Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

FORBIDDEN

FORBIDDEN (1953). Director: Rudolph Mate.

"There isn't one thing about you that I've ever forgotten."

In post-WW2 Macao, Eddie Darrow (Tony Curtis) comes looking for his lost lady love, Christine (Joanna Dru). A bitter Darrow is being paid money to bring Christine, who is the widow of a notorious gangster, back to the United States to help with a deal for one of her late husband's associates, but the truth is that she knows too much. Darrow comes to the aid of nightclub-casino owner Justin Keit (Lyle Bettger), who is assaulted in the street, and winds up staying in his home, ultimately learning that Christine is Keit's fiance. With Keit and his men on one side, and her husband's associates on the other, will Eddie and Christine live long enough to enjoy their rekindled romance? Forbidden takes all of the stock elements from much better pictures, tosses them around, and comes up with a brisk, entertaining, but forgettable romantic adventure. The performances are all good, with Curtis' dead-commonness not getting in the way of his characterization (such as it is); Dru attractive if a bit tame as the femme fatale; and Bettger [The Sea Chase] walking off with the movie as her dangerous fiance. Victor Sen Yung [Charlie Chan in Honolulu] gets to play two stereotypes: the inscrutable Oriental coming out with pithy sayings, and the philosophizing piano player. Arguably Curtis' best performance was in Sweet Smell of Success. Not to be confused with Macao.

Verdict: Call this Gilda once over lightly. **1/2.

THE LAST HURRAH

Spencer Tracy
THE LAST HURRAH (1958). Director: John Ford.

Mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) runs for one last term, and is up against a younger family man (Charles B. Fitzsimons) who seems the pawn of more experienced politicians. Frank's son, Junior (Arthur Walsh), is a fifties-type jazz baby who has little interest in politics or much else. Frank is closer to his nephew, Adam (Jeffrey Hunter), whose boss at a newspaper, Amos Force (John Carradine), and father-in-law Roger Sugure (Willis Bouchey), both detest Frank. Frank is an old-fashioned Irish-American politician who has survived decades due to his old cronies who love him, but it's a new world out there and Frank may get a surprise on election night ... The Last Hurrah could be picked apart on certain levels -- the characterization is quite superficial at times --  but it works because of its acting and Ford's smooth, professional direction. Tracy is excellent, and he gets fine support from Hunter, Walsh, Carradine, and especially Basil Rathbone in a scene-stealing turn as a banker who comes afoul of Frank and vice versa. (The whole sequence with Rathbone's lisping, clearly mentally-deficient son, who is cruelly used to blackmail Rathbone, is in questionable taste, to say the least.) Other cast stand-outs include Ricardo Cortez as Sam, the campaign manager; Donald Crisp as the cardinal; Basil Ruysdael as Bishop Gardner; and Jane Darwell as Delia Boylan, whose chief occupation seems to be to go to funerals and cackle. Edward Brophy [Romance on the Run] is also notable as "Ditto," Frank's old pal, a rather sad figure (whom we learn little about) who's given the last appearance in the picture. Anna Lee [Summer Storm] scores as Gert, a widow, in one of the film's most interesting sequences. Gert keeps repeating "he was a good man, Frank, a good man," when it's clear that her husband didn't even bother to see how she would get along after his death and left no insurance. Bob Sweeney is fine as a funeral director, as are Ken Curtis [Don Daredevil Rides Again] as Monsignor Killian, Dianne Foster as Adam's conflicted wife, and Frank Albertson as the opponent's manager, Jack Mangan. O. Z. Whitehead is quite good in the thankless role of Rathbone's son, Norman Jr. Harry Lauter, Edmund Lowe, Tom Neal; William Hudson all have smaller, generally non-speaking roles. Spencer Tracy was only 58 when  he did this picture, but looks years older, and his character was actually 72 in Edward O'Connor's source novel. Sure, make up could have been used to make Tracy look older, but I think years of heavy drinking had taken their toll.

Verdict: An excellent lead performance and a smooth production make this worthwhile. ***.

SHAKE, RATTLE & ROCK

Holloway, Dumbrille, Dumont and Helton
SHAKE, RATTLE & ROCK (1956). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

"Rock 'n' Roll is destroying the youth of our nation."

DJ Gary Nelson (Mike "Touch" Connors) is the host of a teen rock and roll program which inspires the ire of a group of old fogies who are offended by its alleged vulgarity. They form the Society for the Prevention of Rock and Roll and the Corruption of American Youth or SPRACAY. The most interesting thing about the movie is that the members of this group include no less than Margaret Dumont [Little Giant], Douglass Dumbrille, and Percy Helton [The Crooked Way], all of whom are marvelous (Dumbrille is especially wonderful in his comic portrayal, but the others score as well). Unfortunately, while these veterans are aware that they are in a comedy, the same cannot be said for Mike Connors and Lisa Gaye as his girlfriend, who display little skill at humor. As Connor's good right hand, Sterling Holloway [Wild Boys of the Road] is pure camp as an early "Maynard G. Krebs" type. Shake, Rattle & Roll tries to have it both ways by trying to be "serious" at times, but it certainly doesn't work in this picture. The movie displays its own prejudices when it introduces a lisping nerd as the voice of classical music (although even he ends up "rockin'" at the end). Some rock and "swing" movies (from an earlier decade) respected classical and operatic music while celebrating the new type of sounds, while others got defensive and put down classical stuff the same way others derided rock 'n' roll; this is in the latter category. Raymond Hatton is fun as Dumont's hen-pecked but eventually liberated husband, Clarence Kolb plays a judge, and Fats Domino sings a couple of numbers. Much more screen time should have been given to Dumont, who can be very, very funny.

Verdict: Very amusing at times, but the fun eventually peters out and a lot of opportunities for great comedy are muffed. **1/2.

INVADERS FROM MARS

The Supreme Martian Intelligence -- no wonder the martians lose!
INVADERS FROM MARS (1986). Director: Tobe Hooper.

"They're huge, ugly ... Mr. Potato-heads." -- David.

David Gardner (Hunter Carson) sees a spaceship land in the sand dunes past his back yard, but can't get anyone to believe him. His parents (Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman) seem to have been taken over by alien mentalities, along with stern teacher Mrs. McKeitch (Louise Fletcher), but a sympathetic school nurse named Linda (Karen Black of Trilogy of Terror) teams up with David to find out what's going on in the sand dunes. There are very large, ugly martians whose bodies are basically big heads with teeth on weird legs, stalking around underground, all lorded over by a "Supreme Martian Intelligence" who seems all brain. Will Linda and David be able to convince the military that there is danger afoot? This remake of the 1950's Invaders from Mars can't quite seem to make up its mind whether it's a parody or just a whimsical sci fi flick seen, like the original, through a child's eyes. This version has much better FX than the original (with elaborate Alien-influenced sets) and much more action as well. A nice touch is that there is that same winding fence leading into the sand dunes as in the original. A highlight -- if that's the word -- is when one of the aliens makes a snack out of Louise Fletcher [Exorcist II: The Heretic] and devours her practically in one gulp! I didn't spot Jimmy Hunt, who was the kid in the original, but he plays a police chief. The performances are all okay for the most part.

Verdict: Slightly more entertaining than the original. **1/2.

MOVIE COMICS: PAGE TO SCREEN; SCREEN TO PAGE

MOVIE COMICS: Page to Screen; Screen to Page. Blair Davis. Rutgers University Press; 2017.

This is one of a number of books on the subject of film adaptations of comic strips and comic books since the 1990 publication of my Comic Book Heroes of the ScreenMovie Comics is an intelligent and well-researched look at even older strips (my book concentrated on super-heroes) including Mickey Mouse and other Disney cartoon characters. Davis looks, in turn, into comic books that were inspired by individual films, or just by The Movies themselves. Davis examines such strip-into-films as Skippy, Li'l Abner, Dick Tracy, Joe Palooka, and Prince Valiant, and comic book-into-films (and TV shows)  such as the Superman TV series with George Reeves and The Adventures of Captain Marvel serial, among many others. Davis can occasionally be accused of being painfully obvious in his assertions -- typical of academic books -- but unlike many academic books Movie Comics is readable and accessible as well as informative.

Verdict: Engaging and pretty thorough look at its subject if not necessarily the last word. ***.

JUNGLE MOON MEN

Helene Stanton as High Priestess Oma
JUNGLE MOON MEN  (1955). Director: Charles S. Gould.

In this "Johnny Weissmuller" (formerly Jungle Jim) adventure, Johnny (Weissmuller, of course) encounters a lady anthropologist named Ellen (Jean Byron) and her boyfriend, Bob (William Henry of The Thin Man). Naturally there are bad guys afoot, personified by Myron  Healey as Mark Santo, leader of a group of men who are after some diamonds. Good guys and bad guys alike come afoul of a tribe of midget "moon men" (presumably they worship the moon) armed with poisonous blow darts. It develops that these moon men are the subjects of one Oma, (Helene Stanton), their beautiful High Priestess, who lives in a cavern with a not-so-hidden entrance -- along with diamonds and a host of ravenous lions. In the movie's best scene, Oma has virtually all of the characters tied up and left in a chamber where lions are going to be released to feed upon them. The cute chimp Kimba sort of comes to their rescue. Like something out of Lost Horizon, Oma is apparently centuries old and comes to an expected end. Helene Stanton's talent (aside from her sex appeal) is obvious even in this cheapie, and that same year she was seen to better advantage in the excellent Cornel Wilde thriller The Big Combo. Unfortunately, her movie career only lasted two more years. Unlike in the previous non-Jungle Jim film, Weissmuller's last name is used more than once.

Verdict: A variety of elements thrown together to make a fairly entertaining jungle "epic." **1/2.

GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW

The ginchiest! Jimmie Madden
GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959). Director: William Hole.

"She's the ginchiest!"

"They feel they have to become adults quickly. There may not be a tomorrow."

So these two flip chicks, Lois (Jody Fair) and Nita (Nancy Anderson), have a grudge match in their hot rods because, like, Nita's fella, bad boy Tony (Jack Ging), has a powerful hankering for Lois. Lois, who hardly ever wipes the grease off her face, loves cars most of all, but boy she also digs her steady beau, Dave (Henry McCann). But her old man and his old lady (Kirby Smith and Jeanne Tatum) -- that is, her parents -- forbid her to drive, wouldn't you know? Worse, these hot rod hipsters have to find a new place to hold their groovy costume party -- what to do, man, what to do? Lois' Aunt Anastasia (Dorothy Neumann of Teenage Doll) suggests they use an old, haunted house she owns. But will the flip chicks and their men be able to deal with, like, the ghost?

Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is a lesser film from AIP, which pretty much tells the story. In addition to the main characters we've got actor/real-life racing enthusiast Tommy Ivo [The Cat Burglar] playing himself, Leon Tyler as Bonzo, and Russ Bender [War of the Colossal Beast] as a reporter digging into the teen hot rod scene. We've also got singer Jimmie Madden, also playing himself, who shows up at the party to warble the forgettable "Tongue-Tied." Paul Blaisdell, (hopefully) affecting a weird, squeaky voice, apparently plays himself as well, and wears the costumes he made for The She-Creature and Invasion of the Saucer Men. He's probably the best thing in the picture. The dance sequences are perfectly amiable, and the movie is dumb if good-natured. After retiring from acting in the late sixties, Tommy Ivo became a professional race car driver.

Verdict: Light years from Citizen Kane. *1/2.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

THOSE B MOVIE SERIES FROM BOSTON BLACKIE TO THE WHISTLER

Chester Morris as Boston Blackie
This week GREAT OLD MOVIES looks at those venerable B movie series from the golden age of Hollywood (and elsewhere). I define a "B" movie as one that generally has a running time of between fifty to eighty minutes, and a B movie series as a group of films featuring the same character. Most of these films played on the bottom half of a double-bill, or two were lumped together for an afternoon at the movies. There have been a lot of movie series from different studios -- MGM, 20th Century-Fox and Columbia down to the "poverty row" studios like Monogram and PRC. Among the more famous series were *Andy Hardy, Henry Aldrich, The Jones Family, and on the thriller side of the spectrum, Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, The Falcon, Mr. Wong, Inner Sanctum, Michael Shayne (with Lloyd Nolan and then Hugh Beaumont), and others. (All of the classic Chan and Holmes movies -- the very best of the mystery movie series -- have been reviewed on this blog and you can find them by using the search bar on the top left corner.)

Among the series we're looking at this week are Boston Blackie; the similar Lone Wolf series; Jungle Jim/Johnny Weissmuller; Philo Vance; Mr. Moto; and the Whistler, not to mention Dr. Mabuse from Germany. Philo Vance started out as a top-drawer series starring William Powell, but degenerated into a cheaper series for PRC. The Whistler movies all starred Richard Dix in a variety of roles and were based on the old radio program. Boston Blackie and the Lone Wolf starred, respectively, Chester Morris and Warren William, but later entries, not really a part of the main series, starred other actors. Dr. Mabuse began life in a series of films by Fritz Lang, dating back to the silent period, but these, too, degenerated into ersatz spy movies by the sixties. Johnny Weissmuller played Jungle Jim in a slew of features (and later a TV series) until the studio temporarily lost the rights to the character and he simply played himself in the last four films in the series.

Many of these movies employed the same elements: gun-toting femme fatales; hoods with grudges; and most ubiquitous, police detectives who were always at odds with the (anti) heroes, thinking they were really crooks underneath no matter how many genuine bad guys they helped put away. As well, the cops were always much dumber than the heroes. A lot of directors who became famous later on, such as William Castle, cut their teeth on these "B" movies. Sometimes the choice of sidekick was key in making an entertaining series. For instance, for my money Eric Blore as the Lone Wolf's "Jamison" is far superior to George E. Stone's "Runt" in the Boston Blackie series.

* Of course the Andy Hardy movies were "A" movies aside from the very last.

THINK FAST, MR. MOTO

Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
THINK FAST, MR. MOTO (1937). Director: Norman Foster.

"Half of the world spends its time laughing at the other half -- and both are fools." -- Mr. Moto.

"Strange people, these Americans." -- ditto.

On a liner heading for China, a mysterious Japanese man named Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) encounters a pleasant young fellow named Bob Hitchings (Thomas Beck), whose father owns the steamship company. Bob falls hard for another mysterious person, Gloria (Virginia Field), who is employed as a singer at the International Club in Shanghai. Gloria's employer, Nicolas Marloff (Sig Ruman) is up to some skulduggery and Mr. Moto seems to have an uncertain role in this. Is he good guy or bad? Although Think Fast, Mr. Moto, the first of the Mr. Moto films, has a workable script and a fast pace, its primarily the performances that put it over, with Lorre superb as the importer who dabbles in detective work as a sideline, especially where his own concerns are involved. Thomas Beck is quite appealing as Bob, and Virginia Field [Repeat Performance] offers another of her expert portrayals as the mystery woman who has, perhaps, gotten herself in too deep. John Rogers scores as ship's steward, Carson, who may be hiding a shiv under his likable exterior, and there are nice turns from J. Carrol Naish as an assassin; Murray Kinnell as a business associate of Bob's father; and Lotus Long [Mr. Wong in Chinatown] as a hotel switchboard operator who helps Moto and is nearly killed for her troubles. Thomas Beck and Murray Kinnell both appeared in Charlie Chan in Paris.

Verdict: Good, snappy introduction to the Mr. Moto series. ***.

MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE

Mr. Moto meets Lee Chan, Charlie Chan's son
MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE (1938). Director: James Tinling.

Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) is teaching a course in criminology and his students include the punch-drunk "Knock-Out" Wellington (Maxie Rosenbloom of Mr. Universe) and Charlie Chan's son, Lee (Keye Luke) -- temporarily moving from one mystery series to another -- who wants to follow in his father's footsteps. These last two serve as comedy relief -- Rosenbloom instead of Mantan Moreland -- in a tiresome tale of a boxer, Frankie Stanton (Russ Clark), who is murdered in the ring during a battle. The surviving boxer, Bill Steele (Dick Baldwin), has two women fighting over him: the plucky sports reporter Penny (Lynn Bari of City in Darkness); and spoiled society gal, Linda Benton (Jayne Regan), who is sort of a groupie for boxers, dumping them whenever they lose. Suspects include not only those already mentioned, but also Clipper McCoy (Bernard Nedell); Nick Crowder (Douglas Fowley); Connors (George E. Stone, on vacation from playing the Runt in the Boston Blackie movies); nasty boxer Biff Moran (Ward Bond of Blowing Wild); and Linda's father (John Hamilton), whose racket is the fight game. Lon Chaney Jr. has a small role; Pierre Watkin plays another of his seemingly endless bland authority figures; Harold Huber is Lt. Riggs; and Irving Bacon almost runs off with the movie in his funny portrayal of Sheriff Tuttle. The comedy relief in this is quite stupid for the most part, and the script is mediocre, but at least it has a fast pace and a slightly surprising ending. With this third entry the Mr. Moto series took a real dip in quality, adding Lee Chan and the moronic Rosenbloom to make it more resemble the Chan series, but even the weakest Chan entry had a more interesting screenplay. Lorre is as terrific as ever. Mr. Moto apparently knows Charlie Chan, at least by reputation, but the two characters, I believe, never appeared together -- too bad.

Verdict: A vehicle unworthy of both Peter Lorre and Mr. Moto. *1/2.

THE LONE WOLF MEETS A LADY

Warren William as Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf
THE LONE WOLF MEETS A LADY (1940). Director: Sidney Salkow.

"Jamison! Open the window -- and air the room!"

Joan Bradley (Jean Muir) is all set to marry wealthy Bob Penyon (Warren Hull), when her future mother-in-law (Georgia Caine) lends her an expensive diamond necklace. At her apartment Joan is confronted by an old acquaintance who demands the necklace before being promptly shot by an unseen figure; the necklace disappears. Before long Michael Lanyard, aka the Lone Wolf (Warren William), is involved in the case even as Inspector Crane (Thurston Hall), who loves rare plants, is on the trail of both Lanyard and Joan. The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady is distinguished primarily by the acting, with William, as usual, doing splendidly as the title character. Jean Muir [And One Was Beautiful] is on the money as Joan; Hall makes a terrific inspector; Fred Kelsey is funny as the bumbling cop, Dickens; Victor Jory [Manfish] scores as a sleazy "associate" of Lanyard's; and Eric Blore [Swiss Miss] nearly steals the picture as Jamison, Lanyard's butler and aide. The screenplay isn't terrible, with good dialogue, but The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady is no great shakes as a mystery. Not to be confused with The Lone Wolf and His Lady.

Verdict: Modestly entertaining with some very good performances. **1/2.

THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

Chester Morris and George E. Stone as Boston and "Runt"
THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME (1943). Director: William Castle.

"You've seen too many bad movies, Boston." -- Nails Blanton.

Ex-con and adventurer Boston Blackie (Chester Morris of Red-Headed Woman) importunes the prison board to release several men -- none of whom are what he terms "habitual criminals" -- so they can aid the war effort. Twelve of these test cases get jobs in a factory owned by Arthur Manleder (Lloyd Corrigan) and move in to Boston's apparently spacious apartment. Unfortunately, one of these men, Dooley Watson (Erik Rolf), is allowed to see his wife and child and uses the opportunity to try to get some money he stole years before. Also covetous of the money is Nails Blanton (Douglas Fowley of Behind Locked Doors), leading to a gun battle and Boston being accused of murder. Naturally Boston escapes from Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) -- there's a good scene when he and his sidekick, the Runt (George E. Stone). descend in a dumb waiter as part of their getaway -- and later the two dress in drag to take the place of two inebriated scrub women (one of whom is Maude Eburne) to get at a safe in police HQ. An unusual feature of the flick is that aside from Dooley Watson's wife (Jeanne Bates of The Phantom) and Nail's briefly-seen, unnamed moll, there are no women in the film for Boston to dally with. Corpulent Cy Kendall, also briefly-seen, shows up as a character appropriately named Jumbo. The Chance of a Lifetime has an interesting premise but the film itself is tedious. As everything is spelled out for you in TV episode fashion, this has no surprises and hence little suspense.

Verdict: Sometimes the Boston Blackie movies work; sometime not. **.

ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT

Richard Lane as Inspector Farraday
ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT (1944). Director: Budd Boetticher.

When the famous Blue Star of the Nile diamond is stolen, Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) becomes a suspect. In an unexpected development considering their past relationship, Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) deputizes Boston because he thinks he can solve the crime. He even says " From now on, no matter what happens, I'll never misjudge you again." Unfortunately, this is the only unusual or interesting thing that happens in the movie, which is saved primarily by the acting. Morris [Pursuit]  makes an excellent Blackie, and does a few impersonations, and the supporting cast includes Janis Carter [Slightly French] as reporter Dorothy Anderson; Mark Roberts (aka Robert E. Scott) as store employee George Daley; an utterly unrecognizable Dorothy Malone (in her brunette phase) as George's sister, Eileen; and William Wright, who would later play the Lone Wolf in one picture, as bad guy Paul Martens. The best performances seem to come from bit players: (Ms.) Early Cantrell as a switchboard operator; Anne Loos as a newsstand clerk; and Minerva Urecal [Gobs and Gals] as a clerk at a women's hotel. There's a quick laugh involving a Murphy bed in which Boston and the Runt (George E. Stone) are secreted. Like many of these programmers, this one has no real suspense or surprises.

Verdict: Not nearly "mysterious" enough. **.


MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER

MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1946). Director: William Castle.

Elderly Edward Stillwell (Paul E. Burns of The Royal Mounted Rides Again) hires private detective Don Gale (Richard Dix) to find a woman, Elora Lund, that he hasn't seen in several years. Gale is a somewhat shady character, and he has a lady friend, Freda (Helen Mowery), pretend to be Elora so he can get the skinny on just why Stillwell is trying to find the dame. Then the real Elora (Pamela Blake of Highway 13) shows up and Dale keeps tripping over corpses. Seems Elora was left some valuable items that may be worth a fortune ... Mysterious Intruder is one of the movies in the Whistler series, and it is narrated by that unseen character from radio, voiced by Otto Forrest. Dix is fine as the hero, and there are good supporting performances from Mowery; Blake; Nina Vale as Dale's secretary, Joan; Charles Lane and Barton MacLane as cops; Regis Toomey as an apartment manager; and especially Kathleen Howard [First Love] in a flavorful turn as a landlady who looks after Gale's clients when he needs a place to park them. Mysterious Intruder has a good and downbeat ending, but it's still a very minor mystery film. This was the fifth entry in the Columbia series.

Verdict: Some days a guy just doesn't get a break. **.  

PHILO VANCE RETURNS

cop vs private eye: Eddie Dunn and William Wright
PHILO VANCE RETURNS (1947). Director: William Beaudine. 

"Mrs. Simns is a neurotic -- an advanced case."

Larry Blendon (Damian O'Flynn) has already had four wives and a girlfriend, but he is smitten again when he meets singer Virginia Berneaux (Ramsay Ames). Unfortunately, Virginia is shot to death not long after being introduced to Larry's grandmother, Stella (Clara Blandick), then Larry himself is found dead. Larry's friend, detective Philo Vance (William Wright) teams up with Virginia's former manager, Alexis Karnoff (Leon Belasco), to look up these former wives -- and the fan dancer Choo Choo (Iris Adrian) -- all of whom were unaccountably mentioned in Larry's will (what, no divorce settlements?). There are more murders, usually involving women who put on a lipstick that's been poisoned. Frank Wilcox [The Devils Mask] is lawyer George Hullman, and Eddie Dunn [A Fig Leaf for Eve] is police lieutenant Mullard, who often finds Vance underfoot and doesn't like it. This one had possibilities in its characters and plot, but it's a minor PRC (Producer's Releasing Corporation) production, which puts it on an even lower level than Monogram. Still, Wright [Reveille with Beverly] is okay as Vance, and most of the performances are at least competent. Albert Glasser did the score.   

Verdict: Standard series mystery with some interesting elements. **

PHILO VANCE'S SECRET MISSION

Alan Curtis and Sheila Ryan
PHILO VANCE'S SECRET MISSION (1947). Director: Reginald Le Borg.

Martin Jamison (Paul Maxey of The Sky Dragon), a publisher of lurid horror and mystery pulp magazines, wants to hire Philo Vance (Alan Curtis) to write a story based on a real-life murder case. The victim was the husband of widowed Elizabeth Phillips (Tala Birell), who is working for Jamison and faints when she discovers Vance will be investigating her late spouse's still-unsolved murder. Jamison announces that he already knows who did it -- and is later found dead in the trunk of a car. Aided by Jamison's cover model, Mona Bannister (Sheila Ryan), Vance attempts to discover who killed the late Mr. Phillips as well as Jamison. Other suspects include Paul Morgan (Frank Fenton of Hell Bound), Louise Roberts (Toni Todd of Philo Vance's Gamble), and others who worked for their deceased boss. Philo Vance's Secret Mission is an acceptable lower case mystery with a not-bad plot, even if the solution is somewhat obvious. Curtis makes a handsome and reasonably adept Philo and the others are all okay. Frank Jenks plays Philo's buddy and sort of-partner, Ernie, and James Bell is the sheriff. This is another PRC release.

Verdict: Passable time-passer. **1/2.

THE LONE WOLF AND HIS LADY

Ron Randell as the Lone Wolf
THE LONE WOLF AND HIS LADY (1949). Director: John Hoffman.

"Stealing a diamond is the farthest thing from my mind." -- Lanyard.

"Yes, about as far as I can throw St. Paul's Cathedral. -- Jamison.

John Murdock (Douglas Dumbrille), the new publisher of the Daily Tribune, is so stupid that he doesn't know what a newspaper morgue is, but he wants the paper to sensationalize the news in order to increase circulation. Fisher (Arthur Space) is made the new editor and Grace (June Vincent), who worked on obituaries, is promoted to reporter. She importunes Michael Lanyard, the infamous "Lone Wolf" (Ron Randell) to sell his memoirs to the papers and also go to work for the Tribune, covering the exhibition of a fabulous diamond called the "Tahara." Naturally, Lanyard is the chief suspect when the diamond disappears. Randell makes an acceptable Lone Wolf, but he isn't as good as other actors who've played the part. As the leading lady, June Vincent gets a larger role than usual and is excellent. For added support we've got William Frawley [East Side, West Side] as the cop investigating the case; Alan Mowbray [Dante] as Lanyard's valet, Jamison; and Steven Geray as diamond expert Van Groot. Still, this is not an especially memorable Lone Wolf move. Randell and Vincent also appeared together in Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard. Not to be confused with The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady. From Columbia studios.

Verdict: The Lone Wolf's "lady" helps this quite a bit but not quite enough. **.

JUNGLE MAN-EATERS

Karin Booth and Richard Wyler
JUNGLE MAN-EATERS (1954). Director: Lee Sholem.

Jungle Jim (Johnny Weissmuller) learns that yet another new diamond field has been discovered, and he and others fear the precious gems could be smuggled out to "flood the diamond markets of the world." Jim also encounters the lady doctor, Bonnie Crandall (Karin Booth of Let's Do It Again), who's a cute trick; and Inspector Jeffrey Bernard (Richard Wyler aka Richard Stapley of The Strange Door), who's handsome -- the two do even more smooching than the romantic couple in the previous Jungle Jim picture, but again Weissmuller gets no action. Mssr. Leroux (Gregory Gaye) is a member of the diamond syndicate who hides his true, more nefarious, purposes. In a weird sequence, Prince Zuwaba (Bernie Hamilton), is told that his wife has given birth to a baby boy, but that the mother died. Everyone congratulates Zuwaba on the child, but no one expresses any condolences over the woman! (Zuwaba seems to get over it pretty fast in any case.) The pretty doctor gets along swimmingly with the Inspector, but generally finds the mischievous chimp Tamba to be too much of a pest; Tamba is typically adorable. There are burned villages, angry natives, and a climactic cliff fight between Jim and Leroux that ends as expected. Hamilton later appeared on the sixties Tarzan TV series, and had many credits, including The Devil at 4 O'clock. There are no actual man-eaters in the movie. Although three films remained in the series, this is the last picture in which Weissmuller is referred to, or actually plays, "Jungle Jim."

Verdict: Standard Jungle Jim adventure with some rather attractive players. **1/2.


CANNIBAL ATTACK

Weissmuller and Bruce in a sticky situation
CANNIBAL ATTACK (1954). Director: Lee Sholem.

"Although I've educated (my ward Luora) in European ways, there are times when her jungle blood asserts itself." -- John King.

Ostensibly the 14th entry in the "Jungle Jim" series, Cannibal Attack ushers in some changes. Johnny Weissmuller is simply referred to as "Johnny," and the big chimp Tamba has been replaced by the smaller chimp Kimba. Otherwise everything is the same, What happened is that Columbia temporarily lost the rights to the Jungle Jim character, so Weissmuller simply played" Johnny Weissmuller" for the remaining three films in the series.

In this entry, a man named John King (Steve Darrell) falls under the spell of his beautiful native, but educated, ward, Luora (Judy Walsh). Johnny (Weissmuller) and his cronies try to figure out who is behind recent attempts to steal some valuable cobalt, and he encounters a tribe called the Shendi, formerly cannibals, who wear crocodile skins on their back and skulk around like animals. At one point Johnny and King's brother, Arthur (David Bruce of Can't Help Singing) are tied to poles as a hungry crocodile advances on them with open jaws. There is no romantic couple in this entry aside from King and Luora, but the latter makes advances on Johnny, for nefarious purposes only. One exciting sequence shows several natives and white men on a boat falling into the midst of thrashing and voracious crocodiles. [This picture should have used the title of the previous film, Jungle Man-Eaters.] Judy Walsh is sexy and gives a good performance of the bad girl who wants to be Queen of the Jungle.

Verdict: Not bad "Johnny Weissmuller" adventure. **1/2.

DR. MABUSE VS SCOTLAND YARD

Possessed by Dr. Mabuse: Walter Rilla
DR. MABUSE VS SCOTLAND YARD (aka Scotland Yard jagt Dr. Mabuse/1963). Director: Paul May.

Although the evil criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss) has died, his spirit has taken over the mind of sanitarium director, Professor Pohland (Walter Rilla). Therefore there is a new Dr. Mabuse afoot, one who is determined to take over the British government. To that end he enlists the aid of Ernest (Wolfgang Lukschy), whom he helps escape from police and who gets a new face. Ernest and others steal a device invented by Professor Merton (uncredited) -- this can take over the minds of anyone the device is trained upon and turn them into Mabuse's slaves. Fighting Mabuse are Inspector Vulpius (Werner Peters), and agent Bill Tern (Peter van Eyck), who lives with his feisty mother, Gwendolyn (Agnes Windeck). There are assorted plots and counter-plots; successful and abortive assassinations; the kidnapping of a princess (Ruth Wilbert) and Bill's steady, Nancy (Sabine Bethmann); a train robbery and a copter chase; but none of this is very interesting or handled with any real suspense or excitement. Along with van Eyck, Klaus Kinsiki is another familiar face as an agent who is temporarily mind-controlled by Mabuse. An interesting touch is how "Mabuse," once captured, is just a harmless, pitiful old man after the master criminal's spirit has left his body. This is a sequel to The Terror of Dr. Mabuse. Peter van Eyck also appeared in The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse but played a different character. Mabuse would return. By this time the Mabuse films had turned into nominal spy pictures with Mabuse in the place of, say, Dr. No.

Verdict: Manages the amazing feat of making Mabuse very dull. *1/2.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

SARATOGA TRUNK

Ingrid Bergman
SARATOGA TRUNK (1945). Director: Sam Wood.

"I don't have money, either, but I know how to turn a trick." -- Clint.

"Common. Common as dirt."  -- Angelique to Clio.

"Shut your mouth -- or I'll send you away somewhere to starve." -- Clio to Angelique.

After her mother's death,.Clio Dulaine (Ingrid Bergman) travels from France to New Orleans with a weird entourage consisting of old Angelique (Flora Robson), who takes care of her as she did her mother before her, and little person, Cupidon (Jerry Austin), who is only a couple of feet tall but feisty and fun. Clio is in New Orleans to get revenge on all of those who turned on her mother, a supposed murderess of her father, but this plot is quickly resolved once she meets cowboy Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper). After a love-hate courtship, Clint leaves for Saratoga and Clio follows, hoping to snare the wealthy if weak, supposedly mother-dominated Bartholomew Van Steed (John Warburton of Secret File Hollywood). But are Clio and Clint really sure that they are out of each other's systems? Saratoga Trunk is a weird movie that loses its focus and grip early on, but offers an excellent performance from Bergman -- who has never been photographed more beautifully -- and a good turn from Cooper. The problem with the film, among many, is that the most exciting scene has to do with a railroad clash -- and crash -- where two trains collide, men jump off the trains, and a rousing fight scene ensues -- unfortunately, none of this has much to do with the main plot of Saratoga Trunk (and the whole business with the railroad is tedious aside from the aforementioned scene). Apparently playing a black woman, British actress Robson [Caesar and Cleopatra] is wonderful as Angelique; Austin offers a winning performance as Cupidon; and there are splendid turns from Florence Bates [Rebecca] as a Saratoga society lady who helps Clio, and Ethel Griffies as the formidable termagant mother of Van Steed, who is out to expose Clio as a phony. Throughout the movie the love-hate badinage between Clio and Angelique is priceless. This is based on a novel by Edna Ferber.

Verdict: Lots of good things in this movie, a striking performance from Bergman, but a half-baked and over-boiled story that doesn't quite work. **1/2.

THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL

Eddie Albert and Lucille Ball
THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950). Director: Lloyd Bacon. Written by Frank Tashlin.

Sally Elliott (Lucille Ball) is engaged to co-worker Humphrey Briggs (Eddie Albert), and the two have their eye on a home they can't afford. After a spectacular accident at work involving an exploding switchboard, Sally is fired and tries her hand at selling cosmetics as a Fuller Brush girl (she hasn't actually got the job yet, but is kind of "auditioning"). She and Humphrey wind up in the midst of a murder mystery, on the run both from police and from the real killer, winding up on a ship at sea with a bomb aboard! Red Skelton's The Fuller Brush Man was a success, so it was only natural for there to be a Fuller Brush Girl, and Lucy was an inspired choice as star, as she's wonderful in this. Franklin Tashlin's funny script (he also co-wrote Fuller Brush Man), has lots of thrills and laughs, and is full of his trademark inventive "cartoon-style" comedy, such as a great scene when Lucy, wearing several round life preservers, goes rapidly rolling around the deck of the ship and almost goes kerplunk into the ocean. Albert [On Your Toes] provides fine support for Lucy, and there are good performances from Jerome Cowan [Have Rocket, Will Travel] as her boss; Lee Patrick as his wife; Gail Robbins as dancer Ruby Rawlings; Arthur Space as Inspector Rogers; and Jeff Donnell [Night Editor] as Sally's friend, Jane. Red Skelton has a cameo playing himself and a potential customer -- he sells some items to Lucy instead of the other way around! There's a lot of clever stuff in this and the two parrots on the ship (voiced by Mel Blanc) are a scream.

Verdict: Cute picture with lots of laughs and a resplendent Lucy! ***.

THE MEDUSA TOUCH

Richard Burton 
THE MEDUSA TOUCH (1978). Director: Jack Gold.

A writer named Morlar (Richard Burton) is found apparently beaten to death in his London apartment, but Inspector Brunel (Lino Ventura) is shocked to discover that Morlar is still alive. In the intensive care unit, the doctors hold out little hope, but then Morlar's brain activity begins to register. Hoping to find out who assaulted the man, Brunel questions Morlar's psychiatrist, Ms. Zonfled (Lee Remick), who tells him that her patient insists he's responsible for a series of terrible tragedies. Is Morlar merely a quilt-wracked neurotic, or does he truly possess amazing and deadly telekinetic abilities that can send airliners crashing into buildings? What do you think? Morlar has a social conscience, hates the establishment, and has essentially turned into a terrorist. The Medusa Touch certainly tells an interesting story, but the way it's told -- with too many flashbacks and a rather slow pace, not to mention a dragged out final quarter -- works against it. The film recovers a bit with the exciting and well-handled destruction of a Cathedral at the climax. Burton's performance, while not among his most notable, is suitably intense; Lee Remick is good, although she underplays too much at times; and there are interesting performances from Derek Jacobi [The King's Speech] as Burton's publisher; Jeremy Brett [Young and Willing] as one of Morlar's wife's paramours; and Harry Andrews [Sands of the Kalahari] as Brunel's supervisor; among others. It may seem strange that Italian-born Lino Ventura is cast as a French inspector visiting England, but Ventura was raised in France where he became a well-known character actor. The Power is a better film with a similar theme.

Verdict: Quite interesting, but just misses being a superior thriller. **1/2.

DAY THE WORLD ENDED

"You're dimestore, Ruby, you're cheap!" Adele Jergens and "Touch" Connors
DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955). Produced and directed by Roger Corman.

"He's a mutation, Rick, a freak of this new atomic world of ours."

After nuclear holocaust, a taciturn fellow named Maddison (Paul Birch) holes up in his valley home with his daughter, Louise (Lori Nelson), whose fiance is missing and presumed dead. Unwelcome visitors looking for food and shelter include hoodlum Tony (Mike Connors, billed as "Touch"), his moll and former striptease "artist" Ruby (Adele Jergens), old prospector Pete (Raymond Hatton of The Three Musketeers) and his mule; and the radioactive, supposedly dying Radek (Paul Dubov of Girls' Town), who is developing a taste for raw meat. A more welcome addition is geologist Rick (Richard Denning), who is able to handle Tony and has a mutual attraction for Louise. Meanwhile a strange mutated creature (Paul Blaisdell) roams the grounds as the others wonder if the threatening rainfall will wipe them all out with radiation sickness. Day the World Ended may use some of the same settings as Attack of the Crab Monsters, but it doesn't have that film's cleverness, imaginative touches, and creepy atmosphere. Jergens offers the zestiest performance as the ill-fated Ruby. Like many films of the period, it suggests that a person can't be decent unless he or she is religious. There's a vague twist ending involving the "dead" fiance, but nothing much comes of this. Filmed in widescreen "Superscope."

Verdict: Even mutations can only do so much. **.

RADAR SECRET SERVICE

"Remember me, I'm your boyfriend." Adele Jergens, Tom Neal
RADAR SECRET SERVICE (1950). Director: Sam Newfield.

The "Radar Patrol," which uses radar in its war on crime, is after some uranium which was stolen by Mickey Moran (Tom Neal of Bruce Gentry) and sold to a man named Michael (Tristram Coffin). Hard-boiled blonde Lila (Adele Jergens) is supposedly Mickey's girlfriend, but she's playing up to Michael to help Mickey -- although she may be planning a double-cross just as Michael is. Bill Travis (John Howard) and his partner "Static" (Ralph Byrd) are the agents on the case. Riley Hill is a hood named Blackie; Myrna Dell [Why Men Leave Home] is his girlfriend, a waitress named Marge; and the ever-irritating Sid Melton is "Pill Box," a hypochondriac member of Michael's gang. There's some mild excitement at the climax; a good laugh when Marge makes a comment about how Lila really gets rid of her boyfriends after she sees Michael's corpse; and an inside joke when Ralph Byrd, who played Dick Tracy numerous times, makes a remark about "Dick Tracy's two-way radio." The good guys are called Radar Patrol throughout the movie, and not "Radar Secret Service," possibly because there was a serial called Radar Patrol vs. Spy King two years earlier.

Verdict: Pretty dull cops and robbers, but at least it's less than an hour long. *1/2.

DEAD MOUNTAIN: THE UNTOLD TRUE STORY OF THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT

DEAD MOUNTAIN: THE UNTOLD TRUE STORY OF THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT. Donnie Eichar. Chronicle; 2013.

I first found out about the true-life Dyatlov Pass incident when I saw a fictional movie called Devil's Pass, which came up with an utterly far-fetched explanation for the mysterious deaths of nine young Russian hikers in the Ural Mountains in 1959. What made their deaths so strange was that they apparently rushed out of the safety of their tent with no shoes on and insufficiently dressed as if in a panic. They were found a mile away in various places. While most died of hypothermia, there were also other violent injuries. For decades, Russians have speculated on what made these experienced hikers run out of their tent, with an avalanche being the most likely explanation. But author Eichar, talking to relatives of the deceased, as well as experts in various fields both in the U.S. and Russia -- and retracing the steps of the victims via snowmobile --  debunks the avalanche theory and many others, including military or extraterrestrial intervention and radioactive missiles or fireballs. Eichar does reveal what he thinks is the most plausible scenario of what happened to those poor young people on  that terrible night in 1959, and I suspect that he has finally hit upon the correct solution. Although Eichar uses many new and historical photographs (of the victims and others) in the book, he does not include photos of the corpses, although they are easily available on the Internet, probably out of respect for these tragic young students he has come to know during his research. Even without the sci-fi horror trappings of films like Devil's Pass, this would make a compelling and sobering motion picture

NOTE; Some feel that Eichar's theory doesn't have enough supporting evidence to back it up, and that his inability to read or converse in Russian (he used translators at times) would have severely hampered his efforts.

Verdict: A bit padded at times, but fascinating, scrupulously researched, and well-written.

HOT ROD

Jimmy Lydon, Art Baker, Myron Healey
HOT ROD (1950). Director: Lewis D. Collins.

"Parents, be grateful you're attending a hearing today instead of a funeral. -- Judge Langham.

David Langham, a kind of mopey "youngster" (Jimmy Lydon, billed as James Lydon), is in love with hot rods and wants to build a super-charged one to impress his sometime girl, Janie (Gloria Winters), Janie is more taken with obnoxious Jack (Tommy Bond), who gets David in trouble when he "borrows" his vehicle and gets into an accident. David's older brother, Joe (Myron Healey of Panther Girl of the Kongo), is a cop and their father is Judge Langham (Art Baker), who takes a dim view of hot rods and the lives cost by dangerous amateur racing. David feels that lives might be saved if the town opened a legal racing strip so the kids wouldn't have to race illegally and get into trouble. Seventy years ago hot rods and racing were a big issue, and lots of movies, mostly "B" films, dealt with it, along with juvenile delinquency. Lydon, who so winningly played Henry Aldrich in a series of comedies, gives a good performance in this, but the film is mediocre, like an expanded "Leave It To Beaver" episode with a heavy-handed (if appropriate) moral tone. Gil Stratton is weird as David's geeky pal, Swifty. Serial stars Marshall Reed and Dennis Moore both have small roles in Hot Rod, with the former playing a guy whose car is hit by David's jalopy, and the latter as a motorcycle patrolman. Those hoping to see some amazing souped up and sexy hot rods in this picture will have to look elsewhere. Lewis D. Collins co-directed many serials (generally with Ray Taylor) and also helmed The Spanish Cape Mystery.

Verdict: Despite a high speed chase at the end, this has little zzzooom. **.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

TARZAN REDUX!

The cast of Tarzan Finds a Son
TARZAN REDUX!

Having exhausted all of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan features -- just type in his name in the search bar above to read reviews of all of those films -- it's time for another round-up of Tarzan movies starring other actors. We've got Herman Brix (aka Bruce Bennett) in the serial New Adventures of Tarzan; Glenn Morris in Tarzan's Revenge; Lex Barker in Tarzan and the Slave Girl and Tarzan's Peril; Gordon Scott in Tarzan and the Lost Safari; and -- last and least -- poor Christopher Lambert in the absolutely dreadful Greystoke. We also look at a new book, Tarzan On Film.

Here's to the Ape Man!

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN

Herman Brix aka Bruce Bennett with deer
THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN (1935). Director: Edward A. Kull.

Major Martling (Frank Baker) is desperate to find a Mayan artifact called the "Green Goddess" because (somehow) it contains a formula for an incredibly deadly explosive. Also looking for this formula is the corrupt Raglan (Ashton Dearholt aka Don Castello). Following Raglan is a woman named Ula Vale (Ula Holt), whose fiance's plane crashed in South America. Tarzan decides to go with Martling's party because his friend D'Arnot (uncredited), who helped him discover his origins as Lord Greystoke, has also gone missing in the jungles of Guatemala. Accompanied by Martling; the major's daughter, Alice (Dale Walsh); her fiance, Gordon (Harry Ernest); and George (Lewis Sargent), a bumbling guy who hero-worships the Ape-Man, Tarzan sets off for a new adventure in Guatemala. Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs formed his own production company with Ashton Dearholt, who cast himself as Raglan and his girlfriend as Ula. The serial was actually filmed in Guatemala, giving it a certain verisimilitude in particular sequences. Brix/Bennett is good as an educated Tarzan, as in Burroughs' novels. The first chapter, which is 41 minutes long, features a terrific sequence in which Alice is suspended over a tiger pit just as the rope begins to shred, while the cliffhanger has most of the cast about to be thrown to ravenous gators as a knife plunges towards Tarzan's chest. Chapter ten boasts a suspenseful sequence with Tarzan trapped in a chamber with a lion whose bonds are beginning to break, as well as the amazing battle between Tarzan and said lion. Chapter eleven has an exciting storm-at-sea sequence. Chapter 12, the final chapter, has a fortune teller showing long sequences from earlier chapters in her crystal ball after the main story line has been wrapped up. Tarzan is given a brand new yell that is distinct from Weissmuller's and quite a bit more high-pitched. Jiggs, who played Cheetah the chimp in the Weissmuller films, portrays N'kima -- and is similarly smart and adorable -- in this. Jane does not appear in the serial. The characters of Alice and Gordon are shipped home halfway through the chapterplay, making one wonder why they were even included in the first place. As the comedy relief, Lewis Sargent becomes quite irritating at times. A feature-length version of this serial (mostly with footage from the first few chapters as well as some new footage) was released as Tarzan and the Green Goddess. Sometimes it was referred to as a sequel to New Adventures, but it isn't.

Verdict: This is not a bad serial that could use remastering. **1/2.

TARZAN'S REVENGE

Glenn Morris and pal
TARZAN'S REVENGE (1938). Director: D. Ross Lederman.

Roger Reed (George Barbier of The Man Who Came to Dinner), his daughter Eleanor (Eleanor Holm), and her fiance, Nevin (George Meeker of Omoo-Omoo The Shark God), are in Africa to capture specimens for zoos. Along the way Eleanor offends nasty potentate, Ben Alleu Bey (C. Henry Gordon of Thirteen Women), who has her kidnapped for his harem. Tarzan (Glenn Morris) isn't crazy about animals being caged up and is even less crazy that his crush, Eleanor, has been captured by natives under the direction of Bey. Then there's the fact that the jealous and creepy Nevin has his own dastardly plans for the Ape Man. Tarzan's Revenge was 20th Century-Fox's answer to MGM's Tarzan films with Johnny Weissmuller, but this film, in addition to having lower production values, is much, much less entertaining, with slow pacing and a weak story line that hardly gives our hero any action. On the plus side, there is plenty of "local" color and a surprisingly elaborate Arabic city that may have been borrowed from an earlier picture. Olympic champion Glenn Morris speaks not one word as Tarzan -- although he does give out with a credible "yell" --  but he is appealing, unconventionally handsome, and plays a child-like version of the Ape Man. Scandalous Olympic swimming star Eleanor Holm exhibits genuine acting ability as the equally appealing, feisty, and likable Eleanor -- she and Tarzan meet cute when he pulls her out of a muddy river and winds up dumping her back in. The two have a sexy underwater swim later on. Morris and Holm both got such bad reviews (as did the film) that neither ever made another movie. Others in the cast include Joe Sawyer, and Hedda Hopper, who is little more than irritating as Eleanor's ever-complaining mother. A nice upbeat ending and a pleasant score by Hugo Riesenfeld.

Verdict: Lesser Tarzan produced by Sol Lesser. **1/2.

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL

Vanessa Brown and Lex Barker
TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950). Director: Lee Sholem.

When people start dropping from an unknown sickness, Tarzan (Lex Barker) leads an expedition headed by Dr. Campbell (Arthur Shields of Daughter of Dr. Jekyll) to find its origins. Meanwhile Jane (Vanessa Brown) and Campbell's nurse, a saucy lady named Lola (Denise Darcel) who is lustful for the ape man, wind up kidnapped with other women by the cult of the Lionians. The women are placed in a harem for their prince (Hurd Hatfield of The Picture of Dorian Gray), whose young son is also dying of the illness. Will Tarzan and party be able to rescue Jane and Lola, save the little boy, and keep everyone from being thrown to the lions? What do you think?  The Lionians camouflage themselves with foliage to sneak up on their enemies, and use blow guns with poisoned darts. As Jane, Vanessa Brown is cute and almost child-like; she has an amusing, if brief, cat fight with Lola over Tarzan. Denise Darcel is a little too plump in this and in some shots resembles a man in drag, although her performance is spirited. Tarzan and Jane rub noses like Eskimos, and the adorable Cheetah gets several good scenes, such as when he (or she?) gets drunk on hooch. Tarzan can put up with a lot of things, but he doesn't like it when Lola picks up a needle and tries to give him an injection. In a thankless role, Robert Alda [The Beast with Five Fingers] plays a colleague of Dr. Campbell's. This was Brown's only appearance as Jane.

Verdict: Kind of ho hum Tarzan adventure, even if Tarzan meets Dorian Gray -- sort of. **.


TARZAN'S PERIL

Dorothy Dandrige
TARZAN'S PERIL (1951). Director: Byron Haskin.

Radjeck (George Macready), a bad guy who escaped from jail, is up to no good with his less bloodthirsty companions, Trask (Douglas Fowley) and Andrews (Glenn Anders). One of Radjeck's victims is Commissioner Peters (Alan Napier). Before realizing what a crumb he was, Jane (Virginia Huston) had befriended Radject, but now Tarzan (Lex Barker) is out to snare him. Radjeck wants to sell weapons to a nasty native tribe; Queen Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge) represents a tribe of friendlier natives. Tarzan's Peril is a poor Tarzan entry, badly directed by Haskin, who fails to give the film any kind of pacing or suspense. (This is strange, as Haskin also directed The War of the Worlds and Too Late for Tears, among others, both excellent movies.) Dandridge [Change of Heart] is as criminally wasted as she usually was, even after her Oscar nomination some years later for Carmen Jones. Macready is strangely subdued (for him) as the villain throughout most of the running time. There's a mechanical snake that nearly eats Cheetah (who has little to do in the pic), and man-eating plants that ensnare both Tarzan and a baby elephant with their vines. Jane looks like she'd be more at home on Park Avenue than in the jungle!

Verdict: Not Tarzan's finest hour. **.

TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI

Betta St. John and Gordon Scott
TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI (1957). Director: H. Bruce Humberstone.

Pilot Dick Penrod (Peter Arne of Battle Beneath the Earth), his dissatisfied wife, Diana (Betta St. John of The Robe), and friends are flying over Africa when their plane hits a flock of flamingos and down they go. They find themselves in the territory of the deadly Opar tribe, who love to make human sacrifices. Pretending to help this party -- along with Tarzan (Gordon Scott) -- is an untrustworthy fellow named Hawkins (Robert Beatty), who has an uneasy alliance with the bloodthirsty Oparians. Tarzan tries to take the downed party out of the jungle without them being attacked and killed by the hostile natives. Tarzan and the Lost Safari is in wide-screen and Eastman color -- this is the first Tarzan film in color, in fact -- but matte paintings of the jungle, some second unit location shooting, and a decent swamp set on a sound stage can't quite disguise the cheapness of the production. Tarzan is no Lord Greystoke in this, but a man of few syllables, and there's no mention of Jane. George Coulouris, Wilfred Hyde-White, and Yolande Donlan are the other members of the party. The acting is efficient enough, "Cheta" is adorable, and there's some good action at the climax, but otherwise this is not especially memorable. Humberstone also directed a number of Charlie Chan films such as Charlie Chan at the Opera.

Verdict: Mediocre Tarzan. **.

GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES

Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell
GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984). Director: Hugh Hudson.

With his parents dead after a shipwreck off of the African coast, the young Lord Greystoke is taken in by a gorilla who has lost her baby and raises "Tarzan" (Christopher Lambert) as her own. As an adult, the "ape man" comes to the aid of Philippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm), sole survivor of an attack by hostile natives, who in turn takes him to England to claim an uneasy heritage. When Greystoke was released, it was heralded as the first "serious" Tarzan movie, but even the silliest Johnny Weissmuller epic is more entertaining than this tragic mess. The alleged "faithfulness" to Edgar Rise Burroughs has Jane (Andie MacDowell) turning out to be the ward of Tarzan's grandfather (Sir Ralph Richardson). -- Jane never sets foot in the jungle as she does in Burroughs' "Tarzan of the Apes." Worse, even after Tarzan -- who is actually never referred to as such -- comes to England, he keeps making monkey "coo coo" sounds even when he's making love to Jane! In truth, Greystoke comes off at times more like a parody than anything else, and poor Christopher Lambert is given an embarrassing introduction to American films (he had previously appeared in several French movies). This was also Andie MacDowell's [Crush] first movie, and probably because she couldn't come up with a convincing British accent (or couldn't really act) she was dubbed by no less than Glenn Close! Richardson (who was nominated for a posthumous supporting Oscar) comes off best as the half-senile grandfather -- it's a shame that this dreadful exercise in tedium was his penultimate picture. Director Hugh Hudson seems unable to take command of this formidable production as was the case with his Al Pacino film  Revolution, and Robert Towne's script would have been better used for bathroom tissue. There is no exciting climax whatsoever. On the plus side, there are some striking shots of both England and Africa and some of John Scott's [Berserk] score is nice. The best thing about the picture are Rick Baker's wonderful and convincing ape costumes. Even the more recent "serious" Tarzan flick, the mediocre Legend of Tarzan, is better than this.

Verdict: Even the actors don't seem to know what to make of it! *.

TARZAN ON FILM

TARZAN ON FILM. Scott Tracy Griffin. Foreword by Casper Van Dien. Titan; 2016.

Griffin, who previously authored Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration, is back with a new coffee table tome that focuses on the Tarzan motion pictures and the various actors (supporting cast as well as stars) who appeared in them. There is no actual film criticism in the book, although there are loads of pictures and background notes on each production. Tarzan On Film looks at the silent Tarzan movies, the serials such as Tarzan the Fearless and The New Adventures of Tarzan, and all of the films starring everyone from Johnny Weissmuller to Mike Henry and beyond, as well as chapters on the various TV series starring the Ape Man (as well as cartoon series and animated features). You'll learn that Acquanetta of Tarzan and the Leopard Woman was born Mildred Davenport and was black passing for white, and that Woody Strode was dubbed by a British actor for Tarzan's Three Challenges, among other tidbits.

Verdict: No critical analysis, but Tarzan movie fans will love the info and photos. ***.