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

Review of “The Invisible Man Returns” (1940)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. The leading man spent most of his time invisible and in the buff. We tried a new wine last night, something called Lirac. It was nice, but definitely a one-glass wine. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

The friends, family, and staff of Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), a coal mine owner, await news of a last-minute reprieve, hoping he will be spared execution. They believe he was wrongly convicted of the murder of his brother, Michael. Geoffrey’s cousin, Richard Cobb (Cedric Hardwicke), tries to call in a favor from the Home Secretary.

While he’s calling, Geoffrey’s good friend whispers to Geoffrey’s fiancée, Helen Manson (Nan Grey), “If it’s a ‘no, be brave. You know what has to be done.” As it turns out, the person Richard is trying to talk to is away in Scotland (where apparently there are no phones) and can’t be reached.

The governor has granted a last visit to Doctor Griffin. Soon after he leaves, the guards raise a cry. Sir Geoffrey is missing. All that’s left is a pile of his clothes on the floor. In the meantime, Helen Manson has gone missing.

Enter Sampson of Scotland Yard (Cecil Kellaway), who realizes that Frank Griffin’s brother was Jack Griffin, the invisible man, who went insane, killed several people and was in turn killed by the police. He visits Frank in his laboratory.

“But, of course, Doctor,” he tells Griffin, “you would never make a man invisible… with the danger of him going mad unless you had a means of bringing him back in time. Surely, in all those nine years, you’ve found a method of avoiding insanity…or perhaps even restoring visibility.”

He hasn’t. While Helen and Geoffrey are holed up at an out-of-the-way inn, he’s working feverishly on an antidote. One turns invisible guinea pigs visible again, but it also kills them—bummer for the guinea pigs. And bummer for Geoffrey!

Thoughts:

On the one hand, this was disappointing. I knew almost immediately who the real killer was.

On the other, this was a glorious ham-fest. Everyone overacted, with the possible exceptions of the guinea pigs and the watchdog.

In the beginning, Geoffrey shows concern and affection for Helen. He was in love with her. When they meet, his face is wrapped in bandages. “I’m not much to look at anyway,” he tells her.

Later, understanding that he might go insane under the influence of the invisibility drug, he tells Frank to chain him up before he can do any harm.

Not only does he want to forego hanging—a reasonable enough desire—he also wants to find out who really killed his brother. A few oddball things start slipping out; he can’t bear the sound of the barking dog. The audience watches as he torments a man he believes has received a promotion at the mining operation he was unworthy of. Still, there was some silly (as opposed to sadistic) humor in this scene. He finally goes full-blown Pinky and the Brain rearrange-the-world bat-guano nuts.

To find out if the old night watchman at the mine, Willie Spears (Alan Napier), knows more than he should about his brother’s death, Geoffrey messes with his car—while it’s in motion. Dangerous to any living critter, of course. Spears gets out and inspects the distributor and spark plug assembly—all in places where no distributor or spark plugs ought to be. Nevertheless, whatever he attaches, Geoffrey unplugs. Spears runs into the woods, with Geoffrey after him, telling him he’s a ghost.

Geoffrey sneezes and helps himself to Spears’ handkerchief. He is, after all, running around in his birthday suit.

“Can a ghost sneeze?” the abused Spears asks.

“It’s cold in the other world,” Geoffrey tells him in a sepulchral voice.

The special effects would not wow a 2021 audience, but they were pretty cool for the time. One shot looked into blank eyes after Geoffrey took his sunglasses off. Another showed him leaning back in a chair on the phone—extra points for humor.

Aside from a really young Vincent Price, a couple of familiar faces showed up. In the first scene, when Sir Geoffrey’s fate seems sealed, the cook, “Cookie,” says the two Radcliffe brothers were close. This is Mary Gordon, moonlighting from her job and Sherlock Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Another familiar face is Alan Napier, who plays the part of the abused and confused Willie Spears. Not to worry, Willie. A more peaceful job it on the way as Bruce Wayne’s butler.

So, this was fun in the overacting department, occasionally cute, special effects departments. Alas! It wasn’t much of a murder mystery, however.




Title: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

Directed by
Joe May

Writing Credits
H.G. Wells…(characters)
Joe May…(story) and
Curt Siodmak…(story) (as Kurt Siodmak)
Lester Cole…(screenplay) &
Curt Siodmak…(screenplay) (as Kurt Siodmak)
Cedric Belfrage…(additional writer) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Cedric Hardwicke…Richard Cobb (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Vincent Price…Geoffrey Radcliffe
Nan Grey…Helen Manson
John Sutton…Doctor Frank Griffin
Cecil Kellaway…Sampson

Released: January 12, 1940

Length: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Review of “Charlie Chan in Egypt” (1935)

The drone shots are not from the movie, but this is as close as I could come.

Our Saturday pizza and bad movie night was something a little different. We chose a silly Charlie Chan movie, Charlie Chan in Egypt.

Plot:


In the opening scene, men dressed as stereotypical archaeologists pry a plaque inscribed with hieroglyphics off a stone wall inside some undefined underground space. Professor Arnold (George Irving) digs through the wall behind the plaque, removing large bricks with the help of a man dressed in Egyptian robes. The man in Egyptian robes gazes into the hole only to begin choking as if someone were strangling him. He falls over dead. A camera pans over a hidden room full of treasure. Has some vengeful god exacted a terrible price for the desecration of a beloved pharaoh’s tomb?

…Probably not.

The viewer next sees Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) flying in an open cockpit prop plane, hanging onto his black bowler hat. This is cut between stock aerial footage of the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx. The French Archaeological Society has sent him to investigate Professor Arnold’s excavation of Ameti’s tomb after some irregularities have come to light. According to an agreement with the Arnold expedition and the Society, artifacts from the tomb should go to the Society’s museums. However, they’ve been showing up in other museums. Could the professor be selling to the highest bidder? Could someone be stealing from under his nose? Or could there be something even more sinister afoot?

Chan meets an array of expedition members: Professor Arnold’s partner, Professor Thurston (Frank Conroy); Arnold’s assistant, Tom Evans (Thomas Beck); and Arnold’s daughter, Carol (Pat Paterson), who is dating Tom Evans. They tell him the professor has been missing. Carol is distraught with worry about her father. She believes Sekmet, the goddess of vengeance, is pursuing her and has severely injured her brother, Barry (James Eagles).

Tom does what any concerned man would do for his woman. He calls for the doctor to give her a sleeping drug.

Meanwhile, Thurston and Tom take Chan on a tour of their laboratory, the most advanced in Luxor. It even has an x-ray machine, which eventually shows the 3000-year-old mummy of Ameti has a bullet in its chest. Those ancient Egyptians were pretty advanced.

Thoughts:

In the scene in the lab, Chan has some of the best lines. On examining the supposedly unopened sarcophagus, Chan notes, “Varnish on 3000-year-old mummy case not completely dry.”

Thurston shows Chan the statue of Sekmet they’ve recovered from the tomb. “The ancients endowed her with many supernatural powers, Mr. Chan.”

“Cannot believe piece of carved stone contain evil,” Chan responds. “Unless dropped on foot.”

This is the charm of the Charlie Chan movies. Chan tweaks the noses of those around him while remaining infinitely polite. The downside is the racial stereotyping and the silly “ancient saying” spouted at every turn.

Asians are not the only people who are stereotyped. Black Americans are seen as lazy, foolish, and suitable for nothing more than servant roles. They are superstitious and frighten easily, like children. This was a common portrayal in the 1930s, so the Charlie Chan movies do not stand out in that regard.

The character of Snowshoes (why that name? Snowshoes in the desert? He’s out of place?) is played by Stepin Fetchit, the stage name of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (1902-1985). Stepin Fetchit billed himself as “the laziest man alive.” In this movie, he spends his time whining, complaining about having to do anything, and is afraid of the dark. When he’s first introduced, he’s on the verge of being scammed by a conman who promised to show him the tomb of his Egyptian ancestors—for a price. Snowshoes ain’t too bright.

Personally, I found the character annoying. I’d rather listen to a cricket in the room.

While the mystery itself was not exactly one to keep you guessing, this was fun. The viewer has the hysterical woman (is someone playing with her head, or is she just a silly woman?), the solicitous boyfriend (does he really care for the feeble-minded creature, or is there something else he’s got his eye on?), the reassuring partner (wasn’t he just a little too quick to answer when Charlie asked him about those diverted artifacts?), and the distraught disabled brother (what did he really see?) all to contend with.

A female servant named Nayda who sulks around the house, apparently spying on the Arnolds (could she be lacing Miss Arnold’s tea…?) is a very young Rita Hayworth, billed as Rita Cansino.

This is a silly movie. I liked it, even if it seems to show that Asian people are somehow incapable of using articles or plurals, and that’s somehow funny. The men who played Charlie Chan were not even Asian, but Caucasian. Warner Oland, the Chan of this movie, was Swedish-American. Yet it’s hard not to laugh when he ever so humbly tweaks the noses of those around him.

“Kind thoughts add favorable weight in balance of life and death.” Whatever that means.



Title: Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935)

Directed by
Louis King…(as Luis King)

Writing Credits
Robert Ellis…(original screenplay) and
Helen Logan…(original screenplay)
Earl Derr Biggers…(based on: the character “Charlie Chan” created by)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
Warner Oland…Charlie Chan
Pat Paterson…Carol Arnold
Thomas Beck…Tom Evans
Rita Hayworth…Nayda (as Rita Cansino)
Stepin Fetchit…Snowshoes

Released: June 21, 1935
Length: 1 hour, 13 mins

Review of “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins

image from goodreads

Plot:

On his way to London before taking a job referred to him by an excitable Italian acquaintance, Walter Hartright comes across a distraught woman dressed all in white, late at night on a lonely road. Hartright sees she’s agitated and walks with her to where she can get a cab to her friend’s house. They don’t introduce themselves. Farther down the road, he overhears police asking about the woman he helped. They’re concerned because she escaped from an insane asylum. He debates with himself whether he did the right thing but continues to his lodgings in London and later to his job in Limmeridge House in Cumberland as a drawing teacher to one Laura Fairlie and her half-sister, Marian Halcombe.

The house is owned by wealthy, whiny, hypochondriac Frederick Fairlie, the brother of Laura’s deceased father. Laura is beautiful and wealthy. Walter is struck by a resemblance she bears to the woman in white. Marian is intelligent and full of moxie. She’s also ugly and poor, therefore destined to be an old maid.

Laura and Walter fall in love, though they never express it. Walter is mindful of their relative standings in society. Marian catches on—she is the bright one, after all—and tells Walter to leave for both Laura’s sake and his own. Laura is engaged to be married. Yeah, he’s an old geezer, but he’s also a baronet. Laura made a deathbed promise to her father, and she’s going to keep it. No reason for her father wanting that promise is ever given. Before she marries, she receives an anonymous letter warning her about her affianced, Sir Percy Glyde.

Walter leaves, though he stays in touch with Marian until he takes a punishing job in Honduras. Laura marries and goes abroad with Sir Percy to Italy, where they meet up with her estranged aunt, the sister of her father and Frederick Fairlie. She’s married to an Italian, Count Fosco. Laura looks forward to the wedding trip, not only for sightseeing but as means of family reconciliation.

Thoughts:

Oh, the trials and tribulations that lie ahead for Walter and Laura! More than once, all hope seems lost. When Walter met the unfortunate woman in white, he little imagined uncovering secrets of false and hidden identities, violent nationalist Italian secret societies, or witnessing those he loves being deceived, drugged, and hidden away, never mind fortunes and lives lost. He employs many of the methods later literary detectives would use to solve mysteries: interviewing often reluctant witnesses and searching through old documents to build a legal case. Before he leaves for Central America, he believes he’s being followed. Marian thinks he’s being silly.

The novel is long. Most print editions run about seven hundred pages. The narration switches between different voices, almost, at times, as if the characters are giving testimony in court. Some sections are diary excerpts.

Just the same, the story is not difficult to follow, in part because author Collins has given each character a unique voice. The reader gets multiple views. This device enhances certain aspects of the story. For example, Count Fosco, an enormously fat man, presents himself as courteous and as a great admirer of Miss Halcombe. He understands her intelligence. However, the Count is also ruthless. Both he and Sir Percy have returned from abroad in dire financial straits (“embarrassed” in the term of the time) and are desperate to access Laura’s considerable fortune. The reader is aware of this, but the housekeeper at Sir Percy’s estate, Mrs. Michelson, sees only the gentleman in Fosco. Her statement painting him only as the most attentive and caring Christian man adds to the creepiness of the story.

There are twists and turns that Walter takes most of the book uncovering: secret illegitimate children, switched identities, intercepted letters, and drugged tea.

This is often regarded as Collins’ best novel and the first “sensation” novel. It centers on the idea that at the time (c. 1860), women gave up nearly all property rights when they married.

The “sensation” novel, a creature of the nineteenth century, drew on gothic and melodramatic traditions and often involved crime. Long-held secrets are revealed. One favorite trespass in such works is bigamy, intentional or not, though this does not occur in this book. Sorry to disappoint. Some were based on a true crime. According to Wikipedia, The Woman in White was probably based, at least in part, on the case of one Louisa Nottidge, whose family feared she’d come under the undue influence of a religious zealot and had her locked in an asylum. As did the woman in white, she escaped.

Although a cry for protecting the property rights of women, it is, paradoxically, deeply misogynistic. A woman’s worth is determined not by her capability or intelligence but by her desirability as a sexual partner. One aspect of desirability is passivity. Laura is pretty but generally useless and has to be taken care of by Walter and Marian. On the other hand, Marian is intelligent and unafraid, but she’s ugly. Her job is to help Walter take care of Laura. Perish the thought she should ever think of finding a life of her own. Otherwise, Marian would be… scary.

Having said that, I have to add that along with its faults, this book is quite engaging. The reader cares about the characters, wants to see the protagonists prosper and the bad guys get theirs in the end. While not wishing to excuse the misogyny or the ethnic stereotyping concerning Italians in particular, I have to say these are part of the times. Expecting a nineteenth-century establishment figure to understand current sensibilities is unrealistic.

The book has also been adapted for theater and movies several times. It makes for a good—if long and involved—tale. It’s a good quarantine read. Get off Netflix for a bit, brew some tea, and curl up with a cozy blanket. It may be a while.

Bio:

William Wilkie Collins was a good friend of Charles Dickens. He is now best known for his novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White. He also wrote more than thirty books, a hundred articles, short stories and essays, and at least a dozen plays.

He wanted nothing to do with marriage but set up housekeeping with two different women simultaneously for many years.





Title: The Woman in White
Author: Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)
First published: first appeared in serial form 1859-1860 All Year Round in the UK and Harper’s Weekly in the US. It was published in book form in 1860