Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label Whit Bissell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Whit Bissell. Show all posts

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Kirk Douglas, Martin Balsam and Fredric March

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964). Director: John Frankenheimer. Screenplay by Rod Serling, from a novel by Fletcher Knebel.

U.S. President Lyman (Fredric March) has pushed through a nuclear disarmament pact with the U.S.S.R. that most of the people and military disagree with, not trusting the Russians. Colonel "Jiggs" Casey (Kirk Douglas) thinks he may have uncovered a plot by General Scott (Burt Lancaster) to capture Lyman and have a military take-over of the United States. Some people think Casey is paranoid and has no real proof -- although he has also uncovered a top-secret military base that the president has never heard of -- but as the time approaches, the evidence, and the suspicious death of at least one investigator, indicates that he may be right. Seven Days in May is a crackling good suspense thriller bolstered by excellent performances from the entire cast, including those already named, as well as Martin Balsam, Edmond O'Brien, George Macready, and Ava Gardner (as an old girlfriend of the general's). John Houseman plays an admiral, Andrew Duggan an Army man, and Hugh Marlowe, Whit Bissell, Richard Anderson, and Malcolm Atterbury have smaller roles. Fredric March is especially outstanding.

Verdict: Taut, fast-paced and terrific. ***1/2.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Dennis O'Keefe will have to deal with John Ireland
RAW DEAL (1948). Director: Anthony Mann.

Lawyer Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt of Smash Up) visits Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe of Hold That Kiss) in jail to talk about parole, but she's as attracted to him as he is to her. Joe took the rap for a big wheel named Rick (Raymond Burr) who promised him big money if he served his sentence. But Joe's faithful girlfriend, Pat (Claire Trevor of Crossroads), somehow breaks Joe out of jail in a million to one chance (the exact details are completely glossed over!), and the big lug brings her to -- Ann's apartment. In an interesting development, Joe forces Ann to go along with him and Pat as they drive past police blockades and try to get out of the city, which doesn't exactly sit well with the jealous Pat. Ann at first grows to hate the man she is attracted to, but then ... Yes, this is the type of movie in which the protagonist is a complete loser, but gets away with a lot because he's passably good-looking and has a slight -- very slight -- modicum of sensitivity. Raw Deal should have been more interesting than it is -- although it does pose a heart-rending moral question for Pat at the very end -- but the characters are unsympathetic (although one almost feels sorry for Pat) and the movie never quite rises above its second-rate film noir atmosphere. Hunt and Trevor are excellent, however, and O'Keefe got one of the best roles of his career and runs with it. Raymond Burr is also fine as Rick, who is so sadistic that he throws a flaming food dish in a woman's face because she accidentally spilled a drink on his jacket. John Ireland is a nasty henchman of Rick's who is sent to kill Joe, and Regis Toomey is the cop in pursuit of him. The versatile Whit Bissell has a memorable cameo as a murderer being chased by a posse who just happens to make his way to the same place that Joe and company are hiding out in. John Alton's moody cinematography doesn't hurt. Mann also directed the excellent Furies with Barbara Stanwyck.

Verdict: Very good showcase for O'Keefe with some interesting situations. **1/2.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


TARGET EARTH (1954). Director: Sherman A. Rose.

A young lady. Nora (Kathleen Crowley), who was in deep sleep wakes up to discover that there is no one in her apartment building, and indeed the streets of the unnamed city she resides in are completely deserted -- until she encounters businessman Frank (Richard Denning) and they meet up with Vicki (Virginia Grey) and her boyfriend Jim (Richard Reeves) swilling champagne in a bar. Seems this motley group was left behind for one reason or another when the city was evacuated due to the invasion of steel electromagnetic robots from Venus. With a plot like that it sounds as if Target Earth would at least be entertaining, but while the opening scenes showing Nora exploring the city are quite striking and good at getting across her sense of isolation, the picture doesn't develop in a particularly interesting fashion. Even introducing a killer with a gun (Richard Roark), doesn't help much, nor does the fact that there is some decent attempts at characterization. The ladies in the cast are much, much better than the men, with the exception of Roark. Denning is as blandly amiable as ever, and Reeves is similarly lightweight. Arthur Space (Panther Girl of the Kongo) and Whit Bissell (Creature from the Black Lagoon) play Army men trying to deal with the outer space menace in separate sequences. The best thing you can say about the movie, aside from the opening sequences and some of the performances and a couple of interesting directorial touches, is that it's moderately better than the decade-later The Earth Dies Screaming, which had a very similar plot line. Rose only directed three movies and mostly did television work.

Verdict: Throughout the movie you only see one robot. **.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Michael Landon as teen wolf


 I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957). Director: Gene Fowler, Jr.

"This is modern America -- not a hamlet in the Carpathian mountains!"

Tony Rivers (Michael Landon), who has serious anger management issues, is sent to a nutty psychiatrist named Dr. Brandon (Whit Bissell). Brandon has developed the insane theory that the only way to save mankind is to regress it back to its primitive state. To this end he experiments on poor Tony, using hypnotic regression to turn him more or less into a werewolf. Teenage Werewolf works on the level of an old horror comic book story, is nevertheless played more or less straight, and is not a bad picture. There is a genuinely well-done attack scene in a forest [greatly abetted by the performance of victim Michael Rougas] and the wolf make up is reasonably effective (even if the teeth could use a little work). Landon and Bissell give very good performances, and there's nice work from Louise Lewis as the concerned principle Ferguson, and Malcolm Atterbury as Tony's father. Guy Williams [Captain Sindbad] and Robert Griffin [Monster from Green Hell] are the cops on the case. The movie probably could have done without the "Eenie Meenie Minee Mo" number sung by the teens. Yvonne Lime makes virtually no impression as Tony's girlfriend. Released on a double-bill with I was a Teenage Frankenstein.

Verdict: Fun if downbeat horror flick. ***


Odd duo: Gary Conway and Whit Bissell

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN  (1957). Director: Gene Fowler, Jr.

The descendant of Professor Frankenstein (Whit Bissell) wants to take up where his ancestor left off, but intends to make sure his creature looks normal and can make his way among men. Well... not quite, as he removes the body of a dead teen from an accident and brings him back to life [see photo] looking in such a way that he can hardly enter polite society. The poor thing [Gary Conway of Burke's Law and Land of the Giants] wants more of a social life, so the two drive to lover's lane and drag off another poor fellow [Gary Conway again] for a face transplant so the monster can have a handsome and normal countenance; in other words he becomes a sexy beast. Prof. Frankenstein is almost comically immoral in this. [Oddly, the British Curse of Frankenstein released the same year by Hammer studios also had a murderous and sociopathic Dr. Frankenstein.] Conway and Bissell give very good performances, as does Phyllis Coates as Frankenstein's clueless fiancee. This came out on a double-bill with I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Conway later appeared in How to Make a Monster in which he played an actor playing a teenage Frankenstein.

Verdict: Very entertaining hokum with an alligator pit to boot. ***.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Richard Basehart
HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948). Director: Alfred L. Werker.

A cop is murdered in L.A. and the hunt is on. There's no mystery as to the identity of the killer; it's a man variously known as Roy Martin or Roy Morgan, played well by Richard Basehart [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea]. This police procedural follows Sgt. Brennan (Scott Brady) and his stern captain Breen (Roy Roberts of The Gale Storm Show) as they follow the trail to an electronics dealer named Paul Reeves (Whit Bissell, who also gives an excellent performance as a man innocently caught up in this murderous drama). Jack Webb, later of Dragnet fame, has a small role as a police technician who gives the cops some clues. The climax tales place in the same storm drains that figure in the finale of the giant ant thriller, Them, made six years later. This is well done and generally well-acted, with crisp cinematography, but the cinema verite approach strips the film of needed drama and intensity, and the characters are all one-dimensional. It holds the attention, but reminds one of a TV episode. Still, the film has its admirers.

Verdict: This could have used some giant ants. **1/2.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


ADVANCE TO THE REAR (1964). Director: George Marshall.

During the civil war, Union brass are so dismayed by a unit of screw-ups headed by Colonel Brackenbury (Melvyn Douglas), that they reassign them to a backwater outpost -- then realize that they made a dreadful error: a consignment of gold is coming and needs to be guarded by the screw-ups. In the meantime rebel spy, Martha Lou William (Stella Stevens), engages in a cat and mouse game with Brackenbury's second-in-command, Captain Jared Heath (Glenn Ford). Can Brackenbury's men manage to keep the gold out of rebel hands? This is a generally amiable if distinctly minor comedy with a few amusing sequences and characters. Douglas, of course, gives the best performance, but the others are good as well, including Jesse Pearson, who played Conrad in Bye, Bye Birdie, as a soldier with an odd attraction for horses. Jim Backus [I Married Joan], Whit Bissell [The Family Secret], Joan Blondell [Nightmare Alley], and Alan Hale Jr. [The Killer is Loose] are also in the cast.

Verdict: If you think the Civil War was funny ... **1/2.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


LOST CONTINENT (1951). Director:Sam Newfield.

When a firebird rocket designed by ex-Russian scientist Michael Rostov (John Hoyt) goes awry, Major Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) is assigned to finding it so that they can figure out what went wrong. He takes Rostov and others along with him to the South Pacific and discovers the rocket, which terrified the natives, landed at the very top of a high mountain covered by fog. Although no one else seems interested in the rocket, Nolan decides everyone has to ascend to the mountain top immediately, even though they haven't got decent climbing shoes let alone any other standard equipment. In another bit of illogic, the oldest man on the team, Rostov, looks after the least athletic, Briggs (Whit Bissell), even though there are several younger, able-bodied men in the group. The interesting thing about Lost Continent is that the climbing scenes are quite well-done, and have some suspense, which dissipates for the most part the minute the men reach the top [where everything is bathed in a greenish tint] and some crudely animated stop-motion dinosaurs appear. These include a charging brontosaurus and two triceratops who get into a bloody battle. Hugh Beaumont (Michael Shayne, Leave it to Beaver), Sid Melton, and Chick Chandler are in the cast, as are Hillary Brooke and even Acquanetta, however briefly. The acting isn't bad and neither is the movie, all told. The movie with its plateau of monsters was obviously influenced by Doyle's The Lost World, filmed in the silent era and again in 1960.

Verdict: This could have used Ray Harryhausen FX, but it's still minor-league fun. ***.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Director: Jack Arnold.

Deep in the Amazon an expedition searches for a fossil but discovers a living gill man who can do without their intrusion into his territory. In short order the bad-tempered creature nearly wipes out the entire party, and blocks off their exit from the lagoon as well. The "B" variety actors are more or less solid, the creature design is quite good, and the film has a certain degree of suspense and tension. Of the cast Richard Denning and Whit Bissell come off best, although Julie/Julia Adams, Richard Carlson, the ever-reliable Nestor Paiva, and Antonio Moreno as the man who found another gill man's fossilized claw are more than acceptable. The creature's underground lair is well-designed, and the brassy, jangling score [used in many other Universal films including the sequels to Creature] is effective. The erotic underwater "ballet" between the creature and Adams is a stand-out sequence. Although the creature is generally seen as a victim of sorts, hunted by interlopers, an early scene shows him slaughtering two innocent natives even before the expedition arrives. Followed by Revenge of the Creature. A remake is planned for release in 2011.

Verdict: Memorable monster movie -- and monster. ***

Thursday, June 5, 2008


THE FAMILY SECRET (1951). Director: Henry Levin.

David Clark (John Derek, pictured) kills his drunken, knife-wielding best friend in self-defense but he and his father Howard (Lee J. Cobb) decide to keep quiet about it. Unfortunately, an innocent man (Whit Bissell) is arrested for the crime and Howard winds up defending him. The Clarks' silence ultimately proves tragic. Interesting, but irritating, drama has some good performances and situations, but never quite comes to grips with the moral questions and dilemmas it poses. Erin O'Brien-Moore is David's concerned, over-protective mother, and Dorothy Tree is the wife of the man put on trial for David's crime. This could have used a few more plot twists. For one thing, we have only David's word that it was self-defense. Jody Lawrance is appealing as Lee, Howard' secretary and a romantic interest for David.

Verdict: Unsatisfactory but holds the attention. **1/2.