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6/10
Gene Autry and Lon Chaney
1 December 2017
1936's "The Singing Cowboy" was a notable early effort from Republic's Gene Autry, with the added dimension of television in its infancy along with its nearly a dozen tunes. Smiley Burnette is back as Frog Millhouse, here distracted by bad luck omens (he carries a horse shoe that's more trouble than it's worth), leading to the opening murder, as Lon Chaney's Martin shoots his partner to gain ownership of the ranch, and the hidden gold mine that only he and his henchmen know about. Unfortunately, the ranch has been left to the dead man's young daughter, Gene her legal guardian, in need of $10,000 for an operation that will enable her to walk again. While Gene and his band become television performers under the banner 'The Covered Wagon Coffee Caravan,' the crooked Martin seeks to make certain that their bank loan is turned down. For Chaney, he remained stuck in an endless rut of villainous roles in his fifth year in Hollywood, preferable to his next two years as a Fox bit player, preceding his breakout success in "Of Mice and Men." Lois Wilde is a fetching heroine, Ann Gillis the child actress just starting out as competition for Shirley Temple.
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3/10
Four time loser on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater
15 November 2017
"Invasion of the Animal People," though carrying a 1961 copyright, is actually a 1958 production originally titled "Rymdinvasion i Lappland" (Space Invasion of Lappland), made in Sweden by Hollywood director Virgil Vogel, coming off a pair of marginal Universal entries, "The Mole People" and "The Land Unknown." The arctic setting certainly provides a more interesting backdrop than anything that happens on film, as a trio of aliens burrow into the snow and ice, allowing a solitary creature to escape, approximately 20 feet tall and covered in fur. We only get to see the 'animal person' during the final two reels of an 80 minute feature, actually 9 minutes longer than the original, despite several scenes of exposition shortened and streamlined. The perpetrator of this 'new' movie was our old friend Jerry Warren, a hustler adept at taking other people's films and making a fast buck out of them, adding newly shot footage of his own that adds nothing but running time. Such was the case here, as John Carradine supplies three minutes of on screen narration to open the film, after which we only occasionally hear his sterling voice propping up the deadly dull proceedings. Warren needlessly begins his version with an abominable 17 straight minutes of new dialogue heavy scenes, utilizing actress Barbara Wilson for proper continuity, so by the time we reach the original footage it's a painless rendition of the unreleased "Terror in the Midnight Sun" (interrupted by only two additional Warren-shot scenes). Gorgeous brunette Barbara Wilson did a fairly daring nude scene in the Swedish version, also a veteran of pulsating pulchritude in "Teenage Doll," "Blood of Dracula," and "The Flesh Eaters." Screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce continued in the genre vein with "The Cosmic Man," "Beyond the Time Barrier," "The Human Duplicators," "Mutiny in Outer Space," "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," "Dimension 5," "Cyborg 2087," "The Destructors," and "The Astral Factor." Jerry Warren deserves some small credit for hardly tampering with what he had, but not for the two additional reels of nonsensical claptrap. Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater aired this Carradine title on four occasions: Mar 2 1968 (followed by "Journey to the Seventh Planet"), July 26 1969 (preceded by "Godzilla vs. the Thing"), May 30 1970 (followed by "The Black Doll"), and July 24 1971 (followed by "Space Monster").
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Overland Trail: The Reckoning (1960)
Season 1, Episode 16
6/10
Monica Lewis and John Carradine
6 November 2017
"The Reckoning" was the penultimate episode of this regrettably brief series, OVERLAND TRAIL an attempt at something new from William Bendix, fondly remembered for THE LIFE OF RILEY, as superintendent Fred Kelly, up and coming Doug McClure his sidekick Flip, keeping the stage trail West from Missouri safe for all. The Wild Bunch is still on the loose, leader Cash Burdette (Harold J. Stone) trying something different by luring the men out of Laramie leaving it defenseless for a raid. His son Nicky (Denny Miller) winds up shot dead by Flip after a failed stagecoach robbery that leaves Flip bleeding and near death. Caring for him is the blind Anne Michaels (Monica Lewis), whose arrival in town was sparked by reporter Caleb Nash (John Carradine), claiming to have knowledge of her son's whereabouts, having abandoned her family for another man years before. Fred Kelly realizes that Nash is just a con artist, forcing him to return the money paid for his false information, though in fact her offspring was not far off, the deceased outlaw killed by Flip, who now must hang for it as revenge via the boy's father, Cash Burdette. Though Flip attempts to cover up her son's life of crime a locket delivered by Nash reveals the ugly truth, but will it be enough to keep Burdette from adding one more murder to his long list of sins. Carradine is well cast as a human parasite, whose distasteful actions nevertheless result in saving Flip's life, but not without consequences. Neglected and forgotten for decades, OVERLAND TRAIL can now be enjoyed since its DVD release in 2011.
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4/10
Alas, not one of De Mille's best
29 September 2017
1940's "North West Mounted Police" may have been Paramount's biggest box office success that year, but considering it as the first color film for director Cecil B. De Mille it must rank as one of his few failures. The Duck Lake massacre of 1885 led by Louis Riel (Francis McDonald) provides a solid backdrop for an abundance of poorly sketched characters unable to overcome the sluggish pace. The chief villain is Jacques Corbeau (George Bancroft), whose wildcat half breed daughter (Paulette Goddard) is in love with Mountie Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston). Gary Cooper toplines as the Texas Ranger sent north to bring Corbeau to justice, sparring with dedicated Sergeant Jim Brett (Preston Foster) over the lovely April Logan (Madeleine Carroll), sister of Ronnie. This makes it sound like a real snoozefest, and while it's not quite that bad it certainly isn't very captivating. Supporting players like George E. Stone are on and off in a flash, while poor Lon Chaney (previously seen in a silent role in De Mille's "Union Pacific") doesn't fare much better as Shorty, one of the trappers involved with Riel, who at least has a chance to exult in becoming a father. We last see him with his pretty young wife, properly scolding him before he meekly replies, "yes mama."
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Slave Ship (1937)
8/10
Warner Baxter commands the last slaver
22 September 2017
1937's "Slave Ship" looks today as gritty as it must have been shocking to audiences 80 years ago, a script concocted by several writers, including William Faulkner, who admitted that he merely doctored certain scenes that hadn't come off. George S. King's 1933 novel "The Last Slaver" was the basis for a story that remarkably pulled no punches in depicting the odyssey of the newly launched ship Wanderer, tasting blood on the runway as Lon Chaney delivers a stinging unbilled cameo as a doomed laborer unable to escape its path. Three years, and as many names later, the rechristened Albatross is now commanded by Jim Lovett (Warner Baxter) and first mate Jack Thompson (Wallace Beery), with cabin boy Swifty (Mickey Rooney) willing to fight anyone for what he believes in. The slave trade had fallen on hard times by 1860, officially a hanging offense, so after their most recent trip back from Africa, Lovett meets and marries young beauty Nancy Marlowe (Elizabeth Allan), deciding to start over with a new crew and sail to Jamaica in the business of trading goods instead of lives. This does not sit well with the crew, willing to continue their trafficking on human suffering despite the risks involved, forcibly taking control of the ship after a successful mutiny. Unable to prevent the six week voyage back to Africa, Lovett reveals all to his wife, who finds that she still loves him and is willing to forget about his past and work out their future. What they don't know is that Thompson plots to leave his captain behind while the fully loaded ship returns to America, only for the intended victim to turn the tables on his captors, producing a climax as rich in excitement as it is unpredictable. If not for the poorly done romantic scenes involving the little dog it might have been an enduring classic, but it's still a real find, quite unexpected for 1930s Hollywood. MGM's "Souls at Sea" may have earned all the accolades but Darryl Zanuck's pluck produced the better picture, under the assured guidance of director Tay Garnett, both John Ford and Howard Hawks proving unavailable. Beery actually plays the villain, George Sanders in support, Mickey Rooney the true standout.
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5/10
Dated yet still effective at times
21 September 2017
1955's "Not As a Stranger" was producer Stanley Kramer's first of 15 films as a director, and he spent nearly a year getting it off the ground before it was even published as a novel, fortunately a best seller (author Morton Thompson dead well before its release). Robert Mitchum may at first seem an odd choice for Lucas Marsh, ambitious medical student turned country doctor, but he actually comes off better than Olivia de Havilland, a fine actress but miscast, saddled with a Swedish accent that tends to grate after a while. Cast with some of Hollywood's most notorious drunks, Kramer does surprisingly well in several cases: Broderick Crawford is steady as a rock as Dr. Aarons, Frank Sinatra solidifies his dramatic chops as Mitchum's intern buddy, and the often underused, always underrated Lon Chaney turns in the most powerful scene only 10 minutes in, playing Mitchum's alcoholic father, whose diagnosis of his own son proves to be right on the mark. A bit overlong, with Gloria Grahame in a stock seductress role that could have been excised without a hitch, the ending almost too pat to be believable.
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3/10
The doctor is in...and out
19 September 2017
1937's "Wife, Doctor and Nurse" is a supposed comedy which often forgets about the humor to focus squarely on the soap opera life of Park Avenue doctor Judd Lewis (Warner Baxter), recently wed to somewhat spoiled socialite Ina Heath (Loretta Young), who tries to put up with his frequent absences performing surgeries at the hospital. Matters are further complicated by the fact that his devoted nurse Steve (Virginia Bruce) has been unknowingly in love with her employer for years, only realizing it now that he has married another. Incredibly, both females decide to leave rather than risk being a 'frustrated woman,' the indecisive finale proving not only improbable but also objectionable for the censors of the day, forcing studio chief Darryl Zanuck to bow to their demands for numerous cuts. Today's audiences will find little meat on these tired bones, so it's up to the cast to keep everything afloat, Baxter and Young an unlikely pair, an age difference of 24 years, Virginia Bruce coming off better on less to work with. Few among the supporting cast have moments to shine, small roles for Jane Darwell (as the doctor's housekeeper), Sidney Blackmer (as a fellow surgeon), and Elisha Cook as an interne. It's particularly disappointing for Lon Chaney fans, during his two year sabbatical as a Fox contract player, billed on screen as the doctor's chauffeur Scott, but around 80 seconds screen time and little dialogue. Unbilled in 20 of his 32 titles for Fox, this part turns out to be just another bit for an actor still awaiting his big break two years away from "Of Mice and Men."
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4/10
Lon Chaney's first Jane Withers vehicle
14 September 2017
1937's "Angel's Holiday" helped cement Jane Withers' position as Fox's second biggest box office child star after Shirley Temple, which she held for two years. Jane's Angel is the daughter of famed mystery writer Waldo Everett (John Qualen), naturally involving herself in a real life puzzle involving movie star Pauline Kaye (Sally Blane), her disappearance a publicity stunt engineered by her manager, and racketeer Bat Regan (Harold Huber), who gets in on the action by tailing Angel. Not one of the star's better vehicles, though she does her impression of Martha Raye, then bamboozles the entire police force to free Pauline's cohort in mischief (Frank Jenks). Billed on screen as Regan's top henchman Eddie is Lon Chaney (entering at the 46 minute mark), still fairly new to 20th Century-Fox, his two year stint under contract yielding little in the way of featured roles; he appears in two further Jane Withers pictures in the coming months, "Wild and Woolly" and "Checkers," both an improvement on this one. One scene finds him cleaning his gat at the breakfast table, to which Bat Regan has a comment: "ain't you got any better etiquette than to be cleaning your rod at the table? Eddie's always in a bad mood before he has his breakfast, he's liable to pull a gun on himself!" Later on Chaney bullies Joan Davis: "hey, what do you think you are?" "what do I look like?" "you couldn't be that!"
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Death Valley Days: Miracle at Boot Hill (1961)
Season 10, Episode 11
6/10
John Carradine and Eddie Quillan
10 September 2017
"Miracle at Boot Hill" finds the Old Ranger (Stanley Andrews) introducing this story after mine owner John Woods is ambushed by his foreman Bill Groat (Peter Hansen), who covets both wealth and Woods' pretty young widow Ella (Penny Edwards). Storekeeper Herb Driscoll (Chris Warfield) fails to convince Sheriff Cosgrove (Robert G. Anderson) of his suspicions, since he himself has carried a torch for Ella Woods. Some time later, a mysterious stranger (John Carradine) arrives in town, claiming that he is an emissary of the Lord able to restore life to the dead, announcing that the occupants of Boot Hill shall soon return to their loved ones. One by one the townspeople secretly reveal their reasons for wanting the deceased to stay buried, but Driscoll appears to be the only one willing to see John Woods rise from his grave. This does not sit well with Groat's plans, as he plots to marry the widow and is determined to offer up a generous bribe to have his way. We're pretty much left in the dark as to the stranger's ability to actually perform the miracle he promises, but John Carradine's otherworldly presence and sonorous voice carries the outlandish plot with great conviction. This was actually a reunion between Carradine and Eddie Quillan, co-stars in the immortal John Ford classic "The Grapes of Wrath," the latter as Widower Mayberry, who has no desire to see his late wife reclaim the inheritance left to him. Interestingly, director Bud Townsend went on to helm cult titles like "Terror at Red Wolf Inn" and Cathy Lee Crosby's "Coach," with his 1966 feature "Nightmare in Wax" going out on a famous double bill with Carradine's "Blood of Dracula's Castle."
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6/10
Forgotten Fox programmer reduced by 25 minutes
8 September 2017
1937's "That I May Live" today survives in a 45 minute TV print shorn of 25 minutes, resulting in the loss of Lon Chaney's unbilled role as an engineer. The basic plot survives intact however, as convicted safecracker Dick Mannion (Robert Kent) falls in with the same gang that railroaded him for his earlier crime, joining up rather than be killed, only to be neatly framed yet again, this time for the murder of a bank guard. Disguising a monkey wrench as a gun fails to impress a strong willed waitress named Irene Howard (Rochelle Hudson), who intuits the stranger's compassion and soon has him on the path to success in partnership with a wandering peddler, Tex Shapiro (J. Edward Bromberg). Marriage and a baby finds the couple suddenly in danger once more, so Tex devises a plan to guarantee Dick's safety while Irene returns to her waitressing roots to entrap the gang that framed her husband before. There's no way of knowing just how much is missing from current prints, though much of it deals with the courtship of Irene and Dick. Lon Chaney fans can only hope that a complete version pops up someday, otherwise this one will be lumped in with other Fox titles that found him on the cutting room floor - "Love is News," "Born Reckless," and "Walking Down Broadway." Director Allan Dwan did work with Lon on "One Mile from Heaven," "Josette," and "Frontier Marshal," his opinion on this film summed up in a single word: "horrible."
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