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

Thursday, May 28, 2009


THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959). Director: Edward L. Cahn.

This gleefully and surprisingly gruesome old movie is a melange of boiled heads, sandals made of human skin, fingertips that have skulls branded on them, ancient Jivaro Indian curses, and 200 year-old men whose blood is mixed with the poison curare. Ever since an ancestor wiped out a tribe of Jivaro Indians after they beheaded an associate (the witch doctor escaped, however) the men in the Drake family have been dropping dead around their 60th birthday. Although their deaths are attributed to heart failure, their heads are always missing when they go into the family crypt. Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) is the last surviving male member of the family, and his daughter Alison (Valerie French) and policeman Jeff Rowan (Grant Richards) try to find out what's going on, as does the family doctor, Bradford (Howard Wendell). Meanwhile Dr. Emil Zurich (an absolutely splendid Henry Daniell), a family friend, offers tea and sympathy -- and more? You might wonder why the curse lets its victims live 60 long years instead of killing the men off in their twenties. Orville H. Hampton, who wrote the screenplay, also did the script for Atomic Submarine and many others. French co-starred with Glenn Ford in Jubal and with Gene Barry in The 27th Day. She also had a smaller role in The Garment Jungle. Paul Cavanagh appears briefly as Drake's brother. The effectively blaring score is by Paul Dunlap.

Verdict: Heads you'll like it. ***.


Colin said...

Bill, you're really excelling yourself this week! Another movie I loved as a kid. This isn't really very good I suppose unless that nostalgia factor plays a part. Happily, for me it does - the guy with the sewn up lips really freaked me out as a child. Crypts, shrunken heads and Henry Daniell - what's not to like.

William said...

Ha, I couldn't have put it better myself!

Actually, it's really not a bad movie, just kind of cheap.

Neil A Russell said...

This quote brought back an interesting memory: "fingertips that have skulls branded on them".

Is this the movie with a scene where a couple of the heroes dust skulls for fingerprints and find they all have the same set, each with a little skull in the middle, and then are astounded to think the prints had been left hundreds of years before?

That was the only part that left an impression on me I'm afraid.

William said...

This is the movie, all right. I think the boiled heads made more of an impression on me!