Starring J. Carrol Naish, Glenn Strange, Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell, and Wanda Mckay. Produced by Sigmond Neufeld (PRC Pictures) Directed by Sam Newfield Music by Albert Glasser

Ralph Morgan
monster with Naish

In April of 1944 Producers Releasing Corp. came out with a low budget horror film, their first in seventeen months at a cost of $305,000 to try and compete with Universal’s success with their monster lineup.Igor Markhoff (Naish) sees Patricia Lawrence (McKay), daughter of concert pianist Lawrence (Morgan), who bears a striking resemblance to his deceased wife. After she refuses the advances of his obsession a confrontation occurs with Markoff knocking out Lawrence allowing him to inject acromegaly, turning his features into a Frankenstein looking monster. With his success in developing a cure X53 for the disease, he offers the serum in exchange for her hand in marriage.  Add a jealous assistant Maxine (Birell), gorilla (Ray Corrigan), and giant (Strange) and you have the cast of horrors. Maxine wants to talk and tell all and Markoff sends the gorilla after her, with her being saved by Ace the Wonder Dog perhaps the hero of the movie. Also playing a small role was Sam Flint who acted in nearly 400 films and television spots in a 40-year career. Finally Lawrence breaks free of the chains and straps that Markoff has used to bind him and kills Markoff. There is an X54 drug which of course cures Lawrence of any effects he may have had and everyone lives happily ever after.

The low budget especially with the make-up for Morgan got in the way of the final product. It looked pretty bad. You have to overlook the fact that acromegaly cannot be transmitted by injection. The cast of Nash, Morgan, Birell, and McKay was more than adequate for the low budget film. In fact, I found the piano playing sequence to be better than others I have seen making me wonder if Albert Glasser himself was playing. In Hollywood, he was the go-to guy for piano tuning and was quite an accomplished pianist. There is a chapter in Tom Weaver’s book Poverty Row Horrors about this movie. It is a film that is ranked as one of the better horror ‘B’ movies although if one ranks the film itself with other ‘B’ movies it is far down on the scale with  movie actor performances and a budget of only several thousand dollars. filmed in less than a week.

It is one of the hundreds of films that are available for free on the internet with a decent picture and sound if you don’t try to make it too big or too loud. The film runs for about an hour so watching it commercial-free is okay. (**)

Clash By Night (1952)

June 21, 2020

cover they clash by night

I HEAR A RHAPSODY Jimmy Dorsey Bob Eberle (1941)

Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, J Carrol Naish, and Keith Andes  Produced by Harriet Parsons. Directed by Fritz Lang. Music by Roy Webb.

I guess because it is Fritz Lang directing they consider this to be film noir. It is a drama/soap opera that is fairly well told with Marilyn Monroe getting billing (4th) playing a supporting role with Keith Andes. It is a story of Mae Doyle D’Amato (Barbara Stanwyck) who returns to Monterey fishing village in CA without notice to her brother Joe Doyle (Keith Andes) after 10 years back east, story very sketchy other than death and left penniless. Not skipping a beat she is involved with boat owner Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas) and marries him and has a child. End of part one. Part two finds Mae restless and after prodding takes up with Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan), the complete opposite of the easy-going Jerry. Joe and Peggy(Marilyn Monroe) are now engaged and Uncle Vince (J. Carroll Naish) not liking Earl at all is spreading what Mae is doing behind Jerry’s back who finally figures out what is going on. A confrontation between Jerry and Earl results in Jerry choking and nearly killing Earl with Mae stopping them. She leaves with Earl but the baby prevents her from staying with Earl and Jerry leaves, Earl leaves, and the movie ends with Mae standing where she did with nothing again. As far as the acting goes it was good for the script they were given including Monroe and Andes being the weak link in the chain. The story was a play on Broadway that ran for 49 performances before folding. A young Robert Ryan played the role of Joe Doyle. The song became a hit in 1941, being sung in the movie by a young Tony Martin and going on to be a jazz standard performed by the likes of Cal Tjader and Bill Evans among many others. With a star-studded cast RKO made this picture as an ‘A’ one and ended up with a ‘B’ movie that has some merit to watch but it needs a lot of improvement. (**1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Gardenia

BLUE GARDENIA ‘NAT KING’ COLE ARR. BY NELSON RIDDLE

Nat King Cole

Richard Conte, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Anne Baxter

Starring Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Jeff Donnell, Raymond Burr, George Reeves, and Richard Erdman. Produced by Alex Gottlieb. Directed by Fritz Lang. Music by Raoul Kraushaar.

How can such a bad guy in the films Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr) turn around and become Perry Mason and Ironsides one of the nice guys on television? Early in his career, he played the heavy. This time he tries to force his attentions on her Nora Larkin (Anne Baxter) after she has way too much to drink, going on a mistaken date meant for one of her roommates Crystal Carpenter (Ann Sothern). She had just received a “dear john” from her fiance in Korea and agreed in anger because it is on her birthday. He is hit and killed with a fireplace poker which she doesn’t remember doing. Fingerprints were cleaned off by the maid. Casey Mayo (Richard Conte) runs an ad in the paper to get her to turn herself into him for the story to the dismay of Police Captain Sam Haynes (George Reeves)? He doesn’t want her to have to deal with the police? The clue centers around a music recording of Tristan and Isolde (Wagner) being played at the time of the murder instead of Blue Gardenia when Nora was there with Harry. Interesting that the jacket box is for 78’s and the record player is for 33 1/3. Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell) is the third roommate who plays an extremely limited role in the film. Rose (Ruth Storey) who works at the record store and is a former girlfriend of Harry and pregnant (never mentioned) kills him in a fit of anger which she confesses to on her deathbed in the hospital. Casey and Nora have already fallen in love with a very happy ending.

Directed by Fritz Lang between Clash By Night and The Big Heat this one is not noir and a very ordinary drama whodunit film that just didn’t seem to fit together. The characters and the timing of the events were way off. Richard Conte and Ann Baxter were not a good match, Ann Sothern who was having medical problems (hepatitis)  seemed to be written into the script or promotion of her Private Secretary television show. The buildup of the story was very slow and then everything seemed to rush to happen in the last twenty minutes. It just wasn’t comfortable watching it. On the positive side was the theme which was very pretty, well written, and quite a surprise. You decide. (**)

 

Phantom Lady (1944)

June 14, 2020

phantom lady

DRUM SOLO ELISHA COOK JR. PHANTOM LADY

 

Starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Thomas Gomez, and Elisha Cook Jr. Produced by Joan Harrison. Directed by Robert Siodmak. A novel by Cornell Woolrich.

Unhappily married Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) picks up a woman at a bar and grill who doesn’t want her name revealed but agrees to go to a show with him as he doesn’t want to waste two tickets he has. His wife has refused to go after a violent quarrel.

At the show, the star dancer Estela Monterio (Aurora Miranda) sees that the no-name woman has the same hat and has a fit over it but would never admit that she did. Scott goes home to discover Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) and the murder of his wife. The bartender, taxi driver, and drummer Cliff Milburn (Elisha Cook Jr.) all claim he was alone so he quickly goes to trial to be found guilty and sentenced to die. His secretary Kansas Richman (Ella Raines) believes he is innocent and sets out to prove it. 

His best friend Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone), the real killer shows up from South America supposedly to help Richman and his friend Henderson who suffers from being deranged with headaches and his hands. He kills the drummer who has boasted to Richman he was paid $500 to be quiet, the bartender is killed in an auto accident as he is about to reveal who paid him off, and the no-name woman Ann Terry (Fay Helm) is out of her mind over the loss of her fiance but she has the hat she wore which she turns over to Richman but turns up missing tipping Richman that Marlow took it. Marlow admits everything but Burgess arrives in time and Marlow jumps to his death.

Franchot and Ella

Joan Harrison, secretary for Hitchcock, was the first woman to produce a film in Hollywood co-writing Rebecca, and Foreign Correspondent, garnering her Oscar nominations. She ended up doing the television program for Hitchcock for years.

Robert Siodmak escaped to Hollywood from Hitler and went on to become quite notable in the noir field his highlight picture being The Killers. He was given accolades for his filming of the jazz/drum sequences of Elisha Cook Jr. in the film. He ended up doing over 20 pictures before he returned to Germany in the early ’50s.

Elisha Cook Jr. one of the great character actors of the ’40s played a drummer in the orchestra as a sleaze who ends up dead. MP3 is included

The photography, lighting, and camera angles are all highly rated and classic noir trademarks. The acting was superb. Even though the story was from Cornell Woolrich, one of the masters of noir, there were a lot of holes and the film deserved a better script. I haven’t read the novel so it wouldn’t be fair to comment on it. I found the Lux Radio Program to be better than the film. (***1/2 )

Book cover phantom lady

Cornell Woolrich as William Irish

 

 

 

 

Life at Stake (1954)

June 13, 2020

poster life at stake

MAIN THEME FROM A LIFE AT STAKE LES BAXTER

Starring Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes, and Douglas Dumbrille. Produced by Charles Maxwell. Directed by Paul Guilfoyle. Music by Les Baxter.

What begins as a business proposition of buying land to build houses turns into an affair involving both sisters as well as a plot to kill the leading man! House building expert Edward Shaw (Keith Anders)  is down on his luck with a couple of deals that have gone bad and taken his money down to the last 1000 dollars, a bill he has framed. Enter  Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury), her sister Madge Neilan (Claudia Barrett), a jealous husband Douglas Hillman (Douglas Dumbrille), and a police detective Lt. Hoff (Charles Maxwell)  who won’t believe that Shaw is trying to be killed for the insurance money and you have the ingredients for a drama that unfolds before your eyes and ears.

Too many holes in the hard to believe story which is all hinged on a crumpled piece of paper that ends up in many hands throughout the film. It is a letter written by Shaw to the insurance company stating he believes that the Hillman’s are trying to kill him. It goes from the typewriter to the trashcan back to Shaw and into his coat sleeve where first Madge and then Doris sees this crumpled piece of paper which the entire story hinges on. Shaw is drugged by Hillman and nearly dies running off the road and then is confronted yet again with the Hillmans, shot left to be saved by Madge as both Hillman’s are killed in a terrible accident. Of course, Madge and Edward don’t lose a beat as they go off to the hospital.

The three main characters in the film have had long and very successful careers in Hollywood with Lansbury having an award-winning “Murder She Wrote” series for many years. She began her career in 1944 in ” Gaslight” and is still semi-active 70 years later.

Both Anders and Dumbrille have had long character actor careers in movies and then television. When Dumbrille’s first wife passed away he married again at 70 to a 28-year-old Patricia Mowbray daughter of good friend Alan Mowbray, staying with her until he passed away in 1974. He was involved in Hollywood for over 50 years. Anders was very active in the ’50s and ’60s and known for Guy Madison/Jeffrey Hunter’s type physique roles, see the beginning of the film.

Claudia Barrett had a short run of sci-fi movies in the ’50s and television in the ’60s. Jane Darwell appeared in over 200 films as a motherly type winning an Oscar for “Grapes of Wrath” in 1941. Charles Maxwell, who also produced the film, was another character actor who acted in the ’50s-’70s in many television programs lots of westerns like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. His hand at producing was short-lived.

Les Baxter is known for his lounge and arranging music for Capitol Records in the ’50s. The percussion was the key to his success along with incorporating Ravel and Debussy impressionistic styles to his music. His 1956 recording of “Poor People of Paris” hit #1 on the charts. In addition, he did over 100 scores for films mostly ‘B’ films. The main theme is quite good although not recorded to my knowledge.

 

This was a film I could have skipped but watched it, Angela Lansbury catching my attention and it did keep my interest in the 1+ hours just to see what happens to the film noir lady and her double-cross. (**)

Brute Man (1946)

June 12, 2020

brute-man_title-card-banner

Starring Rondo Hatton, Tom Neal, and Jane Adams. Directed by Jean Yarbrough. Produced by Ben Pivar. Music by Hans Salter. Running Time is 59 minutes.

Even though this film was distributed by PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.) who purchased it for 125,000 from Universal as a continuation of the character “The Creeper.” Played for the third and last time by Rondo Hatton as he passed away shortly after from his horrible disfiguring acromegaly, a glandular disease that got him Hollywood roles but ultimately cost him his life. Universal really wanted nothing to do with it and didn’t want their name associated with the film which PRC went along with. I have no idea if they recovered their money on it or not. Jean Yarbrough, the director, had a long career in ‘B’ movies and television spanning over 30 years, never having a hit but stayed employed in his craft. Ben Pivar had a successful career as a horror movie producer for Universal. Jane Adams, the blind girl, performed as a disfigured character in “House of Dracula” (1945) as a bit of trivia; she never got passed the horror movies and retired in 1953. Tom Neal ended up in all sorts of trouble. First in a fistfight (he was a boxer in college) with Franchot Tone, putting him in the hospital for weeks over actress Barbara Payton and for killing his wife which put him in prison for a stretch.Not a very nice man. He did have a hit with “Detour” (1945) Perhaps PRC was interested in distributing the film because they had made “Monster Maker” (1944) and viewed it as a sort of sequel as they both had to do with acromegaly?  The film opens with Hal Moffet played by Rondo Hatton killing his chemistry professor who he blamed for his ghoulish appearance and killed which was really caused by his own doing in the laboratory. He continues to terrorize the town of Hampton seeking further revenge killing a delivery boy and one of his classmates. In spite of his evil, there is a soft spot in his heart as he befriends a blind girl and decides he will steal enough money so she can have an eye operation. He does this knowing the friendship will be over with as soon as Helen sees him. In the end, he is captured but Helen will get the operation anyway as she helped the police in bringing him to justice.  I think he was captured and not killed because in the conclusion they felt there was another sequel for “Creeper,” not knowing how ill Rondo was. The overall acting of Tom Neal and Rondo Hatton was pretty poor and distracted from the film as both were going through the motions to get a paycheck. Jane Adams and Donald MacBride both did competent jobs in their character actor roles. The soundtrack from Hans Salter was nothing more than reworking old material.  The weakest of the three is still worth a watch at 59 minutes. (**).

bruteman4-1

 

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.

 

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. (**)