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6/10
Attack Of The Alien No-See-Ums
8 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Offhand, I can think of few actors (other than perhaps Richard Denning) who have gone up against so many 1950s sci-fi horrors and monstrosities as Chicago-born John Agar. From 1955 - '58 alone, the former husband of Shirley Temple battled The Creature in "Revenge of the Creature," a giant arachnid in "Tarantula," a lost subterranean race in "The Mole Men," a floating alien cerebrum in "The Brain From Planet Arous," and a mad scientist in "Attack of the Puppet People," all of which I had hugely enjoyed. There WAS one film of Agar's from the late '50s that I had never seen, though, to complete this list of sci-fi menaces, and that film is "Invisible Invaders." Fortunately, I have at long last caught up with this one, and can report that it is yet another fun (although undeniably shlocky) outing to add to Agar's roster. The film was released in May 1959 and thus has been stunning and amusing audiences for over half a century now. And although the editors at the "Maltin Movie Guide" predictably call the film "cheap, silly and boring," I would argue that though they might be correct as far as those first two accusations go, the film itself--fast moving and clever as it is, at a breakneck and compact 67 minutes--is never boring.

In this one, an eminent nuclear physicist, Dr. Karol Noymann (the great John Carradine), is killed in a lab explosion. At his funeral, his friend and colleague, Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge), stands in sorrow next to his pretty daughter, Phyllis (Jean Byron). But soon after, imagine Dr. Penner's surprise when the corpse of Dr. Noymann appears at his door, standing erect and seemingly alive, and issuing a warning. It seems that the deceased's body has been revived by the invisible invaders of the film's title--aliens who have been observing us Earthlings for centuries from their hidden base on our moon. Penner is told that Earth must surrender within 24 hours or the invaders will begin their forceful conquest of our planet. Penner, through his friend and fellow atomic scientist Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton), passes the word along to Washington, and is understandably disbelieved and mocked. While Penner awaits word from D.C., the film treats us to its most somber moment, perhaps, as the aged scientist stands at a window and whispers "Dear Lord, I pray that I am insane, and that all that happened is only in my mind. I pray that tomorrow the sun will shine again on living things, not on a world where only the dead walk the Earth." Soon enough, however, the conquest begins, with the invisible aliens resurrecting the dead and using the reanimated corpses to destroy dams and carry out assorted mayhem. The Feds, now fully convinced, decide that Penner, Phyllis and Lamont are to be sequestered in a hidden mountain bunker so that they might figure out a way to combat the unseen invaders and their invisible mother ship, and thus Major Bruce Jay (Agar, who finally makes his initial appearance almost a full 1/2 hour into the film) is tasked with getting the trio to that bunker. But can the group both hold off the advancing zombie hordes AND come up with a way to defeat the aliens, as the clock ticks?

"Invisible Invaders" was directed by Edward L. Cahn, who also had a most impressive track record of '50s horrors, including such films as "Invasion of the Saucer Men," "Curse of the Faceless Man," "It! The Terror From Beyond Space," The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake" and "The Creature With the Atom Brain," and indeed, the business suit-wearing cadavers in the film in question, with their effective zombie makeup, DO resemble the reanimated corpses of the "Atom Brain" picture. "II" also features fairly competent acting from one and all, and as I mentioned up top, the film is extremely streamlined and fast moving; indeed, the aliens begin their conquest of planet Earth within the first 20 minutes of the opening credits! The special FX on display are quite decent enough, considering the film's obvious low budget, and the picture is a bit surprising in that its love triangle remains nicely UNresolved by the close. And, as has probably been pointed out elsewhere, those zombies banging on the walls of our quartet's mountain bunker can surely be seen as precursors of the great touchstone zombie film of almost a decade later, "Night of the Living Dead." To be perfectly honest, though, the film's ending DOES feel a bit rushed, and the omniscient narrator who tells us what's going on as events proceed eventually becomes annoying, useless and obtrusive. And how silly is it that despite the widespread radiation that surrounds the aliens, Lamont is deemed safe in his pickup truck's cabin, even when Major Jay opens the truck's passenger door to the open air?!?! And that trick of placing a noose at the bottom of a camouflaged mantrap and expecting a fallen alien to be tied up in it...how convincing is that? But these are quibbles. From the sight of the cadaverous John Carradine issuing the aliens' pronouncement at the movie's beginning, to the sight of John Agar going up against a horde of lurching zombies and the alien mother ship at the end, the film delivers good old-fashioned, matinée-style fun. It is a perfect film to see with your favorite 8-year-old, munching popcorn at your side. And yes, it is another winner from '50s stalwart John Agar!
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6/10
Kimo Therapy
5 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Back in the 1960s, when I was just a young lad and when there were only three major television stations to contend with, "The New York Times" used to make pithy commentaries, in their TV section, regarding films that were to be aired that day. I have never forgotten the terse words that the paper issued for the 1957 cult item "From Hell It Came." In one of the most succinct pans ever written, the editors simply wrote: "Back send it." Well, I have waited years to find out if this hilarious put-down was justified or not, and now that I have finally succeeded in catching up with this one-of-a-kind cult item, have to say that I feel the "Times" people may have been a bit too harsh in their assessment. Sure, the film is campy, and of course, its central conceit is patently ridiculous, but does the film give the viewer that one necessary ingredient--namely, fun--that all good movies should provide? Oh, yes!

As the film opens, the viewer sees Kimo (handsome Gregg Palmer, the first in a long list of "no-name" actors here), the son of the former chief of this nameless South Pacific island, staked out, face up, on the ground. Wrongly accused of the murder of his old man by the real perpetrators, the new chief Maranka (Baynes Barron) and the evil witch doctor Tano (Robert Swan), and betrayed by his faithless wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgeway), Kimo is summarily put to death by having a dagger hammered into his heart, but not before he utters the words "I will come back from the grave to revenge myself...I shall come back from hell and make you pay for your crimes...." Kimo is then buried in a hollow tree trunk and forgotten. Soon after, the viewer makes the acquaintance of a group of American scientists who are also on the island, studying the radioactive effects from a distant nuclear blast. One of the scientists, Dr. Bill Arnold (Tod Andrews, the closest thing this film has to a well-known actor), is soon distracted by the arrival of the lady scientist whom he has long been pining for, Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), and the team is later startled to find that a fully grown tree--with a grimacing expression on its trunk, and what look like eyes, to boot--has begun to grow out of Kimo's grave! The scientists extirpate the bizarre arboreal growth and bring it back to the lab, where they are stunned to find that the growth is exhibiting a heartbeat! Terry injects it with one of her serums, causing the tree to come alive, escape from the lab, and perambulate (!) over to the native village, to begin its promise of vengeance. Korey is the first to go, after the tree--which the natives call Tabanga--scoops her up and chucks her into the local quicksand pool. Can the new native chief and the scheming witch doctor be far behind?

OK, I'm not going to lie to you: "From Hell It Came" IS a patently ridiculous little picture (the whole thing runs to a bare 71 minutes) but, as I said, it sure is fun, AND has a number of other selling points that help to put it over today, more than 60 years since its release as part of a double bill, along with "The Disembodied." For one thing, the acting by the film's leads is surprisingly decent (the thesping by those playing the natives...not so much), and the locales actually look convincing; one can almost imagine that the film WAS shot on a Pacific island. The film is fast moving and compact, thanks to director Dan Milner (whose 1955 film, "The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues," I had also recently enjoyed), with little flab, and, once you buy into its central outlandish conceit, quite a hoot. The film also looks very fine, thanks in part to cinematographer Brydon Baker--especially in the HD print that I just watched--and also contains any number of amusing lines, courtesy of screenwriter Richard Bernstein. For example, I love what Terry says when Bill asks her if she wouldn't prefer a normal, married life: "Being cooped up in a stuffy apartment, having my ears blasted by rock and roll music, isn't my idea of normal!" The picture also showcases one of the lamest, most unintentionally hilarious catfights ever put on film--that between Korey and Maranka's current galpal, Naomi. And as for Tabanga itself, it is a rather pleasing, if ludicrous, creation; another memorable product from Paul Blaisell, who would also be responsible for the monsters in "Day the World Ended," "It Conquered the World," "The She-Creature" and "Invasion of the Saucer Men." The tree monster here is actually a more intimidating proposition than the apple-throwing ones to be found in "The Wizard of Oz," which looked menacing but were still stuck in one place, as well as the one to be found in the 1958 British horror offering "The Woman Eater," which devoured its victims whole but was also immobile. Tabanga, I might add, was understandably nominated, in Harry and Michael Medved's "Golden Turkey Awards" book, for "The Most Ridiculous Monster In Screen History," losing to Ro-Man in "Robot Monster" (granted, it IS hard to beat an alien gorilla in a diving helmet!). But interestingly, "From Hell It Came" itself was NOT chosen for inclusion in Harry Medved's book "The 50 Worst Films of All Time." And it certainly does not deserve to be in that volume. There are far worse films out there--such as "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," The Horror of the Blood Monsters," "The Worm Eaters," "Blood Freak" and on and on--to be sure. The bottom line is that "From Hell It Came" might be silly, but it sure is entertaining. I'm glad that I finally caught up with it....
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Dead Men Walk (1943)
6/10
Zucco X 2
30 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
As I have written elsewhere, the history of the 1940s horror film can practically be summarized with two words: Universal and Lewton. But while Universal Studios was busily churning out its remarkable run of Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man and Invisible Man films during that decade, and producer Val Lewton over at RKO was turning out some of the most artfully done horror films of all time (such as "Cat People" and "I Walked With a Zombie"), some of the other, lesser studios in Hollywood were coming out with their own shuddery fare, as well. Case in point: PRC, short for Producers Releasing Corp., a so-called "Poverty Row" outfit that specialized in B films meant to appear as the lesser attraction of double features. The studio came out with all manner of films during the '40s--their most famous films perhaps being "The Devil Bat," featuring Bela Lugosi, the truly one-of-a-kind film noir "Detour," and "The Brute Man," the final film featuring the acromegalic Rondo Hatton--and in February '43 released the picture in question here, "Dead Men Walk." In this film, the great English actor George Zucco (who has been very accurately described by writer David Quinlan as "the Boris Karloff of the B feature") plays two very different roles: mild-mannered Dr. Lloyd Clayton and his evil twin brother, Elwyn, a Satanist of sorts who has just died and whose funeral we witness in the film's opening scene. Elwyn's hunchbacked assistant, Zolarr (Dwight Frye, here in one of his last roles), accuses the good doctor of having murdered his master, but whether or not that deed was done in self-defense or not is something that the film does not divulge. As it turns out, however, you just cannot keep a good Satanist down, and before very long, Elwyn is seen arising from his coffin, having been somehow transformed into a vampire of sorts; a being who sleeps by day in his coffin and arises at night to feed on the blood of the living. And what a toothsome morsel he happens to set his fangs on: Dr. Lloyd's pretty young niece, Gayle (played by Mary Carlisle, in her final film). Thus, it is up to the good doctor, as well as Gayle's fiancé Dr. Bently (Nedrick Young, the future co-screenwriter of such films as "Jailhouse Rock," "The Defiant Ones" and "Inherit the Wind"!), to figure out a way to stop the undead brother's unholy depredations....

In truth, "Dead Men Walk" (something of a misnomer of a title, actually, as there is only one man in it who can be termed "the walking dead") is nothing that we haven't seen done infinitely better before, as well as after. The film sports production values very much in keeping with its Poverty Row provenance, and although Zucco is as dependable as ever in his double role, most of the other players deliver up fairly lackluster performances. Director Sam Newfield (who, the previous year, had helmed the Zucco film "The Mad Monster") brings his film home in a fairly lackluster manner, while screenwriter Fred Myton (who had also been responsible for "The Mad Monster") offers up some fairly conventional dialogue. The film also features some clumsy scene transitions and decidedly oddball musical cues, and in all strikes the viewer as a decidedly minor piffle. Not helping matters is the fact that the film today seems to reside in the public domain, with many subpar prints floating about. The one that I just experienced, courtesy of the usually dependable TCM, sported a corroded-looking image and some very lousy sound; fortunately, it is possible to also watch the film on YouTube, a site that offers any number of superior prints of the film, but none of which looks truly pristine. Still, there is some good news to be had here. "Dead Men Walk," besides being a fine showcase for Zucco's skills (he is very sympathetic as the kindly Dr. Lloyd and at times chilling as the evil undead brother...never more so than when he first appears in Lloyd's study after his funeral), also features a few interesting camera setups and some interesting visuals courtesy of cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh, as well as giving us the opportunity to appreciate the, uh, unique thesping skills of Dwight Frye, here in another of his patented wacko roles. (Sadly, Frye would be gone the following year, the victim of a heart attack at the age of 44.) The picture also provides the viewer with several well-done scenes, especially the one that takes place toward the finale, with the two brothers battling to the death in the flaming residence of Elwyn, while Zolarr, pinned beneath a piece of furniture, screeches "Help me, master!" I suppose that there are probably worse ways to kill an hour (the film runs to a streamlined 63 minutes...NOT the 67 claimed by "Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide") than by sitting down with "Dead Men Walk," but most viewers, I have a feeling, will be left vaguely dissatisfied. The film is best recommended for completists of 1940s horror fare only--even though the picture in question never rises to the task of engendering chills--or perhaps to those fans of George Zucco who just cannot see enough of him...if any such person exists out there. Others might be well warned away, as watching "Dead Men Walk" might very well result in "Live Man Sleeping"....
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The Bat (1959)
7/10
When Vinny Met Agnes
30 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Although Vincent Price had appeared in a number of scary films before the late 1950s, it wasn't until 1958 and '59 that the beloved actor really began to concentrate his efforts in the fright field and thus become one of the true titans in the arena of horror. During those two years, Price starred in "The Fly," "House on Haunted Hill," "The Tingler" and "The Bat," thus getting the ball rolling for one legendary horror career. This viewer, up until recently, had long enjoyed every one of those films except for "The Bat," which had somehow escaped me. Thus, how pleased I was to discover that this film fits in very nicely with those other great three! "The Bat" was based on a 1908 novel by mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart entitled "The Circular Staircase," which I had enjoyed; Rinehart and playwright Avery Hopwood had later turned this book into a stage hit called "The Bat" in 1920, and this stage version had subsequently been filmed no fewer than three times prior to the Price outing. Released in August 1959, the most recent version of "The Bat" teams Price with the great Agnes Moorehead, in an atmospheric B&W picture that originally appeared with the Hammer film "The Mummy," for one flabbergasting double feature. And if the film is not quite as frightening as some of those other Price films just mentioned (especially "House on Haunted Hill," which remains, for me and many other boomers, I have a feeling, one of the scariest films ever made), and does reveal its origin as a stage vehicle, it yet remains a lot of fun.

In the film, Moorehead plays the part of Cornelia van Gorder, a mystery writer who has rented a creepy old mansion known as The Oaks to do her summer work. At the same time, the head of the local bank, John Fleming (Harvey Stephens), has absconded around $1 million in securities and bonds and stashed the resultant loot away somewhere. The perpetrator of this deed confesses his crime to Dr. Malcolm Wells (our Uncle Vinny), seeking his assistance in getting away with the crime, but the good doctor, rather than be pressured into cooperation, simply grabs a hunting rifle and shoots the banker down instead. Soon enough, the neighborhood surrounding The Oaks is plagued with a rash of murders. A black-masked killer with clawed gloves--known as The Bat--has been tearing the throats out of his/her victims, and soon enough, begins to sneak around the creepy abode where Cornelia and her maid, Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane), are staying. The Bat, it would seem, is in search of the missing loot...but WHO is The Bat? The audience of course assumes the culprit to be Price, who has not only shot down a man in cold blood, but who is also later seen in his home laboratory doing experiments with baby bats. But there are other possibilities: Cornelia's chauffeur/butler Warner (John Sutton), Fleming's nephew Mark (John Bryant), maybe even the pretty wife of the bank clerk accused of the theft, Dale Bailey (Elaine Edwards), or houseguest Judy (Darla Hood, the former "Little Rascals" cutie, here in her final film). That's what Lt. Anderson (Gavin Gordon), the detective on the case, has to find out....

From its strangely incongruous jazzy theme music to its surprising revelation at the film's tale end, "The Bat" works hard to entertain its audience, and if the film is never distinctly scary, it as often highly atmospheric and suspenseful, despite the light tone and moments of humor. Director/screenwriter Crane Wilbur, who had turned in the screenplays for earlier Price vehicles "House of Wax" and "The Mad Magician," does a fine job here of making things move along nicely (the whole film runs to a streamlined 80 minutes) and engendering a creepy mood; this could almost be a product of the great William Castle, who had helmed both "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Tingler," and if you only knew how highly I esteem that great showman and filmmaker, you would realize that this is very high praise, indeed. But most of the credit for the moderate success of this film must fall on its lead, Agnes Moorehead, who turns in a wonderfully animated performance. Typically intense and waspish, she is yet highly likable and even attractive here, and her Cornelia character is shown to be both highly competent and intrepid, although she DOES still cling on to her maid in fright when the shadow of The Bat is seen on a corridor wall. It is to be regretted that she and Vincent did not appear in more films together, as the two work very well together, old pros that they both were, at this point. "The Bat" contains any number of highlights, including the throat slashing of one victim and the discovery of that victim's body behind a grandfather clock; the scene in which Dale and Judy go upstairs to investigate the nighttime sounds that are booming throughout the house (why The Bat thought he/she could start hammering away at walls in search of the missing loot, in the dead of night, and NOT be heard is anyone's guess); and Cornelia's discovery of the secret room where the loot has been stashed, and her subsequent entrapment and near asphyxiation therein. The identity of The Bat should come as a surprise to most viewers, after numerous red herrings have been strewn about, although to be honest, I DID manage to guess who the culprit was, as events converged to a conclusion. But I would never dream of revealing that secret. As the promotional poster for the film proclaimed, "Warning! Keep the Secret! Anyone who reveals who I am will have to answer to The Bat!" And I would never want to risk THAT! Bottom line: I watched "The Bat" on an October evening as a nor'easter raged outside my windows and found it to be the perfect accompaniment to this very entertaining picture.
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7/10
Eleanor Shines In Her Second Film
12 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A seeming meld of fog-shrouded Universal horror and the rah-rah wartime propaganda films that were so prevalent during the era, the Warner Brothers offering "The Mysterious Doctor" turns out to be a minor concoction that should just manage to please modern audiences. Released in March 1943, during the darkest days of World War 2, the picture provides some chilling escapism while at the same time inspiring its target audience to greater productivity in the War effort. For today's viewer, the film works as an efficient little chiller and as a showcase for its ingenue female star, Eleanor Parker, who here evinces great charm and ability (and beauty, natch) in this, her second role on screen.

The film manages to engender a chilling mood from its very opening moments, in which the viewer beholds a very tall AND HEADLESS personage stalking through a mist-enveloped woodland. We soon meet the mysterious doctor of the film's title, one Dr. Frederick Holmes (Lester Matthews, who would go on to appear in the Eleanor Parker film "Between Two Worlds" one year later), who is taking what he calls a "walking tour" of the Cornwall region. He stops overnight at the lonely little village of Morgan's Head and learns why the hamlet has been so named. Years earlier, two of the villagers had fought one another over the rights to a local tin mine, and Morgan had been vanquished. He had been killed with a boulder and then had his head lopped off by his opponent. Ever since then, it is said, his headless ghost has been terrorizing the region, and none of the locals has ever since been able to muster the courage to go anywhere near the mine, a fact that is severely hampering the English war effort. The local, uh, head man, handsome Sir Henry Leland (John Loder), cannot force them to go back to work, and when the murders begin again with the decapitation death of Dr. Holmes, the eternal scapegoat/simpleminded "village idiot" Bart Redmond (Matt Willis) is held to be in cahoots with the ghost itself. Fortunately for Bart, he has a defender in young Letty Carstairs (our Eleanor), the only person who seems to have the requisite grit, spunk and bravery to explore the local mine and get to the bottom of things. (Letty is the niece of the local pub owner, whose face is covered by an executioner's mask after having been disfigured in a mining accident; another element of horror in the film. Disappointingly, when we DO get to see the supposedly hideous mug of this man, it is not nearly as horrible as we expect.) But will those three admirable qualities be sufficient, as the literal head count begins to rise?

"The Mysterious Doctor" has been well directed by someone named Benjamin Stoloff, who helms his film in a no-nonsense fashion and really keeps things moving along. Cheaply made as it is, the film looks just fine, abetted by some very nice B&W cinematography from one Henry Sharp. And as I mentioned, this is a remarkably compact affair, clocking in at a mere 57 minutes. (The art of creating a solid motion picture entertainment of so brief a duration seems to truly be a lost art, although it is doubtful that an audience of today would be willing to plop down $15 for a movie that didn't even last one hour!) It features a similarly taut and briskly moving script from Richard Weil, although its story line is more than a tad predictable. Indeed, it would take the most dim-witted of children to NOT figure out where this story is headed, or what the purpose of the headless ghost is, or even who the main villain of the piece is (the culprit telegraphs evil intentions early on, just with a narrowing of eyes). Still, watching the film go through its paces remains an enjoyable experience, and the film IS at times quite atmospheric. And a great part of the joy to be had here is watching young Parker, already coming off like a seasoned pro after having been in only one previous film before this, 1942's "Busses Roar." She easily steals the show from her more experienced actors, and even gets to give us one very convincing shriek as she glimpses the headless ghost in a foggy cavern. What a scream queen Eleanor could have been, a la the great Fay Wray! It almost makes one regret that she didn't do more films in the horror genre, and indeed, viewers would have to wait a good 26 years, until 1969's "Eye of the Cat," to see her perform in anything nearly as spooky. Parker would have another half dozen or so roles to go before finally "breaking through," in 1945's "Pride of the Marines," but this early film of hers is surely a testament to her great potential. "The Mysterious Doctor" is certainly a minor piece of work, all told, but you could surely find worse ways to kill an hour. Still, I can't help wondering why Mr. Weil did not title his film "The Headless Miner," surely a more intimidating proposition....
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8/10
See It Before Your Own Ship Sets Sail....
4 October 2017
Featuring a raft of experienced Warner Brothers lead and character actors as well as one up-and-coming future starlet, 1944's "Between Two Worlds" reveals itself to be a pleasing supernatural fantasy, indeed, and one that should hold up very well for modern audiences, now almost 75 years since its release. The film was based on the 1923 play "Outward Bound" by British playwright Sutton Vane, which had been adapted to film once before, as an early-sound vehicle for Leslie Howard, under that original title, in 1930. I have not seen that first version--it does not seem to be screened very often--but can say that the remake is a most interesting offering, with many eerie touches and some wonderful thesping by one and all.

In the film, a disparate group is shown about to board an ocean liner in London, bound for New York. But just as the group departs via auto to their ship, a German aerial bombing results in their vehicle bursting into flames. At the same time, we meet a young Austrian ex-soldier, who is attempting to leave the country via that same ship. He is played by Paul Henreid, and the fact that he is having a rough time obtaining his "exit permit" from a wartorn country forcibly brings to mind his similar quandary in the classic "Casablanca." When his permit is denied, he decides to commit suicide by turning on the gas line in his flat's apartment, only to be discovered by his wife (Eleanor Parker, looking very beautiful and offering up a wonderful performance in this, her 4th film, and at the onset of one of Hollywood's great careers). She decides to join him in death rather than be left alone without him, and before the two of them know what is happening, they find themselves on that selfsame ocean liner on which they had intended to depart. They soon realize the truth: They are dead, this is the afterlife, and their ship is bound for...is it heaven or hell? And the other folks that had been blasted out of existence are there also, but unaware of the truth. They consist of a cynical and wisecracking newspaper reporter (expertly portrayed by John Garfield, here almost at the midpoint of his career); a sailor who is returning home to his wife and kids (the great character actor George Tobias, who provides much of the film's humor); an aloof and domineering manufacturing exec (George Coulouris); a sweet English biddy spinster (Sara "The Spiral Staircase" Allgood); a down-on-her-luck actress (Faye Emerson); a reverend who has decided to go out into the world for the first time and do his best to help others (Dennis King); an unhappily married, mismatched couple (Isobel Elsom and Gilbert Emery); and Scrubby, the only crewman/porter on the entire ship (Edmund "Them!" Gwenn). We do get to know all these characters in some depth as the film proceeds, and are thus prepared when they are ultimately sentenced to their eternal fate by The Examiner, who comes on board late in the film (and played by the great Sydney Greenstreet).

"Between Two Worlds" was directed by someone named Edward A. Blatt, a Russian ex-stage director who, it seems, only directed two other films after this one. But he does a nice job here, and incorporates some interesting touches (I love the hissing gas vent that segues into the ship's whistle) into his picture. The musical score for the film, by the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold, is not nearly as rousing and memorable as had been his contributions to such films as "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "The Sea Hawk" (two of this viewer's all-time faves), but does still go far in engendering an otherworldly mood. The film has a literate and adult script, provided by Daniel Fuchs (who would go on to pen two great film noirs, "Criss Cross" and "Panic in the Streets"), and many of the characters get to deliver lines that carry great weight. My favorite comes from The Examiner himself, in speaking of the afterlife: "Death...people have all sorts of notions. It's really very simple. You make your heaven and hell for yourselves on Earth; you only bring it with you here. Some people waste it tragically; others toss it aside...." All the actors in the film get their moment to shine, but I would especially like to say a word about young Eleanor here. She is just luminous in this early role of hers, easily matching the talents of her more experienced costars although just 21 at the time. No wonder Warners put her on the fast track to stardom. And yet, it would take another 15 months for her to really break through...oddly enough, in another film costarring John Garfield, "Pride of the Marines." Her performance here was worth the price of admission alone for this viewer, although this is very much an ensemble work by that great cast of pros. This film comes highly recommended by yours truly. Consider it a bucket-list item that you should see before your own ship sets sail....
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Lizzie (1957)
8/10
Lizzie vs. Eve
5 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Hollywood studios today put a lot of thought and consideration into the science of WHEN to release their product. The producers of a major blockbuster, for example, will probably not want to issue their film on the same weekend that another blockbuster is due to be dropped on the public; one romcom might want to avoid competing with the release of another romcom, and so on. But sometimes, this strategy does not pan out as might be expected. Take, for example, the case of "Lizzie" and "The Three Faces of Eve." You've probably heard of the latter picture, whereas the first may have slipped right under your radar. Both films were released in 1957 ("Lizzie" on April 4, and "Eve" around six months later, on September 23) and both featured similar story lines, telling as they did of young women who suffered with multiple (triple) personalities. The fact that "Lizzie" came out first, however, did not prevent "Eve" from enjoying greater acclaim, an Oscar honor and long-term renown. To be truthful, the latter film is, objectively speaking, the superior picture, with better production values (it is a major studio release; "Lizzie" was an independent effort) and, supposedly, better distribution. But although Joanne Woodward picked up a Best Actress Oscar for her work in "Eve," and deserved it (in my review of the film, I wrote something to the effect that given the circumstances, the Academy should have given her three!), I am not sure that her performance was significantly better than Eleanor Parker's in the earlier film, and a recent rewatch of "Lizzie" has only served to strengthen that feeling.

Whereas "Eve" was based on a real-life case, "Lizzie" was spun entirely from fiction, and based on Shirley Jackson's 1954 novel "The Bird's Nest." (No, I have never read this source novel, although I have previously enjoyed Jackson's ubercreepy "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," and have long felt that her "Haunting of Hill House" is probably the scariest book that I have ever read.) The film introduces us to a neurotic mess of a woman, 25-year-old Elizabeth Richmond, who works in a museum, has trouble sleeping, suffers from constant headaches, and lives with her alcoholic Aunt Morgan (the great Warner Bros. actress Joan Blondell). Elizabeth has been getting threatening letters from someone named Lizzie when we first meet her, but the viewer soon learns something quite astonishing. In one of the film's many spine-chilling sequences, soft-spoken Elizabeth, standing on the house stairs, and with her back to the camera, calls her aunt a "drunken old slut" in a voice that might as well be lifted from an "Exorcist" movie! Upstairs in her room, Elizabeth, looking into her mirror, suddenly transforms into another woman entirely. She is now Lizzie herself, a wanton hussy, who goes out to the local bar to swill down booze and pick up men, only to have no recollection of having done so in the morning. Eventually, her case is brought to the attention of one Dr. Wright (Richard Boone), who hypnotizes the troubled young woman (she is put into a mesmerized state remarkably easily) and discovers something almost equally surprising: A third personality, a normal young lady named Beth, resides inside the poor gal's noggin, yearning for release! But can the sympathetic doctor effect a cure on Elizabeth/Lizzie/Beth before the three of them throw themselves off the nearest roof?

It is really quite remarkable how much "Lizzie" and its more famous cousin have in common. In both films, a young woman has a triple personality problem, with one of those personalities being a mousy dishrag, one a sexually brazen creature, and one a "normal" young person (Eve White, Eve Black and Jane, respectively, in the later film). Both patients are treated by hugely sympathetic doctors (Lee. J. Cobb in the later film) who uncover the psychological explanation for the poor ladies' conditions, and in both films, these explanations strike the viewer as being a bit glib. The one here in "Lizzie," actually (and without giving too much away), almost seems like a warm-up for the rationale of Norman Bates' condition in the "Psycho" film of three years later, having to do, as it does, with a child's mother and that mother's boyfriend. And in both films, it is the remarkable performances of the two lead actresses that carry the film. Both Parker and Woodward are simply wonderful, and capable of transforming at the drop of a hat from one personality to another. Just look at Parker stare at herself in that mirror, and suddenly become the leering Lizzie in a matter of seconds! And Parker's first-rate thesping is ably abetted by Blondell, old pro that she was at this point; by Hugo Haas as Morgan's friend and suitor, Walter (Haas also directed this film, just one of almost 20 films that he both directed AND acted in); and by future "Happy Days" star Marion Ross as Elizabeth's sympathetic museum coworker, Ruth. I should also perhaps mention that both "Lizzie" and "Eve" contain any number of memorable scenes. In "Eve," the sequence in which Eve's husband (David Wayne) seems to cheat on her with one of her other personalities is unforgettable; in "Lizzie," the poor gal's (gals'?) traumatic experience toward the end, as each personality fights the other, rendered in almost psychedelic fashion by director Haas, is equally stunning. Fortunately for both Eve and Lizzie, both pictures conclude with a seeming cure for the poor befuddled gals, but it should be remembered that in the case of the real-life Eve, a period of 17 years of therapy was required to effect her cure, during which time a full 22 (!) personalities came forth. (Talk about a woman with TOO much personality!) The bottom line, though, is that although "Lizzie" has been overshadowed by its more famous cousin, this earlier film has every reason to hold its head high. Or should I say "all three heads"?
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6/10
Bennye And The Jets
11 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Although episodes 17 - 20 of the landmark '60s TV series "The Outer Limits" had comprised one of the most impressive runs of that fondly remembered show's 1 1/2 seasons, the five episodes to follow would not be nearly so. Those earlier eps had included three ("Don't Open Till Doomsday," "The Invisibles" and "The Bellero Shield") that are among this viewer's personal Top 10 to this day, plus one ep, "ZZZZZ," that is almost universally admired by all "OL" fans, largely by dint of Joanna Frank's truly remarkable performance. But starting with episode 21, "The Children of Spider County," the show entered a period of solid but merely middling affairs, and indeed, it would not be until episode 26, "The Guests," that the series offered up what is for me a truly stellar hour of TV. As for the episode in question, "The Children of Spider County," which was first broadcast on 2/17/64, it is a decidedly lesser affair that yet has numerous redeeming qualities, as will be seen.

In this episode, the U.S. Space Security department is concerned over the fact that four prominent men of learning have recently vanished. All had been born in the titular Spider County, of different vanished fathers; all had been born in the same month and, strangely enough, had sported the same middle name: Eros. (Was it a coincidence that this ep was first aired just three days after Valentine's Day?) Making a leap of logic that is almost too much to credit, U.S.S.S. member Bartlett (John Milford) presumes that the four have been kidnapped by aliens FROM the planet Eros, and goes to Spider County to follow a fifth man, Ethan (Lee Kinsolving), who fits the same pattern. As it turns out, Bartlett had been absolutely correct in his surmise, and he soon learns that an alien from Eros, Aabel (Kent Smith), has indeed come to Earth to bring all the sons of Eros home. But this turns out to be somewhat problematic, now that Ethan has acquired a new galpal, Anna (Bennye Gatteys), who he does not want to leave behind....

During the course of this somewhat unfocused episode, we learn that Aabel is desirous of having the half human sons of Eros return to their home planet to supply that world with the desirable quality of being able to dream, and this episode is suitably oneiric in feel itself. Sadly, it just doesn't seem to hang together. Perhaps things might have made a bit more sense if we could have heard something from those other four half-brothers at the end, and been able to divine their reasons for staying behind. Another problem for this viewer was the makeup effects on the Aabel creature itself; a most unimpressive and unconvincing effort by Project Unlimited here. If the alien's insectlike head had featured moveable eyeballs, they would have seemed more realistic, instead of looking like the wooden ping-pong balls that they do. Still, as I say, the ep DOES feature any number of +++ aspects. Director Leonard Horn (who had previously helmed such classic "OL" episodes as "The Man Who Was Never Born" and "The Zanti Misfits") utilizes shock cuts, overhead and low-angle shots, and extreme close-ups here to good effect, while DOP Kenneth Peach does solid work with the mist-shrouded day and night sequences. (Most of this ep does seem to have been shot outdoors.) The effects showing Aabel's transformation from alien to human guise are nicely handled, as is the zapper ray that he uses to eliminate his foes. Perhaps best of all, though, is the work turned in by Kent Smith, who, in the 1940s, had starred in three classic "psychotronic" outings: "Cat People," "The Curse of the Cat People" and (one of my all-time faves) "The Spiral Staircase." He lends a great dignity and gravitas to the role, and indeed, his speech concerning his home planet might be the hour's single greatest moment: "...In our world on the planet Eros, it was the absence and abhorrence of dreaming that made men no good. They worked like insect slaves, they fought evil wars, they gathered lush riches and splendid pains, but they took no time out for dreaming, and dreaming became a lost art. And as always happened, they began to die off, and for all their riches, they began to die...." Screenwriter Anthony Lawrence, who had also penned that "Man Who Was Never Born" ep, is to be thanked for a truly well-written few minutes here. If only the rest of the ep were up to that poetic and emotional level! Unfortunately, almost half of the episode seems dedicated to a long foot chase through the woods, as Ethan and Anna try to elude the authorities. I suppose the bottom line is that "The Children of Spider County," while still more entertaining and challenging than just about anything else on the small screen in 1964, must pale in comparison to other great episodes of "The Outer Limits"'s first season, many of which, it must be granted, were extremely tough acts to follow....
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8/10
A Very Fine Docudrama About A Seminal Event In World History
26 June 2017
Even those of us with the most general knowledge of American history probably know the broad facts concerning WW2 Air Force Col. Paul Tibbets; how, on August 6, 1945, he flew his B-29 bomber the Enola Gay from Tinian, in the northwest Pacific, to Japan, covering the 2,000 miles in around six hours, and then dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare over Hiroshima, hastening the end of that global conflict. It is a part of world history that we should all be aware of, at least in part. For those of us wanting more information on Tibbets the man and on the background of this most top secret of military operations, there is the MGM movie "Above and Beyond," which tells, in docudrama fashion, just how Tibbets wound up in command of this project, and the personal consequences the mission had on both himself and his family. Released in November 1952, just seven years after the events depicted, the film works wonderfully well as both history lesson and as drama, abetted greatly by a very fine script and acting turns by its two lead performers, Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker.

The film is narrated by Mrs. Tibbets (Parker) in flashback, as she awaits her husband at the airport after his historic flight. When we first encounter Tibbets (Taylor) in the film, he is engaged in combat over North Africa, but is quickly given the task of testing the new B-29 bomber in Wichita, Kansas. After many months of flying and evaluating the unwieldy new air wonder, Tibbets is sent to Colorado Springs and is selected for a new assignment: the fitting out of the new B-29 for the atom bomb drop over Japan, code-named Operation Silverplate. He is put in charge of a top-secret unit ensconced in the desolate wilderness of Wendover, Utah, and indeed, this project is so very top secret that even the wives and families of the men involved cannot be told what is going on. The lonely barracks life and the fact that Mrs. Tibbets must be kept in the dark as to her husband's work, and why he is continually distracted, aloof and absent, produces a great strain on the couple's marriage, going very far to break the loving pair up completely. The film shows us the lousy, spartan, day-to-day life in the Wendover barracks, the meticulous testing of the B-29, the painstaking target practices, many instances of the remarkable security that had to be put in place, AND, most significantly, the doubts and fears that Tibbets entertained before his date with destiny. Ultimately, however, that B-29, dubbed the Enola Gay (the name of Tibbets' mother, we learn), is ready for its mission, and in a surprisingly tense denouement (and I only say "surprising" because although we all know what will eventually happen, the great skill of the filmmakers here makes it still somehow nerve racking, nonetheless), Tibbets and his crew embark on their historic mission, dropping their 15-kiloton "Little Boy" payload to the astonishment of the world.

"Above and Beyond" was written and directed by the team of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, who would eventually be responsible for the writing and/or direction of such classic films as "Road to Utopia," "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," "White Christmas," "Knock On Wood," "The Court Jester" and "The Road to Hong Kong." Taylor and Parker (need I even mention?) work marvelously together (Parker would later say that Taylor was her favorite leading man, and the two would go on to appear together in 1954's "Valley of the Kings" and 1955's "Many Rivers to Cross"), and they are abetted by such sterling character actors as James Whitmore, two years before appearing as Sgt. Peterson in "Them!," here playing the chief security officer at Wendover; Larry Keating, one year before starting his five-year run on the "Burns and Allen Show," here as General Brent; Hayden Rorke, 13 years before playing Dr. Bellows on "I Dream of Jeannie," here portraying another kind of doctor, the physicist Ramsey; and Jim Backus, three years pre-"Rebel Without a Cause," as General LeMay. In all, it is very much a prestige film, given the typical MGM touch of class, and one that should be well received by all who'd care to learn more about a seminal event in world history, or by those who enjoy seeing a terrific drama movingly brought to life by two great acting pros. Eleanor, I might add, looks absolutely gorgeous in the film ("Above and Beyond" was released just five months after "Scaramouche," in which she had never been more stunning), and really, where else are you ever going to see her wearing a leather Air Force bomber jacket? For we fans of this wonderful and under-appreciated actress, the film is almost worth the price of admission for that moment alone. In all, very much recommended!
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When Bill Met Sally
12 June 2017
For all those viewers who have gotten their hearts broken in love (meaning practically all of us), for those who enjoy delightful romantic comedies, and for those of us who simply enjoy watching a nice solid '40s movie that has been put together by a group of seasoned pros, "The Voice of the Turtle" should fit the bill very nicely, indeed. Released on Christmas Day in 1947, the film was co-written by John van Druten, here adapting his hit Broadway play of four years earlier, and to winning effect.

In a nod to its release date, the film itself opens during the Christmas season of 1944, when we first get to meet the sweet and lovely Sally Middleton (Eleanor Parker), an aspiring actress who is in the process of being "dumped" by her current love interest, stage producer Kenneth Bartlett (Kent Smith, moustachioed here, for a change). Having recently been dumped by still another gent, Sally decides to call it quits with both men and romance for good. Her plans are soon derailed when her best friend, sassy Olive Lashbrooke (Eve Arden, here having perfected her "second-banana" supporting act to a fine science; "The war has made men so unpredictable," she declares at one point), decides to ditch her visiting suitor, Sgt. Bill Page (Ronald Reagan, here 33 years before becoming Ronald Raygun), in favor of spending the weekend with his commanding officer, Comm. Ned Burling (a very amusing Wayne Morris). Long story short: After Bill arrives at Sally's place to meet Olive and is summarily dispatched, Sally offers to let him sleep over at her place, resulting in a case of the mutual irresistibles between the two. But what of Sally's former oath? And what to do, when Olive soon decides that she wants her sergeant back?

The oddly titled "Voice of the Turtle" (perhaps potential viewers would be more understanding of that title if they knew that the turtle referenced is actually a turtledove, and that the title is drawn from a line in "The Song of Solomon": "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land....") is an extremely charming film, due mainly to the sensitive performances of Parker and Reagan, both here playing characters who've been hurt before and are tentatively wondering if they might ever find happiness again. Reagan has always been undervalued as an actor, I feel (and overvalued as a prez, but don't get me started on that), and he is both charismatic and likable here. But it is Parker who easily steals this film with her endearing portrayal of the kooky Sally. And boy, is she EVER kooky! This is a woman who loves nothing more than curling up on her sofa with a nice dish of potato salad. A woman who won't leave a percolator going or a radio playing in her apartment when she is away, for fear that they might wonder where she is! She is also a woman who, when serving two glasses of milk, OJ or champagne, must sip exactingly at one of them to even up the levels of the liquids in the two vessels. Today, I suppose, Sally would be diagnosed as having a pretty severe case of OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder ("You're crazy," Page truthfully tells her), but that only makes her all the more endearing, somehow. Parker makes us really feel for the woman's plight of being pulled into another romance, despite her best intentions not to be. "Oh, that was a nice surprise," she sighs when Page first kisses her, in one of the film's sweetest moments. In short, she is absolutely adorable here.

"The Voice of the Turtle" was expertly helmed by Irving Rapper, a director more well known for having completed four films with Bette Davis ("Now, Voyager," "The Corn Is Green," "Deception" and "Another Man's Poison"), and he here elicits some wonderfully comedic and winning performances from his small cast of pros. Max Steiner has contributed a charming (there's that word again), sprightly score to complement the proceedings; another feather in the cap of the man responsible for the music in such films as "King Kong," "Gone With the Wind," "Casablanca," "Now, Voyager" and "The Searchers." The film is rarely laugh-out-loud funny but is never less than highly amusing. It is actually a fairly realistic experience, with honestly drawn characters in credible situations. The audience roots for Sally and Bill to find some happiness, and the film's ending will surely be a pleasing one for most viewers. Actually, I only had one small problem with the picture, and that is, in the opening, as I mentioned, it is Christmas season, at the beginning of a cold and rainy weekend, and a few days later, by the weekend's end, the weather has changed and it is early spring! But I guess time really CAN seem to fly, when you're falling in love again, right? This film comes more than highly recommended by yours truly...especially for those tentative individuals who are considering taking the plunge once again....
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