FATAL HOUR 1940 Mr. Wong

November 16, 2016

fatal-hour

Fourth in the series of 6 films about “the Chinese Copper” James Lee Wong, the Monogram answer to Charlie Chan is featured in this 67 minute film which also includes the somewhat regular cast of Marjorie Reynolds (3) and Grant Withers (6). The story centers around the death of his long time friend on the police force Dan Grady (never saw him) who was fished out of the water with lead shoes and two bullets in the back of his neck. A perfect story about revenge where the police force sends out every available man to catch the killer. Nope. Captain Street (Withers) is going to handle this alone with “Bobbi” Logan (Reynolds) and the “Chinese Copper” Wong. Wong upon seeing the jade in Grady’s desk drawer, immediately seeks the assistance of the Chinese jeweler (Richard Loo) in San Francisco’s Chinatown. His advice was “A wise man could become more wise by visiting Belden’s a jewelry store. It appears a dead end but leads to the clue of the smuggling ring. The Neptune Club run by Cookie (Stanford Jolley uncredited) and owned by Harry “Hardway” Lockett (Frank Puglia)  are behind the smuggling and two more deaths occur, Tanya Serova (Lita Chevret), girlfriend of Belden Jr. and Hardway, and  Frank Belden Sr.(Hooper Atchley. Both knew too much.John T. Forbes (Charles Towbridge) , lawyer for the creditors not to his surprise finds that $50 jade is actually $3000 pieces and when he finds that Belden Sr. is ready to confess he is murdered. Tanya is murdered because Forbes, who is in love with her, is thrown aside for Belden Jr. and he murders her.    Another murder, Griswold (Jason Robards) a radio programmer, and a remote control radio all play part in the plot.

Scott Darling, a prolific writer of nearly 200 screenplays, along with adaption by George Waggner best known for his directing of “The Wolfman” (1941) offered a clever story with enough twists and turns to make it interesting. William Nigh, who did over 120 films, directed an adequate job with no frills,  exactly what Monogram wanted, quick, on time and on budget. The theme, written by Edward Kay nicely depicts the character Wong as a slow prodding but always moving forward character. The music is spotted rather sparsely something that Monogram does but this film is better than others in the series.

As long as one keeps in mind that this is a ‘B’ picture and was designed to fill an hour of time, the function of Monogram. It provided second billing to the ‘A’ feature and did a nice job.

The good news is that this film is in public domain which means you can watch it for free. I t is 1 hour and seven minutes so make sure you are getting the full version as there are some that are only one hour. If you wish an entire 6 DVD set it be purchased for a very reasonable price, under $20.00 from Oldies.com http://www.oldies.com/product-view/9571D.html. It is also available used on the net. The Roan Group seems to have the best quality.

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American International like Monogram, PRC, Pine – Thomas, and Lippert were strictly ‘B’ Movie companies the difference being AI found their niche appealing to the teenage crowd at the drive in theaters. Robert Harris, primarily a television actor who did a variety of character roles was given top billing in this one somewhat of a rarity. As makeup artist Pete Dumond he was let go in a takeover by new studio heads. The days of monster movies were over. Seeking revenge he puts some sort of spell on two actors Gary Clarke (Wolfman), Gary Conway (Frankenstein), and himself to kill those who got rid of him. It was some sort of special ingredient in the foundation makeup. His mentally challenged assistant, Rivero played by Paul Brinegar, another veteran of television, at first helps him and then is disposed of too when Dumont feels he can’t trust him anymore.  By now he is crazed and it all comes to an exciting conclusion. Much of it takes place on the American International studio set which adds a little different spin to the yarn. There are pretty girls and a rock and roll song “You Gotta Have Ee Ooo,” an Elvis Presley type number written by veteran science fiction writer Paul Dunlap, who also added a creepy score. As far as a low budget film is concerned it’s a good one with a different spin for a horror movie. Producer Herman Cohen makes an appearance as the projectionist a nice touch. Worth a watch (**1/2)

Voodoo Man (1944)

August 11, 2011

 

Starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Richard Marlowe is up to his old tricks again with trying to bring back the dead this time through voodoo, hypnotism, séances, and some weird electronics. The Monogram film (#9765) directed by William Beaudine costars George Zucco, Louise Curry, Tod Andrews, and John Carradine all participants in the ritual. Young beautiful women are caught by his henchmen Nicholas and Toby (Zucco and Carradine) and some of their life is drained away from them using the voodoo and séance. Finally after Stella (Curry) walks away in a trance and is found by the sheriff. Nicholas uses his voodoo to get her back and Ralph (Tod Andrews) puts two and two together and figures out what Marlowe is up to. The final séance is broken up, Marlowe is shot, and the spell is broken and of course they live happily ever after. With his death he is reunited with his wife Evelyn (Ellen Hall) who also died when the spell was broken. There is a chapter in Tom Weaver’s book “Poverty Row Horrors” which gives a complete breakdown of the making of the film. While Tom really didn’t think too much of it I felt it was one of the stronger of the nine films Lugosi did for Monogram. I do agree with him that Carradine and Zucco were completely wasted but Lugosi more than made up for it. This low budget film was done in a week with the biggest expense being the rental of the fancy cars. It is available for free viewing on the internet with average sound and video quality. http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi148675609/

(**1/2) for Lugosi.

 

 

Ghost Ship (1943)

August 9, 2011

 

The fifth in the series of nine films that Lewton did for RKO (#9567) Ghost Ship came about as the result of a set that made for a film Pacific Liner (1938). He was told by his bosses that they wanted him to write a picture using the set thus the picture. Even before the Altair leaves on its voyage a man turns up dead during roll call. When a second death occurs under suspicious circumstances the third officer thinks it was murder by the captain who considered the sailor subordinate. Keep in mind that authority is the key word to the captain. An informal hearing gives no results convincing Tom Merriam (Russell Wade) that Captain Stone (Richard Dix) is going to kill him. No one believes him except for Finn, a mute played by Skeleton Knaggs who narrates some of his thoughts and in the end saves the life of Merriam from the captain who was indeed crazy. Of course there is a happy ending with Finn and Merriam steering the ship side by side as captain and mate. This film is somewhat like Sea Wolf by Jack London except it is not nearly as well written or as well done as the Warner Bros. film starring Edward G. Robinson. While Val does incorporate some of his scare tactics with sounds and unexplained things this is one of the weak entries in the series. The acting from Dix, Wade, and Knaggs was good as far as it went and given a stronger script it could have been much better. This film is readily available through many sources at a reasonable price. Score is by Roy Webb. Mark Robson, who came to RKO with Lewton from Selznick Studios, directed the picture. (**)

 

 

The Leopard Man (1943)

August 7, 2011

 

Based on the novel Dark Alibi by Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968) this RKO Val Lewton film (1904-1951) starring Dennis O’Keefe and directed by Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) involves a black leopard that was at first part of a publicity stunt and then escapes. Within a very short period of time a young girl is killed pounding on her front door, her mother having locked it and all you hear are the screams and the sound of the cat. When a second killing happens the question becomes was it the cat? When a third killing happens along with the discovery of the dead cat Manning (O’Keefe) sets a trap for the killer he has suspected from the beginning. In an exciting conclusion the mystery is solved. Sounds play such a key in his films such a branch rustling, leaves falling from a tree, a footstep, or a creaking of a door are just a few examples. Filmed on location in Santa Fe, New Mexico this is one of a great series of pictures RKO made to try and compete with the Universal horror films of the 40’s who seemed to have the market cornered.

Leopard Man (#9179) was third film in a series of nine Val did for RKO and the second of four films he did in 1943 between I Walked With A Zombie and The Seventh Victim. While this film was billed as a horror movie it is really an excellent suspense film. His films are always based on what you don’t see leaving the rest to your imagination. These films along with his other films are in the upper end of well done ‘B’ movies. In addition having a good Woolrich story to work with made it even easier. (***1/2)

 

 

 

Dark Corner (1946)

August 4, 2011

 

Directed by Henry Hathaway for 20th Century Fox who also directed one of my all time favorite pictures Call Northside 777 starred Lucille Ball, Mark Stevens, Clifton Webb, and William Bendix in a Leo Rosten story about an ex con Bradford Galt (Stevens)who heads to New York to startup his own detective agency. His secretary played by Ball is not your typical femme fatale in a noir movie. Oh she has some of the usual Chandler one liners but didn’t deliver them like Mary Astor, Jane Greer, and others. Clifton Webb as the art dealer Hardy Cathcart is his usual caustic self. There is a triangle involving Galt’s former partner who double crossed him in San Francisco Jardine played by Kurt Kreuger and Mrs. Cathcart who was the femme fatale played by Cathy Downs. Bendix is the nasty hit man Fred Foss who is hired by Cathcart to kill Jardine and pin the murder on Galt. He does kill Jardine but his payoff is being pushed out of a window from thirty floors up by Cathcart. However in the end Mrs. Cathcart kills her husband for taking away her lover completing the plot. Of course private eye and secretary get married. Don’t they always? I don’t think Ball did a very good job but I thought Stevens was excellent along with Webb and Bendix. The soundtrack was a bit unusual using Eddie Heywood and orchestra playing sweet band arrangements of popular songs. The main title was the classic “Street Scene” composed by Oscar winning Alfred Newman. He was given no credit. Definitely worth a watch in spite of a weak performance from Lucille Ball and a good example of film noir of the 40’s. (***)

Konga (1961)

August 3, 2011

 

A plane crash in the African jungle traps Dr. Decker played by Michael Gough for over a year and upon he returns with plants that have amazing human properties. He also comes back with a small chimpanzee Konga that when injected with a plant serum grows to a huge size. He hypnotizes Konga to do his bidding and the killing of the college dean is the first victim with others to follow. Up to this point the film is doing just fine. He meets Professor Tagore played by George Pastell, the evil Egyptian in Hammer’s The Mummy, who is also following similar lines of research and as a result he is killed by Konga in a seat jumping scary scene. We see the plants, wicked looking, and some of the scientific dialogue makes sense to me with my limited knowledge. The American International Picture imported from Britain also stars Margo Johns, as his assistant Margaret, Claire Gordon, as a student Sandra Banks he’s in love with, and Jess Conrad as Bob Banks Sandra’s boyfriend. Then there is a rather slow moving section involving a triangle between Bob, Sandra, and Dr. Decker which ends with Konga killing Bob. A second triangle develops between Dr. Decker, Margaret, and Sandra which really has little to do with the story. Margo in a fit of jealousy hypnotizes Konga and gives him another injection and now he does grow to the size of King Kong and the film follows a similar script. The military does him in along with Dr. Decker and Margaret. Konga returns to his original form of a chimpanzee. The experiment ideas have taken a back seat and the film has lost the opportunity to excel. The special effects are fine for the era, Konga is believable, and the Gerard Schurmann score adds to the film but I felt it got enough astray that it is no more than an average movie. It is available for sale at an extremely low price from Alpha Video (XFox 12772D). (**).