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

Tuesday, October 30, 2018



For the second weekly installment of my two part, two week annual Halloween horror round-up, Great Old Movies looks at a classic Alfred Hitchcock episode; a Roger Corman-Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe "collaboration;" a late entry slasher film that doesn't star Jamie Lee Curtis; and a supernatural horror film that doesn't star her, either, although she is in the supporting cast. (Hint: her mother is in it, too.). There's also a certified horror classic, Night/Curse of the Demon with Dana Andrews, and a sequel to that movie with the pumpkin monster that you read about last week.

Have a great Halloween!


"The Creeper." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 1956. Season 1, episode 38. Written by James B. Cavanagh from the story by Joseph Ruscoll. Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

Ellen Grant (Constance Ford of Claudelle Inglish) a housewife married to the loving if grumpy, Steve (Steve Brodie), is constantly on edge because two women -- also blonds, also left alone at night when their husbands are working -- have been murdered by an unknown maniac known as the "Creeper." Ellen is suspicious of everyone: her old boyfriend, Ed (Harry Townes), who comes to keep an eye on her but reveals that he's carried a grudge since she left him; the weaselly, always-smiling new super, George (Percy Helton); the old shoemaker (Alfred Linder) down the block who wants her address; even her neighbor, Martha (Reta Shaw), who says "decent women don't get themselves murdered" and thinks Ellen is carrying on with Ed. The episode builds suspense with each character who appears, all of whom are expertly portrayed by the excellent cast. 

Constance Ford
Topping the cast list, of course, is Constance Ford, one of the very best actresses of the period who appeared in a great many shows and movies but never quite made it to the front rank of stardom but deserved to. She gives a very strong and sympathetic performance in this, and the episode -- while chilling -- is ultimately heartbreaking. I have never forgotten Ford's sad, life-weary, regretful and horrified final words. The poignancy of the ending isn't even washed away by Hitchcock's flippant closing remarks, which are somewhat at odds with the tone of the story. While one can't quite call "The Creeper" any kind of feminist tract, it does illustrate how women can be horribly mistreated by others even when they aren't being murdered.

Verdict: A strong episode of an excellent program. ***. 


NIGHT OF THE DEMON (aka Curse of the Demon/1957). Director: Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Charles Bennett and Hal Chester. Based on "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James.

Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham), who has challenged the abilities and veracity of a warlock named Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), finds himself under a deadly curse, and is found dead and mutilated the following morning. Another skeptic, psychologist John Holden (Dana Andrews), arrives in London and hooks up with Harrington's beautiful niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins), who is convinced that her uncle's death was not a grotesque accident. Holden is a complete non-believer, but he admits he is baffled by some of the things that have happened since he has encountered Karswell, whose supernatural claims he has come to investigate. Holden discovers that Karswell has secretly passed him a parchment covered in runic symbols which mark Holden as the next victim of a legendary demon. Although Holden scoffs at first, Joanna's near-hysteria and certain occurrences make him wonder if he really has something to fear ...

Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins
Night of the Demon was released in the U.S. under the title Curse of the Demon with fifteen minutes cut from the running time. It is a superior horror film, with very good performances, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, adroit direction from Tourneur, and sequences that stay in the memory. Clifton Parker's music adds just the right note, and Edward Scaife's [Tarzan's Three Challenges] cinematography is first-rate. At the time of the film's release and later, there were some who objected to the producers' insistence on including a demon during key sequences, suggesting that this ruined the ambiguity of the film -- is the supernatural real or is everyone over-reacting? -- but there are other sequences in the film (footprints suddenly appearing in the ground where no one is walking; a cat that turns into a much larger feline creature; those hands on the banister) that make it clear that the supernatural events are actually occurring. Besides, the monster looks great. Andrews' panicky run through the midnight woods with something after him is chilling, and despite the film's essential grimness, there is an amusing seance that features comic actor Reginald Beckwith, with Athene Seyler  [I Thank a Fool] as Karswell's conflicted mother. Brian Wilde makes an impression as the haunted prisoner, Rand Hobart, a member of Karswell's sect who has been driven insane. Tourneur also directed I Walked with a Zombie, among many others, but this is by far the better film.

Verdict: A highly effective, engrossing, well-made and scary horror film without a single severed limb and with a fine script by Charles Bennett and Hal Chester. ***1/2.  


Jane Asher and Vincent Price
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964). Produced and directed by Roger Corman.

When the loathsome and cruel Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) realizes that the plague of the Red Death is beginning to ravage the countryside, he holes up in his castle with his wealthy sycophants and holds a masked ball. Unwilling participants include Francesca (Jane Asher), her father (Nigel Green) and her beloved, Gino (David Weston of Becket), all of whom are toyed with by the devil-worshiping  Prospero even as the prince tries to mold the pious and faithful Francesca into a wanton more suitable for his needs. This does not sit well with Juliana (Hazel Court of Premature Burial), Prospero's lover, who decides to become a bride of Satan instead and pays the ultimate price. In a sub-plot, the dwarf Hop Toad (Skip Martin) gets a diabolical vengeance on Alfredo (Patrick Magee), who dared to strike Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw), the lovely little dancer and friend of Hop Toad's. When the masked ball begins, Prospero discovers that he has a very unwelcome guest in his midst ...

Verina Greenlaw and Skip Martin 
The Masque of the Red Death is based on two Edgar Allan Poe short stories, the title story and "Hop-Frog." Enough time has gone by since its release to reassess the film and see its true strengths and weaknesses. No, it is not a masterpiece: the screenplay is hokey and pretentious at times; the falcon attack on Hazel Court sort of falls flat; and a tiresome dream sequence for Court's character stops the film dead in its tracks. Still, it is a wonderfully colorful picture, photographed by Nicolas Roeg and with Daniel Haller as production designer (both men later became directors), and the performances across the board are excellent, with even Price's florid, epicene approach working for the character. David Lee's [The Very Edge] score is effective enough but seems derivative.

Verdict: Doesn't quite hold up as well as expected, but still an entertaining picture. ***,

THE FOG (1980)

THE FOG (1980). Director: John Carpenter.

As the California coastal town of Antonia Bay prepares for its centennial, most of the town's citizens are unaware of its truly tragic origin. The town's founders, learning that a wealthy man was planning to build a leper colony near the town, deliberately sank the schooner that the lepers were sailing on and took the wealthy man's gold for themselves. Now it's one hundred years later and the ghosts of the lepers want revenge. Noticing the glowing fog at sea, along with some other strange occurrences, are several townspeople, including: Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau), who runs the local radio station out of a lighthouse; hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the fisherman, Nick (Tom Atkins), who gives her a lift; the tippling Father Malone (Hal Holbook), whose grandfather was one of the town's founders; and Mrs. Williams (Janet Leigh), who tries to stay in charge of the ceremonies even as she deals with the fact that her husband is missing.

Adrienne Barbeau
This was the second theatrical film after Halloween for both director Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, who has a supporting part in this. I was not all that impressed with The Fog when it was released, and it hasn't grown on me, although it is by no means a terrible picture, especially when compared to some of the horror schlock released at the same time. The main problem with the film is its too-deliberate pacing, which should at least give the movie time to develop its characters but doesn't. The main premise is quite good, but Carpenter, who co-scripted, just doesn't do enough with it, and viewers often get the impression that the movie is over just when it starts to get really interesting -- although to be fair there are some eerie sequences and a couple of startling moments. It also has some mood and atmosphere, and Dean Cundey's cinematography is notable. The picture cries out for a much better score than the one that composer Carpenter has provided, however. Janet Leigh gives a very obvious performance, but Barbeau [Two Evil Eyes] is better, along with most of the other cast members. Barbeau and John Carpenter were married at the time; their marriage lasted five years. I found it hard to believe that Barbeau's character would stay at the radio station instead of going to her little boy's rescue. Remade in 2005.

Verdict: If you like movies with creepy things in the fog, watch The Crawling Eye instead. **1/2.


The killer stalks 
RUSH WEEK (1989). Director: Bob Bralver.

When Toni Daniels (Pamela Ludwig), a new transfer student at Tambers College who's majoring in journalism, asks for an assignment for the paper, she's disappointed to be told she'll be covering rush week for the fraternities. Jeff (Dean Hamilton), the president of the BDB fraternity -- "booze, drugs and bimbos" -- at first proves a turn-off for Toni, but she eventually begins to fall for him. A more interesting development is that Toni discovers that not only was Dean Grail's (Roy Thinnes of The Invaders) daughter murdered, but now other co-eds have gone missing. The dean's daughter was also Jeff's girlfriend. Before too long, Toni realizes that her investigation into the disappearances has ignited the attention of the wrong person.

Dean Hamilton and Pamela Ludwig 
Rush Week generally gets low marks from slasher film fans because it has a comparatively low body count and there isn't that much bloodletting in the film, but the movie actually has some suspense, professional lensing, effective scoring, decent acting and direction, and moves at a fast pace. Of course one has to suffer through dumb frat boy scenes, as well as some alleged humor that has to do with one of the fraternities being named "GAE." The leads, Ludwig and Hamilton, do a nice job, while Roy Thinnes is given a thankless role as the dean. An unexpected cast member is Cher's husband (of a few days), Gregg Allman, playing Professor Cosmo Kincaid. Beefy John Donovan is a school cook who moonlights as a nudie photographer and is one of the chief suspects. There may not be much blood, but there are plenty of breasts on display.

Verdict: Last gasp of the 80's slasher film could have been much worse. **1/2. 


Pumpkinhead himself
PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS (1995). Director: Jeff Burr.

In 1958 a deformed orphan boy named Tommy (J. P. Manoux) is killed by a bunch of nasty high school bullies. Decades later a new group of teens manage to call up this dead boy -- whose father was the original demonic Pumpkinhead -- from his grave, and he sets out to revenge himself upon the men who killed him. Caught up in the horror is Sheriff Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson of The Drowning Pool), his daughter, Jenny (Ami Dolenz),  and her naughty new boyfriend, Danny Dixon (J. Trevor Edmond), son of Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly of Dallas), one of Tommy's original tormentors. Pumpkinhead II is hardly a great horror film, but it is somewhat better than the original Pumpkinhead, having a more involved plot line, a faster pace and more suspense, and some decent action-slay scenes at the climax. 

J. Trevor Edmond and Ami Dolenz
There is a surplus of amateurish actors in the picture among the supporting cast and bit players; however, Hill Harper wound up on one of the CSI shows years later, and veteran actress Lilyan Chauvin [Lost, Lonely and Vicious] plays the old witch, Miss Osie. Former president Bill Clinton's half-brother Roger plays the mayor and is abysmal. Gloria Hendry [Live and Let Die] is appealing, if at times a bit stiff, as a crime scene lady who surveys Pumpkinhead's carnage while J. Trevor Edmond makes a charismatic bad boy. This is more graphic than the original, which gives it a little more grisly zest. Followed by a couple of cable sequels. Jeff Burr also directed From a Whisper to a Scream

Verdict: Despite many flaws this direct-to-video sequel -- which could have been called Son of Pumpkinhead -- plays a bit better than the original . **1/2. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018



Welcome to the first week of our two week, two part Halloween horror special at Great Old Movies. This first week we cover everything from horror on Live Television to two Boris  Karloff movies, one Italian giallo film, a slasher-type picture with Jamie Lee Curtis, a British Hammer Horror anthology series, and a film entitled, appropriately enough, Pumpkinhead.

More to come next week!


Rita Corday, Boris Karloff, Richard Greene
THE BLACK CASTLE (1952), Director: Nathan Juran.

Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene of The Blood of Fu Manchu) believes that an evil man named Count Karl von Bruno (Stephen McNally of The Lady Gambles) was responsible for the disappearance of two of his friends as an act of revenge for events that happened in Africa. Under an assumed name, Burton travels to von Bruno's imposing castle near the Black Forest, where he sets about trying to find evidence of his friends' possible imprisonment or deaths. Burton receives unexpected aid from the count's lovely wife, Elga (Rita Corday), who was forced to marry him, and the castle's doctor-in-residence, Meissen (Boris Karloff of Lured). But someone overhears Burton and Elga conspiring and there may be hell to pay ...

Stephen McNally
I had never even heard of this movie when I spotted it on youtube, and found it to be a pleasant surprise. Karloff plays a sympathetic role for a change, and both Greene and Corday offer admirable performances. The scene-stealer, however, is Stephen McNally, who is really excellent as the charismatic but malevolent count. McNally had always been a very contemporary kind of actor, but he handles his role in this costume melodrama with aplomb. The Black Castle might be considered more of a thriller than a horror film, but it does have such horror elements as a creepy old castle with a dungeon, people nearly being buried alive, and even a pit full of snapping alligators! In addition to the aforementioned actors, we have solid support from Lon Chaney Jr. as the brutish servant Gargon, John Hoyt as Count Stelken, Michael Pate as the sinister von Melcher, and Turo Owen as Burton's very loyal manservant, Romley, among others. Romley makes a great sacrifice, but is sort of forgotten at the end. Nathan Juran also directed The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and many, many others.

Verdict: Nifty little old castle thriller with very good performances. ***. 


Boris Karloff
DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (aka Monster of Terror/1965). Director: Daniel Haller.

Stephen Reinhardt (Nick Adams) comes to the town of Arkham to see his fiancee, Susan Witley (Suzan Farmer), and discovers that she and her parents, who live on a large, foreboding estate, are shunned by the unfriendly townspeople.  Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff) rolls around in a wheelchair scowling, even though he is capable of walking. His wife, Letitia (Freda Jackson) stays in bed where she hides her face and urges Stephen to take her daughter by the hand and get her the hell out of there ... Did, Monster, Die! is the first adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's masterful novella The Colour Out of Space, and they essentially make a mess of it. The story has been transplanted from a New England farmhouse, and all that really remains is the meteor that fell to Earth and turned the heath into a no-man's land while simultaneously mutating plants, animals and people, including most of the Witley family. The special effects are uneven, the widescreen cinematography [Paul Beeson] is good, and Karloff gives his customary solid performance in material that is beneath him. Adams [Pillow Talk] plays it in such a gruff manner that you expect him to come out with "dese" and "dem" any minute, and Farmer [Dracula Prince of Darkness] , who was introduced in the picture even though she had many earlier credits, makes little impression. Director Haller, who was originally an art director, handles a few scenes with some suspense and excitement, but the picture on a whole is kind of shoddy and unconvincing. There is a glowing greenhouse, some peculiar-looking animals in cages, and a killer plant that tries to squeeze Susan to death. Later adaptations of the story include The Curse and The Colour Out of Space.

NOTE: I have already reviewed this film once on Great Old Movies, but watched it again after re-reading the Lovecraft story that inspired it; I didn't like the film any better. The original review is here.

Verdict: Lovecraft deserves much better. **. 


Peter Cushing
HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (1980 British television anthology series).

This British anthology series of horror stories lasted for one season and 13 episodes. It is a mixed bag with arguably only one really outstanding episode and a lot of stories with intriguing premises that are ruined by weak scripts and flat wind-ups. Peter Cushing stars in what may be the best episode, "The Silent Scream," in which a former Nazi scientist (Cushing) imprisons an ex-con and his wife in a cage along with several animals. There are some interesting twists and turns to the plot, although the ending is a little implausible. Among the more notable episodes are "Rude Awakening," directed by Peter Sasdy, in which a man (Denholm Elliott) has increasingly sinister dreams involving his wife and his mistress. There's an exciting sequence inside a building that is being demolished. "Children of the Full Moon" has to do with a honeymoon couple who encounter the inhabitants of an old house, a cult of werewolves, with a depressing conclusion. "The Two Faces of Evil" is a disquieting episode, well-directed by Alan Gibson,  in which a paranoid woman is besieged by demonic duplicates of her husband (Gary Raymond of The Millionairess) and son. "The House That Bled to Death" details odd occurrences in a house where grisly murders were committed, and bears a resemblance to The Amityville Horror but has its own shrewd and devilish twist.

Diana Dors in "Children of the Full Moon"
One of the most disappointing episodes is "The 13th Reunion," in which plane crash survivors have turned into a cannibal sect, but this great premise is completely muffed.  "Witching Time" is a mediocre story of a 17th century witch who is on the loose in modern times. "Growing Pains," in its story of weird things that happen after a scientist and his wife adopt a strange little boy, is initially absorbing but then becomes too confusing for its own good. An African fetish statue that causes death is the title object in the unoriginal and hum-drum "Charlie Boy," although it has some suspense. Pierce Brosnan is one of the victims of the "Carpathian Eagle," which butchers a series of men, and "Guardian of the Abyss" concerns a young lady in a cult and a supernatural mirror. "The Mask of Satan" is a stupid episode in which a man is convinced that he's been infected with a very strange virus. Kathryn Leigh -Scott of Dark Shadows fame stars in "Visitor from the Grave," in which a woman kills an intruder who keeps appearing wherever she goes; a poor script sinks this one, unfortunately.

Verdict: Not enough great episodes but most are at least reasonably entertaining. **1/2. 


Jamie Lee Curtis and Stacy Keach
ROAD GAMES (aka Roadgames/1981). Produced and directed by Richard Franklin.

Pat Quid (Stacy Keach of Butterfly) is a truck driver in Australia hauling a load of pig carcasses. He begins to suspect that a man in a green van may have done away with a woman that this other man shacked up with in a hotel, As his suspicions mount, he picks up a gal named Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is seemingly taken away by that man in the van. Or did she just shack up with this other guy of her own free will? Quid is torn between forgetting the whole thing or obsessively following the van to find out for sure what's up. Complicating matters is the fact that the police are beginning to suspect Quid of being a serial killer ... 

Stacy Keach
Road Games won some acclaim when it was released, primarily because Richard Franklin was clearly more talented than the average director of slasher films, and the film has virtually no gore. However, although the film starts very well and pulls one along, and is very well photographed by Vincent Monton, it doesn't quite make it as a really excellent thriller. The pic starts to go downhill when Jamie Lee Curtis [Terror Train] , whose acting is highly insufficient, shows up as the hitchhiker, and she and Quid almost immediately start talking about the potential serial killer with hardly any prelude. It makes the film seem as if a chunk wound up on the cutting room floor. Curtis' character is undeveloped and irritating, but at least she isn't on camera too long. Keach gives a solid performance as the smarter-than-average truck driver with issues, but for the most part the score by Brian May is just all wrong for the movie.

The film does boast an exciting, suspenseful and very well-executed climax involving a tight alleyway, Quid's over-sized truck, the van and the man inside it, and two cops, one of whom is crawling under the big truck in an attempt to get to the front of it and the fight that's ensuing there. Everett De Roche's script is unpredictable, and it does have touches that could be considered "Hitchcockian," although the movie is never on the level of the best of Hitchcock. This did, however, help Franklin land the plum assignment of directing Psycho II. 

Verdict: Too many loose ends, implausible moments, and a pretty weak Jamie Lee. **1/2. 


Nightmare sequence
MURDER OBSESSION (aka Murder Syndrome/Fullia Omicida/1981). Director: Riccardo Freda.

Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi) is an actor who hasn't seen his mother, Glenda (Anita Strindberg), in quite a few years. He comes to her castle -- where she lives with a majordomo named Oliver (John Richardson of She and One Million Years B.C.) -- for a visit and invites a few of his colleagues: the director Hans Schwartz (Henri Garcin); his assistant Shirley (Martine Brochard); a leading actress named Beryl (Laura Gemser); and Michael's girlfriend, Deborah (Silvia Dionisio). Apparently Michael killed his father, William (also Patrizi), a famous conductor, when the latter was beating his mother. Michael spent time in an institution and remembers little of the incident. But even he wonders if he is responsible when someone starts assaulting the people in the castle with definite homicidal intent.

Stefano Patrizi and Laura Gemser
Murder Obsession is one of those schlocky Italian horror psycho-shockers with way too much thunder and lightning, an obnoxious synthesizer soundtrack (except for the classical music which provides moments of blessed relief), bad overwrought dubbing, and a convoluted plot line with zany twists, one of which you can certainly see coming. There is a dream sequence for Deborah that seems absolutely endless and features spiders, bats and monks (and which turns out to not be entirely a dream), and at one point some poor soul gets a chainsaw in the throat. The final scene -- invoking the Pieta -- is suitably macabre, but otherwise the movie is not memorable. Riccardo Freda also directed The Ghost and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster, among others; both films are much better than this one.

Verdict: Throw in a castle and some gore and you've got a movie. *1/2. 


Lance Henriksen
PUMPKINHEAD (1988). Director: Stan Winston.

Fruit seller Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen of Aliens) has a loving relationship with his little boy, Billy (an appealing Matthew Hurley), but this is shattered when the child is killed in a motorcycle accident. Harley holds responsible a group of young people who came to the country for a drive, some of whom seem irresponsible, to say the least. Remembering an incident from his childhood, Ed goes to see an ancient witch who revives the demon, Pumpkinhead, to help him seek vengeance. However, Pumpkinhead doesn't seem to care if he kills the innocent or the guilty, and Ed tries to save the members of the group who are still alive at great personal cost. 

Pumpkinhead, itself
Pumpkinhead had its admirers back when it was released, but even then I thought it was a disappointment and still feel the same. On one hand it's better than a lot of the tacky mad slasher films that came out around this time and earlier, even if this is really just a comparatively tasteful slasher film with a demon instead of a maniac. The script reads like an old EC Comics revenge story, and hasn't much originality, twists or surprises, except perhaps the bit with Ed turning out to be linked to the monster (although even this has been done before). The picture is also rather slow-moving, the monster is too Alien-like, and the film is never scary or especially suspenseful. The locations all have a sound stage-like artificiality, but there is some atmospheric lighting throughout. The victims aren't quite dimensional enough to really care about. The FX in the film are generally good, however. A major Pumpkinhead franchise did not develop, but there was a direct-to-video sequel, Pumpkinhead: Blood Wings, and a couple of cable follow-ups. Lance Henriksen gives a strong performance. The only other name actor is Jeff East from Superman.  

Verdict: Smash that pumpkin! **1/4.  

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Oskar Werner and Simone Signoret
SHIP OF FOOLS (1965). Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer. Based on the novel by Katherine Anne Porter. 

"There are over a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do -- kill all of us?" -- Lowenthal. 

"I've met women like you. You're 46-years-old and still think you're a coquette." 

"I didn't even see a Jew until I was fifteen." -- Tenny. "Maybe you were too busy lynching Negroes to take time for the Jews." -- Mary. 

In 1933 an ocean liner sets sail from Mexico to Germany with a motley group of crew and passengers. Dr. Wilhelm Schumann (Oskar Werner) is the ship's doctor, a married man with a heart condition who develops a romantic relationship with La Condesa (Simone Signoret), a woman who faces prison in Cuba because she spoke out against the oppressive government. David (George Segal) is an American "starving artist" who loves his girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley), but fears she is too "modern" for him even as she fears he can only settle for the traditional wife who has no life or career of her own. Karl Glocken (Michael Dunn) is a dwarf who is not invited to the Captain's Table, any more than Lowenthal (Heinz Ruhmann), who is Jewish, but the two sit together and become friends. Bill Tenny (Lee Marvin) is a washed-up baseball player, and Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh) an aging and desperately lonely divorcee, who eventually have a distinctly unpleasant encounter. 

Vivien Leigh
Ship of Fools is not on the level of Stanley Kramer's masterpiece Judgment at Nuremberg, because even though it deals with matters German and (in part) with anti-Semitism, it doesn't have as good nor as powerful a story line. There are also some odd casting choices in this. Jose Ferrer as a Nazi? Simone Signoret as a Spanish noblewoman? Nonetheless Signoret did get a Best Actress Oscar nod, and Werner was also nominated as Best Actor. Both give good performances, although their love story isn't entirely convincing because one can't see any real on-screen chemistry between them, although they play well together. Poor Vivien Leigh is given the utterly thankless role of yet another desperate and aging woman to follow Blanche Dubois of Streetcar and Mrs. Stone of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone -- Still attractive, she must have gotten awfully sick of it. Leigh was fifty-two at the time, playing forty-six, although she holds up better than Signoret, who was forty-four playing forty-two. The irony is that Mary Treadwell acts as if she's all washed up when down the hall La Condesa is getting action with the handsome ship's doctor! Leigh's performance is fine but her portrayal is dated.  

Lee Marvin and Michael Dunn
Michael Dunn, infamous as the evil Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West TV program gives a notable performance, but although Lee Marvin has his moments, he seems to have wandered in from a different movie. Liz Ashley, in her pre-sex pot phase, is more than credible as Jenny, as is George Segal as her painter boyfriend. Charles Korvin is appealing as Captain Thiele. Jose Ferrer is completely miscast and not very good in the film, but there is fine work from two lesser-known actors: Alf Kjellin [Madame Bovary] is wonderful as Freytag, who is forced to leave the Captain's table because he is married to a Jewish woman, but suffers from great guilt because he abandoned her for his career; and Charles De Vries makes an impression as young Johann, whose elderly father is a miser. Werner Klemperer has some nice moments as a crew member who hopes to initiate a relationship with Mrs. Treadwell and is rather cruel to her when he is rejected. 

Ernest Gold's score is effective and Ernest Laszlo's cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. (The film also won as Best Picture, and the art direction also received a statue.) Abby Mann's screenplay, however, just doesn't delve deep enough into the characters, of which there are too many (the character of the ball player doesn't even belong in the movie). The film can't be said to be boring, as such, but it is never riveting the way the far superior Judgment at Nuremberg is. Still, it has memorable scenes, such as the sad one when Dunn observes that Lowenthal is a "fool", because he just isn't able to believe the dire and hopeless future for the Jews in Germany. 

Verdict: Despite many good moments, this should have been a much more absorbing and powerful picture. **3/4. 


Henri Serre and Oskar Werner
JULES AND JIM (aka Jules et Jim/1962). Director: Francois Truffaut. Based on a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche.

French Jim (Henri Serre) and German Jules (Oskar Werner) become the best of friends in Paris, and become a trio when they meet the free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau of The Yellow Rolls Royce). Eventually she marries Jules and all of them are separated by WW 1. After the war they are reunited, and Catherine transfers her affections to Jim, despite the fact that she and Jules have a young daughter. They live together in a kind of strictly heterosexual menage a trois, but Catherine's screwy personality is such that a lasting happiness with either man may be unlikely for her ...

Jeanne Moreau and Oskar Werner
The "New Wave" Jules and Jim was much admired when it was released and still certainly has plenty of fans among foreign film  enthusiasts. The generally fast-paced film is well-acted by the three leads, it boasts a fine score by Georges Delerue [The Conformist] and beautiful cinematography from Raoul Coutard. There is a free-love, supposedly European frankness to the film that certainly differentiates it from a Hollywood soap opera without necessarily improving upon it. In fact, one can imagine the same story being told by a major Hollywood director who could have given it much more impact, although the downside is that the production code might have insisted on the old moralistic "sin and suffer" approach. The trouble is that the characters of Jules and Jim never quite seem like real people, just sketches made with too-broad brush strokes; instead of seeming sophisticated, they just come off as childish. There's too much of the narrator telling us things about these people instead of letting the film show us. The light touch of the movie, with everyone seeming to accept the situation (without really doing so), is at odds with the utterly melodramatic, indeed somewhat farcical,  developments that wind up the picture. Still, it's just these bizarre touches that probably made the picture stand out when otherwise it might have been forgotten. Jules and Jim is too well-made to dismiss, but I can't quite disagree with those people who think it might have better been titled "Two Dopes and a Skank (who can't make up her mind)." A better Truffaut film is The Story of Adele H

Verdict: Like a fair-to-middling French Woody Allen movie, for better or worse. **1/2. 


Danton, Faylen, Adams, Calhoun
THE LOOTERS (1955). Director: Abner Biberman.

"I haven't had this much fun since I was kicked out of the Campfire Girls." -- Sheryl.

Jesse Hill (Rory Calhoun of That Hagen Girl), a loner and mountain climber who lives in the Rockies, gets a visit from a shady ex-army buddy, Peter Corder (Ray Danton of Code Name: Jaguar). When a commercial plane crashes in the mountains, the two decide to climb towards the wreckage, but with very different motives. Jesse wants to look for survivors, while Pete is more interested in salvaging what he can, which turns out to be a trunk full of loot. Pete's true nature is revealed pretty quickly, and he stakes his claim while threatening everyone else. Before long the two men start a tense descent back down the mountain along with three survivors, a former cheesecake model named Sheryl (Julie Adams), a captain named Leppich (Frank Faylen of The Mystery of the 13th Guest). and a wannabee big shot named Parkinson (Thomas Gomez). Who will get to keep the loot and who will survive?

Ray Danton as sneaky Pete
The Looters has a very good premise and could have been turned into a nail-biting and memorable suspense film. Instead it's a mediocre and often hokey time-waster that isn't good enough for the audience to ignore its many implausible aspects. Now, the plane crashed on top of a mountain, but it isn't in a nearly impassable area as the plane was in Three Secrets, so it seems to me that even if there were no survivors, arrangements would be made to get the victims' bodies back to their loved ones. But when the military, who is playing war games in the area, discovers that no one is at the plane, they start bombing the whole area -- say what? Admittedly, this adds some excitement to the climax, but it doesn't make much sense, as if the military's attitude would be "let's just blow up the bodies of the crash victims without even finding out what caused the crash!"

Of course one reason for this silliness is that it may fool viewers into not scratching their heads when one survivor expresses the hope that everyone will think he died in the crash. Another problem is that no one seems to act as if this was the scene of a tragedy, that there are several dead bodies (never shown) lying just out of view for much of the film's length. Then you have to wonder why Sheryl and Jesse would want to make out when neither has brushed their teeth for at least several days. Gomez makes his mark as the weaselly Parkinson, Danton is typically vivid, Adams is reasonably adept and sexy, giving the film no more than it deserves, and Calhoun is adequately stolid and heroic. But this is one flight you may not want to book. After meeting on this film, Adams and Danton were married. Abner Biberman was originally an actor, playing a great many Asian roles, before switching to directing.

Verdict: Another reason to avoid the Rockies. **. 


"Have you paid your taxes?" Walter Greaza
FEDERAL MEN (aka Treasury Agents in Action/1950 - 1955.

This long-running fifties crime drama, consisting of 190 half hour episodes, looked at various, supposedly true cases investigated by the Treasury Department, under whose jurisdiction came everything from tax evasion to counterfeiting to smuggling. Each story was introduced by Walter Greaza as the somewhat stern chief, who is out to get you if you dare to cheat on your taxes. (One can see him putting sweet little old ladies in prison for failing to report bingo money!) If this program sounds a little dull, be forewarned that some of the episodes, standard looks at standard crime cases, are just that. But the best episodes of the series (at least the ones I've seen) focus just as much if not more on the human drama as on the crimes involved, looking into the desperate lives of people who sometimes feel they have no other option but to break the law.

"Lonely People:" Frances Rafferty and Skip Homeier
One of the best episodes is "The Case of the Lonely People," in which a father and daughter team ensnare a crippled veteran (Skip Homeier of Stark Fear) in a scheme to cash stolen veteran's checks, a scheme that becomes complicated when the vet and the daughter fall in love. Homeier and Frances Rafferty [Money Madness] give outstanding and sensitive performances. Homeier was also terrific in "The Case of the Princely Pauper," playing a no-good guy from a once-wealthy family who smuggles in cheap rings and other goods, with his clients paying inflated prices when they think they're getting a bargain.

"Buried Treasure:" Byron Foulger
Another excellent episode is "The Case of the Buried Treasure," in which a once-shady man and his wife bury booty they don't wish to declare to the IRS only to find out when they dig it up years later that it's become riddled with mold. Still, they do their damnedest to get rid of it. Byron Foulger [The Black Raven] and Vivi Janis give notable performances in this. There were other memorable episodes as well. In "The Case of the Leather Bags" Joanne Davis nicely plays a washed up cruise singer who helps her boyfriend smuggle heroin. "The Case of the Man Outside" details how some prisoners are actually able to make counterfeit money while inside a penitentiary, and the fate of the head of the shop who only wants to keep his nose clean and get parole.

"Steady Hand:" Gloria Talbott

Gloria Talbott guest-starred in "The Case of the Steady Hand," playing a woman who has trouble accepting that her boyfriend is both a crook and a creep. Douglass Dumbrille plays a theatrical impresario who pretends his books all went up in smoke when the IRS comes a'calling in "The Case of the Slippery Eel." Paul Langton is a married hood and tax dodger who falls hard for a classy opera singer, only to learn she's of common stock herself in "The Case of the Perfect Gentleman." Charles Bronson plays an agent who is ordered to murder a man in "The Case of the Deadly Dilemma."

John Stephenson 
Several different actors portrayed Treasury, IRS and Customs agents over the years depending on the episode's target: Ross Martin, Harry Landers, Harry Lauter, and Richard Travis, among them. John Stephenson played Agent Grant in many episodes, although he did even more voice-over work for cartoons than he did live-action, everything from The FlintstonesThe Jetsons and Duck Dodgers to G. I. JoeX-Men, and Jonny Quest. As for star Walter Greaza, both before and after this series he was mostly cast as judges, cops and psychiatrists.

Verdict: Remember to pay your taxes! **3/4.


Steven Keats and Richard Boone
THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977). Directors: Alexander Grasshoff and Tsugunobu Kotani.

"A creature forty feet tall and weighing eight tons with the mind of a pea has just destroyed one of the greatest minds of the century."

 Masten Thrust Jr. (Richard Boone of I Bury the Living) is not only a famous hunter but one of the world's wealthiest men. He has developed a vehicle called the Polar Borer, that uses lasers to drill through the Polar Ice Cap, discovering a hidden world in a prehistoric valley below that is warmed by a volcano. Four men have already died at the teeth of a T-Rex, that appears to be the only one of its kind, although there are other dinosaurs in the valley. Returning to this land with the only survivor of the first expedition, Chuck (Steven Keats), Thrust also brings along Professor Kawamoto (Tetsu Nakamura of The Manster); an expert and silent seven foot tall tracker named Bunta (Luther Rackley); and a perky photographer named Francesca (Joan Van Ark). Although the original plan is only to study the tyrannosaurus, when it proves aggressive and even squashes the poor professor underfoot, Thrust determines to destroy the creature. But then the big beast snatches up the Polar Borer in its teeth and the whole group is stranded in the valley with time running out ...

The rubber T-Rex
The Last Dinosaur has a workable plot line, but it borrows very heavily from the film The Land Unknown, and the Polar Borer (which hardly looks large enough to hold so many people) reminds one of a similar machine in At the Earth's Core. Of course it's just another imitation of The Lost World minus diamonds and "fire gods." A bigger problem is the FX work, which features some crude but effective process shots and a rubber monster brought to life with "suitmation" -- a man in an dinosaur suit. The creature also lets out metallic wails that are borrowed from Godzilla. The shame is that the film does manage to work up some suspense -- as in Land Unknown there's a small window of opportunity to get out of the valley if they can survive the beast's attacks -- and this could have made a very exciting picture had Ray Harryhausen brought the creatures to life. A battle between the T-Rex and a triceratops does not compare favorably to a similar battle in Harryhausen's The Valley of Gwangi.

Bantu takes after T-Rex with a spear -- good luck with that!
The acting in the movie is professional, if uneven, with Richard Boone creating a colorful if contradictory character, and William Overgard's screenplay does do its best to bring some of the people in it to life. There's some decent art direction in the movie, but the score is pretty terrible. This was meant to be a theatrical film, but it was released to television in a somewhat edited version. The film makes much of the fact that the title refers to Boone as much as it does to the tyrannosaurus.

Verdict: Hardly the "last" dinosaur we've ever seen in film. **1/4. 


Richard Dix
THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945). Director: Lew Landers.

Jean Lang (Janis Carter of Slightly French) spies a stranger (Richard Dix of Lovin' the Ladies) in a bar and decides to read his fortune from across the room with playing cards. When the cards say that he faces death within 48 hours, she  decides to see if she can help him, and discovers that he has lost his memory in an accident. Along with her sister, Francie (Jeff Donnell of The Fuller Brush Girl), Jean and the stranger, whom she calls George, hunt down every clue they can to his identity. But will smitten-but-stupid Jean eventually get an unpleasant surprise when she finds out who the man really is ... ? This is the third in the Columbia mystery series based on the radio show The Whistler, and, as usual, the unseen narrator pipes in now and then to push the story along and to, alas, minimize the suspense that's been built up in the first half of the film. Too much information is given away too early so that the final quarter just plods along on a predictable path. This is too bad, because the basic premise is fine, and there are many opportunities for tense sequences (especially one involving a poisoned birthday cake) that are just frittered away by routine direction and not enough taut music. Hitchcock might have done something with this. Dix is pretty good in the lead, the two ladies are fine, and Loren Tindall makes a pleasant impression as Francie's fiance, Charlie. Tala Birell plays a ballet dancer who was once involved with "George."

Verdict: This is one you will probably watch and quickly forget. **1/4. 


Bernie Kopell and Don Adams
GET SMART, AGAIN! (1989 telefilm). Director: Gary Nelson.

The comedy spy series Get Smart had already had one theatrical feature, The Nude Bomb, when nine years later this TV movie reunited most of the crew of the series. In this the spy group CONTROL has gone out of business, but their opposite number, KAOS, is still alive and kicking and is blackmailing the world with a deadly weather control device. Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) is called back to active duty, and eventually his wife, Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) follows suit. Conrad Siegfried (Bernie Kopell) is still Smart's adversary, only he now reports to a mysterious new leader. Meanwhile, Agent 99 is preparing to publish her memoirs when she discovers enemy agents have gotten their hands on some of the pages. Get Smart, Again! may sometimes trade on old gags, but it is also guilty of inspired lunacy, such as when helicopters and the resultant winds are used for top security "Hover Cover."  Then there's the bit with the "Hall of Hush" where spoken words are transformed into literal letters until the room gets so crowded with them that no one can read what they're saying. And then there's that old "Cone of Silence," now placed in the Smarts' bedroom. Get Smart, Again! retains its hilarity for most of its length although it gets a little slack towards the end, but the cast, a top-notch group of very funny actors led by the wonderful Adams, is certainly game and able. Kenneth Mars especially scores as the head of the security agency, as does Dick Gautier, who is just terrific as Hymie the robot.

Verdict: If you liked the original series, you'll probably like this. ***. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018


Liz Montgomery as Lizzie
THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN (1975 telefilm). Director: Paul Wendkos.

In Falls River, Massachusetts in 1892, Andrew Borden (Fritz Weaver) and his wife, Abby (Helen Craig) are found axed to death in their home. The chief suspect immediately becomes Andrew's daughter, Lizzie (Elizabeth Montgomery), who maintains her innocence both in court and to her sister, Emma (Katherine Helmond). With flashbacks showing the troubled life of the family, the movie shows us the investigation, the trial, and the outcome. The Lizzie Borden story remains one of the most fascinating unsolved mysteries and double murders in history, and this early look at the case, sticking mostly to the facts, makes for a compelling TV movie. It leaves out the fact that a cousin was staying in the house at the time of the murders but he was apparently out of the house during the actual gruesome event. The movie's explanation for how Lizzie did not get blood on her clothing is somewhat suspect, however. The biggest problem with the telefilm is the lead performance, with Montgomery often acting as if she were in rehearsal, and hardly giving what could be called a committed performance for much of the film's length. Helmond is more on the mark as her sister, as are Weaver and Craig, and Fionnula Flanagan as the maid, Bridget. Ed Flanders [The Exorcist III] makes an efficient prosecutor, and John Beal [The Vampire] is fine as a doctor who ministers to family friend, Lizzie. Helen Craig, who plays the unpleasant stepmother, is better in this than she was as the evil nurse in The Snake Pit. This is superior to the Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, (although the fictionalized series that followed, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, was quite entertaining).  Paul Wendkos also directed the excellent telefilm The Brotherhood of the Bell. NOTE: A new Lizzie Borden theatrical film, focusing on the character's lesbianism, has just been released, and it seems based (without crediting him) on Evan Hunter's novel, Lizzie, which also posited the theory that Lizzie and maid Bridget were lovers.

Verdict: Entertaining, but just misses being really special. **3/4. 


IN PIECES. Sally Field. Grand Central; 2018.

After appearing in the short-lived sitcom Gidget, and then toiling for three years on the hit series The Flying Nun -- a show she absolutely hated and denounced as "drivel" -- Sally Field thought she would never be taken seriously in Hollywood. But after appearing in several telefilms -- as well as another short-lived series, The Girl With Something Extra (she has little good to say about co-star John Davidson) -- she managed to win an Emmy for the multiple personality drama Sybil, and then went on to garner two Best Actress Oscars for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. She also received accolades for playing Mary Lincoln in Lincoln, and won another Emmy for her role in the TV series Brothers and Sisters. But Field's private life wasn't so successful. In between two marriages to men she admitted she wasn't really in love with, she had a long-term relationship with Burt Reynolds, a control freak and (in my opinion) long-time asshole (he deemed Field the "love of his life," however; his first wife was Judy Carne). She had a  very problematic relationship with both her biological father and her mother, actress Margaret Field [The Man from Planet X], who divorced her husband to marry actor Jock Mahoney [Tarzan's Three Challenges]  and eventually developed a drinking problem. Field claims that Mahoney molested her continuously for several years when she was a minor, but he would only admit to her mother that it was one drunken incident. (After Lex Barker -- who was married to Lana Turner --  Mahoney is the second actor to play Tarzan who allegedly molested a step-daughter.) Trying to be a good mother to her three sons, and (in her eyes, at least) failing more often than not, she couldn't quite avoid the mistakes her own mother made. In Pieces is an extremely well-written memoir, full of honest reflection and in-depth ruminations on life, career, and loves, as well as the usual dose of movie star self-adsorption. Field doesn't spend as much time on her films as one might have hoped, but there's plenty of meat in here for people who want to know the inside life of a movie star and for aspiring actors who are hoping to follow in her footsteps.

Verdict: Thoroughly absorbing page-turner proves that Field can write as well as act. ***1/2.  


Kent Smith, Nan Martin, James Franciscus
THE MUGGER (1958). Producer/director: William Berke. Based on a novel by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter).

An unidentified man is running about the city stealing women's purses and leaving a slight slash on their cheeks. Lt. Pete Graham (Kent Smith of Nora Prentiss), a police psychiatrist, is assigned to the case. He is convinced that it is unlikely the "mugger" will move up to murder, but then a victim, Jeannie (Sandra Church), is found dead. But was she really a victim of this mugger, or did someone else kill her? Suspects in the case include Nicholas Grecco (George Maharis), who was infatuated with the murder victim; cab driver Eddie Baxter (James Franciscus), who was the brother-in-law of the victim; and Franklin Corey (Bert Thorn), who may be hiding a secret from his wife  Graham's fiancee is policewoman Claire Townsend (Nan Martin), who goes out undercover to try to catch the mugger. Dick O'Neill is a police sergeant and Renee Taylor plays a woman who is being followed -- by her husband.

James Franciscus and Kent Smith
The Mugger is a slick, low-budget, generally absorbing feature that in some ways resembles a television crime show. A very young James Franciscus [The Valley of Gwangi] has some good scenes as the cab driver; Smith is reasonably effective; Maharis [Journey to the Unknown] plays his character like a nerd to explain why Jeannie doesn't want to date him; and the other performers are all competent. The most chilling thing about the movie is after the killer is dispatched in a grisly fashion, and an old man who witnessed the death (and doesn't know the person was a murderer) waxes philosophical about the event without displaying a shred of compassion, although this may have to do with some insufficient emoting on the bit actor's part.

Verdict: Okay programmer with some interesting players. **1/2. 


Milland as Markham with Macdonald Carey on Suspicion
Markham 1959 television series.

"As a man of obvious breeding, Mr. Markham, I'm surprised you would ask such a crude question."

The character of private detective Roy Markham (Ray Milland of So Evil My Love) first appeared (in what was the pilot for the resulting series) on the anthology program Suspicion, in an hour-long story entitled "Eye for Eye."  In this a divorce lawyer (Macdonald Carey) takes a pro bono case to help get a battered wife (Kathleen Crowley) away from her husband (Andrew Duggan.) When the husband kidnaps the lawyer's wife, he wants to make an exchange, but his own wife is terrified to go near him. With the help of private eye Markham, the frightened lady is importuned to go along with the plan, and Markham eventually saves the day. Well-acted by all, with an especially noteworthy performance from Kathleen Crowley, this was an auspicious debut and the show was picked up by CBS (even though Suspicion was telecast on rival NBC). In the meantime Macdonald Carey got his own show, Lock Up, although he played a different character.

Markham only lasted one season in 1959, but it amassed 59 episodes (nowadays we're lucky if a series has twenty or even fewer episodes per season). For the first eight episodes Simon Scott played Markham's friend and colleague John Riggs. What distinguishes this private eye series, aside from the international flavor,  is the fact that Roy Markham is played by no less than Oscar-winner Ray Milland [Bulldog Drummond Escapes], who adds a certain class and distinction to the series. (Milland won for The Lost Weekend.) As well, Markham is what you might call an intellectual private eye, a much smarter and much more cultured specimen than, say, Mike Hammer.  I've seen about half of the episodes of the show, most of which were good, many excellent, and I wish all of the rest were available.

A designer's wife is involved in the murder of a blackmailer in "Vendetta in Venice," which features such players as Paula Raymond, Robert Lowery, and Allison Hayes. "Escorts a la Carte" has Markham in Rome where a friend has supposedly committed suicide, and which leads him to a sinister escort service that employs an escort played by Suzanne Lloyd. Gale Robbins plays a famous singer in The Bad Spell," who comes to Markham for help when someone keeps trying to blow her up and succeeds in killing her husband.  "The Searing Flame" is a weird story in which Markham searches for a young lady painter who has disappeared in Paris and nearly winds up burned to death in a provincial cabin. In "Three Steps to Murder" a series of inexplicable bombings of abandoned buildings leads to a genuine murder of a hoodlum. Of the episodes I've seen, arguably the best is "Strange Visitor," in which kidnappers bring an heiress (played by Louise Fletcher) to Markham's apartment where tragedy ensues. This is a taut and suspenseful episode with a touch of pathos. Another outstanding episode is "A Cry from the Penthouse," in which a slimy blackmailer (Jack Weston) locks Markham out on his balcony with its shatter-proof doors in freezing cold weather and nearly kills him in the process. Also notable are "The Last Bullet" wherein Nita Talbot is one of the suspects when a wealthy man's suicide turns out to be murder and a million dollars goes missing; "We Are All Suspect" with June Vincent excellent as a wife whose husband disappears when he simply goes out to walk the dog; and "The Long Search," a shipboard story of intrigue over a stolen ancient scroll, with Katherine Squire as one of the suspects.

Other episodes include "The Cruelest Thief," where dogs are used in a smuggling racket; "Round Trip to Mozambique," about a pretty moll with a young son; "The Human Factor," in which a client Markham can't stand is accused of assaulting a woman; "Sing a Song of Murder," in which a little boy witnesses a hit; and "The Young Conspirator," in which a paperboy tells Markham someone is trying to kill him. Locales for the stories included everyplace from Guatemala ("The Other Side of the Wall"); Hollywood ("Deadline Date" with Peggie Castle); Mexico ("The Bay of the Dead"); Istanbul ("No Flies on Friday" with Henry Daniell); and Paris ({Paris Encounter" with Colleen Gray). Guest stars on the show, along with those already mentioned, included Walter Woolf King ("Coercion"); Phillip Terry ("Incident in Bel Air"); Betty Lynn ("The Marble Face")' Sebastian Cabot ("Forty-Two on a Rope");' and Robert H Harris, who was wonderful as a former mob lawyer in "The Seamark" and as a jealous and murderous sculptor in "Image of Love."

Markham episodes were directed by such notable people as Mitchell Leisen [No Man of Her Own] and Robert Florey [The Beast with Five Fingers]. The show was sponsored by Schlitz, "the beer that made Milwaukee famous."

Verdict: Quite good private eye show with a degree of sophistication and some wonderful guest stars. ***.