKenzie have slapstick competitions to win the hand of Esther Howard, who had strong chemistry with Clyde.

Clyde's old-man looked allowed him to be able to play a wide range of characters, from a backwoods man to a professional man, such as a doctor in the very funny Old Sawbones, 1935, in which he competes with a veterinarian to become county physician. Comedy shorts regulars of the period that co-starred with Clyde include Vivien Oakland, Shemp Howard, Vernon Dent, Barbara Pepper, Bud Jamison, Betty Blythe, Minerva Urecal, Charley Rogers, Christine McIntyre ... and more.

Jules White was an effective director for Clyde notes Neibaur. White possessed the ability to create so much slapstick, even violent, in such a short time that the audience ended up enjoying the film even if the humor was scarce. Clyde's acting skills lent polish to White's craft due to Clyde's skills at slapstick. Clyde also worked well with directors Charley Chase and Edward Bernds, both of whom favored humor a little more subtle than White.

One of my favorite lower-budget shorts from the 1940s is Andy Plays Hookey, (1946), a remake of W.C. Fields' movie "Man on the Flying Trapeze," where Andy is a henpecked man who after a day of trying to see the fights eventually asserts himself and achieves respect in his home and work. Watch it below.

As Neibaur mentions, Andy Plays Hookey, which was directed by Bernds, was also a remake of a Sennett-directed short, Too Many Highballs, starring Lloyd Hamilton in a role Fields was supposed to have starred in. So, there are three films on the subject, the first being the Hamilton-starred one.Andy Played Hookey, Neibaur writes, manages to compact much of "... Flying Trapeze" in a two-reel film, while ... Highballs was much more streamlined, he adds.

Here's two parts of another, 1937 Clyde Columbia short, Lodge Night, via YouTube.

Clyde was well-liked at Columbia and known as a team player who would work with anyone, including Harry Edwards, a one-time feature director whose skills had eroded. Neibaur notes that a few of Clyde's Edwards shorts are damaged by poor directing, such as lingering far too long on a scene.

Clyde was married to the former Elsie Tarron, and had a son named John. He loved being a father and it was a crushing blow when John died in 1944 at age nine of meningitis. Clyde learned what parents who lose children know -- that life goes on. After a short break, he resumed the Columbia shorts as well as outside work, including roles in western films, such as The Hopalong Cassidy series.

By the 1950s, Columbia's comedies were a shell of what they had once been. Budgets were at a minimum, and most of the films were remakes of earlier films using stock footage of the previous films. Neibaur notes that Clyde usually only worked for a day on these shorts, a few scenes to set up any new actors in the remake. In fact, one of Clyde's final films is 90 percent old material.

Even in the 1930s, a Columbia short was finished in five days. By the mid '50s, with one-day shoots for a couple of recycled shorts a year, Clyde made the decision to leave Columbia after 22 years. The popularity of television offered him lucrative roles that time with the shorts was likely cutting into.

He remained a successful working actor until his death, with a large TV resume. He died of a heart attack in his sleep.

When the Columbia shorts were syndicated in the 1950s, a healthy number of those chosen were Clyde's, and they played often. Of course, with the exception of the Three Stooges, none of Columbia shorts are aired commercially today. Thanks to streaming sites such as YouTube, you can find several to watch. Greg Hilbrich, with his The Columbia Shorts Department website (an invaluable tool), has posted Clyde and other Columbia stars on his site's YouTube pages.

Still's, there's not enough of the shorts available for viewing to whet this fan's appetite after reading Neibaur's comprehensive assessments of all the shorts. Let's hope that Andy Clyde's Columbia output one day receives a quality DVD release, maybe 24 shorts, with cleaned up commentary, perhaps from Neibaur, Hilbrich, or Ted Okuda and Ed Watz, who wrote the indispensable The Columbia Comedy Shorts.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Peter Lorre, The Golem, and Guy Kibbee

By Doug Gibson

We feature three quick reviews of films and any fan of cinema, particularly the 20s, 30s, and 40s, will enjoy. These reviews will only be a paragraph, but there will be links to more information..

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.

"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.