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Hangover Square (1945)
A Concerto For Murder!
Following the success of "The Lodger" (1944), Darryl F. Zanuck, never one to miss an opportunity, rushed star Laird Cregar into a sequel of sorts, "Hangover Square". Again Cregar is cast as a schizophrenic dual personality murderer.
There's no doubt that he is a murderer as the opening scene has him stabbing an old antique dealer (Francis Ford) to death. Later we see him wandering aimlessly in the turn of the 20th century streets of London. He suddenly regains his senses and has no memory of the past few hours or of the dastardly crime he has just committed.
Back at his home we learn that George Harvey Bone (Cregar) is an aspiring composer who is working on a concerto that he hopes will bring him fame. He is working under the tutelage of Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) who just happens to have an attractive young daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) who has an attraction to Bone.
Bone meanwhile has doubts about his blackouts and seeks the advice of Scotland Yard shrink Dr. Allan Middleton ( a bland George Sanders). Middleton advises him to ease up on his work and go out and have some fun. While watching a music hall revue, he is attracted to alluring showgirl Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell). She sees an opportunity to use George to her advantage by getting him to write songs for her while playing up to him. Unbeknownst to George, Netta has been carrying on with producer Eddie Carstairs (Glen Langan). When George discovers her deception he has another blackout and...........................................
One can't help but notice the similarities between the Bone character(s) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both have good girl/bad girl relationships and both have mysterious blackouts where they commit violent acts. And of course there is the inevitable comparison to Cregar's Jack the Ripper character from "The Lodger". I personally didn't find him nearly as frightening in this film, bug eyes notwithstanding.
Laird Cregar was apparently afraid of being type cast as a murderous villain. With the success of "The Lodger" he saw himself as a leading man and undertook a crash diet between the two films losing 100 lbs in the process. It is quite shocking to see the difference in Cregar's appearance in the two films. The stress on his heart evidently took its toll and he passed away at age 31 before "Hanover Square" was released.
The Lodger (1944)
The Ultimate Portrait of Jack the Ripper!
"The Lodger" is considered by many to be the best of the several attempts to film the Jack the Ripper legacy. Much of the credit for this has to be attributed to the bravura performance by Laird Cregar in the lead role.
Directed by John Brahm and photographed by Lucien Ballard we get a superior Gothic horror film complete with dimly lit foggy London streets with elements of "The Picture of Dorion Gray", Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Phantom of the Opera" thrown in. To appease the censors, the murder victims were changed from prostitutes to dance hall girls and all of the murders take place off screen.
A mysterious man who calls himself "Slade" (Cregar), rents rooms from a down on their luck couple the Warwicks (Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood) at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings. The couple have a young niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon) who performs in music halls.
Slade leaves little doubt as to who he really is and Cregar plays him as a soft spoken man with sinister overtones. Brahm has him photographed from low angles (a la Sidney Greenstreet) to emphasize his threatening size and piercing eyes. (Cregar was a big man standing over six feet and weighing 300 lbs).
When the latest murder turns out to be a woman who had just met Kitty, Scotland Yard is called in with Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders) in charge. Naturally he is attracted to the lovely Kitty as is, we are soon to learn, Slade.
The climax, which takes place following Kitty's performance, is the highlight of the film. Cregar's transformation into the mad murderer is positively frightening. This picture made a star out of the talented Cregar who went on to film a sequel of sorts the following year in "Hangover Square".
If you pay attention closely, you will discover (due to last minute editing and voice over) that one lady is actually murdered twice.
The Undying Monster (1942)
Helga, Don't Go Out There!
"The Undying Monster" was an attempt by Darryl F. Zanuck to replicate the success that Universal Studios was having with horror movies for his studio 20th Century Fox. What we get here is a sort of horror/mystery mix with a tip of the hat to Sherlock Holmes and "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
The story surrounds the Hammond family who have lived in a drafty old house for centuries just outside of London England. The current owners are a brother, Oliver Hammond (John Howard) and his sister Helga (Heather Angel). Also in residence are a creepy old butler Walton (Halliwell Hobbes) and his sinister wife (Elly Malyon). It seems that a family curse has befallen the Hammonds once again.
When Oliver and a local girl are found savagely attacked in the foggy old moors, fear spreads throughout the house. When the girl dies a murder investigation is begun by Scotland Yard. Heading up the investigation are the Holmes/Watson like team of Bob Curtis (James Ellison) and his assistant "Christy" (Heather Thatcher). The family doctor, Doctor Jeff Colbert (Bramwell Fletcher) seems to know more than he is telling and the Waltons are lurking about in the shadows.
I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say that the culprit turns out to be a werewolf whose identity is not revealed until the end.
The film was directed by John Brahm a German who fled his country in the 1930s and had made mostly "B" movies (of which this is one) to date. He injects mystery and horror into his "B" budget in an imaginative way both through his direction and the atmospheric photography of no less than the legendary Lucien Ballard. I was disappointed though at a couple of tacky rear projection shots involving characters riding in a coach.
It's odd that everyone in the cast has a British accent except for the "star" James Ellison. Ellison had recently graduated from being second banana to Hopalong Cassidy but never progressed beyond a "B" picture leading man. Heather Angel and John Howard had starred together in the "Bulldog Drummond" series from 1937 to 1939. And yes that was Charles McGraw playing Studwick who battles Curtis in the basement tombs.
Brahm would soon be rewarded for his efforts with a pair of "A" budget films with "A" list casts in "The Lodger" (1944) and "Hangover Square" (1945) both starring Laird Cregar.
The Ride Back (1957)
Marvellous Little Western!
"The Ride Back" is a low budget black and white 79 minute western that is essentially a two character story featuring a half breed Mexican fugitive (Anthony Quinn) and the hot sweaty sheriff (William Conrad) who tries to bring him back from Mexico to the USA for trial.
Quinn and Conrad play off of each other as each tries to out smart the other. Quinn claims his innocence but certain of his actions leaves us in doubt. Conrad's sheriff is an ordinary looking down on his luck law man who nevertheless vows to bring Quinn to justice. The two play psychological games with each other with a band of renegade Apaches stalking them all the way.
Things change however, when they encounter a little girl (Ellen Hope Monroe) whose family has been massacred by the Apache. She fears the gruff grizzled sheriff while Quinn's fugitive uses her liking for him to his advantage. Then the Indians attack and.......................
Conrad who was also the producer was probably instrumental in getting Anthony Quinn to play the fugitive. Quinn had just won an Oscar for "Lust for Life" and was in big demand by others. I'm sure that he didn't do this one for the money but saw the merits of a well written story. You can almost feel the intense heat as the principals cross the territory.
Also in the cast are Lita Milan as Quinn's girl friend, Victor Millan as the village Padre and Jorge Trevino as the border guard.
Escort West (1958)
Interesting Low Budget Western
"Escort West" is interesting little low budget Black and White western about the efforts of an ex-confederate soldier Ben Lassiter (Victor Mature) and his daughter Abbey (Reba Waters) to reach Oregon and a new life.
Set in 1865 just after the Civil War, Lassiter finds that not all of the old wounds have healed. At a way station he meets two sisters Beth Drury (Elaine Stewart) and her sister Martha (Faith Domergue) who are in the company of a cavalry detachment. Martha bears a resentment of Lassiter because of the war.
Later on the trail Lassiter finds the cavalry detachment massacred except for quartermaster Nelson Walker (Rex Ingram) and the two ladies whom he had hidden away. The unlikely party then proceeds toward another army group who unbeknownst to them is pinned down under fire from the Indian renegade Tago (X. Brands) who is also in pursuit of the Lassiter group.
Director Francis D. Lyon had the luxury of a seasoned cast of veterans although in some cases he doesn't take advantage of them often under utilizing their talents. Also in the cast are Noah Beery Jr., Leo Gordon (who co-wrote the story), Ken Curtis, William Ching, John Hubbard, Harry Carey Jr., Slim Pickens and Roy Barcroft as various soldiers.
Victor Mature was always an under rated actor. He was usually better than his material as is the case here. Acting kudos in this film go to the veteran actor Rex Ingram who gives a sympathetic performance as the doomed Walker. Faith Domergue is one who never quite made it but is probably best remembered for her dalliance with Howard Hughes. Ken Curtis went on to portray "Festus Hagen" in the long running TV series "Gunsmoke".
If Ain't Broke...Don't Fix It!
Around the time this film was made, stars Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings were performing concerts as "The Highwaymen" and they were good. So, having success as a performing group Nelson thought..."Why not make a movie together." Well sir, the one Willie chose (as Executive Producer) was a re make of the classic John Ford film "Stagecoach".
By now any movie goer worth his salt knows the story line of "Stagecoach"....a group of unlikely travelers taking the stage to Lordsburg through hostile Indian territory. Veteran TV director Ted Post follows the original story to a point.
The major difference is in the casting of the "Doc" character. In the original, Doc was a boozy reprobate on the make for his next drink. Willie Nelson however chose to play the character as "Doc" Holliday...yes THAT Doc Holliday complete with a pair of six guns and a brazen attitude. That made the character of Peacock the whiskey salesman (Anthony Newley) totally irrelevant so he quickly exits the story.
The rest of the characters stick to the original. Kris Kristofferson plays Ringo, Johnny Cash, Curly the Marshal, Waylon Jennings the gambler Hatfield and John Schneider, Buck the stagecoach driver. Others in the cast include Tony Franciosa as Gatewood the banker, Elizabeth Ashley as Dallas the saloon girl and Mary Crosby as a very pregnant Lucy Mallory.
Director post keeps the story moving and the action flowing. The Indian attack is well staged although without veteran stunt man Yakima Canutt, the stagecoach stunt work suffers in comparison. The final showdown with Luke Plummer (Alex Kubils) is changed somewhat to include all of the Highwaymen.
As actors, one could say that the four principals made great singers although they do carry off their respective parts as best they could. Others in the country music oriented cast include June Carter Cash and son John Carter Cash as proprietors of a relay station, David Allen Coe as one of the Plummers, Billy Swan as a bartender and Jennings' wife Jessi Colter in a minor role. And for the old timers among you, there's a brief appearance in the Plummer sequence by veteran cowboy hero Lash LaRue.
Given that this was a TV movie and the violence toned down somewhat, the boys give us a pleasant if not entertaining old style western. But because it tries to re-make a classic, it suffers in comparison. It just shows to go ya that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
The Long Riders (1980)
Jesse James Rides Again!
"The Long Riders" is yet another saga of the life and times of legendary outlaw Jesse James and his gang. Director Walter Hill gives us a visually stunning authentic looking ultra violent western.
What sets this one apart is the playing of the various historical brothers by actual brothers. James and Stacy Keach play Jesse and Frank James, David, Keith and Robert Carradine play the Younger Brothers (Cole, Jim and Bob respectively), Dennis and Randy Quaid are Ed and Clell Miller and Christopher and Nicholas Guest, Charlie and Bob Ford.
The film gives us a sample of the James Gang's repertoire through a bank robbery to a train robbery to a stage coach hold up ( with a delightful bit by Harry Carey Jr.), to their final caper, an attempted bank robbery in Northfield Minnesota complete with bloody Peckinpah-ish slow motion bloody violence. It also covers Jesse's courting of his wife and Cole Younger's "relationship" with saloon gal Belle Starr whose husband Sam Starr (James Remar) takes exception.
As mentioned, Director Hill gives the film an authentic post civil war look. The color photography is excellent and the costumes and set pieces realistic.
As a final note, I have to point out the scene within a bank hold-up where James Keach as Jesse is standing stone faced with both guns drawn looking every bit like a cross between William S. Hart and Buster Keaton. I got, I am sure, an unintended chuckle out of that one.
The Vanishing American (1955)
Enjoyable Zane Grey Adaptation
"The Vanishing American" is a Zane Grey story about the plight of the Navajo Indians in the early 20th century.
Tough as nails Marion Warner (Audrey Totter) inherits a piece of land in an unnamed part of the south west. The land includes a strategic water hole that is vital to all of the surrounding area. At first she plans to run the Indians off the land and directs unscrupulous Indian Agent Blucher (Gene Lockhart) to see to it. Blucher is merely a puppet for local town boss Morgan (Forrest Tucker) who has plans of his own.
Marion meets Blandy (Scott Brady) an educated Navajo who soon shows her the plight that faces his people. Marion meanwhile befriends the Navajo girl Yashi (Gloria Castillo) whom Morgan has "taken unto himself" and plans to help her escape. Blandy meanwhile has a run in with Morgan and his henchmen Glendon (Jim Davis) and Jay Lord (Lee Van Cleef) and winds up burning Morgan's store to the ground. (The scene of the burning store is lifted directly from "Johnny Guitar" (1954)). This all leads to the inevitable confrontation between the bad guys and the Indians.
"The Vanishing American" was directed by Republic's workaholic director Joe Kane. As was the norm in his pictures there's plenty of action and a fast moving story line. The aforementioned fire sequence with its fight scene and the battle sequences are well staged. I did feel however, that there were far too many night scenes.
Scott Brady surprised me with his controlled performance as Blandy. Gunslinging Audrey Totter was excellent in the female lead showing both toughness and vulnerability. Tucker as always, makes a formidable villain. Unfortunately Davis and Van Cleef are given little to do other than obey Tucker's orders.
In addition to those previously mentioned, the cast included Charlie Stevens as a renegade Apache, James Millican as a U.S. Marshal, Glenn Strange (sans mustache) as the Navajo chief and Hank Worden and Francis J. McDonald in other minor roles.
Previously filmed as a silent in 1925 with Richard Dix and Lois Wilson in the leads.
Promising But Disappointing Republic Western
Republic Pictures was known as the poverty row studio that made great westerns...both of the "A" and "B" variety. "Hellfire" was an ambitious effort to turn out an "adult western".
The story has gambler Jeb Smith (William Elliot) trying to fulfill a promise to a dying derelict old preacher (H.B. Warner) to build his church as the result of the old man having taken a bullet meant for Zeb. Zeb takes the preacher's bible or "Rule Book" as he calls it, and sets out to raise the necessary funds. He happens upon a gunfight between the female gunfighter Doll Brown (Marie Windsor) and Lew Stoner (Harry Woods) and decides to pursue her with the intention of using the reward on her to build his church.
Also in pursuit of Doll are the Stoner Brothers (Jim Davis, Paul Fix and Louis Faust) and Marshal Bucky McLean (Forrest Tucker) who has reasons of his own for chasing Doll. The various parties meet here and there and Windsor even gets to sing a couple of forgettable tunes in her guise as a saloon singer. Does Zeb make Doll see the light? Does good triumph over evil?
"Hellfire" is short on action and long on preaching. Director R.G. Spingsteen drags out the unlikely story over a long 90 minutes. There are none of the traditional Republic fight scenes and gunplay is kept to a minimum. Elliott sleepwalks through his role but Windsor is charming as the "femme fatale" of the piece (she was after all the Queen of noir). Tucker adds what little color there is as the third member of the triangle. The rest of the cast do what they can in limiting roles.
Elliott, formerly known as "Wild Bill" in his "B" picture days had begun appearing in the studio's "A" features in 1946. This one was near the end of his tenure with Republic. But Republic always populated their features with great supporting casts of recognizable faces.
In addition to those already mentioned, roles of varying sizes went to Emory Parnell, Grant Withers, Denver Pyle, Trevor Bardette, Dewey Robinson (as a bartender, natch), Richard Alexander, Hank Worden, Stanley Price, Fred Kohler Jr. and Kenneth MacDonald. Devout western fans will recognize most if not all of these names.
It's a shame the director Springsteen couldn't find more to do for veterans H.B. Warner, Harry Woods and Grant Withers who appear only briefly.
"Hellfire" has its moments but to me was an overall disappointment.
Apache Rifles (1964)
Audie Murphy A Racist?
"Apache Rifles" is one of Audie Murphy's post Universal westerns made toward the end of his career. Following the theme of John Ford's "Cheyenne Autumn" made the same year, this film deals with the army's attempts to get the Apache led by Victorio (Joseph Vitale) to move back to the reservation.
Charged with the task is Captain Jeff Stanton (Audie Murphy) whom we soon learn hates the Apache but with stiff upper lip, decides to do his duty. Victorio's son Red Hawk (Michael Dante) has several encounters with Stanton and the two develop a mutual respect for each other from both sides of the conflict.
Unfortunately there are gold miners mining the hills of the Apache land. Stanton vows to remove them and bar them from mining on Apache land. Storekeeper Crawford Owens (Charles Watts) is organizing the miners to disobey army orders and return to their mines. More business for him you see. Leading the miners are Mike Greer (L.Q. Jones) and Hodges (Ken Lynch).
Into the mix is missionary Dawn Gillis (Linda Lawson) whom both Stanton and Red Hawk covet. But Ms. Gillis has a secret of her own.
Veteran director William Witney who made many of the action packed serials at Republic Pictures, directs the action and there's plenty of it here. We have several skirmishes between the two parties resulting in many casualties on both sides until Stanton and Red Hawk face each other for the final showdown. But beware of the Hollywood ending which makes little sense within the context of the story.
Others in the cast include Robert Brubaker as Sgt. Cobb, John Archer as Colonel Perry who replaces Stanton as Commanding Officer, J. Pat O'Malley as the post doctor who tries to make Stanton see the error of his thinking and Eugene Iglasias as Corporal Ramirez.