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City That Never Sleeps (1953)
A Very Strange Cop Movie
If you like your mysteries on the strange side, this movie is the one. I keep wondering how they filmed it without any people on the streets. Stock footage to bolster an obviously low budget helps somewhat, but this movie depicts Chicago in the middle of the night, and the only car on the street is the police car occupied by our hero. But this was 1953, so it was a different world at 3:00 a.m. There is a little of "The Asphalt Jungle" in this one--including the crooked lawyer, a pretty woman too evil for comfort, a safe to steal something from and the usual payment at the end. Then there is the twist -- the "ghost" influence -- who is in the middle of the evening's events, and who also narrates. Plus there's a guy portraying a store window mechanical man. Like I said, this is a strange one, but worth a curious look.
Canyon Passage (1946)
A Great Frontier Movie
I never did think of "Canyon Passage" as a western -- more like a frontier-homesteader movie, but it still had the adventure and drama that makes a fine film. I agree with those that said there is something mysteriously appealing about this film, as I have remembered it since it came out in 1946 when so many other movies have long faded from memory. Ward Bond was not known for playing villains, and this performance was truly scary and sinister. Lloyd Bridges plays the friendly good guy that characterized his roles, and Dana Andrews is perfectly cast as the leader. The film is rather hard to find, and I am hoping a DVD will one day be available. It is well worth watching and collecting.
A Challenge to Plan 9
This 1962 disaster was reportedly described by the director as "almost unreleasable," and after seeing it, I can understand why. I honestly thought "Plan 9 from Outer Space" was the worst movie I had even seen, but now I'm not so sure. I cannot believe a film could be more horribly conceived or ineptly carried out than this one. The acting and dubbing add up to a total embarrassment, and you watch this thing more in amazement than interest. The plot line concerning a monster drawing out the spacemen's thoughts to create a world for them is not a bad idea, although it has been seen in various sci-fi vehicles over the years. The production values doomed this one and the acting buried it. The corny song at the end was totally out of creative synch with a film that never had any synch to begin with. John Agar was the only bright spot in this film, but even he could not save it. The film was made in Denmark, and it is my feeling that it should have stayed there. ##
The Mummy's Hand (1940)
Classic Film Transitions to Classic Formula
The producers of the original `Mummy' film obviously had not thought about a sequel. They turned the mummy, Kharis, into a pile of dust at the end and destroyed the Scroll of Toth, which the mummy used to invoke his murderous spells and control the partially reincarnated Princess Ananka.
The `Mummy's Hand' was made eight years after the original had burned the storyline bridges. Therefore, the writers had to start over and hope we weren't really paying much attention to the continuity. Not surprisingly, lots of cut footage from the original film was thrown in to set up the story. This time around, instead of a scroll in a stone chest, we now have an urn full of tana leaves.
This loose sequel introduces the value of the fluid of the tana leaf to give the mummy power (carried on into subsequent mummy films) and the mummy's murderous nightly romps to eliminate those who would find and violate the tomb of the Princess. The principal investigators this time are Dick Foran, the hero and straight man, and Wallace Ford, the formula sidekick who wisecracks his way through the movie with typical nervous bravado. The rest of the mandatory characters are the evil high priest, the older scientist, an attractive female and of course, the mummy.
This movie takes on the familiar 40's mystery formula: murders mixed with comedy relief. The original film was a classic, but the `Mummy's Hand' and the mummy films that followed through the mid 1940's quickly reverted to type. They looked more like entries in a B-movie serial than the subsequent chapters of a classic horror film story.
One Body Too Many (1944)
Mediocre Old Mansion Melodrama
These old "revolving panels and candlelight" mysteries are usually a mix of elements played for laughs more than shivers. Jack Haley is an insurance salesman mistaken for a detective hired to guard the corpse of a millionaire all night so that the provisions of the old man's will can be satisfied. The greedy heirs must stay in this mini insane asylum until morning or lose their inheritance. Midnight murders prevail, of course, with the usual wisecracks, jealous insults and idioms of the day (or night). Jack Haley is the reluctant hero of sorts in this wee hours fiasco, although he would rather be somewhere else. For the genre, however, it is true to form and worth a look.
Devil Bat's Daughter (1946)
Not-So-Sinister Semi Sequel to the 1940 Original
The title seems to suggest that "Devil Bat's Daughter" is a sequel of sorts to the original "Devil Bat" (1940). However, there are too many inconsistencies to establish the continuity needed for a sequel. "Devil Bat" fans will notice right off the bat (couldn't resist) that in the six years after the first movie was made, the locale changed from Heathville (apparently somewhere in Illinois and near Chicago) to Wardsley, New York, outside New York City. The characters are all of course different, and so is the home of the mad doctor, Paul Carruthers, which now has a basement. The 1946 film also goes lightly over the facts concerning the doc's predictable demise, noting that he was found dead, the apparent victim of one of his large bats. However, in the first film he is plainly killed by the devil bat in view of the sheriff, the heroine and the star reporter. Actually "Devil Bat's Daughter" is little more than a rather obvious vehicle for a 1941 Miss America named Rosemary La Planche. The film lacks any of the mystery of the first, and simply winds its way to the predictable end.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Spectacular Effects, Ordinary Story
I really wanted to like this film, and I supppose it was good in it's fashion. Right off the bat, Morris Ankrum was miscast--too old to be a convincing general even in the 1950s. And Hugh Marloe is too distinguished to portray a lecherous honeymoon husband. Robotic, slow-moving aliens who for some reason look inflated don't really help the film, either. The saucers, on the other hand, look convincing. Of course, the scenes of Washington, D.C. buildings being destroyed as the humans bring the saucers down make for some exciting viewing. But frankly, the jolt is not there. Most sci-fi fans had seen much of this before in an assortment of "War of the Worlds" genre films. Variations on the theme hold some interest, but after a while it all starts to look familiar.
Scared to Death (1947)
Bland Even in Color
Color cannot help this movie. In fact, I turned off the color and watched it in black and white just to get a better sense of mystery. It didn't help. "Scared to Death" is still a mediocre and oddly-staged movie that fails to rise to the level of its title. The plot is hard to follow. Plus, the constant cutting back to a dead woman-narrator (strange device in itself) on a morgue slab seems silly, especially when all she does is deliver a one-liner preceded by a shrill, ineffective and weird musical chord. That bit got downright annoying after the second time. George Zucco provides credibility, and Bela Lugosi plays well off him. Douglas Fowley and Nat Pendleton, as reporter and private eye, respectively, bring comic relief along with a yappy girlfriend and a wisecracking maid. I am not sure what we are supposed to be "scared to death" of, but it can't be the face at the window or any of the weird effects that leave the movie totally bland, even if you do decide to watch it in color.
The Man from Planet X (1951)
A Murky But Predictable Space Invader Movie
The Man from Planet X, as an early 50's space invader movie, isn't among the best of that type and scarcely lives up to the hype it got at the time. It has most of the familiar elements common to sci-fi invader movies of the day: a strange ship landing from another planet (reminds you of a diving bell); a hostile alien (reminds you of a diver); a kindly old scientist; a devious assistant bent on personal gain; an attractive young lady; a handsome reporter; a headstrong police inspector; the usual enslaved villagers and the troops called in near the end to confront the ship. The atmosphere on the foggy Scottish moors masks the poor set quality. The alien communicates through musical sounds, an idea that was used much later in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Overall, the movie is murky, uneventful and predictable. Despite its mediocrity, it is important from a historical perspective, as it was among the initial entries to the sci-fi wave to follow.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Possibly THE Inept Classic of All Time
There are so many mistakes in this film. and so much universal negative commentary in the 44 years since its release, that it is hard to know where to begin, except to perhaps defend it. I am only grateful that Bela Lugosi did not live to see the ridicule to which his last film was subjected. "Plan 9" is so bad it is good. Notoriety has saved it from obscurity, and cultism has saved it from extinction. Watching it is almost addictive, and you have to run the tape again--and again--to be sure you are not seeing things. Reviewers have come up with dozens of flaws, from the cardboard tombstones to the endless switching from day to night and vice versa in the same sequence. In all of this, over the years, there has been something sublime and classic that has settled upon "Plan 9." And, as indefinable as it is, it is a "something" that makes an obscure string of movie mistakes a classic study of "space invaders" ineptitude for all time.