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The Pearl of Death (1944)
Sherlock Holmes against the Hoxton Creeper. He must protect his third lumbar vertebrae
"One of two things has happened. Either the woman he bumped into was an accomplice, in which case she has the pearl, or he managed somehow to conceal it in his flight."
The pearl, of course, is the cursed Borgia Pearl, an object of rich men's lust. The "he" is Giles Conover (Miles Mander), a master criminal as cruel as he is clever, as contemptuous of men as he is unmoved by women.
The Borgia Pearl has been the object of criminal stratagems since it arrived in London for display in the British Museum. The director of the museum is immensely proud of how he has harnessed electricity to warn of any untoward action involving the museum's objects. But what happens when Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) apparently makes a mistake. And what happens when the electricity doesn't work.
It will be Sherlock Holmes, aided by his game but confused partner, Watson (Nigel Bruce), against Giles Conover. Holmes makes his disdain for Conover clear. "I don't like the smell of you -- an underground smell, the sick sweetness of decay. You haven't robbed and killed merely for the game like any ordinary halfway decent thug. No, you're in love with cruelty for it's own sake."
Little does Holmes realize that Conover has a creature of his own...a brute whose face is the result of a disorder of the pituitary gland. Watson might call it acromegaly. Most laymen would say it's the Easter Island Statue Syndrome. It's not long before Holmes must deal not only with Conover, but also with this creature...the Hoxton Creeper (Rondo Hatton). "A monster, Watson," Holmes says, "with the chest of a buffalo and the arms of a gorilla. His particular method of murder is back breaking. And it's always the same...the third lumbar vertebrae." "How horrible," says Watson.
Does Sherlock Holmes best the Creeper? Does he recover the Borgia Pearl? Does Conover taste the bitter brew of utter defeat? You'll get no spoilers from me.
Some think macaroni and cheese is the perfect comfort for what ails you. I think it's Rathbone and Bruce. People can argue about which actor has been the best Sherlock Holmes, but there is something about Rathbone's style, earnestness, profile and line delivery that makes me sit back and smile every time I watch him play The Great Detective. All that Victorian gaslight, fog and cobblestones help, too. With some strange alchemy, the Holmes movies with Rathbone have turned into an elixir of kitsch, style, remembrance of things past, satisfaction and noble causes. Mac and cheese doesn't come close.
They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)
Not perfect, but James Garner, small town kinky murder and some great character actors carry the day
They Only Kill Their Masters is a flawed murder mystery. A meatloaf dinner half way through stops it in its tracks. The female romantic lead is as bland and uninteresting as packaged custard. The director never establishes control over the movie.
On the other hand, it also has a great deal of easy-going charm, a winning performance by James Garner (who carries the picture) and a deliberately misleading set of clues that lead to steamy speculation, smarmy behavior and committed kinkiness. There's a sleight-of-hand solution that makes sense and a Doberman named Murphy with chompers big enough to rip out a throat and a tail that could power an aluminum smelter just by wags.
Never trust small town values, especially if the small town is Eden Landing on the California coast. When a young woman washes up on the sand in front of a beach house, she has major mauling on her body and a prancing Doberman bouncing around in the surf next to her. It's not long before the newspaper pronounces the woman dead by dog and Murphy is scheduled for euthanasia by Dr. Watkins (Hal Holbrook), the town vet. Then Police Chief Abel Marsh (Garner) has a talk with the town coroner. Seems the dog's bites were all on the body's arms and legs. Looks like Murphy might have been trying to rescue her. Then there's evidence that she drowned...on purpose and it wasn't suicide. Her lungs are full of tap water mixed with salt, not seawater. And she was pregnant. As Abel investigates, he finds more questions than answers. He gets bashed and beaten. And he finds he likes the vet's new assistant (Katharine Ross) well enough to invite her over for a meatloaf supper. Abel also finds some erotic photos. Seems the dead woman liked to keep a record of her doings. Through it all Abel remains skeptical, likable, wry and smart...just like James Garner. The conclusion is tricky and nearly lethal for Abel.
Some fine actors join Garner in this flawed but interesting murder mystery. Katharine Ross, unfortunately, brings little to the part. The character is bland, has a nice smile, not much personality and pours too much dressing on the salad she makes for herself and Abel to accompany Abel's meatloaf. But as compensation there are all those excellent, aging actors who show up and demonstrate why Garner is wise enough not to go toe-to-toe with them in their scenes together. Tom Ewell is one of Abel's cops; June Allyson is the vet's wife; Edmund O'Brien is the liquor store owner; Arthur O'Connell owns the local diner and Ann Rutherford is Abel's police dispatcher. Even Peter Lawford shows up as a sleaze with a lot of hair. They give us more than cameos, but none of the parts requires actors as known as they are. The result is that each actor gets a little extra business to do so that we can appreciate their skill and we can remember their great roles. As much as they add to the movie's pleasure, their presence distracts from the story.
I've always liked this movie. The solution is unexpected. Garner is Garner, and that's a plus. And it's still good to see in their old age just how skilled and professional were Edmund O'Brien (D.O.A., Seven Days in May, The Wild Bunch), Tom Ewell (Adam's Rib, The Seven Year Itch) and Arthur O'Connell (Picnic, Anatomy of a Murder).
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
"Look, I'm getting' old," Eddie Coyle says. That's the least of Eddie's worries
"Eddie doesn't rob banks...He's about this high in the bunch but he gets around more than any man I've ever seen," says Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), a baby-faced Boston cop about as amoral as the wiseguys he hunts. Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a worn out, two-bit gunrunner. He provides untraceable revolvers when required. He draws the line at machine guns. Eddie is honorable in his way. He loves his family. He's just a low life who isn't all that shrewd. The fix he's in, because he can't take any more jail time, is what this superb Peter Yates' movie is all about.
"Look. I'm getting' old, y'hear?" Eddie tells a young hood who deals in machine guns. "I spend most of my life hangin' around crummy joints with the punks drinkin' the beer, eatin' the hash an' hot dogs and watchin' the other people go off to Florida while I'm sweatin' how I'm going' to pay the plumber. I done time when I stood up but I can't take no more chances. Next time it's going' to be me going' to Florida." Now he's facing more prison time for foolishly agreeing to drive a getaway car when he should have asked his friends some questions. He'll do just about anything to cut a deal for no jail time. He's nearly 50. He doesn't want his wife to go on welfare, doesn't want his three kids made fun of because their old man is doing time. He's squeezed by Dave Foley to inform...and Eddie decides he'll rat a little. He's too believing to understand he might be tagged for ratting big time. It's all betrayal, but Eddie doesn't really understand betrayal. All those friends of Eddie's make us wary every time we meet them: Scalise (Alex Rocco), who robs banks, sometimes violently; Jackie (Steve Keats), the dangerous dealer in stolen machine guns; Dillon (Peter Boyle), owner of a low-life bar who knows more about things than Eddie does.
The movie looks as hopeless as the Boston weather. It's the cold end of fall, filled with drab, chill days where parking lot asphalt is always wet. We're into Eddie's life in the low lane, where the anchors in the crummy strip malls are a tired Woolworth's and Barbo's Furniture Store. It's a lousy life and it belongs to Eddie Coyle. "Have a nice day."
Director Peter Yates sets up scenes -- an exchange of machine guns, a bank robbery, a family held hostage, a stakeout in a commuter train lot, a night on the town -- that are so naturally established that we might miss how skillfully they build the story and show us Eddie's life. We're never sure if things are as hopeless for Eddie as they seem. Yates keeps us on edge, and he adds layers of Eddie Coyle's sad and foolish trust.
This is one of Robert Mitchum's best performances. Mitchum still looks like he might be a tough guy, but his Eddie Coyle is a man who has had the force of his life wrung out of him. He's been in the life forever. He does the jobs others ask him to. He doesn't ask very many questions. He's just not smart enough. Mitchum takes all the hard edges off his usual persona and gives us an aging loser whose life is on the skids, and who doesn't understand just how badly off he is.
Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)
Here's a fine Randolph Scott outing, with humor and irony
Buchanan Rides Alone is surprising and surprisingly good. Randolph Scott is not the lone man on horseback who rides into town with a righteous grudge. He's just Tom Buchanan, riding up from Mexico where he earned a stake big enough to buy the spread in West Texas he's always wanted. When he crosses the border and enters Agry Town, the county seat of Agry County, California, things are going to turn bad fast.
Agry Town sits right on the border. The county judge is Simon Agry. The county sheriff is Lew Agry. Yep, the Agry's run things hereabouts. Tom tries to deal with everyone with a friendly smile. He's not looking for trouble, just a place to get a drink, sleep and to eat a good steak...at the town's Agry Hotel. Lew Agry isn't so easy going. When he realizes Tom has gold hidden in Tom's gun belt, the gold gets confiscated and Tom gets beaten. When Tom tries to break up a gun battle between a young man from Mexico and a drunken Agry who is the judge's son (who just rode back to town with female fingernail scratches on his face), the Agry pulls first and gets dead fast. Tom and Juan de la Vega (Manuel Rojas), son of a powerful Mexican landowner, wind up in jail awaiting hanging. There are gunfights, breakouts, bushwhacking, bribes, a $50,000 ransom and lots of dirty dealing, especially among the Agry brothers. They have as much family feeling as one shark fetus sharing space in mom with another.
Judge Simon Agry (Tol Avery) runs the town with a soft, greasy hand. He's pudgy, ambitious, hypocritical, cautious and double dealing. Sheriff Lew Agry (Barry Kelley) is a tough man with a beefy face, a solid gut and a rancid disposition. "Take him over to the jailhouse and wait for him to come to. When I hang a man, I like him to know what's going on." Always around the judge, dressed in black and slick as a patch of fresh horse manure, is Abe Carbo (Craig Stevens). Carbo seems allied with the judge, but why should he let himself play second fiddle to the Agrys? Carbo is amoral, a man who'll suggest betrayal with a smile and make it seem legal...sort of like a corporate lawyer.
By the end of the movie, the Agry brothers and their town get what they deserve. And Tom Buchanan heads to west Texas, his gold stake back in his gun belt and a nice, satisfied smile on his face.
The movie is surprising good because it moves quickly within its 78 minutes. The betrayal, action and brotherly distaste more than fill any void left by romance (there isn't any), clichés (very few) and anything trying to be what it isn't. Buchanan Rides Alone is a solid piece of Western entertainment with an ironic twist led by Randolph Scott. It's available through the DVD Budd Boetticher Box Set, which also includes the Scott movies The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station.
Respectful to a fault, with a concentration on emperors and poets
This PBS-produced documentary, which surveys Rome in the First Century, runs 219 minutes in four parts. It is so calm, so respectful, so stately and so dull that it made me wonder if they really were talking about Rome.
The tales of the emperors, of course, range from greatness to pederasty, from the building of an intercontinental transportation system to wretched excess, from mutual murder to becoming gods. Rome also is the story of great poets, writers, historians, and builders. The documentary spends a lot of time reminding us of this with quotes read by actors with generically well-bred voices.
Even more important and interesting is why the Romans were able to create such an empire. What was the force behind a crummy little village on the Tiber winding up owning everything from England to Egypt? And who was responsible for the most impressive set of officer's uniforms until the Nazis?
Rome is the story not just of emperors and poets, but also of engineers and soldiers, of a great civil service and a slave economy, of an empire-wide free-trade zone and a universal set of laws. Rome might nail you to a cross, but in general if you didn't say bad things about the emperor-god you could believe in any other gods that took your fancy. Said Edward Gibbon, "The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman World, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord."
Little of this practical cynicism and do-the-job-right energy comes through in this documentary.
I have a great admiration for Sigourney Weaver as an actress, but her narration is simply too emotionless and too earnest. Does she have any more interest in first century Rome than most of us do? Probably not. She was hired to read the author's narration and she does with placid professionalism. The actors selected to voice the words of Ovid, Tacitus and the rest of the dead Romans bring even less moxie to the enterprise. Their voices are smooth, professional and uninteresting.
This documentary is well intentioned, probably more so than is good for it. If you must watch it for the facts, I'd advise that first you watch I, Claudius for the energy.
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
"Come along, Watson. We haven't a moment to waste. I only hope we shan't be too late!"
Sherlock Holmes, who was born January 6, 1854, came out of retirement in 1942 at the request of Universal Pictures to pursue WWII arch criminals threatening Britain and frightening aristocratic young women. Now 88, Holmes uses a substance much like Botox, hair dye and a high fiber diet to maintain that familiar appearance so many have commented on, to his intense irritation, as resembling the actor Basil Rathbone. He is, as always, aided by his companion, Dr. John Watson, now 90, and resembling Nigel Bruce, who over the years preferred to inject himself with monkey gland extracts from Switzerland to maintain an active but confused middle age.
In Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, Holmes will confront one of the most dastardly of plots, with murder employed as a careless tool to achieve unspeakably selfish ends. It concerns the Musgrave Manor, a hulking, ancient mansion of hidden passages and dark crypts, where the time is always night and the weather is always howling winds and rain. Now the manor, of course, is used as a convalescent center for shell-shocked British officers. Watson volunteered to supervise their care. "What is this Musgrave Manor? A blinkin' prison?" says a sailor near closing time at The Rat and The Raven Pub. It's 1942 in wartime England. "That ain't the worst it's been called, not that I'm one for speedin' stories, heh, heh, but we knows what we knows," says the publican."Where is this Musgrave Manor?" "Down the road apiece. You'll see it when you pass the old iron gates. Only don't loiter. You won't be welcome, not by the Musgraves. They've been sittin' there, lords of the manor, since time was. If those old walls could speak they'd tell you things that'd raise the hairs on yer head."
And there is The Musgrave Ritual, the recitation of ancient lines that must be spoken by the next heir of the Musgraves. How does it go? "..."Where shall he go? Deep down below. Away from the thunder, let him dig under..." Before long Sally Musgrave is reciting the ritual amidst dark shadows and lightening. Outside, the echoing trees are pulled by a howling wind...a wind that slams open shutters and wreaks havoc amongst the drapes.
Sally Musgrave's elder brother has just been murdered. Her other brother has become head of the Musgraves. And Dr. Watson has called on Holmes to come to the manor and solve what appears to be an unsolvable and deadly mystery. Who is the hand behind it all? One of the twitchy officers? The doctor assisting Watson? The irritable housekeeper? The tipsy butler? We know this is far too complex for Inspector Lestrade. And then Holmes discovers that the ritual disguises a chess game only the bravest would want to play, with death and riches as rewards.
It takes Holmes only 68 minutes in movie time, in this MPI release nicely restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, to remind ourselves that nostalgia is everything it is cracked up to be and that Sherlock Holmes, even at 88 but looking good, will always be The Great Detective. And so the ingeniously complex Musgrave Ritual is deciphered, the most ruthless murderer in England is unmasked, and young Sally Musgrave is saved from a terrible fate. "Amazing, Holmes!" says John Watson. "Elementary, my dear Watson," says Sherlock Holmes.
Murphy's Law (1986)
"Ladies first" is the last thing this lady will hear, thanks to Jack Murphy
Murphy's Law: If anything could possibly go wrong, it will.
Murphy's Second Law: Don't mess with Jack Murphy. (Substitute the usual word for 'mess.')
Murphy's Law is a lot better than some people would have you believe. Yeah, yeah, it's a Charles Bronson film from the Eighties, a period when a lot of film enthusiasts sniffed that Bronson was little more than a stuffed dummy who phoned in his performances. Bronson is one of those actors who make condescension drip from the lips of some cineastes.
Charles Bronson was no typical Hollywood actor. He didn't have to be. With that worn-out, weary, tough face he could set a scene just by being there. Bronson was Bronson, and we knew the kind of taciturn, honest, relentless character he'd be. Bronson was a private man, kept to himself, was realistic about his talents and proud enough to deliver the goods. With all that said, you either kind of like his star movies, or at least some of them, or you kind of don't. Murphy's Law is one I like.
Jack Murphy is a police detective on the downslide. His wife, a stacked stripper at a gentlemen's club who fancies herself a dancer, has just divorced him. Murphy doesn't want to let her go, drinks himself into a stupor most nights and shows up for work with stains on his rumpled suit and bad breath. Then his wife is killed and he's arrested for her murder. Jack Murphy knows he must find out who the real murderer is, so he breaks out of jail. While he tries to identify the killer, the killer bumps off one person after another who helps Murphy or who was associated with him. Early in the movie we know who the killer is (this is no spoiler), a psycho named Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgrass). Murphy put her behind bars ten years ago and now she's out. She's ready for some wet revenge. She leaves corpses in her wake. She pumps iron with a vengeance. She smokes. She's also handy with a garrote, a cross bow and a pistol. Never, never take a bath with her.
With just this as a plot Murphy's Law might have been an efficient, violent and reasonably entertaining Bronson movie. What I like about it is the gimmick -- the relationship between Murphy and a foul-mouthed young thief named Arabella McGee (played by Kathleen Wilhoit). Murphy had been handcuffed to Arabella at the stationhouse after he was arrested. When he broke out he had to take her along with him. A movie cliché? Sure. I think it works because of Murphy's tough stoicism and Arabella's creative and energetic profanity. There's nice chemistry between Bronson and Wilhoit. Wilhoit looks more like a tomboy than a cutesy starlet, more a gamin rough around the edges. She's a good actress and holds her own with Bronson's screen charisma. When the handcuffs finally come off thanks to Arabella's lock- picking skills, she decides to stick around with Murphy. If he can clear his name, he'll clear hers as being an accomplice in the escape. And off they go, with Murphy now fighting a three-front war. Freeman is after him. A cop who hates his guts is after him. And a mob smoothie he beat up is after him. The climax is a rough battle between Murphy and Freeman in a dark, gloomy building already loaded with some of her corpses. Arabella proves useful. Murphy proves capable.
The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)
There's not much to be done with names like "Brown Eyes" Lacy and "Lighting" Tyrone
You probably shouldn't expect too much from a western when you see that the characters have names like The Silver Kid, Marshall "Lightning" Tyrone, Johnny Sombrero and Opal "Brown Eyes" Lacy. Still, Duel at Silver Creek has one interesting twist. It's the bickering misunderstandings between the two male good-guy leads, The Kid and "Lightening," Audie Murphy plays Luke "The Silver Kid" Cromwell and Stephen McNally is "Lightening" Tyrone. (It's a shame that we don't give our top law enforcers nicknames like this anymore. J. Edgar "Lightening" Hoover carries authority.)
There's a lot of lethal claim-jumping going around in the mountains near Silver City. A gang of killers forces the claim holders to sign over their claims, then guns them down so there are no witnesses. Marshal "Lightening" Tyrone, the fastest draw around, plans to hunt them down, bring them to justice or kill them himself. One of the claim holders had a son. He's aiming to do the same. He calls himself The Silver Kid. He's handy with a gun and good at poker. When "Lightening," no dummy who knows he needs more firepower, offers a deputy's badge to The Silver Kid, the Kid accepts. This is going to be a fraught partnership, complicated by a slick mining engineer (Gerald Mohr), a lush, pink-bosomed femme fatale (Faith Domerque) and Dusty (Susan Cabot), the feisty, pants-wearing tomboy we know will smarten up right fine in a dress. We meet the gang leaders early on. There are no surprises as we watch one shoot down miners in cold blood and another strangle to death a wounded miner.
I like Audie Murphy. His early movies leave a lot to be desired, but he grew into a decent actor. In real life he was a man to admire. In Hollywood he gave it his best and learned. In The Duel at Silver Creek he's no match for the hack-written dialogue and those nicknames. Try on "Thanks for the warning, Brown Eyes," "We're trapped! Spread out," "That was a smart stunt! I almost plugged you," "Hey, Dusty, Lighting's back!" and "He didn't have the face of a killer, but he had the cold-steel look of one. I noticed his hands were quick and sure." Stephen McNally was a competent actor, but here he's saddled with providing a dull narration to the story. There's not much he can do with what the writers gave him. This was also one of director Don Siegel's earliest movies.
The video and audio transfers are nothing out of the ordinary. You might enjoy this movie if you like Audie Murphy, if you enjoy the turgid clichés of hack screen writing and if you have something else to do while you watch. I'm three for three. I'll give it thee stars out of five. You might not. . One last cliché to keep in mind. (And clichés aren't spoilers) Remember that in Hollywood, good-natured old coots are always gunned down.
East Side, West Side (1949)
A loyal, rich wife, a prowling husband with a slippery zipper, a murder...Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, lots of melodrama
We're going to have to keep some things straight, so please pay attention. "A" is loyal, sincere and society-style rich. Her mom's even richer. She's in love with "B," a charming, compulsive philanderer and nicely turned-out cad. They're married. Every Thursday they go to Mom's mansion to have dinner for three. "C" is a luscious, high-gloss tramp who knows what she wants and when she wants it. Now that "B" is into the money, she might want to take up where things left off with him before he married "A." "D" is decent, honorable, and patriotic, with a past that's part detective, part U. S. spy. He loves "A," who sees him as a wonderful friend. He detests "B," and sees him for what he is, the rain on "A"'s obliviously happy parade. "E" is a nice kid to come home to after a hard day's work. She'd have dinner ready and the pillows plumped. "E" may seem a little bland but she's got great legs. She loves "D," but he's too decent to be anything but decent toward her.
With Mom observing, with the drinks poured, with easy morals on the East Side, with loving commitment on the West Side and with everyone extremely well groomed, the anguish starts and the tears flow. If it weren't for murder and two other elements, East Side, West Side would probably only be worth remembering by the fans of women's weepies. The murder and the hunt for the murderer take up the last half of the movie. Death provides some great, gloomy photography and some needed energy. Stanwyck as the murder suspect provides...I guess she provides the plot.
The best things about this movie, however, are those two other elements: Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason. Just for the record, Stanwyck is "A," Mason is "B," Ava Gardner is "C," Van Heflin is "D," and Cyd Charisse is "E." And we shouldn't forget Gale Sondergard, one of Hollywood's great character actors who plays Stanwyck's mother. Mason may pull the wool over Bab's eyes (and we kind of like him when he does), but Sondergard, as gracious and as smooth as old gold dollars, is a woman to be wary of when she smiles sympathetically.
One can understand why Stanwyck agreed to the movie. She was still a major name-above- the-title star, but she was on the down slope of age. East Side, West Side gave her a chance to play believably younger than she was, to look stylishly dressed and coifed at all times, to move around in the kind of upper-crust apartments only Hollywood could decorate, to emote everything from love to regret, from anxiety to calm resolution. It's her movie, and she risked loosing it only when James Mason decided to take the intriguing part of the hopeless, hapless, assured and self-deceiving cad Stanwyck has married. Stanwyck remains Stanwyck, one of Hollywood's rare stand-alone actresses on whom any film she's in seems always to focus on her. Mason usually had that same affect. He could come off as cruel (The Seventh Veil), or a rogue (The Wicked Lady) or hopelessly sad (Odd Man Out), but it was hard not to concentrate on him. When cruel, he could be romantic. When a rogue, he could be dangerous and good company. When hopelessly sad, he could embody feelings close to tragedy. But, my goodness, just look at the roles he picked to play when he came over to Hollywood in the late Forties. Mason made his own choices. He was intelligent and a risk taker. He liked working for first-rate directors. He often made possible small films by agreeing to star in them. He was a superb film actor. And here he is in East Side, West Side as Barbara Stanwyck's husband, a man unable to keep his pants zipped.
Stanwyck brings authenticity to the movie, even though it's all Hollywood. She has to contend with too many major characters and too many balls in the air. Mason, however, makes us like the situation. Two scenes toward the end of the movie, the first when he has a conversation with Gale Sondergard as Stanwyck's mother, and the second when he leaves a message over the phone to be delivered to Sondergard, are both high-class bits of immensely satisfying comeuppance acting.
Mason had a long career and played in some real doozies, but I can't think of a performance of his I've seen that I didn't enjoy. Try him in The Reckless Moment, (1946) a great film directed by Max Ophuls, or, at the end of his career, in The Shooting Party (1985). As for Stanwyck, there are a lot of movies to like. For melodrama, death and under-appreciated Hollywood angst, try The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
Lugosi had to make a buck so we have movies like this one. But don't miss him in The Black Cat
Only the glandular secretions -- and please don't ask for any more details -- of young virgins can keep the rapidly deteriorating body and mind of the crazed old amateur horticulturalist's wife fresh and youthful. Since, like most people except those taking part in medical trials, virgins seldom give up their secretions willingly, Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) arranges for them to be abducted and preserved. He'll do the extracting himself.
What a great cheese ball of a premise for a low budget horror movie. If The Corpse Vanishes turns out not to be the Havarti of horror, as a plain limburger it leaves an interesting aftertaste.
Sure, the acting is almost awful except for the actors fortunate enough to be playing the crazed dwarf (Angelo Rossitto, who later played The Master in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome); his crazed brute of a brother, Angel (Frank Moran), who grunts a lot and has a fetish for the virgins' hair; the crazed mother of the two (Minerva Urecal); the crazed wife (Elizabeth Russell), who sleeps in a plush coffin and, of course, the crazed doctor (Lugosi).
An enterprising young reporter, Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) tracks down the doctor because of a strange orchid with a peculiarly sweet odor that had been worn by the victims. When the doctor and his wife invite Pat to stay the night, a raging storm immediately breaks out. That clue tells us some raging violence is about to erupt inside. Since it's well known that in Hollywood at this time all unmarried young women were virgins, Pat may have some unpleasant surprises to deal with. They include dark passages, a crusty laboratory where a near dead virgin is stored, a basement mausoleum and, later, a direct threat to Patricia's own glandular secretions. If she survives, what a story she'll have to give her editor.
If you sample this moist slice of moldy Velveeta (and why not? Don't be superior), don't judge Bela Lugosi by the company he keeps here. He had a huge impact in Dracula (1931), but my favorite movie of his is The Black Cat (1934). As Dr. Vitas Werdegast he's a sad, ironic man protective of his two young friends. When he finally takes a scalpel to Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) and begins to flay the man alive, ah, well, it's a great scene.