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Monster on the Campus (1958)
Familiar Ground, Well Covered
I've only seen Monster On the Campus a couple of times, find it entertaining and competently made. It's a nostalgic trip to the old Universal back lot of what's now a half-century ago, thus a lot of the sets are familiar to film buffs of the Hollywood of an earlier time.
Arthur Franz plays the title character well and without a whiff of condescension. He's a better actor than the material requires, gives his all. Whit Bissell, like Franz, was also an old hand, a veteran of science fiction pictures of the period. Both actors had played professor-scientist types before, and both were good at it.
The actors in the film consist of familiar faces and a few familiar names, most notably soon to be teen heartthrob Troy Donahue. Joanna Moore is the leading lady and, like Franz, does nicely with what she's given to do. Overall, the movie is a solid professional job, as director Jack Arnold had made a number of films like it before.
My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that the movie cues the viewer how it's going to end on the last leg of the journey, when the professor spends what's supposed to be down time in a mountain cabin. There are shades of earlier Universal films in Monster On the Campus, whose main character is not unlike the Invisible Man; and his fate is rather similar to that of the Wolf Man, with a needle instead of an autumn moon, but no matter.
Those old, easy to guess plot twists,--it's pretty easy to guess who's going to "get it" next--were, to me, reassuring, and I think they would be for most viewers. The absence of much in the way of surprise in the story doesn't really hurt the movie, a road well traveled by those most likely to want to watch a film with a title that, well, says it all.
The Bachelor Party (1957)
There's Life In This Party
Having just finished watching the movie The Bachelor Party I'm surprised that it isn't all that highly regarded on this site. It's a far better than average slice,--more accurately, slices--of life from a now bygone era when people still sat on stoops of apartment buildings, and if it was a youngish, even plain woman most men would regard her as at least somewhat "available".
The plot of the movie is simple: a bunch of white collar guys, some middle class, others on the fringe, go out on a binge called a bachelor party to celebrate the engagement and impending marriage of one of their fellow workers. What transpires isn't so happy an evening as one might have imagined, and things do not, as time passes and the men get drunker, improve. As is to be expected in films (and at the time, TV dramas), the question of the meaning of life comes up in various forms; as does the issue of whether marriage is worth the grief that often comes along with it; and as the story meanders along, rambling with its characters, larger matters of love and death are brought up; too schematically for my tastes, but there you have it.
It's a decent, at times flawed script, but the superb performances of the major players help enormously; and the character development is good. Some of the parts are meatier than others, but the actors themselves cannot be blamed for this:
Don Murray is a young Everyman with a pregnant wife; he's in night school so as to become an accountant, which will better equip him to support his family. He's the "audience identification" character in what's in many ways a thankless part, but Murray breaths life into it. Jack Warden could have played his standard issue baseball loving bachelor in his sleep, but he didn't. E.G. Marshall's portrayal of a death haunted (and for good reason) book-keeper, is itself haunting, and for me, a revelation, as Marshall generally played men in control of their emotions, not in conflict with them.
Larry Blyden was fine in a small part, while Philip Abbott, whom I've always liked, played his role of the man the bachelor party was thrown for, with beauty, sincerity and an modest, non-showboating realism that made me wish he'd got better parts later in his career. Carolyn Jones made the best of her small beantick role but for the life of me I can't see why she got an Academy award nomination for her few brief scenes.
Joseph La Shelle's photography was Oscar worthy (he didn't win,--I don't know if he was even nominated). As a kind of street-bound, realistic panorama of a now vanished New York City the movie is worth viewing just for that. Not to belittle the story,--it's a good one, albeit prosaic--some of the greatest pleasures of the film are in the way it looks: the subways, the bars, whether neighborhood or the hipster kind, even the men's rooms, the staircases of older buildings. At its best, as the purely visual-spatial level, the film is a joy to behold.
The ending, the way author Chayefsky wound things up too neatly for my tastes, felt quite frankly specious, as if written for suburbanites who want to see city folk as "normal", or trying to be, rather than going their own way, so to speak, at the time an option in urban life; today, not so much, as the cities of today are, culturally, not much different from the suburbs. The lines Don Murray was given to read in his final few moments in the film felt like came from a sermon, not from the mouth of a real human being. Too bad. The movie is mostly talk, which is, when well done, fine by me, but it seemed, in those closing scenes to switch gears too quickly.
Overall, The Bachelor Party is a first rate movie with. admittedly, some issues that kept it from being truly great; and it's certainly worth watching. It does fall short, but not, in my humble opinion, nearly so far as many reviewers have said it does.
The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944)
The Invisible Man's Revenge is rather Horror Lite from Universal pictures, 1944. As horrors go, there are a lot better but certainly a whole lot worse. This picture has the advantage of not taking itself too seriously. While I wouldn't call it a comedy the presence of comic actor Leon Errol (who's excellent, btw), nudges it in that direction, at least some of the time.
The movie starts out quite well, and early on takes on some of the trappings of a Sherlock Holmes picture due to some familiar sets and supporting player. It's established early on as a revenge story, with American Jon Hall (cast as a Brit, unless I missed something) returning to England for his share of a fortune in diamonds he was cheated our of by his former friends and business associates.
Enter John Carradine--on a dark and stormy night, no less--and the invisibility aspects of the story begin to take shape. Carradine is quite good as a mad doctor who had learned to make thing invisible, which comes in handy for Jon Hall. What ensues is a fairly by the number horror cum crime picture, well acted by all. That the film is handsome to look at helps enormously.
This movie is not a direct sequel to any of the early Invisible Man pictures that preceded it. Universal never seemed to know quite man to do with the invisibility business established in the 1933 The Invisible Man; and they played fast and loose with it, on and off, for nearly another twenty years till the inevitable meeting with Abbott and Costello. The Invisible Man's Revenge is a lot better than that, and just as good as the first sequel in the series.
Lake Shore Noir
A well above average entry in The Untouchables series that focuses on the smuggling of brewmeisters from Germany into the U.S. in a lake shore community in northern Michigan called Chippewa Falls. It gets off to a good noirish start in the fog and stays in that mode for the remainder of the episode.
The story revolves around an attractive young widow, slightly ditsy but basically just lonely and too good for the class of people she hangs with, and a very dangerous and ambitious brewmeister excellently portrayed by Claude Akins,--startling to behold in his first scene--whose German accent wobbles but whose performance is baleful, so much so as to make just about every scene Akins is in feel like something out of a a horror movie.
Dolores Dorn is excellent as the widow with an overactive imagination and a crush on Eliot Ness. Her fate,--as in "will she, won't she, survive?"--drives the second half of the episode, as the noose tightens, and Akins, already in take charge mode with mobster Frank Nitti, is getting mighty suspicious of this seemingly out of place in the world of gangsters dame who might just be betraying the people she's supposed to be in league with.
The Monkey Wrench is good enough to have been a stand alone episode in an anthology series set during Prohibition; or, better yet, a first rate low budget movie, with the story more fleshed out (but not padded), with more character development for Dorn and, especially, Akins' brutal hood who, even early on, the viewer is reminded, has a bad reputation as unpredictable, a bit unhinged, and very dangerous. Danger drives this story, and it's very well done.
Man from Del Rio (1956)
Watchable Western Set In a Troubled Town
Man From Del Rio (1956) is one of a large number of well directed, nicely written and acted westerns from the 50s, a decade rich in quality westerns, from the small scale, epic and everything in-between. The film's director, Harry Horner, was an old Hollywood hand, used some odd camera angles and made the visual and spatial aspects of this modest production interesting, pleasing to look at, even as the film is itself low budget and in black and white.
Anthony Quinn is the Hispanic sheriff of a small western town where he is needed, due to his skill with handguns, but not liked or wanted due to his ethnic background. Even Katy Jurado's token Hispanic woman, playing somewhat against type, would rather Quinn would simply disappear. The supporting cast is outstanding for a film of this sort, with such familiar players as Whit Bissell and Douglas Fowley in roles in which each would seem be a better fit for the the other's.
It helps to be a western fan to enjoy this picture. This is not a movie for everyone. The story itself is by the numbers, but it works some nice variations on its familiar themes; and star Anthony Quinn is excellent in the lead. He was on the verge of major stardom when he appeared in the film, and on the basis of his performance it's easy to see why. The film was released the same year as Lust For Life, in which Quinn's supporting performance won him an Academy award. It's difficult for me to imagine two more different films for this actor to have appeared in during the same year.
Thriller: Dark Legacy (1961)
That Old Black Magic
Dark Legacy is a well above average episode of the Thriller TV series that could have been a classic of its kind with a better script and one major change in the casting. The opening is one of the best of the entire series. It's a dark night at the castle, with distinguished players Richard Hale, Doris Lloyd, Harry Townes as guests, and spectral Milton Parsons on hand as the butler. Magician Radan Asparos (also played by Harry Townes) is preparing to die, summons up unholy spirits to help him to prepare for death and make some last minute decisions as to what to give the members of his family.
The episode never gets better than the first act. Radan wills a book of black magic to nephew Mario, a second rate magician who truly has no new tricks up his sleeve. We even get to see part of his nightclub act, and it's terrible. It's no wonder that his boss is threatening to let him go. As things turn out the book teaches Mario how to really put on a show, but at a price, by dancing with the devil, called Astaroth in the story, which changes Mario's personality considerably, inspiring him to conjure up tricks that appear to defy not only God but the laws of physics, and of nature in general.
Mario is having problems with his wife, who wants no part of her husband's increasingly bizarre magic act; and an old friend of the couple a former magician himself, who knows the tricks of the trade and doesn't like what he sees, is also involved, and he urges Mario to turn his back on his newly acquired powers. By this time, in the episode's second half, it begins to veer away from horror toward soap opera; and yet the horror is still there, alive and well, returns in full hurricane force, in the final scenes. Director John Brahm works wonders with the story; and the production values are superb, especially early on. The mixture of seedy nightclub antics and Gothic horror is in itself novel, and this adds to the story's effectiveness.
Sadly, those wonderful players whom we see early in the episode do not turn up later. Harry Townes, an excellent actor, is miscast as Mario. He was too refined as a type to play such a seedy character; and he lacked the larger than life quality to convincingly play a magician. Of the actress who plays his wife, the less said the better. Henry Silva, in the ex-magician turned psychology student (!) part, also seems miscast. His somewhat diabolical presence would have made him better casting as Mario, but no matter. As a mood piece, Dark Legacy works wonders. The Lovecraftian premise is an intriguing one, and the elder gods makes their presence felt.
Poor Martin Balsam was once a big shot, but he was brought down by others, two to be specific, one of them, Gavin McLeod, a former friend of his. When McLeod, who's fair to medium high in the rackets, appears to be getting too big for his britches, top guy Tom Drake doesn't like what he sees and hears. McLeod is in trouble now, is nearly killed by Mike "Moose" Mazurki, asks old buddy Balsam to help an old pal out, and Balsam obliges,--or does he?
The screws are turned on both guys by Drake, who now holds all the high cards. Balsam was once bigger than McLeod, but McLeod and Drake cut down erstwhile top man Marty, who on the surface seems to bear no ill will toward anybody; and he does seems to love his blowzy, aspiring singer wife, Cloris Leachman, who'd rather her hubby bought her nice things, like a new hat once in a while. Slot machines figure prominently in this episode, which deals with the various ways they can be tampered with.
For all the business about slot machines, which are thrown out windows, taken apart, then replaced by newer, better ones, they're really only a symbol of a larger corruption. As Untouchables episodes go, this one isn't all that violent. It's more of a series of character studies, of how big men are brought down, become middle men, and are then trapped due to what's expected of him by those higher in the food chain. This is a deceptively quiet and cruel episode. In the days when gangs ruled the streets of Chicago, it seems that you just couldn't win. Solid performances all around; and no hamming this time.
End Of The Season
Death Of A Cop was the final episode of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock's newly expanded hour long anthology series. Its first season wasn't as good as it might of been but it went out with a winner, a no-nonsense crime story, well written by frequent Howard Hawks collaborator Leigh Brackett, expertly directed by Hollywood veteran Joseph Newman, whose work on the series was consistently good, often outstanding.
The title tells us pretty much where the simple story is going; and while the story may be simple the characters feel real, and the father-son relationship is touching. Victor Jory and Peter Brown are fine in the roles. Once things get rolling and we see the consequences of being an honest a cop the episode builds a head of steam, and while it plays almost as if it could be an entry in any number of other anthology shows of its era, this does not detract from it quality.
The production values make the episode feel a bit cramped, as if the producers were trying to save money, but this doesn't detract from the story, which moves along at a good pace, and the ending, while sad, feels just about right.
The Untouchables: Loophole (1961)
A solid third season entry of The Untouchables, Loophole tells the story of a lawyer named Halas. played by Jack Klugman who works mostly for the mob but who also has a soft heart for the underdog, and a penchant for candy that goes back to his childhood.
This is a man who came up poor, still feels that his hands are dirty even though he makes around 200 large a year. He doesn't like his cocky new upstart client and actually feels more of an affinity with Eliot Ness except that they're on the opposite side of the fence.
This episode is far more character driven than most, with a flashy performance from a very young looking Martin Landau playing a ruthless up and coming mobster (is there any other kind?) who, for various reasons, some of them ethical, Klugman the lawyer would rather not be working for; but once in he cannot seem to extricate himself from his predicament.
What makes this episode so good is guest star Jack Klugman, lower key in style than he would be later in his career, he gives a performance of depth and sincerity, showing the innate decency of a man who has lived for the most part a not very decent life.
It's difficult to not like his character, to want him to win, get out of the rackets altogether, do something better with his life, his brains, his heart (and he clearly has one). The odds are against him, and they get worse as the episode approaches its climax. This entry in the series is way above average.
Butterflies Are Free
To Catch a Butterfly had all the makings of something top notch, one of the best of the series Hitchcock hours; and even as it is it's a well above average episode. There is a brief reference to a butterfly on but the episode isn't about flying insects at all. It's about a disturbed child and how his bad, often very bad behavior affects the young couple that just moved next door in the suburban community he and his no-nonsense, plain speaking father reside in.
As a study of a troubled child, the episode doesn't delve as deeply as it might have; and the script presents the young couple next door with almost too many issues of their own. Nor is the family of the boy presented with much insight. There's a disappointingly routine quality to the script that continually drags down what might have been either a gripping psychological thriller or an ahead of its time presentation of dysfunctional suburban family life circa 1962.
For all it's flaws, most of them minor, the episode has some powerful moments; and that the boy himself clearly shows the makings of a psychopath holds the viewer's interest. It's the grownups who are plain, with the rather prosaic problems of the sort middle class suburbanites faced back in the pre-JFK assassination (fifty years ago this day, as I write,--and it was a Friday also) early 1960s. The acting of the adult players is decent but unexceptional, with Bradford Dillman a tad too Ivy League seeming for the character he portrays.
It's young Mickey Sholdar's performance as the bad boy that shines. He was a gifted child actor, excellent at playing troubled kids, and To Catch a Butterfly was a good showcase for him. Somewhat ironically, a few months earlier, he played the son of troubled alcoholic father in a Route 66 episode, Hey Moth, Come Eat the Flame, in which he gave an exceptional performance, far better than the one he gives here. Young Sholdar went from a TV episode with a moth in the title to one that used a butterfly. Coincidence? Probably.