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Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
Ghosts On The Loose
I've tried to like this film, but at best it's merely tolerable. I thought that there would be more to it. There are basically two parts to the film: 1)Ava Gardner and Rick Vallin's wedding 2) At the two country houses. The first half of "Ghosts on the Loose" is a total gyp. It's got nothing to do with ghosts (neither does the second half) and is frankly quite boring. The only pluses in this half of the film are the moments with young Ava and her fiancé/husband Rick. The second half of the film is a let-down. The East Side Kids arrive in the country and spend many dull moments redecorating what they think is the honeymoon couples house. They move furniture around while the most awful, dreary canned background music is played (the same awful music that was used in "The Ape Man" and other Monogram films). By the time a printing press starts getting moved around from house to house this film almost becomes a sleep inducing bore. What a shame! If Monogram had used better background music I would have added a star to my rating. Lugosi has very little time on screen here. Like others have said "Spooks Run Wild" is the better of the two Lugosi-East Side Kids outings...much better!
My World Dies Screaming (1958)
Terror In The Haunted House
Firstly, I would like to say that this film was not banned by the US government for 26 years as was written by someone in a previous comment. I think that person was referring to the films " Psycho-Rama" gimmick because I've read that it was banned, but I'm sure that it's alleged banning was just hype anyway (The gimmick itself is awful!). This film actually used to play on local television an average of twice a year during the early to mid-seventies. I used to watch it. Now then, "Terror in the Haunted House" is an atmospheric little film about a young bride who is terrified of a house that has been tormenting her dreams. In the opening scene we are given a tour of the house as the bride approaches it (off camera) and narrates (sort of like the opening of Hitchcock's "Rebecca"). The front door opens and the camera moves through the house and up the stairs to the second floor and finally to the attic door which opens and we see to the top of the attic steps. That's all the wife can remember. She tells her psychiatrist that she knows that danger lies up there. Soon the wife is taken by her new husband to that very same house. There are nice touches that follow such as the wife discovering her and her husbands initials carved into the trunk of an old tree (which has been overgrown with vines) and as she slowly starts to remember that her childhood was indeed spent at that estate. The acting by everyone is acceptable. The house itself is a colonial plantation and is a very beautiful home to look at. My only gripes are those annoying subliminal messages ("Psycho-Rama") and the par for the course low-budget way that some of the shots that were supposed to be taking place at night-time were obviously filmed in broad daylight.
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
Silly, but somewhat interesting
"The Corpse Vanishes" is not Bela Lugosi best film for Monogram, but it's not his worst either. In it he plays a doctor who has poisonous scented orchards sent to young brides to wear at the alter. When the women are presumed dead, Lugosi and his crew steal their bodies and Lugosi uses their youth serum to make his aged wife look young again. The wife is played coldly and ineffectively by Elizabeth Russell. A reporter who is more than a bit like Rosalind Russell's "Hildy Johnson" in "His Girl Friday" goes to the doctor's home to investigate. The reporter is played by Luana Walters. Joan Barclay is pretty as one of the brides. Minerva Urecal, as the female member of Lugosi's mob, has some awful lines of dialog to speak. The cheap looking stone wall with the arched doorway in Lugosi's laboratory was one of Monogram's shoddiest props and it showed up again in a Bowery Boys flick.
Murder by Invitation (1941)
Zany film that works in spite of itself!
Talk about screwy films! "Murder By Invitation" almost takes first place! A daffy old lady, Aunt Cassie (a terrible performance by Sarah Padden who seems to be reading her lines off of cue cards) invites her greedy relatives to her country estate for the weekend and murders start to pop up all over the place. A reporter (Wallace Ford) and his secretary (Marian Marsh) arrive at the estate to get the scoop. Minerva Urecal (whom I usually like) overacts here as one of Aunt Cassie's relations. J. Arthur Young is totally offbeat as Trownbridge Montrose (Aunt Cassie's neighbor). Dave O'Brien is good, as usual, though as the estate's chauffeur. Zany dialog is almost unbelievable at times and Ford (although likable) is too old to be pretty Marsh's sweetheart boss. In spite of itself, "Murder By Invitation" is a film that works, although I don't quite know how!
The Ape Man (1943)
Hampered by an uncomfortable Lugosi and monotonous background music
"The Ape Man" could have been a better film than it is. A doctor (Bela Lugosi) is accidentally turned into an ape man after an experiment goes awry, causing him to resort to a series of murders so that injections of his victims spinal fluid can possibly return him to normality. A reporter and a camerawoman (Wallace Ford and Louise Currie) arrive at the doctors home to investigate and the mystery begins to unravel. "The Ape Man" could have been a more enjoyable film, but Lugosi's walking around like an ape (which is unintentionally embarrassing) and awful, monotonous canned background music (which was used in Monogram's "Ghosts on the Loose" the same year) take somewhat from the overall enjoyment of the film. Wallace Ford and Louise Currie work well with each other and having them toss wisecracks back and forth is a welcome addition to the script. "The Ape Man" is not a terrible film, but not a great one. You could do a lot worse for an hours worth of viewing.
Spooks Run Wild (1941)
Pleasant teaming of Bela Lugosi and the East Side Kids
The boys are rounded up and sent to summer camp in the Catskill mountains in "Spooks Run Wild". However, there is a pretty waitress in the town's diner that they would like to have a date with, so they sneak away from the camp at night-time and one of them is shot by the caretaker of the local cemetery which forces the boys to take refuge in Lugosi's creepy hillside manor. There has been a killer on the loose and the boys naturally think that Lugosi is the killer and spend a nervous night meandering through his mansion trying to find their entranced friend who had been given a mild sedative. Nice film and the first of the East Side Kids film to feature Huntz Hall. The films studio, Monogram, reunited Lugosi and the East Side Kids two years later in the less entertaining "Ghosts on the Loose". Hall's line in "Spooks Run Wild" pertaining to his wearing a suit of armor: "My tailor told me it would wear like iron" is absolutely hilarious!
Crime and Punishment (1935)
Nice updating of the classic novel
Columbia Pictures updated Fydor Dostoyevsky's classic novel "Crime and Punishment" from its original era and set it during the bleak years of the Great Depression. The updating works due to an excellent director and a superb cast. Josef von Sternberg guided the production along with his usual flair, making "Crime and Punishment" an entertaining motion picture. In the film, Roderick Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) murders a haggish, old pawnbroker and soon discovers that he hasn't committed the perfect crime. Inspector Porfiry (Edward Arnold) is on to him and starts a cat and mouse game with Roderick that nearly drives Roderick insane. Also, a sympathetic prostitute, Sonya (Marian Marsh), falls in love with Roderick and begs him to give himself up and face the punishment that is coming to him. Although clearly a B-Film (notice that there are not many extras in the cast), "Crime and Punishment" is a good example of how an entertaining film can be made on a limited budget.
The Mad Genius (1931)
"The Mad Genius"
I've always liked the John Barrymore/Marian Marsh film "Svengali" and have always wanted to see Warner Brothers' re-teaming of the two in "The Mad Genius". Thankfully, Ted Turner seems to own it and shows a very nice print of it on TCM. I've got it recorded and I like to watch it now and again. Although it's not a favorite of mine like "Svengali" is, "The Mad Genius" is still a film that I enjoy. Tsarakov (Barrymore) rescues a small boy from his abusive father (Boris Karloff). As the years pass the boy, Fedor (Donald Cook), grows up to become a seasoned ballet dancer and Tsarakov is the ballets impresario. Tsarakov pampers every move in Fedor's life; getting him leads in ballets and encouraging him to have a steady supply of young women lovers. However, Fedor loves Nana (Marian Marsh) and Tsarakov, seeing this as the ruination of Fedor's career, forces Nana to take up with Count Renaud (André Luget), a good-natured, understanding man. Will Fedor and Nana reunite? What will happen to Tsarkov? Watch "The Mad Genius" and you'll find out. You may marvel at the films casual pre-code approach to sex. Very good film, but not as charming as the classic "Svengali".
Uncle Silas (1947)
Full-bodied Gothic Thriller!
I really enjoyed "Uncle Silas", although it's called "The Inheritance" on the VHS copy that I own and there are seemingly five minutes of footage missing. It's a wonderful, creepy little film about a young woman, Caroline (lovely Jean Simmons), who goes to live with her scheming old Uncle Silas in his big, gloomy mansion after her father dies. Uncle Silas (perfectly played by Derrick De Marney) and his accomplices; a French governess, Madame de la Rougierre (marvelously played by Katina Paxinou), and his son, Dudley (well played by Manning Whiley) are planning to do away with the heroine to gain her fortune. Thankfully, there are intervals where the young woman visits with her sympathetic cousin Monica (nicely played by Sophie Stewart). Brilliant music score by Alan Rawsthorne is available on CD through Amazon.com on a collection called Rawsthorne:Film Music. Nice cinematography and sets add the finishing touches to this atmospheric film. I got my VHS copy from Movies Unlimited.com.
A Real Treat!
I just love this version of the classic tale "Trilby". John Barrymore is excellent as Svengali and pretty Marian Marsh is utterly charming as Trilby. The film has a very bohemian look and feel to it which is one of the reasons why you should enjoy it. The expressionistic sets were by Anton Grot and there is the famous striking miniature set of the rooftops of Paris that the camera tracks over in the classic scene where Svengali wills Trilby from her apartment to his one stormy midnight. Warner Brothers paired Barrymore and Marsh once again in "The Mad Genius" which is a rather adult, pre-code story with Barrymore just as menacing as he is in "Svengali", but not the demoniac that he is in this film. Note: The Roan Group (Roan Group.com) has the best DVD edition of "Svengali" available on the market.
The Best DVD Edition Of "Bluebeard" is the Roan Group's Edition!
Yes, there are many DVD editions of this film available out there and apart from this one, ALL of the other editions that I've seen are terrible quality products; too dark, too grainy, too much noise on the soundtrack, soundtrack too low, an edition which used a master of the film that has the charming puppet show sequence from Gounod's opera "Faust" sloppily cut in places, etc. The best DVD edition that I've seen is certainly this one and it's on a triple feature DVD called Black & Blue Collection which is available through the Roan Group.com. The other films on that DVD are "Black Dragons" and a nice, bright, clean version of "The Black Raven". This Roan Group presentation of "Bluebeard" is, without a doubt, the best way of seeing the film on DVD.
The Black Raven (1943)
See "The Black Raven" on The Roan Group's Edition
Many people have found that most DVD editions of "The Black Raven" to be too dark in places and of overall poor quality. I've found a nice, bright restored version of it on a triple feature DVD called Black & Blue Collection which is available through the Roan Group.com. It's compiled with "Black Dragons" and the most perfect copy of "Bluebeard" that I've ever seen (other DVD's of "Bluebeard" on the market are too grainy, edited or have bad sound). Anyway, "The Black Raven" focuses on a group of people who are trying to get over the Canadian border for different reasons but are forced by a rainstorm and washed-out bridges to spend the night at the shadowy Black Raven Inn. The film has plenty of old dark house atmosphere plus the effective relentless howling of the wind and the pounding of the rain. George Zucco and Wanda McKay give good performances in this intriguing murder mystery. Enjoy it in its most perfect DVD edition. It really makes a difference!
The Thirteenth Guest (1932)
Pretty Ginger Rogers In A Haunted House!
Lovely young Ginger Rogers arrives at her long ago abandoned family manor on her twenty-first birthday to meet her lawyer so that she can find out about her inheritance. She finds out about foul play and murder instead! Obviously, someone in her family is trying to do away with her. But just who's trying to do it? Everyone is a suspect, including Rogers herself. Lyle Talbot is the private investigator who rounds up the entire family and tries to sort things out. J. Farrell MacDonald is the police sergeant who is confounded by it all. Paul Hurst is his nitwit sidekick. Everyone has some good lines and often the comebacks are hilarious. There's a part near the end of the film where Hurst's shoes are on the wrong feet, which is an absolute howl if you understand the reason why. Nice, creepy looking house is the perfect setting for pretty Rogers to be menaced in. There's plenty of cobwebs to contrast with Miss Rogers' who looks very cute in her costumes. Low-budget, but doesn't really seem to be because one gets involved in the puzzling mystery. You may have to see "The Thirteenth Guest" twice to fully understand it. It is a very intricate murder mystery which ultimately does make sense.
A Shriek in the Night (1933)
Delightful Ginger Rogers Surrounded By Murders!
The always delightful Ginger Rogers is seen here in this relic of a murder mystery "A Shriek In The Night". Looking cute and acting her usual cheerful self, Miss Rogers is a reporter posing as a personal secretary to a wealthy man until...he gets murdered! Whodunit? Rogers and rival reporter, played by Lyle Talbot, vie furiously with each other to get the scoop with some very hilarious results. Rogers always did have the splendid knack of delivering a wisecrack with just the right touch and in one scene where a cab driver refers to Talbot as a "man", Rogers snaps: "Man? Don't be vulgar!" Her timing and facial expressions are still fresh and charming today. What a splendid performer! The inspector and his sidekick have some funny bits and even the morgue keeper has a howling funny line. "A Shriek in the Night" is low-budget, but it doesn't always seem to be. Nice art deco sets and a good cast save it. One thing annoys me though. Why aren't we shown how Rogers gets out of the furnace near the end of the picture? Apart from that, "A Shriek in the Night" is not a bad film, although it is a film where you really need to pay attention to what's being said at the finish since we never meet some of the characters that are talked about during the conclusion.
Voodoo Man (1944)
Fun Forties Horror
I'm glad that I purchased "Voodoo Man". It is a pleasant way to pass an hour for fans of 1940's horror films. It is weird and strange, but has a certain beauty to it as well. I believe that it's the best of the horror films that Bela Lugosi made for Monogram during that time. Lugosi is a devoted husband to a wife that has been dead (although, still beautiful and looking as if she were in a trance) for 22 years. He has two of his helpers kidnap young women motorists off of a deserted road so that the young women's life forces can be transferred (via Voodoo) into his dead wife in order to bring her back to life. One pretty young motorist is missed by her cousin and soon the sheriff and his deputy pay a visit to Lugosi's home. Lugosi has a whole basement full of lovely young ladies who are entranced and standing behind glass doors in large cabinets. Will the missing cousin be rescued and the other young ladies be set free? Watch "Voodoo Man" to find out. The DVD that I bought through Sinister Cinema.com has the vintage trailer for "Voodoo Man" as a bonus feature.
Hansel and Gretel (1954)
Magical version of "Hansel and Gretel"
This film has always been one of my top favorite childhood films. "Hansel and Gretel" was not always easily accessible to kids. Although it had sporadic television showings back in the days of black and white televisions, kids normally had to wait about every three years for it to be theatrically re-released to see it. I remember seeing it once on television back in the days before we had color television sets and then seeing it several years later on the big screen (in all of its Technicolor splendor) and it captivated me by being the definitive version of the famous tale. I liked it so much that when they re-released it some years later I went to see it again! After the mid-seventies it more or less disappeared and it seemed to have become a forgotten film (shown occasionally on early cable T.V.). However, in the early eighties I was surprised to see it on VHS through a company called Media Home Entertainment. Sadly, their print had a terrible mono soundtrack making the film inaudible and the scene where the the stars form in the heavens (after the Sandman floated away) looked like it was set in the daytime instead of at night-time. Later, in the eighties a no-frills video company released the same print with a marginally better soundtrack. When HBO showed it in the early nineties, they showed a restored quality print. One with perfect sound and with the stars in the heavens forming in the evening (keeping to the evening setting of Hansel and Gretel asleep under a tree in the forest). Not long afterward, that restored version was put on to VHS by Vestron and I was delighted. Too bad that Vestron didn't hold on to the rights long enough to put out a DVD edition of the film. It has since fallen into the hands of another company and they've evidently used a not exactly perfect VHS print of the film as the master source for their DVD presentation of "Hansel and Gretel". The evidence of VHS decay are sporadically obvious during the film. It's annoying that the company probably had the means to give us "the" perfectly restored version of the film on DVD, but instead decided to gyp us with a low-budget video to DVD transfer of it. I hope that another company will obtain the rights to this film and put a good copy of it on the market soon. "Hansel and Gretel" must have been a pretty big hit in its day (1954). There was a comic book and a record album of this film. I know that the two times that I saw it in the theaters it played to packed movie houses. Let's hope to see a restored DVD edition of it the near future!