Review of “The Black Scorpion” (1957)

trailer from YouTube

I had never heard of The Black Scorpion before we watched it for our Saturday pizza and bad movie night. It promised to be a winner, and it did not disappoint. The chardonnay wasn’t half bad either.

Plot:

The movie opens with shots of a volcano erupting and demolished buildings. Locals kneel in prayer, not to the volcano—that would be silly—but in hopes God will spare them any more heartbreak and loss.

God has a strange sense of humor.

The voice-over describes the explosion (in part):  

To the benighted citizenry of this remote countryside, the most alarming aspect of the phenomenon is the fact that its unabated hourly growth is without precedence, having reached a towering height of nine thousand feet within a few days. And with each added foot, it spreads its evil onslaught into a wider circumference. But what is now most feared is that rescue work will be severely hampered by the hazardous inaccessibility of the terrain.

The viewer next sees a Jeep pulling a trailer across a blasted landscape. In it are American geologist Hank Scott (Richard Denning) and Mexican-American geologist Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas), on their way to the remote village of San Lorenzo to study the volcano. From a man atop a telephone pole, they learn a police car has driven ahead of them but not returned. They come across a ruined farmhouse and a squad car that looks like a wrecking ball whopped it. After some searching, they come across a baby, who appears unhurt, and a dead policeman. They take the baby with them.

In San Lorenzo, they find people have abandoned the countryside amid rumors of a “demon bull.” A woman recognizes the baby. She says his parents are dead and takes him. The local priest, Father Delgado (Pedro Galván), discounts these rumors but notes a demon bull has been a symbol of evil since ancient times. Despite the requisite warnings from the authorities, the two geologists depart to study the volcano. They find shapely ranch owner, Teresa Alvarez (Mara Corday), after she falls off her horse and appears to need rescue. They also bring back a piece of obsidian roughly the size of a pizza box with a scorpion trapped inside. (Not a geologist, but I don’t recall obsidian being translucent.)

Later, when Ramos splits the obsidian, they find the scorpion is alive but manageable. Into a jar it goes. Kinda like a volcano splitting a mountainside and releasing scorpions the size of city buses—or jets.

Thoughts:

The overwrought voice-over at the beginning bewailing the fate of the “benighted citizenry,” as well as several news broadcasts and police dispatches, were voiced by Bob Johnson, who would later leave reel-to-reel self-destructing messages for Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) on Mission Impossible.

I found it amusing and refreshing that the heroes of the movie were geologists. They later risk their lives descending into a cave with poison gas meant to rid the world of the giant scorpions. They find the caves more extensive than they had thought and spend time exploring them. There they uncover the secret of killing the monsters, thus far proven impervious to gunfire and even tank fire. (“Trust me, I’m a geologist”?)

Just the same, they don’t work on their own. They get information from a specialist in Mexico City, who first identifies the type of venom they’re dealing with.

Some things make no sense. A man on horseback riding along a ledge finds the opening believed to be the place the giant scorpions emerge from. The edge gives way. Both he and his horse tumble down. (Were either hurt in real life? I don’t know.) Because this is where Hank and Arturo plan to descend in a cage, they call for heavy equipment to be brought up—onto a ledge that gave way under a horse. I’m neither a geologist nor an engineer, but perhaps spending some time stabilizing the area first wouldn’t be a bad investment, ya know?

Once they’re in the cave, it was fun to watch the different critters roam around. The viewer watches a gruesome battle or two and gets to see our heroes dash around underground for a bit. Yeah, okay, the stop-motion is hokey, but demanding realism for giant scorpions released from underground by an earthquake is a tall order. This is just… fun.

At one point, a swarm of scorpions derails a train, and hundreds of people are killed. It’s a little hard to catch, but the words “Lionel Lines” appear on the train’s coal tender. Fights break out among the scorpions. A great-granddaddy prevails, and for no discernable reason, heads toward Mexico City. Big city, bright lights? ¿Quién sabe?

The movie is a little slow initially and uses the de rigueur love interest and annoying kid, Juanito (Mario Navarro)—think Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Additionally, more than one crowd of people ran from a shadow of a giant black scorpion. The final indignity is the scorpion’s face, which my dearly beloved compared it to the baby on the old Dinosaurs sitcom. The scorpion had the added enhancement of drool running continuously between its jaws. Its eyes rolled, but its head was stationary. Yeah, I was shaking in my boots.

I imagine (but I don’t know) there were budget restraints on the movie. I would not call it great art, but I enjoyed it. I can see it being a great drive-in flick back in the day as well—when drive-in movies were a summer thing.





Title: The Black Scorpion (1957)

Directed by
Edward Ludwig

Writing Credits
David Duncan…(screenplay) and
Robert Blees…(screenplay)
Paul Yawitz…(story)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Richard Denning…Hank Scott
Mara Corday…Teresa Alvarez
Carlos Rivas…Artur Ramos
Mario Navarro…Juanito
Carlos Múzquiz…Dr. Velazco (as Carlos Muzquiz)

Released: October 11, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Review of “Black Angel” (1946)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night was a little different. Svengoolie was a re-run, and I was in a noir-ish mood. We tried a movie I’d never heard of before, Black Angel from 1946.

Plot:

Inside a richly-appointed Los Angeles apartment, famous singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) nags her maid (an uncredited Mary Field). (“Why don’t you keep my things where I can find them?”) The buzzer rings. While the maid answers the door, Mavis digs out a handgun from her draw full of monogrammed linen.

A delivery boy has a heart-shaped broach, a lovely piece. The maid is on her way out to see a movie. Unfortunately, she puts on the wrong record, one that sends Mavis into a tizzy. As the maid leaves, Mavis calls downstairs to the doorman* (an uncredited Dick Wessel) and says that if Mr. Blair comes there tonight, she does not wish to see him then or ever.

A man (Dan Duryea), who was earlier leaning against the building, now comes in, asking to see Miss Marlowe. The doorman bars him, telling him Miss Marlowe has refused to see him. Blair protests, nearly striking the doorman when he blocks his entry to the elevator. He’s her (ex-) husband, and that night is their anniversary.

“Sorry, Mr. Blair,” the doorman says.

To add insult to injury, on his way out, Blair sees another man (Peter Lorre) ask the same doorman to let him see Miss Marlow and be told to go on in. “She’s expecting you.” Bitterly disappointed, Blair then goes to the bar where he has a job playing piano and gets blind drunk. His buddy Joe (Wallace Ford) drags him back to his hotel room and locks him in, bolting the door from the outside.

Back at Mavis’ apartment, a man (John Phillips) pushes her door open. No one seems to be home, but the music she hated is playing. He hears a noise from her bedroom, enters, and finds her dead, strangled with her own monogrammed scarf. He sees the heart-shaped broach, sees the gun. The jewel disappears. One thing leads to another, and he’s the one the maid sees fleeing the scene. The maid knows him: Kirk Bennett, who’s been sleeping with Mavis, and, as it turns out, was being blackmailed by her.

He is tried and convicted of her murder. However, his wife, Catherine (June Vincent), is convinced of his innocence and seeks Martin Blair’s help. Blair is at first reluctant but then sobers up. The two find nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre) and get hired as performers (… it could happen).

The best-laid plans and all that.

Thoughts:

The opening scenes of the movie are carefully plotted out. Mavis is portrayed as a bitch, so the audience will not mourn when she is killed. Plus, she’s a blackmailer. Naughty girl! However, there’s more going on here that makes more sense in the end. Why does she go for a gun when the doorbell rings? Why does the gift of the broach prompt a call to the doorman?

It’s a perfect movie plot device that they should fall in love when Blair and Catherine work together. Blair falls for her. He’s given up drinking. He’s writing music for her—just as he did for Mavis—but Catherine is in love with her husband. This sends Blair out drinking again.

The driving force behind the action is Catherine Bennett’s drive to exonerate her husband. She knows he was unfaithful, but she loves him. She doesn’t want to see him die, and she will do everything in her power to set him free.

The title is better suited to the novel the movie is drawn from than to the movie itself. The harm that Catherine causes is not out of malice or an attempt at vengeance but out of ignorance. She is not heartless, but she is certain.

To be fair, the movie presents one person as looking guilty to the audience. The audience is with Bennett when he discovers Mavis’s body, when he hears noises in her bedroom, when he first sees then doesn’t see the heart-shaped broach. The audience sees what the police don’t. This builds sympathy with Catherine, the wronged wife who is doing all she can to prove what the audience knows to be true. Additionally, the audience roots for Blair, who had given up the bottle to help her. Yeah, she’s married, but can you blame him if he falls for her…?

The end, as improbable and unconvincing as I found it, throws new light on many things. Acts and gestures take on new meanings—this works. Nevertheless, I couldn’t buy the solution it offered.

As for a recommendation, there are definitely parts of it that are engaging. The opening scenes are worth a second look after you’ve seen the ending to understand how nuanced every aspect is. Peter Lorre’s performance reflects just the right amount of menace, thuggery, and devastation. Plus, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in realizing he and not Bogart is the club owner this time. But the unsatisfying ending overshadows a lot of this for me.



*Kids, ask your grandparents what a doorman is.

Title: Black Angel 1946

Directed by
Roy William Neill

Writing Credits
Roy Chanslor…(screenplay)
Cornell Woolrich…(based on novel by)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Dan Duryea…Martin Blair
June Vincent…Catherine Bennett
Peter Lorre…Marko
Broderick Crawford…Police Captain Flood
Constance Dowling…Mavis Marlowe

Released: August 2, 1946
Length:  1 hour, 21 mins.

Review of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by G. K. Chesterton

from Goodreads

I am the man who knows too much to know anything, or, at any rate, to do anything.

Other than its title, this book bears no resemblance to the Hitchcock films of the same name.

This is a collection of eight mystery/detective short stories that feature well-connected Horne Fisher. His friend, journalist Harold March, serves as his Dr. Watson but is no Dr. Watson. In the first story, “The Face in the Target,” he is described as “the rising reviewer and social critic,” on his way to interview the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Howard Horne, about the latter’s so-called “socialist budget.” Walking along a stream, he meets a man fishing. They strike up a conversation. It turns out the fisherman is Horne Fisher, also on his way to the Chancellor.

Fisher is depicted as a tall, balding man. The word most often associated with him is “languid.” His eyelids droop. Nevertheless, he can rush when action is required. Poor Harold is a reporter who is forever getting fantastic scoops (The Prime Minister committed a murder!) but can never print the complete version of the stories.

What makes these stories odd is that, while Fisher reasons out the identity of the guilty parties, none of the bad’uns is ever brought to justice. Some pay a penalty of sorts, but there’s nary a hangin’. Each time, letting the malefactor off serves some greater purpose, such as preserving the (British) Empire or forestalling a war. This is part of the curse of knowing too much; Horne appreciates the world, warts and all. Not only does he understand enough to discern the answer to each baffling mystery, he knows the cost of bringing the bad’un to justice.

Author G. K. Chesterton makes full use of paradox, which turns out to be a helpful trait for Fisher in figuring mysteries out. However, a warning: the stories are a product of the author’s time and society. That is, there is causal racism and unapologetic anti-Semitism.

In the last story, “The Vengeance of the Statue,” he finally confronts Horne about his inaction.

The stories were first published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine between April 1920 and June 1922:

1. “The Face in the Target” Horne Fisher and Harold March meet. A car careens over a cliff near a stream where Fisher is fishing and the two are chatting. The single occupant is beyond doubt deceased but was not killed by the crash. Only a crack shot could have hit him while he was driving.

First published April 1920


2. “The Vanishing Prince, A Story” The Prince is question is Michael O’Neil, who has a talent for “appearing when he was not wanted and disappearing when he was wanted.” He was most often wanted by the police for his political activity. When police follow rumors that he is holed up in an old tower, several of them are killed, and the Prince is nowhere to be found—until he comes strolling onto the scene, acting for all the world like an innocent man.

First published August 1920


3. “The Soul of the Schoolboy” The Rev. Thomas Twyford takes his schoolboy nephew Summers Minor—also known as Stinks—on a day trip through London, stopping at underground chapel housing a Roman coin supposedly depicting the head of St. Paul. The only other person on the tour with them is an odd character claiming to be a “mage.” The coin is safe in a glass case behind bars. Who could steal the coin?

First published September 1920


4. “The Bottomless Well” In an unnamed British-occupied area, “in an oasis…in the red and yellow seas of sand that stretch beyond Europe toward the sunrise,” stands a landmark deep hole that may have once been a well. It’s marked by two stones. The British exiles have built a golf course around it. The reader just knows a murder victim is going to get pitched down the hole. Well, the murderer’s plans didn’t work out, either.

First published March 1921


5.  “The Fad of the Fisherman” Sir Isaac Hook has become something of a fishing fanatic. He rises early, sits by the brook, and won’t allow anyone to disturb him until he comes back to the house when he’s good and ready. Among his guests are the Prime Minister, who has asked Horne Fisher to come at once. Harold March, whose political articles are earning him some clout, is also on his way. The Prime Minister seems to be interested only in getting away.

First published June 1921


6. “The Hole in the Wall” The host of a house party decides two of his guest, an architect and an archaeologist, should have a lot in common. Unlike the other stories, this features a woman, a sister of one of the other characters, who get about the serious business of starting a costume party. This is just as well, for nothing is as it appears.

First published October 1921


7. “The Temple of Silence” This manages to be among the saddest and, at the same time, the most amusing of the stories. Horne Fisher stands for (that is, runs for) Parliament on a remarkably progressive platform. He wins, only to find out he wasn’t supposed to. He is a failure.

First published May 1922


8. “The Vengeance of the Statue” Harold March finally takes Horne Fisher to task about knowing so much and failing to do so little. He’s connected by family or friendship to the highest places in the land. He should do something!

This story produces some memorable quotes: “Believe me, you never know the best about men till you know the worst about them.”

After detailing his intricate family relations in various government positions—corrupt and incompetent as they may be—Fisher tells March he’s proud of his family.

“I am proud of the Chancellor because he gambled and of the Foreign Minister because he drank and the Prime Minister because he took a commission on a contract. … I take off my hat to them because they are defying blackmail, and refusing to smash their country to save themselves.”

First published June 1922


Some editions contain other stories that do not include Horne Fisher.


Bio:

Author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is probably best known now for this Father Brown mysteries, in which a gentle, umbrella-carrying priest not only solves mysteries but also converts the well-known thief, Flambeau. Chesterton also wrote on Christian apologetics and authored some eighty books, in addition to thousands of newspaper columns.


Title: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Author:  G. K. Chesterton
First published: 1922

Review of “Our Mortal Undressing” by Hamilton Perez

Plot:

There really isn’t much of a plot, but a presentation of five vignettes of death’s encounter with humans throughout human prehistory and history. Death is alone and wants the companionship humans seem to share. It is capable of taking human form, even to the point of having sexual encounters with humans. It wants to know humans.

Thoughts:

Author Perez paints a scene in a few words using lovely metaphors:

The night is cold, the sky black and shimmery as frost. Nearby a fire swats its golden arms against the dark, and around it, they sleep. One man keeps guard over his kin. The fire beside him whispers, flickers and curls, making his skin glow amber and orange. I recognize him…

This is engaging and a delight to read.

Narrator Karen Bovenmyer reads the text slowly and clearly. Her rendering of different voices is believable. She is pleasant to listen to.

However, what these vignettes don’t do is tell a story. I appreciate the novel perspective—death is talking about what it’s like to encounter humans rather than the other way around. It’s also unusual to think of death as having unmet needs. However—

Excuse while I go chase some kids off my goddamn lawn—

Damn it, if you’re gonna write fiction, tell me a story. Yes, you’ve got lovely metaphors that depict poignant human longing. From the first to that last, death speaks with an almost human desire to be loved and wanted. It seeks to know humans.

And? So then?

This is a personal preference, but I didn’t care for this story. Others will disagree.

Bios:

According to his blurb and his website bio, author Hamilton Perez is a writer and freelance editor living in Sacramento, California. His stories have appeared in Arsenika, Metaphorosis, and The Dark. He has a dog, and he really, really likes bread.

According to her website bio, narrator Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and Western Technical College. She is the Assistant Editor of Escape Artists’ Pseudopod Podcast and was the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writers Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship. Her short stories and poems appear in more than forty publications.

This story can be listened to/read here.




Title: “Our Mortal Undressing”
Podcastle 663, January 26, 2021
Author: Hamilton Perez
Narrator: Karen Bovenmyer
Host: Setsu Uzume
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 25 mins.
First published: The Dark, May 2018
Rated: R

Review of “Decoherence is a Lady” by Lynne Sargent

Plot:

At a party, the narrator meets the perfect woman. The perfect woman then goes to study abroad for a semester. When she comes home, things are still good between them, though they have changed. If they weren’t in love before, they are now. They move in together. The fights start.

Thoughts:

Heard this one before? Of course.

This is a story, but also an extended metaphor. The author expresses the relationship in terms of physics. When the narrator begins to see certain aspects of his girlfriend differently, he refers to the experience as seeing her through “an oppositely polarized screen.” After a last argument, not only is the polarized screen rotated 90 degrees, “there are two opposite screens on top of each other and the whole picture is black with [my] rage.”

The extended metaphor, as awkward as it may appear at first blush, works. The author uses it to not only describe the evolution of the relationship but also the conclusions the narrator draws after the relationship. The author gives the reader a story, an extended metaphor, and character development.

So much for the writer’s analysis. How does it read from a reader’s standpoint? As a reader, I went along with the narrator on his journey through the joy and wonder of meeting the perfect partner (which does not exist), then doubt, the break-up, and self-discovery.

I liked it.

Bio:

According to the blurb, author Lynne Sargent is a writer, aerialist, and philosophy Ph.D. candidate currently studying at the University of Waterloo. Their work has been nominated for Rhysling and Aurora Awards and has appeared in Augur Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Plenitude. Their first collection, A Refuge of Tales, is out now from Renaissance Press. To find out more, reach out to them on Twitter @SamLynneS, or for a complete bibliography, visit them at scribbledshadows.wordpress.com.

The story can be read here.



Title: “Decoherence is a Lady”
Author: Lynne Sargent
First published: January 25, 2021, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “The 39 Steps” (1935)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s offering for Saturday pizza and bad movie turned out to be a pretty good movie. The pizza wasn’t half bad, either.

Plot:

Mr. Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian visiting London, stops by a music hall. One of the acts is Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson), who claims to have an enormous number of facts committed to memory. While he’s taking questions from a raucous audience, a fight breaks out. Neither the bouncers nor the police can quell it. A shot rings out, and the crowd charges for the door.

Hannay finds himself pressed against a comely young woman. Once they’re in the street, she asks him to take her home.

How… forward.

“Well, it’s your funeral,” he tells her.

At Hannay’s apartment, the woman won’t stand by a window or allow Hannay to answer his phone when it rings. She claims that she is trying to prevent a secret of great importance to England from being sent abroad. He doesn’t believe her until, at her urging, he looks out to see two men standing by a streetlight, watching.

“Have you ever heard of the thirty-nine steps?” she asks. She never explains, only continues with more crazy talk about spies, whose chief is missing the tip of his little finger. She also mentions leaving for Scotland, as “there’s a man I must visit next if anything is to be done.”

Later, Hannay’s sleep is abruptly interrupted by his guest staggering into his room. She warns him he’s in danger, then falls across his lap. She’s isn’t drunk. There’s a knife in her back. She’s clutching a map of Scotland, with the name of a village circled.

He flees. The rest of the movie is a series of pursuits, safe places turning into traps, and friendly people revealing themselves to be foes. It all makes sense in the end.

Thoughts:

The first image that greets the viewer is the British Board of Film Censors certification, assuring one and all that the following film has been passed for public exhibition to adult audiences—so shoo the kiddies from the room. Actually, the violence and sexual innuendo are tamer than video games and evening movies those kiddies have already seen. The notification is quaint.

Hannay takes the train—the Flying Scotsman—north. In his compartment, two men (Gus McNaughton and Jerry Verno), who sell women’s lingerie, have brought samples. They open suitcases and display these to each other. A third man (an uncredited Quinton McPherson), whom they belatedly realize is a clergyman, earns an apology when he leaves their compartment. One of the two salesmen buys a newspaper, where Hannay reads that a Canadian is wanted for murdering a woman in London.

The humor, interwoven with Hannay’s dread and the viewer’s knowledge of the genuine danger he’s in, makes for delightful suspense. It only gets worse.

To get away from the police on the train, he slips into a compartment with a woman (Madeleine Carrol) sitting by herself, minding her own business, and starts kissing and manhandling her. So, the cops don’t intrude on a couple making out? He seems amazed when she tells the cops, “He’s the one you’re looking for.”

The attitude toward women, not uncommon in films of the era, is that the fairer sex needs to be fought and subdued—not necessarily abused, but won over with a little force.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the viewer is invested in Hannay’s quest. Hannay is a sympathetic character, falsely accused, pursued by those who want to kill him. Add in the idea that the welfare of England is at stake. Granted, this is before the Blitz, so no one is dropping bombs on London yet. Nevertheless, Hannay must get to the man in Scotland—

The camera work is instantly recognizable as Hitchcock’s. No plane buzzes Hannay in a cornfield, nor does Hannay hang off Mt. Rushmore, but he does find himself in dangerous and uncomfortable situations. The camera often shows what Hannay sees.

There is a cameo of Hitchcock early in the film. As Hannay and the doomed woman he meets from the music hall board a bus, two men walk between them and the camera. One is screenwriter Charles Bennett. The other is Hitchcock, throwing away some trash.

Had I seen this film back in the day, I might say there’s something to look forward to from that young director.

This can be found on YouTube: The 39 Steps 1935 1080p – YouTube

Title: The 39 Steps (1935)

Directed by
Alfred Hitchcock

Writing Credits
John Buchan…(adapted from the novel by)
Charles Bennett…(adaptation)
Ian Hay…(dialogue)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert Donat…Hannay
Madeleine Carrol…Pamela
Lucie Mannheim…Miss Smith
Godfrey Tearle…Professor Jordan
Peggy Ashcroft… Crofter’s Wife
John Laurie…Crofter

Released: August 1, 1935
Length: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Review of “The Beast with Five Fingers” (1946)

from YouTube

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

Plot:

Around the turn of the twentieth century, renowned American pianist Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) suffered a stroke. He lives in isolation in a villa near the remote Italian village of San Stefano. Though he uses a wheelchair and remains paralyzed on the right side of his body, he has maintained virtuosity in his left hand using modified scores provided by his friend Bruce Conrad* (Robert Alda). He has fallen in love with his beautiful young nurse, Julie Holden (Andrea King). She, however, appears unaware of his affections and cares for him only as an ailing patient. His interest in the occult is fed by his resident astrologer, Hilary Cummins (Peter Lorre), who loves… his books. Nephew and presumed heir Donald Arlington (John Alvin) also lives with Ingram.

Conrad has a side hustle, specifically, peddling “authentic” antiques to gullible tourists. Commissario Ovidio Castanio (J.Carrol Naish)wags his finger and warns him selling items in the café is illegal.

At dinner at the villa with his household and his lawyer, Duprex (David Hoffman), Ingram asks everyone whether they believe he is mentally sound. They all agree that he is. He then asks for signatures on a document. A few balk, wanting to know what they’re signing. Ingram admits it’s his will.

Later, in the garden, under the moonlight, Conrad and Julie talk. She wants to go away. He admits he loves her. Watching and listening is the astrologer, Cummins, who tells Ingram about Julie’s plans to leave. Ingram flies into a rage and grabs Cummins by the throat. His life is spared only when Julie rushes in and stops her boss from strangling him. Ingram then tells Cummins to get out.

That night, Ingram wakes and calls for Julie’s assistance. She doesn’t respond. He climbs out of bed and into his wheelchair. He pauses outside his bedroom, on a walkway that overlooks the grand room with his piano. For some unexplained reason, his eyes start swimming. He rolls closer to the top of the stairs, topples down the staircase, and dies.

One evening shortly after the master of the house is laid to rest, the servants notice a light in the mausoleum. When responsible people rush to the building, they find it dark and empty.

Raymond Arlington (Charles Dingle), Ingram’s brother-in-law and nephew Donald’s father, arrives from America. Together, they evaluate how much the books in Cummins’ library are worth, much to Cummins’ dismay. He regards the books as his own. They were gifts from Ingram.

At the reading of the will, it’s learned that Ingram has left his entire estate to nurse Julie. Much huffing and harrumphing arises. Surely, she’ll be happy to sign it all over to nephew Donald, right?

Hmmm… No. Julie says she’ll keep the legacy.

Lawyer Duprex talks to his former client’s nephew and brother-in-law. He knows of an earlier will that names Donald as the sole heir. For a consideration—a part of the inheritance—he can find that will. As he’s wrapping up a few things for the night, the door opens. A hand appears, bearing a ring that Ingram often wore. Terrified, Duprex backs into a corner. He is later found dead, strangled to death (in much the same way Ingram tried to strangle Cummins…), a look of terror on his face.

Could it be the vengeful hand of Francis Ingram, back from the dead to make sure that his beloved Julie gets the inheritance he wanted her to have? Is it Julie herself, not willing to risk losing her inheritance and not trusting Duprex any farther than she can throw him?

What of the piano music that starts playing in the middle of the night? When everyone comes rushing out, the music stops. No one is at the piano or, indeed, anywhere near it.

Commissario Ovidio Castanio investigates.

Thoughts:

This is based on a 1919 (rev. 1928) novelette of the same name by William Fryer Harvey. It is moody and atmospheric. The elderly Ingram, paralyzed and surrounded by people paid to care for him, works to keep his usable hand strong. He is demanding of himself and of those who work for him. Severely disabled, he remains determined to flourish with what abilities he has. Hilary Cummins, the bookish, determined astrologer, is convinced he’s near a breakthrough in his studies. He just needs more time. Julie cares for her charge, but the heaviness of the house is beginning to wear on her. She wants out.

Peter Lorre’s portrayal of the wrapped-too-tightly Hilary Cummins is probably the highlight of the movie. How can Ingram send him away? What will happen to all his important books? How can the Arlingtons talk about selling them? Even when they realize the books are part of Julie’s inheritance, they belittle Cummins, telling him he was only living off Ingram’s generosity.

The piano playing—with and without shots of the hand at the keyboard—is genuinely spooky. How does that happen? Is Ingram working on his form from beyond the grave?

The gothic atmosphere is relieved with some humorous scenes, such as the opening sequence where Conrad sells a “genuine” antique cameo to an American tourist couple. The couple is delighted, but the Commissario is not. There is also one scene where the villa servants depart, suitcases in hand. They’ve had enough.

The question of reality and illusion comes up. The Commissario says he does not believe in ghosts, but he begins to wonder. The viewer has seen the hand. It’s real—right?

Despite a couple bits of melodrama and a few instances of huh? that-makes-no-sense, I like this movie.


*referred to as Conrad Ryler in the credits.


Title: The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
Directed by
Robert Florey

Writing Credits
Curt Siodmak…(screenplay)
William Fryer Harvey…(from a story by)
Harold Goldman…(additional dialogue)(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert Alda…Conrad Ryler
Andrea King…Julie Holden
Peter Lorre…Hilary Cummins
Victor Francen…Francis Ingram
J.Carrol Naish…Ovidio Castanio

Released: February 7, 1946
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Review of “Restless Spirits” by Tracy Neis

from goodreads

Disclaimer: The author of the book reviewed below is a personal friend. I beta read the manuscript for her and thoroughly enjoyed it. She gave me a copy of the finished book (thanks!). She did not ask for a review. You’re getting one anyway, Tracy.

Plot:

Jim McCudden, former keyboardist for the (fictional) British invasion band the Pilots, is driving through a rainstorm in northern Ohio on his way to Cleveland to an interview at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tired, he begins nodding off on the Interstate. He decided to turn off the Interstate and look for a little caffeine.

At a place that’s closing, he gets directions to a place called the Black Bull, but at a fork in the road, he becomes uncertain which way to go. He chooses. In the dark, he sees a pair of shining yellow eyes. Not wanting to hit the animal, he slams on the brakes, sending the car into a skid that ends with a sound of metal against granite. Turning the ignition key produces only a “check engine” light.

He’s near a mailbox and a small, dark cottage. He injures his foot on his way to the cottage. No one answers, but he enters. He finds a bed but no working phone and falls asleep.

In a dream—it is a dream, right?—he hears pounding at the window. A woman asks to be let in. “It’s Cathy. I’ve come home.”

Jim tells her the front door is unlocked. She doesn’t seem to notice him. He stumbles out of bed and opens the window. There’s no one there. Jim feels someone grab his wrist, and a shock of cold goes through him.

At the same time, Jim’s ex-wife, Philippa, is writing their children’s piano teacher a post-dated check for their lessons because, as she claims, their father is off gallivanting in the United States and hasn’t paid his child support yet. Maggie Greyson swallows her pride and irritation but accepts the check.

Maggie, unmarried and approaching her fortieth birthday, has a fondness for wine. She is irritated with a visitor from the nineteenth century who likes to lecture her.

Thoughts:

First and foremost, this book is fun. There are many in-jokes for Brontë fans, but one doesn’t have to be a devotee to get the humor. The whole situation of Maggie being nagged by Agnes, a mostly-invisible ghost who likes to hang out in the pantry, offering advice while really telling the story of her life, is just cute. While Agnes waxes poetic, Maggie shuts the door and walks off to get a glass of wine.

Cliff, the Heathcliff equivalent, is wound a bit tightly. He finds the injured Jim on the cottage floor after the latter’s encounter with Cathy’s ghost. A skilled traditional healer, he notes the injury to Jim’s foot but refuses to call an ambulance because he doesn’t “believe in doctors.” And what’s Jim gonna do about it? He gives Jim’s foot a look and says, “Damn, your foot looks hideous. Turning green. Want me to amputate it now and get it over with?”

The main characters are complex and show depth. Even Cliff, who can be violent, demonstrates learning and skill. Without minimizing his violence, author Neis makes him human. The same thing applies to the ghost of Cathy. She is capricious and selfish, but there are also other sides to her. Jim (along with the reader) begins to feel sympathy for them. He even sees a bit of his ex-wife in her.

The same depth is present with Maggie. At first, she comes across as a doormat, letting Philippa run roughshod over her, mourning being single and about to turn forty. She’s haunted by a ghost who doesn’t frighten her, but who—or all things—nags her. Yet she’s no wilting wallflower. She’s educated and has had a long career. Her love of music is deep and extends to many genres—maybe even the British invasion…? Eventually, she stands up for herself—like a lady. And then there’s music.

I enjoyed this fun read.


Title: Restless Spirits: An Alternate Take on Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey
Book Two in Rock-and-Roll Brontë Series

Author: Tracy Neis
First published: 2020

Review of “All is Not Lost” by Kathryn Smith

image by JDam1138 from Pixabay

Plot:

The narrator’s (presumed) husband once bought her a one-of-kind diamond ring for 10,000 credits. Every time she throws it into the river behind their house, the CopyCat tries to console her by telling her, “Don’t worry. Nothing is lost. Everything can be found.” Out pops a new ring. With so many copies—flawless as they are—the ring is now worthless.

When he first left, she tore up pictures of him only to have copies come spitting out of the CopyCat.

Thoughts:

The ending is nicely ironic. I liked that.

Having said that, I have to admit, there’s a good deal left to be said in this story. What is the purpose of the CopyCat—besides tormenting the narrator? Why would anyone buy such a contraption? Is the ring indeed worthless if all the other copies of it are in the river? How does the CopyCat know what is lost or damaged? How would it know, for example, that the narrator tossed her ring into the river? Why can’t she just turn the machine off, sell it, or trundle it off with the leaving husband?

In my seldom humble opinion, this is not a bad story, but an unfinished one.

Bio:

According to the blurb, author Kathryn Smith is a writer currently pursuing a master’s in Computational and Data Journalism at Cardiff University. This is her first piece of published flash fiction.

The story can be read here.



Title: “All is Not Lost”
Author: Kathryn Smith
First published: January 4, 2021, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “The Leech Woman” (1960)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie entry. We watched it with Svengoolie and the last of the New Year’s Eve champagne.

Plot:

Endocrinologist Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) is researching ways to reverse aging by advertising for elderly women and trying various treatments on them. He has a dream of becoming rich. He also has an alcoholic wife who is ten years old than he is.

The movie opens with a bent-over elderly woman (Estelle Hemsley) walking into Talbot’s office. The Talbots have a fight that ends with Mrs. Talbot (Coleen Gray) downing a glass of whiskey “for the road” and agreeing to a divorce. Dr. Talbot says to let her lawyer draw up whatever she wants.

After overhearing her on the phone with her lawyer, the elderly woman tells Mrs. Talbot, “You will never divorce your husband. You won’t have to. He will die… You are the one in my dreams of blood.”

Mrs. Talbot runs out the door.

Dr. Talbot examines the elderly woman and runs standard blood tests. He learns is named Malla. She says she is 152 years old. She and her mother were captured by Arab slave traders. She shows him a mark above her left breast.

Talbot doesn’t believe her story. She then shows him a power she calls naipe (pronounced like “nigh-pee”), which has so far staved off death for her. Added with another substance, which is known only to the high priest of her people, the Nandos, it will make her young again. She asks for money to return to her people to become young once more. To demonstrate the power of the naipe, she mixes some of the powder with water, drinks it, and asks him to rerun his tests.

At the same time, June Talbot is home with her lawyer, Neil Foster (Grant Williams), discussing the terms of the divorce. Dr. Talbot comes through the front door, almost dancing. What’s all this silly talk of divorce? Pack your bags for Africa, honey! We’re gonna be rich!

Thoughts:

There are no leeches.

Malla is going home to die, but she also wishes to be young and beautiful one more time before that happens. This comes with a price and an additional catch. The transformation is only temporary.

Once in Africa, Paul and June Talbot hire a guide, Bertram Garvay (John Van Dreelen). No one ever calls him “Bertram,” however. He’s Bertram only in the credits. In the movie, he’s “David.” Perhaps Bertram was the guy who told the Talbots how much the Nandos hate “Europeans.” David is the guy that looked at the check Paul Talbot wrote and said, “Okay.”

So they’re off to darkest Africa or, as Svengoolie pointed out, the land of stock footage. In their trek to the Nandos’ village, they come across elephants, lions, hippos, and crocodiles. The only critter that gives them pause is a snake in a tree. Granted, it is a large snake.

The porters (all shirtless black men) flee long before the Nandos show up. There is something in the wind. Even the usual predators avoid the area. So, Bertram/David, is that check still looking good?

Paul, David, and June are captured and taken to the village. Eventually, they meet Malla, who explains the source of the naipe. She invites them to watch her turn young again.

Seated in a high-back rattan chair, she tells our three heroes:

“For a man, old age has rewards. If he is wise, his gray hairs bring dignity, and he’s treated with honor and respect. But for the aged woman, there is nothing. At best, she’s pitied. More often, her lot is of contempt and neglect. What woman lives who has passed the prime of life that would not give her remaining years to reclaim even a few moments of joy and happiness and know the worship of men? For the end of life should be its moment of triumph. So it is for the aged women of Nandos—a last flowering of love and beauty before death.”

Clearly, this movie is about women being valued only for their appearance, and since looks fail with age (so conventional wisdom would have it), even the most beautiful woman will eventually become worthless. Things have changed since 1960. June Talbot was desperate to be loved, if not by her husband, then by someone. She was dependent on him for emotional support and dependent on alcohol. She becomes dependent on men for her very life. A woman won’t do. Well, let’s keep this clean. She might be an alcoholic and a serial killer, but at least she isn’t a lesbian.

Guide Bertram/David slavers over young, hot June, knowing full well how she got that way. He mumbles stuff about caring for her. When the youth potion fades, he can’t run fast enough.

One of the odd and unpleasant things about watching this is that there is no innocent. Even Talbot’s receptionist, Sally (Gloria Talbott), who is not having an affair with her boss and whose fiancé wanders, is ready for a little violence when it suits her.

The depiction of black Africans is pretty standard for the time. They dress in ways that would get them thrown out of public school, play drums, wave spears, and dance. The important people wear lots of bones on their heads, lots of feathers everywhere else.

While there are some silliness and a lot of melodrama, I mostly got sadness from this movie. I did like looking at the various critters, however.


Title: The Leech Woman (1960)

Directed by
Edward Dein

Writing Credits
David Duncan…(screenplay)
Ben Pivar…(story) and
Francis Rosenwald…(story)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
Coleen Gray…June Talbot
Grant Williams…Neil Foster
Phillip Terry…Dr. Paul Talbot
Gloria Talbott…Sally
John Van Dreelen…Bertram Garvay

Released: May 1960
Length:  1 hour, 17 min.