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

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Edgar G, Ulmer

I don't remember why, but years ago when I was in grade school, our teacher let us watch a movie on television. It was called The Man from Planet X and we children were enthralled. Unfortunately, we weren't able to see the ending, and decades went by before I finally got to see the movie in its entirety.

It turned out to be a not-bad B movie, and I guess it got me interested in seeing Ulmer's other movies -- at least when I'd see his name listed as director of an unfamiliar movie, I would sit up and pay attention. Ulmer seemed to specialize in genre films: horror, mystery, science fiction, which especially interested me as a kid, although he did other types of pictures as well. I enjoyed Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, which I found atmospheric and creepy, and Bluebeard with John Carradine has its moments. Murder is My Beat is a notable example of film noir. His best picture, however, may be the Zachary Scott melodrama, Ruthless.

Ulmer did more than his share of stinkers, such as Girls in Chains and the oddly-admired but perfectly awful Strange Illusion. He may have directed all of them, but the Ulmer pictures that work the best are the ones with the best scripts. One could argue that this is true of any director, of course. Ulmer's fans have argued that he was a great director who only needed better opportunities and the bigger budgets of major studios. In my opinion, Ulmer was a workmanlike director who had moments of inspiration, and who managed to helm some rather interesting pictures along the way.

Some members of what I call "the Cult of Ulmer" find genius in every frame. They wildly overpraise such movies as Strange Illusion. There has been more than one book on Ulmer, and some film scholars are taking his work very seriously. I like Ulmer -- at least many of his movies -- but I'm not necessarily convinced of his "greatness." He did come out with one certified near-classic, the fascinating Detour, the film he is most famous for.

Anyway, you can make up your own mind. His films tend to be hit or miss. This week you can read about some of these films, good or bad, as well as an excellent biography of the director.

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