Review of “From Hell it Came” (1957)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night offering fit the bill in spades. The pizza was good.

Plot:

Staked to the ground, spread eagle, is Kimo (a Saturday matinee idol lovely Gregg Palmer), the son of the late chief of an unnamed South Pacific Island. For some reason, chickens stand watch around the unfortunate young man, who has been accused of killing his father. The local witch doctor, Tano (Robert Swan in headgear he could wear to the Kentucky Derby) pronounces sentence on Kimo, who protests that he is innocent, that, in fact, Tano and the chief Maranka (Baynes Barron) fed his father poison. He asks his wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgeway) to confirm this. Oddly, she says no one came around. Kimo was the only one taking care of his father. Could she have something lined up with Tano, that little vixen?

Oh, bummer for Kimo! He doesn’t take it well, understandably, and vows, “I will come back from the grave to revenge for myself. Tano, you can kill my body but my spirit will never die. Tano, your days are numbered.”

Tano rams a giant pin into the heart of a voodoo doll. (‘Cuz isn’t voodoo like a universal practice among all non-Western people?) This is the signal for two men to hammer a knife into Kimo’s heart. His body is carted off in something like a wicker sedan chair and buried.

Never fear. Also on the island are American scientists studying radioactive fallout from an explosion 1500 miles away. Fortunately, there is little radioactivity, so they end up treating the people for “plague.” Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) says he tried to treat the old chief, but he was already too far gone.

Their complaints of noisy jungle drums, malaria, jungle rot, and heat (yes) “the stupid blind ignorance” of the natives are followed by the arrival of another doctor, one Terry Mason (Tina Carver). Cue Park Avenue Beat.

From YouTube

As Dr. Mason and her driver pass the cemetery on the way to the American compound, the viewer sees the earth over Kimo’s grave begin to heave and crack.

Thoughts:

The island people have a tradition of a tree monster they call tabanga (sometimes baranga…). This has got to be one of the goofiest looking critters. It still has the knife sticking out of its bark. It hugs people to death and/or tosses them into quicksand. Think of a cross between menacing trees on old Scooby-Doo cartoons and the talking trees that threw apples at Dorothy and the strawman in Oz, and you have an approximation of the tabanga. The tabanga is mobile, but he moves slowly. He doesn’t talk. The permanent scowl on his face does his talking for him.

Goofy monsters are forgivable and can be enjoyable. I felt sorry for the tabanga. He got the short end of the stick…er… things didn’t go well for him in life. After he comes back from the grave, the body count grows, and the bad’uns get the comeuppance, but justice?

The unenlightened natives prove powerless to destroy the tabanga, so of course, they come running to the Americans, who had a hand in creating the creature by digging it up, injecting it with Formula 447. It is supercharged with American radiation. Dr. Mason is appalled when she learns the creature she helped save in the lab is out…killing people.

If the movie is condescending toward the natives, its attitude toward women doesn’t reflect any greater enlightenment. Dr. Arnold has been interested in Dr. Mason since before the beginning of the movie. In wooing her, he asks, “Terry, will you stop being a doctor first and a woman second? Let your emotions rule you, not your intellect.”

When she refuses to let her heart going pit-a-pat tell her pretty little head what to do, he kisses her.

“If you didn’t want me to kiss you, why did you kiss me back?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” she answers. “Maybe it’s my metabolism.”

Poor Dr. Mason. At the mercy of her… metabolism. An avenging walking, hugging tree makes more sense.

If the movie had stuck to goofy avenging monsters, I might have bought it. Colonialism and misogyny sunk it beyond redemption, however.

I could not find this gem—assuming anyone wants to watch it—for free. This masterpiece is available for pay only.


Title: From Hell it Came (1957)

Directed by
Dan Milner

Writing Credits
Richard Bernstein…(screenplay by)
Richard Bernstein…(from a story by) and
Jack Milner…(from a story by)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Tod Andrews…Dr. William Arnold
Tina Carver…Dr. Terry Mason
Linda Watkins…Mrs. Mae Kilgore
John McNamara…Prof. Clark
Gregg Palmer…Kimo

Released: August 25, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Review of “Kiss of Death” (1947)

trailer from YouTube

For this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie, I felt like a bit of noir. We chose Kiss of Death from 1947. Some people die, and some people kiss, but the first group has nothing to do with the other.

Plot:

It’s Christmas Eve in New York City. Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is an ex-con who hasn’t been able to work for a year because of his record.

“They say it shouldn’t count against you,” the narration tells the viewer, “but when Nick tried to get a job, the same thing always happened: ‘Very sorry.’ No prejudice, of course, but no job either. So this is how Nick went Christmas shopping for his kids.”

That is, he and three cohorts take an elevator to the twenty-fourth floor of a building and rob a jewelry store. They take the elevator down (Oh, dudes, take the stairs!), giving the proprietor plenty of time to work his way to the alarm. Nick tries to run but is shot and captured. His partners get away.

Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) then offers Bianco a deal: reduced sentencing in exchange for the names of his accomplices. Believing his mob buddies and his crooked lawyer Earl Howser (Taylor Holmes) will look out for his family, Bianco refuses. Besides, Howser has assured him he’ll be able to swing parole for him.

After he’s been in Sing Sing for about three years, Nick’s letters to his wife start coming back to him, marked, “party no longer at this address.” Why doesn’t his wife write? She knows he worries about the kids. When a new convict/thug comes in, Nick learns that his wife is dead. He barely believes it. Looking through old newspapers, he finds a notice. She died by suicide.

Further information comes along when Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray) visits Nick. Nettie, the viewer realizes, is also the narrator. Nettie was a neighbor who used to babysit the girls. Her comments are cryptic and can be interpreted as describing an affair between Nick’s former partner, Rizzo, whom the viewer never sees. Others interpret them as indicating Rizzo raped Nick’s wife, leading to her depression and eventual suicide. Either way, Nick is ready to talk to the DA and blame Rizzo for “squealing.”

Thoughts:

The hitman sent to deal with Rizzo for supposedly squealing is Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). He finds only Rizzo’s elderly mother (an uncredited Mildred Dunnock) in a wheelchair, who suggests that Rizzo will be back “after dinner sometime maybe.” Udo sees Rizzo’s room is empty. He has to send a message and, laughing manically, pushes Mrs. Rizzo down the staircase to her death.

This lets Nick know how high that stakes are: later, when he’s married to former neighbor Nettie and paroled, his family could pay the price for his “squealing,” particularly when Nick’s testimony in another matter later fails to bring a conviction against Udo.

Nick loves his family, something the DA realized from the beginning. He is willing to go to prison as long as he believes they are protected. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as promised.

Tommy Udo is threatening and creepy, even when he’s being friendly. His violence is without remorse, but not without reason. He’s also misogynistic, saying at one point, “Dames are no good if you want to have some fun.”

Richard Widmark’s performance as Tommy Udo won him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and a favorable mention (“…the director uncovered a real find in Richard Widmark.”) in a New York Times review of the movie.

Another treat is a (relatively) young Karl Malden as Sgt. William Cullen in the DA’s office.

Some aspects of the movie may not have aged well. Many noir movies haven’t. The melodrama in this is a little hard on the credibility, but it remains entertaining. I liked it.

Title: Kiss of Death (1947)

Directed by
Henry Hathaway

Writing Credits
Ben Hecht…(screen play) and
Charles Lederer…(screen play)
Eleazar Lipsky…(story)
Philip Dunne…(additional scenes) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Victor Mature…Nick Bianco
Brian Donlevy…Assistant D.A. Louis D’Angelo
Coleen Gray…Nettie Cavallo
Richard Widmark…Tommy Udo
Taylor Holmes…Earl Howser

Released: September 1947
Length: I hour, 39 minutes

Review of “The Crawling Eye” (1958)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. This is our second time watching the movie with Svengoolie. I fell asleep the first time. I must have been really tired. Alas! That bottle of white zinfandel from 1993 outlived its usefulness. Maybe if we wait a hundred years, we could have used it for salad dressing.

Plot:

In the opening scenes, two mountains-climbers (Jeremy Longhurst and Anthony Parker) crouch on a ledge and call to a third above them, an unseen “Jimmy”(Jack Taylor). Jimmy tells them there’s fog or a cloud. It’s getting cold. He then says someone’s coming.

“Who is it? The abominable snowman?” one of his companions shouts back.

They hear Jimmy scream. They watch in horror as he falls over the cliff past them. They scramble, trying to save him with rope. One climber recoils in horror and lets go of the rope. The first keeps trying, but the rope frays and snaps. Already silent, Jimmy is lost. The first climber grabs his companion and tells him, “You idiot. We nearly had him. Why did you let him go?”

Stunned, the second man answers, “Didn’t you see him? His head! It was torn off!”

The next scene follows a train entering a tunnel. Two young women, sisters, Sarah and Anne Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne and Janet Munro), are seated opposite Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), who reads a newspaper. Anne wakes from a dream she can’t quite remember. Sarah points out the (fictional) Trollenberg Mountain to her. Anne seems entranced by it for a moment, then faints into Brooks’ lap. How awkward.

The Pilgrim sisters are on their way to Geneva, but Anne feels compelled to get off at the next stop, Trollenberg. They can stay at the Hotel Europa, she decides. Sarah is puzzled. Why would Anne want to stop here? They have to go to Geneva. They’ve never been to this place. How could she know about the Hotel Europa?

It just so happens that Brooks is getting off at Trollenberg and staying at the Hotel Europa. As a matter of fact, the proprietor and town mayor, Herr Klein (Frederick Schiller), meets him at the train station. He agrees to put up the sisters, even though they’ve arrived without reservations. The hotel season is a bit off. He doesn’t say so, but the viewer knows that decapitated mountain climbers can put a crimp in the tourist business.

What is unexpected is that Anne begins to give something of a description of the accident and acknowledge there have been other incidents. The peasants are leaving the mountain because they believe it’s bad luck.

“Climbers… disappearing into the mist and never seen again…”

At Hotel Europa’s bar, Brooks meets a journalist named Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne), who remembers meeting the sisters but can’t recall where. He is not all familiar to them. Brooks also meets overweight middle-aged geologist Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders) and his mountain guide, Brett (Andrew Faulds). They plan to climb the Trollenberg to find out what’s behind the accidents. They’ll stay the night at a hut and climb the mountain proper the next day.

Truscott says they ought to watch their roping. Apparently, the official story about the unfortunate Jimmy is that he somehow got the rope wrapped around his neck. The villagers say, however, he was found with it still wrapped around his waist. Brett, the guide, says the students shouldn’t have been up there at all without a guide. Accidents happen when inexperienced people go up alone.

Brooks offers to come along partway by cable car. He’s going up to a cosmic ray observatory located on the mountain. He’s not an astronomer or a scientist but works for the UN.

Thoughts:

I’d heard about this movie long before I saw it. The dearly beloved and some friends had access to a small observatory. When fog moved in, it was “eye weather.”

The menacing eyes-with-tentacles are a lot scarier before they’re shown. Just the same, there is a lot of creepiness in the movie. From the beginning, Anne Pilgrim seems to be under some sort of influence. She seems drawn to the mountain. What does the horror in the fog—which shows no compunction about murdering innocent mountain climbers—want with her?

She and her sister Sarah perform in a mind-reading act, but Anne is genuinely telepathic. She relates some details of the students’ accident. Later, she describes what is happening in the hut on the mountain while she’s in the hotel.

Making the movie creepier is that Brooks and Dr. Crevett at the observatory have seen these “accidents” before—in the Andes. Crevett’s ideas of what was causing the deaths got him laughed at. Brooks is reluctant to relive all that. After all, when people climb mountains, accidents happen…

This movie has a lot to recommend; it is creepy and suspenseful. The characters are not as interesting as the mystery they find themselves in; how will they solve this problem? Not only does the terror threaten climbers, but it also threatens people in the village. It could pose a threat to the world.

On the other hand, the enemy looks, well, goofy. Calling the final stand at the observatory (because you knew that’s where it would end up) over the top is charitable. Our hero is heroic, risking his life for children and protecting the womenfolk.

Overall, I enjoyed this flick. It is not great cinematic art, but it is great fun. The viewer can enjoy the creepiness when it comes and laugh with delight (rather than derision) at its shortcomings. If it doesn’t always allow one to suspend disbelief, at least its straight-faced demeanor keeps camp, if not amusement, at bay.



Title: The Crawling Eye (orig. The Trollenberg Terror) (1958)

Directed by
Quentin Lawrence

Writing Credits
Jimmy Sangster…(screenplay)
Peter Key…(story)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Forrest Tucker…Alan Brooks
Laurence Payne…Philip Truscott
Jennifer Jayne…Sarah Pilgrim
Janet Munro…Anne Pilgrim
Warren Mitchell…Crevett

Released: December 31, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Review of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie selection. Although the premise was iffy, the movie moves beyond that. The pizza was good, and the wine helped. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife of six years, Louise (Randy Stuart), are vacationing on a boat. He tries to convince her to go below and get him a beer. She declines. Only after he offers to get dinner does she agree to get the beer. While she’s below, a cloud appears on the horizon. Curious, Scott stands up. It’s moving with incredible speed. He decides to try to get away from it, but he’s not quite quick enough. The mist moves over the boat, leaving Scott covered in what looks like glitter.

Some six months later, Scott asks his wife if she’s sure the dry cleaners gave her the right clothes. His pants and shirts no longer fit. She tells him he must be losing weight. At the doctor’s office, he measures 5 feet, 9 inches. He says he’s been 6 feet, 1 inch since he was seventeen. The doctor (William Schallert) shrugs his shoulders. Discrepancies can creep in, ya know.

Scott keeps slowly shrinking. First Louise, then his doctor must take him seriously, sending him to a specialist, Dr. Thomas Silver (Raymond Bailey). Dr. Silver runs a battery of tests on him, deciding he’s in perfect health. There is one anomaly. He asks if Scott has been exposed to insecticide. After some thought, he replies that some month earlier, he passed a truck spraying trees. The doctor then asks about radiation exposure. Louise reminds him about the mist.

Scott is soon unemployed. His brother urges him to sell his story to make ends meet. He keeps a journal, noting the changes in his size and weight. With publicity comes the end of peace, however.

When Scott is small enough to live in a dollhouse, he’s become something of a tiny tyrant. He realizes this does little about it. He’s fashioned a little knife and acts as if he will turn it on himself. One day, Louise goes out shopping, and the family cat, Butch, sneaks in. Scott opens the front door and finds the cat snarling at him. He tries to hide, but there’s little place to go.

He ends up in Louise’s sewing basket—in the basement.

Thoughts:

The premise—exposure to a random cloud of radiation followed by exposure to some insecticide makes an otherwise healthy man slowly shrink in size—is just silly. At one point, his doctors come up with a treatment that seems to halt the process—until it doesn’t. No reason for this failure is given. Nor is there any attempt to retry or retool treatment.

In my seldom humble opinion, what saves this movie is Scott’s reaction to the impossible situation. At first, he sees this as a fault of the dry cleaners. Next, he realizes there’s a medical problem, but his doctor pooh-poohs his concerns. In one striking scene, Scott and Louise discuss implications for their marriage after a visit with the doctor. His wedding slips from his too-small finger onto the floor of the car.

While he still has his wife to boss around, he becomes a little despot, yelling at her for making too much noise coming down the stairs, among other trespasses. After it appears he’s been killed by the cat, and he’s alone in the basement, he has to fight for survival. He stops feeling sorry for himself, in part because he doesn’t have time. The good stuff hits the fan.

The special effects will not blow anyone away in 2021, but they were pretty good for 1957. A giant pair of scissors gleams while Scott manipulates it, for example.

In 1957, the film won a Golden Moon Award at the Faro Island Film Festival for best screenplay. I would not have thought this was a strong point. In 1958, it won a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. In 2009, it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

In Scott’s struggle with his condition, both psychological and philosophical issues arise. First, is the inquiry into what is happening and the incomplete understanding of how and why. He loses his job and his wife, and everything about life he’s known till that point. He has to adapt or die.

There is a darkness to the film, a feeling of watching Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain, knowing he did nothing to deserve his fate. Will he go nuts or give in to despair? Or will he take one more step forward, pushing the damn boulder up just a little farther?

Overall, I liked this movie, hokey premise and all.





Title: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Directed by
Jack Arnold

Writing Credits

Richard Matheson…(screenplay)
Richard Matheson…(novel)
Richard Alan Simmons…(screenplay) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Grant Williams…Scott Carey
Randy Stuart…Louise Carey
April Kent…Clarice Bruce
Paul Langton…Charlie Carey

Released: May 17, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Review of “The Undead” (1957)

from YouTube: the warm-up dancer for the witches’ sabbath in the graveyard.

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night offering. The pizza was good. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

We first see Satan (Richard Devon), a trident between him and the camera, dressed like… Robin Hood. His warning to the audience ends with the trademark evil laugh.

The next scene is that of a shapely woman (Pamela Duncan) emerging from the fog. She pauses by a lamppost and takes out a cigarette. A hand in a black glove offers her a lighter. She accepts. The hand then grips her wrist. She smiles up at the man holding her, later revealed to be Quintus Ratcliff (Val Dufour.). (Huh? Oh, she’s used to this rough treatment because it means she’ll get paid. She’s a prostitute. SHEESH, guys, not judgmental at all there.). The two resort not to an hourly-rate hotel but to the American Institute of Psychical Research.

Here, the man who conducted the working girl to the Institute begins an argument with an old professor of his, Professor Ulbrecht Olinger (Maurice Manson), who failed him. His idea is to hypnotize the woman, who uses the, ahem, professional name Diana Love, and see if he can’t send her back to a past life. He’s seen it done in Tibet, where he’s spent the past seven years.

“Where will you find a subject weak and impressionable enough to arrive at the required depths of trance?” the Professor asks.

Oh, this lovely young thing going through the pockets of your jacket in the other room while you’re not paying attention and judging her lack of intellectual awareness?

Despite the Professor’s better judgment, the hypnosis proceeds. Diana soon finds herself in chains, in some medieval dungeon in France, accused of witchcraft. She’ll be beheaded in the morning.

Thoughts:

Despite the title, the movie has nothing to do with zombies, vampires, or Nosferatu.

The first thing that grated on my nerves was the dialogue. EE GADS. Who wrote this bilge?

“Barely under the surface. No telling how many fathoms deeper we’ll have to sink into that murky mind of hers.”

It only gets better when the viewer travels back in time, with the uses of “thee” and “thou.”

After the witches’ Sabbath (check out the nifty little dance number above), during which people sell their souls to Satan for fill-in-the-blank, Livia (Allison Hayes), the naughty witch, brings our hero, Pendragon (Richard Garland), to sign away his soul in exchange for freeing his beloved Helene (the past life of Diana Love) from the Tower of Death. He doesn’t know that she has escaped.

Quintus has traveled back in time and somehow mastered medieval French. Yeah, yeah, picky, picky. He watches as Pendragon gets ready to sign his name and sell his soul but breaks up the ceremony, asking, “Would you sign without a try at bargaining?”

Satan is not in a bargaining mood, but he recognizes Quintus:

Satan: I know you.
Quintus: You do, devil, Satan? I hardly think so.
Satan: So Quintus. You have slipped at last the bonds of time. I knew you’d dabble in my art one day.
Quintus: Your interest in my art flatter me, sir.

Finally, Quintus tells Pendragon, “If I promise you that she will go free, will you come with me now and forget the book?”

Pendragon responds: “Yes, I’ll come. But if your words are false, I must return and sign.”

One of the few enjoyable exchanges is between two “real” witches:

Livia: No one has ever called me a witch!
Meg Maud (Dorothy Neumann): And lived to see another witch?

Part of the inspiration for the storyline was a series of news articles and later a book, The Search for Bridey Murphy, in which a Colorado housewife appeared to recall under hypnosis a past life as a 19th-century Irishwoman.

I could not buy into this one. With Satan looking like a wayward member of the band of merry men sporting a prop trident rather than a pitchfork, I couldn’t quake in fear at his evilness. I might pass him a mini-Snickers bar if he rang the doorbell on Halloween, however.

The film provides some gruesome/silly comic relief in the person of Smolkin the gravedigger (Mel Welles), who has a thing for nursery rhymes adjusted for his line of work:

Merry, Merry, more to bury,
how does my garden grow?
 With marble stones, and ankle bones,
and relatives all in a row!

Granted, this is from 1957, so there has to be some moral to the story, especially one involving a working girl. I wish they’d run the dialogue through the typewriter a couple of more times and given the moral lecture a rest.

Title: The Undead (1957)

Directed by
Roger Corman

Writing Credits
Charles B. Griffith…(screenplay) (as Charles Griffith) and
Mark Hanna…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification

Pamela Duncan…Diana Love/Helene
Richard Garland…Pendragon
Allison Hayes…Livia—a Witch
Val Dufour…Quintus Ratcliff
Mel Welles…Smolkin—the gravedigger

Released: March 15, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Review of “Shadow of the Cat” (1961)

(most of) Svengoolie’s open for The Shadow of the Cat from YouTube

This is last week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. It was such a quirky view I had to write about it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a free watchable version of it. Even finding a trailer for it was an exercise. Should you come across it, though, this flick is worth the watch, with or without pizza in front of you and furball beside you. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

It was a dark and stormy night. Alone in her tower room, elderly, wealthy Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) has just finished her last will and testament with a quill pen. She’s now reading “The Raven” to her pet cat, Tabitha (Bunkie…really). Creaks come from the stairs. Ella tells Tabitha everything is okay. It’s a funny old house, full groaning old boards.

Unfortunately for her, those boards are creaking under the feet of Andrew, the butler (Andrew Crawford). Without her glasses, Ella thinks it’s her husband, Walter (André Morell), and tells Andrew, “I’m done, Walter. I have done everything.” Andrew beats her to death while Tabitha watches from the bookcase. He then carries her body downstairs past husband Walter and the maid Clara (Freda Jackson), who makes sure no one is outside while they go bury the body.

Tabitha runs past them and takes note of where her former mistress goes into the ground, as well as who put her there.

Ella has “disappeared.” Walter wants nothing in the papers but demands Inspector Rowles (Alan Wheatley) find her.

The guilty parties know what the cat saw and hate the cat for it. For some reason, the cat won’t come near any of them. Tabitha runs into the cellar. Walter and Andrew chase after her. In the dark, Walter strikes Andrew in the arm but continues to hunt for the cat. He smashes some glass containers, then realizes he’s stepping on dead rats. Tabitha jumps on his back, screaming. Walter has a heart attack, and the doctor confines him to bed.

Round One goes to Tabitha.

Thoughts:

Beth Venable (Barbara Shelley), Miss Ella’s favorite niece, arrives. Walter has sent for her, as she’ll be the most likely to challenge the will she forced his wife to sign. He’s sure he can charm her into agreeing to the terms that shut her out. On the way to the house, she meets journalist Michael Latimer (Conrad Phillips), who gives her a heads-up on the goings-on at the Venable household.

“You mean to tell me,” she says, “an ordinary domestic cat is terrorizing three grown-ups?”

The humor here is at the expense of the conspirators. The butler is sitting up with the ailing Walter. He curls up for a nap. The camera then turns to Tabitha, sitting quietly in the same room. The next time the viewer sees Andrew, his face bears several deep scratches.

A question arises about whether the cat is really menacing the murderers or whether they are falling victims to their own guilty consciences. The conspirators each come apart at the seams. The cat remains… a cat.

Another conspiracy arises around Walter’s unscrupulous relatives and Ella’s original will, which requires the dispatching of Tabitha. Cats may have nine lives, but the conspirators and would-be cat-killers are not so lucky—or particularly bright, especially in the area of self-preservation. The unscrupulous relatives know the will must be in the house and don’t hesitate to inflict damage on a building they plan to own. In one scene, plaster dust rains down on our hero and heroine.

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but it’s not flawless. You could see the strings at times—quite literally. This was a way of getting the cat to move at certain times and places. One scene shows her playing with a ball of yarn. To set a sinister mood around the appearance of the cat, eerie trilling music is repeatedly played. I found this annoying. For me, it didn’t add to the tension and was, indeed, closer to parody than drama. When the director wishes to show a scene through the cat’s point of view, it is presented stretched horizontally and compressed vertically. This wasn’t intrusive.

It’s a pity this one is more readily available.



Title: The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Directed by
John Gilling

Writing Credits
George Baxt…(written by)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
André Morell…Walter Venable (as Andre Morell)
Barbara Shelley…Beth Venable
William Lucas…Jacob Venable
Freda Jackson…Clara, the Maid
Conrad Phillips…Michael Latimer
Bunkie…Cat (Tabitha) (uncredited)

Released: June 7, 1961
Length: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Review of “The Beast Must Die” (1974)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie installment. Had some yummy prosecco I bought for our anniversary. Might have to get some more before the next anniversary. We saw this with Svengoolie.

Plot:

The movie opens with a lone black man (Calvin Lockhart) running through the woods, pursued by several white men decked out in military-style uniforms and carrying serious-looking firearms. A helicopter pilot (Andrew Lodge) reports, “Have visual contact.” The fleeing man sees cameras and face-plants directly in front of a microphone protruding from the ground.

Well, hasn’t his day just gone down the tubes?

He runs toward a house where a group of well-heeled people sits chatting out on the terrace. There he falls (again?), and the men in uniform shoot him—just kidding! This is all an exercise. The guys in uniform work security for the man running through the woods, and the people on the terrace are his guests.

Tom Newcliffe is fabulously wealthy and has hunted just about every beast there is. He goes over his elaborate precautions with security chief, Pavel (Anton Diffring). The people he has invited to his island retreat all have checkered pasts. Mysterious deaths follow where they go. Bennington was a United Nations delegate until two members of his entourage mysteriously disappeared. There’s Jan (Michael Gambon), the pianist who is no longer welcome in certain world capitals, because wherever he plays, people end up with their throats slit. His girlfriend, Davina (Ciaran Madden) (who is also a personal friend of Newcliffe’s wife, Caroline (Marlene Clark)), seems to go to house parties where there’s always one guest ending up dead with their heart eaten. Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon), along with nine other former medical students, went to prison for eating a piece of human flesh. “Lab specimens,” he explains. The preservatives didn’t turn their tummies? Maybe the cafeteria closed early that night. Lastly, there’s Professor Christopher Lundgren (Peter Cushing), an archaeologist obsessed with—yep. Werewolves.

Newcliffe is convinced one of them is a werewolf, and he plans to hunt and kill it. Pavel doesn’t believe in werewolves. The old country was full of that nonsense.

Thoughts:

Mix a bit of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” and a splash of Blaxploitation, and you get this movie, but the biggest gimmick is the “werewolf break,” a thirty-second intermission—complete with a stop watch and Jeopardy “Think” music—in which viewers are instructed to guess the identity of the werewolf. I was wrong, but I really thought Col. Mustard in the library with the lead pipe looked good for it.

The movie takes itself seriously enough to slip into parody at times. Newcliffe’s obsession with security seems not only excessive, but he has a flair for the dramatic. After he runs onto the terrace and is attacked by several uniformed men early in the movie, his wife asks him, “Perhaps you can tell us why you arranged to have yourself shot.” As he walks around, telling each guest about their storied past, Caroline gets more irritated. Finally, she said, “Tom, if you’re trying to completely ruin our weekend…”

One guest tries to escape, and the viewer sees the result of grabbing electrified fences before reading the signs. Another tries to drive away, but Newcliffe is a better driver. Later, he removes everyone else’s distributor caps from their engine and pitches them in the river. His guests need to stay through three nights while the moon is full.

Tom is not hunting the werewolf out of a sense of righteousness or revenge. He’s hunting it because he thinks it would be cool to say he’s hunted and killed a werewolf, alongside all his other hunting trophies. He doesn’t mention where he’d keep that trophy. Maybe it would be just for the satisfaction of knowing he did it?

All in all, this is an okay horror/murder mystery movie. It speaks of obsession, mostly in watching Tom grow increasingly driven as time goes by, but it certainly isn’t making any profound statement.



Title: The Beast Must Die (1974)

Directed by
Paul Annett
Writing Credits
Michael Winder…(screenplay)
Paul Annett…(uncredited)
James Blish…(story “There Shall Be No Darkness”) (uncredited)
Scot Finch…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Calvin Lockhart…Tom Newcliffe
Peter Cushing…Dr. Christopher Lundgren
Marlene Clark…Caroline Newcliffe
Charles Gray…Bennington
Anton Diffring…Pavel

Released: April 1974
Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Rated: PG

Review of “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe

image from Goodreads

Plot:

The story has been told, retold, satirized, whitewashed, Disneyfied, and adapted for films and plays for about three hundred years. Author Daniel Defoe even wrote sequels. Phrases like “man Friday” have entered everyday language. Long ago and far away, I read a kiddie version, along with books that were inspired by it—The Swiss Family Robinson and Treasure Island. I was enchanted.

Yet for all the influence, the original is quite dark. It preaches self-reliance and colonialism, particularly British Protestant colonialism—none of the Papist nonsense. At points, it lends itself to self-parody.

The story begins, as one might expect, with an extended summary of Crusoe’s family background. Of note are the repeated warnings from his father that he shouldn’t go to sea. Stay home. Father Crusoe has planned a nice legal career for Robinson, his youngest son. Robinson’s parents are especially reluctant to see him depart after losing their oldest son in a war.

Yeah, join the merchant marine, see the world? Huh? You want to go to sea and break your mother’s heart, you ungrateful bastard?

Well, okay, his parents don’t actually say that. The narrator is trying to tell us that he was a prodigal son. He went to sea against his father’s advice and against the advice of the captain of the first ship he sailed on, who told him, after the ship is lost and they’re all safely back on dry land in England: “What had I done that such an unhappy wretch should come into my ship? I would not set my foot on the same ship with thee again for a thousand pounds.”

A little heavy on the foreshadowing there?

But, of course, he’s a stubborn fellow and sets sail again, this time getting captured by pirates and finding himself enslaved. He escapes, makes his way to Brazil, and sets up a tobacco farm. One day he and his partner look at each other and say, “This is tough work. We need some help. Why don’t we and some of the boys get a ship together for Guinea (West Africa) and get us some Negros?” That is, they’re going to buy some slaves—perfectly acceptable behavior. The hitch in the get-along is a storm that strands Robinson, a sole survivor, on an uninhabited island somewhere probably off the coast of present-day Venezuela.

He is able to salvage some items from the ship, including a dog and two cats, about two hundred and fifty pounds of gunpowder, some clothing, and some food staples. He finds fresh water, builds a shelter at a cave entrance, and puts up barricades around it. His food sources included turtles and the wild goats on the island.

Things seem to be going reasonably well for Robinson until the day he sees the footprint. He even tries to convince himself that he made it but soon realizes his island is regularly visited by “savages,” who bring their captives there to cook and eat. One of the captives eventually escapes. Robinson helps him and takes him in. Because he’s saved his life, the man, now named “Friday,” for the day of the week he was rescued, is eternally grateful and spends the rest of his life as Robinson’s servant: “my man Friday.”

Thoughts:

Part of the story’s attraction even to this day is how Crusoe survives a forbidding environment using what little is left to him. He does not give in to despair but manages through hard work and determination to build himself something of a comfortable life. Eventually, he tames some of the island’s wild goats. He plants corn and dries wild grapes for raisins in the dry season. He will spend twenty-eight years on the island.

When I casually mentioned to my dearly beloved that I was reading this book, he said he’d never read it and didn’t know anyone who had, not even for school.

“Oh, I bet I can tell you why they don’t teach this in school,” I said and described the acceptance of slavery and the promotion of British imperialism and Protestantism. Maybe it’s taught (or has been taught) in Great Britain. Robinson Crusoe’s world is British-centric, surrounded by unenlightened Papists such as the Spaniards who would betray an Englishman to the Inquisition. On the far reaches of the world—where gold and spices might be found, and tobacco can be planted—are savages who kill and eat human beings.

While Crusoe is busy making a true Christian out of Friday, Friday asks him some pointed questions, for which Crusoe doesn’t have any real answers. They kill and roast a goat, something Friday finds especially tasty—so tasty, in fact, he decides to give up eating men.

The book was immensely popular when it was first published. Through the centuries, it has spawned imitators and reworking in various media: the aforementioned Swiss Family Robinson, the 1964 movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Gilligan’s Island. While it may not be entirely fair to judge a book by standards its author could not have foreseen, it’s also easy to say there are better books out there. Unless reading for historical purposes or out of curiosity, I recommend giving this one a hard pass.


Title: Robinson Crusoe (Originally, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner)
Author: Daniel Defoe (c. 1660-1731)
First published: April 25, 1719

Review of “Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933)

from YouTube

This was this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering, an odd, gruesome little flick from 1933 with Fay Wray screaming without a giant ape around. Pinot noir helped—me, that is. I don’t think it did Ms. Wray or Lionel Atwill much good.

Plot:

In London, 1921, sculptor Ivan Igor (Ee-VAN I-gor) (Lionel Atwill) owns a wax museum featuring life-size historical figures such as Voltaire and Marie Antoinette. One authority has offered to recommend him to the Royal Society once he returns from Egypt. Igor is overjoyed.

Raining on his parade is his partner, Joe Worth (Edwin Maxwell). He’s looked at the books. The only way to save the place is to burn it to the ground for insurance money. Igor is appalled. That would mean burning his artwork, his “children.” Worth lights a piece of paper with his cigar, which catches a wax figure’s clothing. The two men fight while the building burns. Worth escapes, leaving Igor for dead.

It’s New Year’s 1933 in New York City. Amid the revelers with funny hats shouting in the streets, an ambulance arrives outside an apartment building. The viewer sees Igor looking out one of the windows. He’s survived! The police confirm to the waiting press: it was suicide. A newspaper headline names the unfortunate as Joan Gale (Monica Bannister).

The viewer sees a body being wheeled into the morgue. After all have gone, it pulls the sheet off itself. A hideous, misshapen creature skulks around the room, inspecting the bodies. When he finds the one he wants, he wraps it up and lowers it out a window to a waiting accomplice.

In the meantime, wise-cracking reporter Florence (Glenda Farrell) is having trouble with her boss, (fictional) New York Express editor Jim (Frank McHugh). Jim threatens to fire her unless she brings back a story, “Even if it’s only a new recipe for spaghetti!”

She goes to the police station to see if she can find something interesting. She teases the cops. The big story is the suicide of beautiful model Joan Gale, but the captain (DeWitt Jennings) says maybe her death wasn’t a suicide after all. They have the dead model’s boyfriend, George Winton (Gavin Gordon), down in lockup. Of course, Florence interviews him.

Ivan Igor is about to open another wax museum. Now in a wheelchair with scarred and damaged hands, Igor employs people to create his wax figures. One of his employees, Ralph Burton (Allen Vincent), is engaged to the lovely Charlotte Duncan (Fay Wray). Unfortunately for him, boss Igor is underwhelmed with his work, questioning his understanding of anatomy. Igor bemoans the fact that those with working hands have no soul.

Ralph takes this all in stride and calls Charlotte to meet for lunch, using a payphone.* In one of those Hollywood coincidences, Charlotte and Florence happen to be roommates. Even though she wasn’t invited, Florence joins Charlotte, meeting Ralph outside the wax museum for their date. Here Ralph tells her he won’t be able to make it. The “old man” is anxious about the opening that night.

Florence sneaks into the exhibit, where she notices that the Joan of Arc piece bears a striking resemblance to Joan Gale, whose body is missing. At the same time, Igor sees Charlotte. He envisions her as Marie Antoinette, a masterpiece lost in the fire he has yet to replace. He asks her to model for him. She’s only too happy to oblige.

Thoughts:

While there might not be much of mystery as to the gruesome goings-on here, this is an interesting movie on several fronts. First, it was considered lost until a reference print was found in the personal library of former studio head Jack Warner. Originally filmed in two-tone (red and green) Technicolor, this is an early use of color, yielding neither a black and white nor a particularly life-like color film. In 2019, it was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. While the colors are odd—full of bright Christmas greens, for instance—the print is clearer than one would expect for such an old film.

Many of the sets, especially those that deal with the horror aspects of the film, have an art deco/science fiction feel to them. The morgue is located on a top floor with large windows, as was the practice. In the movie, the half dozen or so bodies are laid out on various gurneys arranged in a semicircle.

This was also a pre-Hays code film. That is, it included some elements regarding sexuality, nudity, and drug use that ceased to exist once the Code was enforced.

Just the same, all these aspects are very tame. For example, when Florence teases the cops while she’s looking for a story to wow her boss, she asks the captain, “How’s your sex life?”

He’s reading a magazine titled Naughty Stories. On its front is a woman showing skin above her stockings.

When Florence mistakenly draws the police to a cache of booze (Prohibition…), she starts grabbing several bottles, telling the cops she’s taking her cut. They’ll get theirs later. My, my. Such disrespect.

One of the characters is a drug addict. When the film was remade in 1953 as House of Wax, a similar character was an alcoholic. Have to protect the kiddies, doncha know.

It is a movie of its time. That is, casual racism and misogyny find their way in.

Even with its flaws, I enjoyed this film. It was fun. There was little “mystery” to the whole business, and the happy ending for Florence was not credible. Having said all this, it made for an entertaining Saturday night bad movie with pizza and pinot noir.

Unfortunately, I could find this only available for pay, probably because it was so recently restored.



*Kids, ask your parents what a payphone was.


Title: Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Cast:
Lionel Atwill…Ivan Igor
Fay Wray…Charlotte Duncan
Glenda Farrell…Florence
Frank McHugh…Jim
Allen Vincent…Ralph Burton

Released: February 18, 1933
Length:  1 hour, 17 minutes

Review of “The Thing that Couldn’t Die” (1958)

from YouTube

This was our Saturday bad movie and pizza offering. The pizza was good, and the pinot noir helped. However, before the credits ran, the dearly beloved and I were discussing several different—and better—endings to the movie. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

On her California ranch, Flavia McIntyre (Peggy Converse) has her niece, Jessica Burns, (Carolyn Kearney) dowsing for water for a new well. Jessica uses a long stick that looks like a peace sign. She has always had a gift for finding things in addition to water. As she’s dowsing, three visitors on horseback stop by: Gordon Hawthorne (William Reynolds), Linda Madison (Andra Martin), and Hank Huston (Jeffrey Stone). Hank is an artist engaged to Linda. They poke fun at Jessica, annoying her.

She makes face at them and finds a spot near an old tree, indicated by her gift. Ranch hands Boyd Abercrombie (James Anderson) and Mike (Charles Horvath) move in to start digging.

Jessica suddenly changes her mind and tells them to stop. “There’s something down evil there.”

“Maybe it’s gold,” helpful Hank says, “the root of all evil.”

Hoping to find water—or now gold—Flavia tells the men to keep digging.

Jessica screams, “You’re all horrible! I hope you all die! I hope a tree falls on you!” and turns to run off. When she does, a sizable tree limb falls on Linda. Thankfully, she isn’t injured—more frightened than hurt, she says later.

Horrified, Jessica feels responsible and apologizes to Linda.

The men dig past nightfall, making a hole with nice, square edges. They find no water, but Mike’s shovel strikes something. Boyd yells at him, “Stop digging, you fool!”

It appears to be a centuries-old box. Aunt Flavia is sure it contains gold. Gordon reads a warning against opening it and the date: 1579. That means the box must somehow be connected to Sir Francis Drake (…yeah. It could happen…) as he was only Englishman to visit California at that time. The box itself would fetch a fortune from a museum, provided it’s not damaged. He offers to go to Sacramento to get the head of the Historical Society.

This annoys Flavia, but she agrees, locking the box in a room and locking the key in her purse, which she lays on her nightstand. She also posts Mike as a guard outside the locked room. Mike is a large man and tough as an ox, but strategic thinking is not his strong suit. He could, for instance, easily be led astray by creepy Boyd or by a sixteenth-century devil worshipper (Robin Hughes) who puts his whammy on ordinary folk with his evil eyes. Back in the day, his comrades got so fed with him and his devil-worshipping ways, they decapitated him and buried his head in a box apart from his body and then cursed him (somehow…) with the inability to die.

What could go wrong on the McIntyre Ranch?

Thoughts:

The viewer sympathizes with Jessica. Yes, she looks goofy, carrying a stick around the chaparral looking for water. At the same time, Gordon, Hank, and Linda don’t have to be mean about it. After all, Jessica is only trying to help her Aunt Flavia.

When she screams about a tree falling on people, it’s easy to chalk it up to teenage drama, but after it happens, you have to wonder if there might be something more going on. The three guests challenge Jessica. Linda’s watch has been missing. Jessica tells them it isn’t missing but was stolen. The thief isn’t human. They’ll find it in a trade rat nest in a tree near Linda’s cabin. And thar it be. Might want to clean it before you put it on your wrist. Rat droppings. YUCK.

One by one, the residents of the ranch fall under the spell of the head. Under the influence, Linda becomes mean and blows off her fiancé. Jessica becomes slutty and shows cleavage.

It’s not entirely clear what the head’s goal is, beyond using Jessica and her ability to find things to locate his body and become whole again. …And then? Finally find a cure for scurvy? Conquer the world or something?

California history is not my area of expertise, but maybe I missed something. Did Francis Drake have a super-wizard with him when he stopped for repairs near where San Francisco would be founded? One who could curse miscreants with undeath? Maybe it’s something they don’t discuss in school. I mean, otherwise, this plot point makes no sense.

The ending was far too facile, in my seldom humble opinion. One minute, the world (or something?) looked doomed, and the next, everything was bright and joyous again, with “The End” floating over the scene.

While the idea of a water dowser finding an ancient buried evil is an intriguing premise, and there were characters I cared about, this movie ultimately just didn’t work for me.






Title: The Thing that Couldn’t Die (1958)
Directed by
Will Cowan

Writing Credits
David Duncan…       (written by)
David Duncan…(story “The Water Witch”) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
William Reynolds…Gordon Hawthorne
Andra Martin…Linda Madison
Jeffrey Stone…Hank Huston
Carolyn Kearney…Jessica Burns
Peggy Converse…Flavia McIntyre

Released: 1959
Length: 1 hour, 9 minutes