Review of “The Iron Woman” by Margaret Deland

Image from goodreads

Plot:

Set some decades before the turn of the twentieth century, this follows the lives of four children who grow up in fictional Mercer, Ohio-ish, a stand-in for the author’s own hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, then an ironworks hub.

The iron woman of the title is Sarah Maitland, mother and stepmother of two of the four children. She inherited Maitland Ironworks from her father and husband (who were partners) and runs the business with the determination and acumen of any man. These points are emphasized throughout the book. She is immensely wealthy but lives simply enough. She dominates her stepdaughter Nancy (“Nannie”), and indulges her son, Blair. Blair has never heard the word “no.” Blair finds his mother’s house “ugly” and longs to get away from Mercer, the soot from the ironwork, and everything about it

Robert Ferguson, manager at the Maitland Ironworks, lives nearby with his niece, Elizabeth. Mr. Ferguson is bitter over once having been jilted by a woman. His deceased brother’s wife was “bad,” which gives him a further dislike of the whole fairer sex. Nevertheless, he admires his boss, Mrs. Maitland, for the way she runs the ironworks. His niece’s temper tantrums—during some of which she’ll bite herself—don’t concern him. He’s worried she’ll become vain.

He rents a cottage to a newcomer, a Mrs. Helena Richie, a widow with her adopted son, David. The new landlord is friendly, helping her with some new plants for the garden and such things. He’s aware Mrs. Richie had a sad life before she came to Mercer.

The children grow up, the boys go off to school, and return. Blair doesn’t really settle on a career. David becomes a physician and eventually gets a position at a hospital in Philadelphia. Their romantic entanglements drive the plot.

Thoughts:

This was part of a bundle of other books I downloaded and not something I would typically read. I was surprised by the odd interpretations I found online by professionals that led me to wonder if some of these folk read the same book I did. By “professionals,” I mean English professors as opposed to two- or three-line amazon and/or goodreads comments. (“Yeah, this book sux, man. I mean like REALLY SUX.”)

The book is a sequel to 1906’s The Awakening of Helena Richie, which tells the story of her marriage to a drunken, abusive husband who killed their child. Escaping him, she lived in sin (yeah, people were doing that even way back then) with a man while they posed as brother and sister. Mrs. Richie now lives a quiet life, concerned only with raising her adoptive son, David.

Most of the plot is taken up with the two boys going off to school and the romantic entanglements of the four young people. Overshadowing all of this is the character of Sarah Maitland. She influences not only her two children, effectively leaving both as eternal adolescents. She does this to Blair by never telling him no or letting him bear the consequences of his actions. She pays off the gambling debts he incurs in college and then increases his allowance, as it obviously isn’t enough.

Nannie is unequipped to deal with adulthood because her mother has brought her up to be her right-hand person. Nannie can even sign her mother’s name so like the original, no one can tell the difference. No room exists for Nannie to be a separate person.

The irony is Mrs. Maitland loves her children. She’s devastated when Blair rejects her or speaks of their house as ugly. Providing for them and indulging them is her expression of love. She also holds sway over Mr. Ferguson as his boss. One off-the-cuff remark from her changes his thinking about a particular situation entirely.

Is this a condemnation of capitalism or the Protestant work ethic? Or a comparison between the urban maternal ethos and the agrarian? Oh, please. Is someone writing a thesis paper?

I don’t see it as either of those or anything quite so profound. Many people in this book are driven and pay the price: Sarah Maitland is driven to run the ironworks like a man and loses the capacity to adequately raise her family; Robert Ferguson is lonely but nurtures resentment toward a girl who jilted him and sister-in-law who ho wronged his brother, leaving him unable to properly raise the unstable Elizabeth; Blair detests what he sees as the ugliness of Mercer yet, dependent on his mother’s money, he is unwilling and unable to take the steps he needs toward independence; on the opposite side of the spectrum, David feels the need for such complete autonomy, he will not accept any money, even when it might make all the difference. I’m ignoring a biggie as it’s a spoiler.

On the crucial question of whether I enjoyed the book, I have to say I did not, despite the wonderful character study of Sarah Maitland and the nostalgic scenes in an ice cream parlor. While this isn’t a Greek tragedy ending with a pile of corpses and a single mourner lamenting the absurdity of humanity, the reader gets to watch nearly everyone behave irrationally and against their own best interests and maybe mutter something along the lines of, “Oh don’t to that, you poor benighted numbskull.”

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first deprive of the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

The book received at least one glowing review upon its publication, so there is room for disagreement, of course.




Title: The Iron Woman
Author: Margaret Deland (1857-1945)
First published: serialized Harper’s Monthly November 1910 through October 1911

Review of “The Cult of the Cobra” (1955)

trailer from YouTube

This was this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. We had a nice chardonnay. The moral of the story: don’t be a jerk, even when you think the other guy’s religion looks weird.

Plot:

In 1945, six U.S. airmen are about to return home from their deployment someplace in “Asia:” Sgt. Paul Able (Richard Long), Rico Nardi (David Janssen), Pete Norton (William Reynolds), Tom Markel (Marshall Thompson), Nick Hommel (James Dobson), and Carl Turner (Jack Kelly). The airmen wear what looks suspiciously to my inexpert eyes like Army insignia, and their location seems to be the Indian subcontinent, albeit with a Middle-East flavor.

While shopping in the local bazaar, the men watch a snake charmer (Leonard Strong). They even pay him $2 to hold the cobra. As he’s posing, and they’re snapping pictures, Sgt. Able asks, “Hey, have you ever heard of snakes being changed into people?”

This catches the attention of the snake charmer, especially when he hears Paul mention he’s heard of the Lamians, a secret society that worships snakes. The rest of the men don’t think much of the idea, but Paul says, “I’d give anything to see that.”

“If the sergeant means what he says,” the snake charmer says, “about giving anything, he might the chance he’s looking for.”

He asks for $100 (“there’s over $15 each!”) to show them “she who is a snake and yet a woman.” He can get them past the temple guards. “The secret meeting is at 9 o’clock.” He warns them there must be no pictures. No outsiders have even seen the ceremony. It would be fatal for them, and none too healthy for him, if they were discovered.

What could go wrong?

The Lamians sit in robes and watch a dance telling the story of the first time the cobra goddess came to the aid of the Lamians. Just as the lithe cobra/woman dancer is about the enter a basket that could not contain an adult human, Nick Hommel pulls out his camera, complete with flash. One of the Lamians (an uncredited Edward Platt) curses the interlopers: “The Cobra Goddess will avenge herself! On by one, you will die!”

In the ensuing mayhem, the snake charmer who brought in the servicemen is slain, punches are thrown, and the curtains set ablaze. Nick grabs the aforementioned basket only to find himself staring down a cobra. Our heroes escape to their Jeep. Nick is missing. No—wait! There he is. Lying in the street next to the empty basket he took. A woman walks away. Tom Markel gives chase but loses her.

In the military hospital, Nick feels much better. The docs say he should be able to ship home with his buddies in the morning. The nurse leaves his window open a couple of inches, despite the rainstorm.

Nick is found dead the next morning. At Paul’s insistence, the doctors look for and discover Nick’s corpse full of cobra venom.

But the remaining five are going home the next day. They’ll be in the States, far away from “Asia” and any problems with the snake-worshippers, right?

Two seemingly unrelated things happen. Back in New York City, one of the original airmen, Rico Nardi, goes to work at his old man’s bowling alley. While driving home one night, he dies in what looks like a terrible one-car accident.

Paul Able shares an apartment with Tom Markel. They’ve been interested in the same woman, Julia Thompson (Kathleen Hughes). Julia has just decided to marry Paul. Tom is understandably upset until he meets the beautiful woman who moves in across the hall. He ignores the oddities that arise around her: the way his dog cowers in his bed when she’s around, the way horses in the street startle when she passes by—or the way another friend dies.

Thoughts:

It was hard to like this movie despite some very cool elements. The dancers at the temple are enjoyable, particularly the snake-woman who slithers around in a way no human ought to be able. They’re only billed as The Carlssons—a married couple, Ruth and Carl. There were three dancers, however.

There is also suspense. The viewer knows something is hinky with the neighbor long before any of the characters suspect a thing. The special effects are less than extraordinary, but they don’t have to be overwhelming for a movie made in 1955—just don’t show me see the strings, okay?

The airmen are jerks, though hardly deserving of death. They might be forgiven for sneaking into a “secret meeting at 9 o’clock,” but taking a picture, then burning the place down is overkill. The woman across the hall, who uses the name Lisa Moya (Faith Domergue), at first refuses Tom’s advances. He pursues her in ways that border on stalking.

Does Lisa grow a (long, very flexible) backbone and slap him upside the head, telling him that no means no? Nah. She starts falling for him and becomes…confused. Her goal is to kill him and his friends. Sadly, she has no choice in the matter. On the other hand, she’s just a helpless cobra goddess, and like all females, powerless before a commanding male presence. Never mind that that male presence is in part responsible for the destruction of the temple back home and threatened people she traditionally protects…

There were fun moments in this movie. The car crash that took out poor old Rico was spectacular and must have left someone walking funny. The threatening shadow of the cobra as she slinks up on her next victim is nice and creepy.

I really wanted to like this movie, but the main characters were unlikeable, even if I didn’t necessarily want to see them all picked off by a snake. How about paying for that temple you ruined, dudes?

I could not find this one as a free download.


Title: The Cult of the Cobra (1955)

Directed by
Francis D. Lyon

Writing Credits
Jerry Davis…(story)
Jerry Davis…(screenplay) and
Cecil Maiden…(screenplay) and
Richard Collins…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Faith Domergue…Lisa Moya
Richard Long…Paul Able
Marshall Thompson…Tom Markel
Kathleen Hughes…Julia Thompson
William Reynolds…Pete Norton

Released: August 5, 1955
Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Review of “The Frozen Ghost” (1945)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. This pizza and wine were good, and the movie a bit weird. We watched it with Svengoolie

Plot:

Gregor the Great (Lon Chaney Jr.) performs as a mentalist, that is—at least in this context—one who is able to put another person into a trance. He performs with his fiancée and partner, Maura Daniel (Evelyn Ankers), who can read the minds of audience members once in a trance.

One skeptic (Arthur Hohl), who is also good and drunk, declares it’s done with mirrors. Indeed, he trips on one of those mirrors on the way up to the stage. Enraged with the man, Gregor whispers that he could kill him. He stares into the man’s eyes. The man keels over, dead.

Gregor is so distressed he gives up his career, breaks off his engagement to Maura, and disappears from public life. The coroner declares the cause of death natural; the poor man was an alcoholic and had a bad heart, but that doesn’t stop Gregor from blaming himself for the man’s death.

Gregor’s business manager, George Keene (Milburn Stone), suggests he stay with a friend of his, Mme. Valerie Monet (Tala Birell), who owns and runs a wax museum because—why not?

Instead of rest and relaxation, Gregor—now using his workaday name, Alex Gregor—finds himself in the middle of a lot of tension. Mme. Monet is sweet on him. Her niece, Nina Coudreau (Elena Verdugo)—who is far too young for him—is star-struck. The sculptor of the wax figures, Rudi Polden (Martin Kosleck), has eyes for Nina, who thinks he’s a creep. Rudi was once a plastic surgeon, at least, until the incident

Maura tracks Alex down, just to check up on him. Mme. Monet’s jealousy flares, and she provokes him into putting his whammy on her. She faints, and he high-tails it out of the museum. When he returns, no one knows where Mme. Monet is. Could she be (gulp) dead?

Thoughts:

This is one of six Inner Sanctum mystery movies. The Inner Sanctum series began in 1930 with books featuring drama and romance but was most well-known for its mysteries. It became a renowned radio series, lasting from 1941 to 1952. The radio program opened with a creaking door and closed with a signature, “Pleasant dreams, hmmm?” The horror/mystery was delivered tongue-in-cheek.

Some of the tongue-in-cheek play makes its way into the movie. For example, Rudi Polden, the failed plastic surgeon—is his second career choice really to build wax figures? His sinister facial expressions and constant lurking around are just this side of parody. At one point, he appears to be part of an exhibit.

Police Inspector Brant (Douglass Dumbrille), who questioned and exonerated Alex after the death of the unfortunate, inebriated skeptic, also investigates the disappearance of Mme. Monet. He stops by the Shakespeare exhibit in the darkened museum and, before a figure of Hamlet, begins to recite, “To be or not to be….” At his side, the bad guy is busy trying to throw a cloak over the figure of the missing Mme. Monet.

After having said this, I hasten to add the movie is not a farce. Most of it is in deadly earnest. Did Alex really kill the poor drunk? What happened to Mme. Monet? Will Alex and Maura get back together? What about Nina? (She’s too young for him anyway. ICK.) And what about the eccentric Rudi?

While I liked this a lot about this, there were a couple of things I found annoying. First was Alex Gregor’s prolonging whining sessions. GEEZ, dude. Not like you have to worry about turning into a werewolf or anything.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate this as a free download.




Title: The Frozen Ghost (1945)

Directed by
Harold Young

Writing Credits
Bernard Schubert…(screenplay) and
Luci Ward…(screenplay)
Harrison Carter…(original story by) and
Henry Sucher…(original story by)
Henry Sucher…adaptation)

Cast (in credits order)
Lon Chaney Jr….Alex Gregor / Gregor the Great (as Lon Chaney)
Evelyn Ankers…Maura Daniel
Milburn Stone…George Keene
Douglass Dumbrille…Inspector Brant
Martin Kosleck…Rudi Polden

Released: June 1, 1945
Length: 1 hour, 1 minute

Review of “King Kong Escapes” (1967)

trailer from YouTube. You really have to watch it.

This was this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. This pizza was good, and we had a nice cab. The flick was more Saturday afternoon fare. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Mad scientist/Bond villain Dr. Who (not that one) (Hideyo Amamoto), who sometimes spells his name Dr. Hu or Dr. Wu, has created a mechanical King Kong, Mechani-Kong (Yū Sekida), to mine radioactive Element X, found only at the North Pole. Madame X’s (listed as, but never called, “Madame Piranha”) (Mie Hama) country is financing his scheme. Alas! Mechani-Kong’s brain is not up to the task. The next logical step is to kidnap the real Kong. Of course!

Meanwhile, a U.N. (?) research sub stops at remote Mondo Island to repair a rudder damaged in an underwater rockslide. Mondo Island is reputed to be the home of the legendary King Kong. Commanding the sub is Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) (…hmmm wonder if his cousin commands The Seaview…). Second is Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada). Also aboard is a “pretty nurse” who threatens the ogling crew with castor oil, Lieutenant Susan Watson (Linda Miller).

When they land on the island, a man shouts at them from a hilltop. Commander Nelson, handy with local dialects, says they’re being warned the island is taboo and the home of King Kong.

That deters our intrepid heroes not a bit—not even when Gorosaurusu (Yū Sekida again) a goofy lizard/T. rex-ish-looking monster appears. Kong falls in love with the lovely Lt. Watson and can’t stand to see her harmed. Not content with dispatching Gorosaurusu, Kong follows the trio in their hovercraft (yes… hovercraft) back to the sub and whops a sea snake for his gal. Then, he rocks the boat.

Thoughts:

Forget about things like plot or suspension of disbelief. This is just silly. Poor old Kong has his heart broken, but that’s just the beginning of a long, lousy couple of days for him. He’s kidnapped in a scene that really should have had “Ride of the Valkyries” playing as background music. Mechani-Kong has eyes and some sort of flashing cone on his head that allows him to control Kong for a while—at least for a few minutes. Kong is forced to dig for Element X, but the control device in his ear slips out…

One does not watch these movies for their artistry. Yes, you can see the zipper. It’s clearly a couple of guys stomping around and smashing models. The dubbing wouldn’t convince a toddler. The dialogue itself—perhaps it loses something in translation:

Madame Piranha: Kong was apparently gentle with Miss Watson. May I ask why?

[Susan can provide no answer]

Madame Piranha: Miss Watson, do you know a reason you could tell them?

Commander Carl Nelson: It’s very easy for us to understand. You see, as ridiculous as it may sound, Kong is a male and, uh, Miss Watson is… Well, see for yourselves, gentlemen.

The dialogue and even the humans exist only to introduce the monsters and the fights, of course. Determined outcome notwithstanding, these are fun. The final rumble, atop the Tokyo Tower, a radio tower built to resemble the Eiffel Tower, is quite enjoyable. The Bond villains get their comeuppance and all that.

This is clearly aimed at children. The violence is minimal, sex non-existent, and gore left up to the imagination. Just the same, it was entertaining, the sort of thing I would have watched in college after finals.

I could not immediately find this for free download. I advise only the determined to pay for it.

Title: King Kong Escapes (1967) Kingu Kongu no gyakushû (original title)

Directed by
Ishirô Honda…(English language version) as Inoshiro Honda)

Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)
Takeshi Kimura…(as Kaoru Mabuchi)
Edgar Wallace…(Kingu Kongu Created By)

Cast (in credits order)
Rhodes Reason…Commander Carl Nelson
Mie Hama…Madame Piranha (Madame X)
Linda Miller…Lieutenant Susan Watson
Akira Takarada…Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura
Hideyo Amamoto…Dr. Who (as Eisei Amamoto)

Released: June 19, 1968
Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Review of “Fiend Without a Face” (1958)

trailer from YouTube—unfortunately, the titles don’t really reflect the movie.

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering, with more Cold War hokey monster movie atomic radiation/mad scientist vibes than you’d want to shake a stick at. I rather liked it. The pizza wasn’t too bad either, despite some distractions. We watched it with Svengoolie, who was—as ever—a fountain of information.

Plot:

At an American radar installation located outside the (fictional) town of Winthrop, Manitoba, a sentry (an uncredited Sheldon Allan) watches jets scream overhead. He hears ominous thumping and squishing sounds in the woods outside the chain-link fence surrounding the base. Fern leaves sway as if disturbed by some unseen critter.

A young man (an uncredited Eddie Boyce) standing in the woods outside the perimeter of the base with a pencil and notebook also watches the jets and notices the odd thumps and squishes.

The sentry, already looking around to find the source of the abnormal sounds, now hears the young man scream in mortal terror. He runs to find him sprawled out on his back, his head tilted over a tree root toward the audience, his face frozen in terror.

The title appears, and the credits roll—a nice, creepy opening scene.

The next day, Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) and Capt. Al Chester (Terry Kilburn) await autopsy findings on the deceased young man, a local farmer named Jacques Griselle. Chester already has reports (he’s good) on Griselle and his sister Barbara (Kim Parker), who lives on the farm with her brother. Griselle has a solid war record. They’re both upstanding citizens. So what was he doing out in the woods at three o’clock in the morning?

Doc. Warren (Gil Winfield) breaks the bad news. There won’t be an autopsy. The civil authorities have claimed the body, and the dead man’s sister refuses to allow one. Neither the Air Force nor the civilian authorities can demonstrate poor Jacques’ death was not caused by atomic radiation, which the locals blame for a variety of anomalies, particularly those involving farming and livestock.

The base is using atomic power not for weaponry but to boost its radar capacity. It’s experimental work. Each time they power their system to the point of peeking into the Soviet Union, it fades, as if there were a drain or leak somewhere along the way. The control room swears there is no leak, and the equipment is in working order.

Hmmm….

Thoughts:

The nice, creepy atmospheric tone of this 1958 movie is set against the backdrop of the fear of radiation and its little understood effects on the environment and animal life. A layer beneath that is the “mad scientist,” Prof. R.E. Walgate (Kynaston Reeves)—who happens to be Barbara Griselle’s boss and the author of such works as The Energy of Thought.

One indication of how long ago 1958 was appears in the first moments of dialogue. Maj. Cummings looks haggard, going over the reports of Griselle’s horrific death outside the base the night before. Capt. Chester asks him casually, “Ever try sleep instead of Benzedrine?” (i.e., an amphetamine, now tightly controlled because of its abuse potential).

Another is the role of Barbara Griselle. When presented with the content of her brother’s notebook, she doesn’t deny the suspicious-looking notes but continues to read, putting those notes into context, revealing their innocence and making fools out of those who would see them as otherwise. Yet, the major has his eye on her, whether she’s in mourning or not.

Later, he’ll walk into her house because the door is unlocked and surprise her as she’s coming out of the shower—suitably wrapped in a towel—and linger a little longer than necessary while she disappears back into the bathroom.

A likeness of her in her towel made the movie posters of the time.

Why doesn’t she throw him out on his ass for barging into her house? Well, come on. He kinda likes her. Besides, it gives him a chance to rifle through the material she’s transcribing for elderly Prof. Walgate, a page-turner titled The Principles of Thought Control.

Creepy/voyeuristic, not at all like the delightful creepy mood set in the opening sequences and built upon with the assault and killings of additional Winthrop farm folk by invisible entities (thump—squish). The townsfolk worry now it’s not just radiation menacing them. Maybe a rogue soldier is preying on them—what a great time to get a posse together and find that killer.

What could go wrong?

The invisible enemy grows in strength, becoming visible only toward the end of the movie. The killing of the stop-action fiends was considered gory and violent for the times, with censors in Great Britain and the U.S. forcing some trimming of footage.

A 1930 story from Weird Tales titled “The Thought Monster” written by Amelia Reynolds Long inspired the movie.

The strong points in the movie are its suspense. It also gives the viewer both intentional and unintentional moments of amusement. On the other hand, the stock footage of aircraft is not worked in well. The dialogue is hollow at times. And, of course, pro tip: If you ever find yourself having to shut down a nuclear reactor in an emergency situation, don’t waste time blowing up to the control room. Get yourself some boron.

Overall, I liked this movie, warts and all. It was fun.






Title: Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Directed by
Arthur Crabtree

Writing Credits
Herbert J. Leder…(screenplay)
Amelia Reynolds Long…(original story “The Thought Monster”)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Marshall Thompson…Maj. Cummings
Kynaston Reeves…Prof. R.E. Walgate
Kim Parker…Barbara Griselle
Stanley Maxted…Col. Butler
Terry Kilburn…Capt. Al Chester (as Terence Kilburn)

Released: May 29, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes
YouTube link: Fiend Without a Face

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