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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Have a Great day! 

Watch some Great Old Movies while you eat! 

PULP HEROES IN THE MOVIES

Victor Jory as the Shadow
PULP HEROES IN THE MOVIES.

Pulp magazines were called such because of the cheap paper they were printed on, and these digest-sized publications featured such heroes as The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider, The Black Bat, and several others in snappy, fast-paced, and often violent novels. Many of these characters influenced the comic book super-heroes who came later, such as Batman and Superman (for whom Doc Savage was a major influence). The Shadow and the Spider were take-no-prisoners vigilantes, with the Spider, in particular, always leaving behind a very high body count of bad guys with no benefit of trial or council -- still, they were generally trying to kill him at the time, and he ultimately saved many more lives than he took.

The three pulp heroes covered this week on Great Old Movies -- Shadow, Spider, and Doc Savage -- have endured far beyond the life of the pulp magazines whose adventures they graced. Over the decades since the thirties there have been radio shows, TV shows, cliffhanger serials, comic books, and theatrical movies devoted to the characters, and the original pulp novels have all been reprinted in paperback -- from such major publishers as Bantam Books and various smaller presses -- innumerable times. You can still thrill to the adventures of Doc Savage and his band of scientific and heroic assistants; the Spider with his blazing guns and truly fiendish antagonists; and the Shadow, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and does his best to stamp it out. Generally the film versions of these stories can't compare to the original books, but some manage to come close.

NOTE: Shadow movies that have already been reviewed on this blog include The Shadow Strikes and The Invisible Avenger

INTERNATIONAL CRIME

Rod La Rocque, supposedly playing the Shadow
INTERNATIONAL CRIME (1938). Director: Charles Lamont.

This is the second of two films, following The Shadow Strikes, in which Rod La Rocque plays the pulp character, Lamont Cranston, aka the Shadow. Or rather he plays a pallid imitation of the Shadow. In this Lamont Cranston is not a costumed adventurer with the power to cloud men's minds, but merely a dull, rather obnoxious criminologist who writes a column and broadcasts a radio show in which he spends much of his time making fun of the alleged ineptitude of Commissioner Weston (Thomas E. Jackson). Instead of Margo Lane, we get the equally obnoxious Phoebe Lane (Astrid Allwyn of Love Takes Flight), a dilettante who got a job as a reporter only because her uncle owns the paper. The scenes of Lamont and Phoebe dickering are meant to be cute, but are merely tedious beyond measure.

Astrid Allwyn and Rod La Roicque
The plot of the film, such as it is, has to do with Phoebe hearing of a robbery that's going to take place at a theater. This turns out to be a subterfuge so that a wealthy man can be murdered by a bomb that explodes when he opens his safe. A notorious safe cracker named "Honest" John (William Pawley) is a suspect, along with the dead man's brother, Roger (John St. Polis of On the Spot). Then there are two shady characters named Flotow (Wilhelm von Brincken) and Starkhov (Tenen Holtz), whom Cranston and Phoebe encounter in a nightclub. By the time the film is over, the average viewer won't give a damn about whoever murdered Roger's poor brother. There are two minor laughs at the end of the film, and absolutely no suspense or excitement. Released by Grand National Pictures.

Verdict: One can only imagine what the millions of Shadow fans thought about this mess. *.  

THE SPIDER'S WEB

Iris Meredith, Warren Hull, Richard Fiske and Kenne Duncan
THE SPIDER'S WEB (15 chapter Columbia serial/1938). Directors: James W. Horne; Ray Taylor.

The Spider was a pulp character, a take-no-prisoners vigilante, who appeared in a great many action-packed, gruesome, and hard-hitting novels in the thirties. The Spider was actually criminologist Richard Wentworth (Warren Hull of The Green Hornet Strikes Again), and he was aided in his work by his fiancee Nita (Iris Meredith of Caught in the Act), and his associates Ram Singh (Kenne Duncan), Jackson (Richard Fiske), and even his butler Jenkins (Donald Douglas). Wentworth is good friends with Police Commissioner Kirk (Forbes Murray), who can't help but notice that Wentworth and the Spider are often in the same place at the wrong time. His suspicions of Wentworth often led to some tense sequences in the novels, and this situation develops at least once in this serial.

The Octopus contacts his men
The villain of the piece is a hooded man named the Octopus, who has a group of helpmates who all wear black robes. He is out to attack all transportation in his city and across the United States, not just for money but for power, and he doesn't care who dies when trains derail and terminals collapse. At one point he brings out a ray gun which can be used to bring down planes. Wentworth is planning to retire as the Spider and marry Nita when the Octopus begins his wave of terror, and love and marriage must wait until the threat can be eliminated. The Spider dons his mask and cape with the spider insignia and we're off ...


Lester Dorr and Warren Hull as "Blinky"
The Spider and his associates nearly die on several occasions. A cable lowering Wentworth and Nita from a skyscraper nearly plunges them to their deaths; a room in which several of the cast members are chained to a wall floods with water even as the Spider must contend with a deadly gas in another room; our hero is nearly bashed by a falling arc light and almost cut in two by an electric gate; and so on. Handsome Warren Hull is perfect as the less intense movie version of the Spider, and the other cast members are all quite adept. Hull is especially good when he impersonates "Blinky McQuade," an underworld character, so that he can mingle with other criminals. An amusing moment occurs when Hull has trouble getting his arm into the sleeve of his coat and ad libs "Can't see very well."  Byron Foulger plays a nice guy who is killed off rather early, and Lester Dorr [Hot Rod Gang] and Marc Lawrence are effective as members of the Octopus' gang.

Iris Meredith and Warren Hull
Columbia's The Spider's Web, while perhaps not quite on the level of the best of the Republic serials, is an exciting and worthwhile serial even if you aren't familiar with the pulp novels. One wishes that the climax, the final encounter between the Spider and the Octopus, which the viewer has sat through 15 chapters waiting for, wasn't so abrupt, and that the annoying musical score was much darker, given the subject matter. Otherwise, this is snappy stuff for devotees. Followed by The Spider Returns.

Verdict: Thrilling and action-packed. ***. 

THE SHADOW (1940)

Victor Jory as the Shadow
THE SHADOW (15 chapter Columbia serial/1940). Director: James W. Horne.

Criminologist Lamont Cranston (Victor Jory), who also masquerades as the underworld scourge the Shadow -- as well as Lin Chang, who owns a shop and is acquainted with many criminals -- is in a war with a mysterious figure known as the Black Tiger. Commissioner Weston (Frank LaRue), does not suspect Cranston of being the Shadow, but he's convinced that the Shadow and the Tiger are one and the same and is constantly trying to capture the former. The Black Tiger, who can make himself invisible, is one of a group of industrialists who are being targeted by the fiendish villain, who doesn't care how many lives are destroyed to achieve his goals.

Victor Jory as Lamont Cranston
Unlike in the terrible Rod La Rocque Shadow features, the pulp character returns to his roots in this excellent and exciting serial. Although the Shadow does not hypnotize people or display mystical powers as he does in the novels, he does dress up in a cloak and has two helpmates: his driver Harry Vincent (Roger Moore, not the British actor) and his secretary and assistant Margo Lane (Veda Ann Borg of Jungle Raiders). Victor Jory [The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady] adds some solidity to the serial with his strong portrayal of Cranston; Moore and Borg are professional and adept. Some of the more notable supporting performances include Jack Ingram [Terry and the Pirates] as the Tiger's chief lieutenant, Flint; Charles K. French as the nervous Joseph Rand; Constantine Romanoff as Henchman Harvey; and the ever-reliable Philip Ahn as Wu Yung, another of Cranston's helpful associates.

Victor Jory as Lin Chang
The Black Tiger (voiced somewhat over-dramatically by Richard Cramer) uses such weapons as a cigarette lighter with a miniature gun inside it, and a much bigger gun that fires rays that bring down airplanes. As for cliffhangers, there is a box-like trap that nearly shakes itself to pieces, almost dooming the Shadow; a descending freight elevator that nearly squashes Margo (and could not have been comfortable for actress Borg); and a laser-like beam that almost burns the hell out of Margo and Vincent. Interestingly, the Shadow does not manage to escape a number of death traps, but is fortunate to survive them anyway. Lee Zahler's musical score adds to the thrills.

Verdict: Another of Columbia's superior serials. ***1/2.

THE SPIDER RETURNS

The Spider in action! 
THE SPIDER RETURNS (15 chapter Columbia serial/1941). Director: James W. Horne.

When The Spider's Web proved successful for Columbia, a sequel came out with most of the original players reprising their roles. In The Spider Returns, Richard Wentworth (Warren Hull) has pushed aside his plans to retire and settle down with girlfriend Nita (how played by Mary Ainslee), so he can tackle a group of saboteurs out to destroy America's defense structure. The head of this group is a masked, unknown figure known only as the Gargoyle, but it later develops that he is one of the men whose industries are being targeted by the villain. 

The Gargoyle plots 
The Gargoyle has a number of schemes in play, the first of which is to secure some important government plans. Then the villain spends a lot of time sending out men to destroy his enemies, especially the Spider, Wentworth, and Commissioner Kirk (Joseph W. Girard). It is interesting that Kirk objects to the violent vigilantism of the Spider, but doesn't seem to mind that Wentworth, his alter ego (although Kirk is unaware of this), is always playing undercover cop despite his not being a member of the force. At one point in Kirk's office, Wentworth immediately countermands Kirk's orders to two police officers, who obey the former without hesitation! I mean, just who is the commissioner anyway? Of course the fact that Kirk seems to be bordering on senility at times doesn't help.  

O'Brien, Hull and Duncan
Warren Hull is energetic as Wentworth and the Spider, although -- as in the previous serial -- he is way too jaunty at times. In one chapter Wentworth mis-identities the wrong suspect as the Gargoyle, which ultimately results in the innocent man's death, but Wentworth doesn't seem the least bit embarrassed or regretful but as flippant as ever. Nita emerges as her own woman in the serial, not afraid to mock her lover if she thinks he's making a fool of himself, but otherwise being strong and supportive. Associates Jackson (Dave O'Brien), Ram Singh (Kenne Duncan), and Jenkins (Stephen Chase) aren't given that much to do, especially Ram, who seems to sit around looking bored most of the time when he isn't driving the car. 

Anthony Warde as "Trigger"
One very notable supporting player is Anthony Warde, who gives a very adept and flavorful performance as "Trigger.," the head man in the Gargoyle's gang. Warde played a similar role in King of the Forest Rangers and other serials and features. Warde has especially good scenes interacting with Wentworth when the later is in disguise as low-life "Blinky" McQuade -- on two occasions he tries to kill Blinky and winds up begging for his life. As for Blinky, although Hull does a great job portraying him, he is seen so often throughout the serial that he begins to wear out his welcome. 70-year-old Joseph W. Girard also gives a vigorous performance as the commissioner, although -- not to be ageist -- you can't overcome the feeling that he goes off to take a nap as soon as he steps out of camera range. 

Girard, Ainslee, and Hull
There are some zesty fisticuffs and terrific cliffhangers in The Spider Returns. The floor of a room suddenly hangs down at an angle to reveal a fiery pit below. Wentworth is tied up and left on top of the tracks as an express train approaches. Testing a new experimental plane, Wentworth crashes, and surprisingly, doesn't manage to bail out but survives nevertheless. The best death trap has Wentworth, Nita and her Uncle (Charles Miller of Phantom of Chinatown) trapped in a room with fire on each end and spiked walls closing in from either side as the Gargoyle cackles. In the final chapters the serial builds up some considerable suspense over the true identity of the Gargoyle and whether or not his various dastardly plans will be stopped in time. 

Verdict: Despite a variety of imperfections, this is one of Columbia's very best and most thrilling serials. ***1/2. 

THE SHADOW RETURNS

Cyril Delevanti as the butler Adams threatened by the Shadow's shadow
THE SHADOW RETURNS (1946). Director: Phil Rosen.

By 1946 pulp stories had been pretty much replaced by comic book heroes, but somebody at Monogram studios apparently figured there was still life in the character, and hired Kane Richmond of Spy Smasher serial fame to play Lamont Cranston in what would be the first of three features. While nowhere nears as dynamic a figure as the Shadow of the serial with Victor Jory, at least the Monogram series actually put Cranston in a costume and made him more than an amateur criminologist. By and large The Shadow Returns, while no world-beater, was an improvement over the two Shadow films with a completely miscast Rod La Rocque. 

Kane Richmond as the Shadow
The Shadow Returns has our hero, along with Margo Lane (Barbara Read of Three Smart Girls) and comedy relief driver Shrevvie (Tom Dugan), having an adventure that mostly takes place in the mansion of gem dealer Michael Hasdon (Frank Reicher of Son of Kong), who apparently commits suicide. There are other murders as Cranston and his pals investigate from one end, while dyspeptic Inspector Cardona (Joseph Crehan) and Commissioner Weston (Pierre Watkin) -- who in this is Cranston's uncle -- investigate from another, and it's no secret who will come up with the solution first. There's a formula for plastic that's worth millions, and a series of men falling off of balconies to their deaths. There are a number of colorless suspects, but there isn't much fun in finding out who the killer is. 

Kane Richmond and Barbara Read
Like the La Rocque movies, there's way too much supposedly comical banter and the whole approach is lightweight and mediocre. Instead of a cape, the Shadow wears a long coat with a belt. Richmond is okay as the flippant hero but he lacks distinction, which is also true of the comparatively plain Barbara Read as Margo. The inevitable Pierre Watkin is as mediocre as ever as the commissioner. Followed by Behind the Mask

Verdict: The Shadow Lite. **. 

BEHIND THE MASK

Kane Richmond as the Shadow
BEHIND THE MASK (1946). Director: Phil Karlson.

The day before Lamont Cranston's (Kane Richmond) marriage to Margo Lane (Barbara Read), he learns that an impostor has broken into the office of the Daily Bulletin and murdered blackmailing reporter Jeff Mann (James Cardwell). Angered by this impersonation, Cranston leaves the pre-wedding party to investigate, incurring the extremely childish wrath of his fiancee. To make matters worse, Margo's maid Jenny (Dorothea Kent) is just as shrill and immature as Margo is, and has a vendetta against her boyfriend, the hapless Shrevvie (now played by George Chandler).

George Chandler, Barbara Read, Kane Richmond
Behind the Mask might have been a decent mystery were it not for the fact that Monogram studios decided to combine the Shadow character with elements of screwball comedy, with the result that nothing really works. The antics of Margo and Jenny, who are constantly hitting their boyfriends, are so tiresome as to be excruciating, and pretty much crowd out any real entertainment value the picture might have had. Joseph Crehan, repeating his role as dyspeptic Inspector Cardonna, is too manic in this by far, and he also loves to keep hitting Cranston. There are a couple of aborted cat fights and more than enough scenes of Margo becoming hysterical because Cranston supposedly has other women's unseen lipstick on his face.


Marjorie Hoshelle with Bill Christy on left and Kent and Crehan on the right 
Chandler plays the role of Shrevvie more like a butler and assistant and is not as stupid as in the previous film, The Shadow Returns. Richmond is a perfectly okay actor who desperately needs a better script and a bigger studio. James Cardwell [The Shanghai Cobra] makes an impression as the rakish reporter Jeff and it's a shame he gets bumped off so early. Edward Gargan [Detective Kitty O'Day] provides the film's few moments of fun as a detective who's suffering from the flu and alleged hallucinations, and Marjorie Hoshelle [The Mask of Dimitrios] is very vivid and striking as Mae, who is mixed up in illegal betting. Robert Shayne is very young and good-looking in this but his performance is no great shakes, and poor Pierre Watkin is as blah as ever as the police commissioner and Cranston's uncle.

Verdict: This has little to do with the Shadow pulp stories. *1/2.  

THE MISSING LADY

Jo-Carroll Dennison and Kane Richmond
THE MISSING LADY (1946). Director: Phil Karlson.

When a series of murders occur that center on a stolen statue called the "Jade Lady," Lamont Cranston (Kane Richmond) investigates and tries to find out just who is killing whom. This is the third and last of the Monogram "Shadow" pictures and it's a very slight improvement over the first two even if Cranston never appears in costume and "The Shadow" is never even mentioned; Cranston is simply a criminologist, which is why he can hold his own in a fight with one man but is helpless against two guys, one of whom has a gun. For most pulp heroes, even a gang of men would be no problem!

Richmond in the elevator with Almira Sessions and Nora Cecil
The problem with this trio of films is that producer George Callahan should have fired screenwriter George Callahan, who has absolutely no feel for the character. Callahan could turn out excellent scripts, such as the Charlie Chan film The Scarlet Clue, but the comedy in that wasn't so inappropriate. The Missing Lady, like the previous Shadow film Behind the Mask, at least starts out well, with an air of mystery and a bit of suspense, but then we're reintroduced to Margo Lane (Barbara Read) and her maid Jennie (Dorothea Kent) and the silliness begins, although in this entry the gals' involvement is somewhat mercifully limited -- but not enough. The movie really gets loopy with the introduction of two elderly sisters who own the building Cranston lives in and love to play elevator operator, racing up and down the shaft for fun. Pierre Watkin is a little more animated as the commissioner and James Flavin, now playing Inspector Cardona, is suitably apoplectic. George Chandler returns as Shrevvie. The supporting players include Jo-Carroll Dennison as the slinky Gilda; James Cardwell as an insurance investigator; Jack Overman as a husky bad guy named Ox; Frances Robinson [Red Barry] as his wife, Anne; Claire Carleton [Too Many Winners] as the hard-boiled blond, Rose; and the ever-reliable Anthony Warde as the nasty gunsel, Lefty.

Verdict: Stick with The Shadow serial and forget these forgotten "Bs" **. 

THE SHADOW TV PILOT

Tom Helmore as Lamont Cranston
THE SHADOW (1954 TV pilot). Director: Charles F. Haas. "The Case of the Cotton Kimono."

Lamont Cranston (Tom Helmore of Let's Do It Again) and his girlfriend and assistant Margo Lane (Paula Raymond of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) investigate when Commissioner Weston (Frank M. Thomas of Arkansas Judge) asks them to look into the shooting murder of a young woman, Cissy Chadwick (Peggy Lobbin). Detective Harris (Norman Shelly) is convinced that the killer is Cissy's boyfriend, Alex (William Smithers), and even goes so far as to frame him. Another suspect is Cissy's vocal coach. Rollo Grimbauer (Alexander Scourby), who refuses to let Cranston ask him any questions. Then there are more murders ...

Norman Shelly
This failed pilot had the potential to become an interesting series. Although Helmore's British accent is at first disconcerting, he doesn't make a bad Lamont Cranston. He doesn't run around in a mask and cape, but he can "cloud men's minds," possibly seeming to become invisible, and throw his evil laugh around a room in true Shadow fashion. Paula Raymond makes an elegant and adept Margo Lane, far more suitable than the character as portrayed by Barbara Read in the dreadful Monogram features. This half hour program doesn't have a bad script, although there are a few holes in its plot. Smithers, Scourby and Shelly all give very good performances, and Leona Powers also scores as a talkative landlady. Charles F. Haas also directed Girls Town.

Verdict: Interesting curiosity found on youtube. **1/2. 

DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE

Ron Ely as Clark "Doc" Savage Jr. 
DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE (1975). Directed by Michael Anderson. Produced by George Pal.

Handsome adventurer Doc Savage (Ron Ely) goes into action when he learns that his philanthropic father has died and possibly been murdered. Together with his colleagues -- lawyer Ham (Darrell Zwirling); chemist Monk (Michael Miller); engineer Renny (William Lucking); geologist Johnny (Eldon Quick);  and electrical wizard Long Tom (Paul Gleason) -- he travels to the country of Hildago to investigate, and then journeys to a lost land with a fabulous treasure of molten gold.

Doc's pals in peril: Lucking, Quick, Zwirling, Gleason and Miller
The major thing that Doc Savage gets right is setting it in the 1930's, the original time period of the novels (of which The Man of Bronze was the first).  Another plus is the casting of Ron Ely [The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker] , who at first comes off like some kind of smirking male model but eventually manages to lend some dignity to his role while giving a solid performance. The other members of his crew are well-cast aside from the over-acting Miller, who turns Monk into an annoying little nerd. Paul Wexler makes little impression as Savage's antagonist Captain Seas, who wants the gold for himself, and this is also true of the nominal love interest, a de-glamorized Pamela Hensley [Double Exposure] as Mona, who falls in love with Doc in about five seconds. I didn't even recognize Carlos Rivas [The Black Scorpion] as the evil, face-tattooed Kulkan. Bob Corso is effective as Don Gorro, although the bit with him sleeping in a giant rocking crib smacks of the campy Batman TV show.


Doc Savage! 
Of course, that's one of many problems with Doc Savage. An effective, well-staged battle on a yacht between Doc and the boys and Captain Seas and his men is the only real stand-out sequence in the whole movie. There is absolutely no suspense during the hasty journey to the lost city, -- a theme song for Doc just stops the movie dead when it should be at its most exciting --  and not enough is made of its location. The movie especially screams its cheapness during these climactic and rather dull sequences in the lost city. The "green death," which offs several characters, is merely some cartoon snakes that snap at people and leave bloody scratches before their victims drop dead from venom.  Fred J. Koenekamp's photography [Papillon] is generally first-rate, and some of the settings and props -- such as Doc's beautiful gold car -- are notable.

Pamela Hensley
The use of Sousa marches, as adapted by composer Frank De Vol, is a bad idea that only emphasizes the deadly parody-like aspects of the production. This is not to say there aren't some genuine moments of humor, such as a bit when some Spanish maids go ga ga at the sight of Doc's physique; and Monk's pet, Habeas Corpus, is the cutest little pig to come down the pike since Babe. A dubbed Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame plays a coroner. Doc's Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle (later "borrowed" for the Superman comic book), appears briefly at the opening. A sequel entitled The Arch Enemy of Evil was announced at the end of this film, but it never materialized. With this lackluster and disappointing production, George Pal ensured that there would be no more big-screen adaptations of the very famous pulp hero (although a new film with Dwayne Johnson was announced some time ago but is apparently in developmental hell).

Verdict: How to make sure there will never be a profitable franchise. **. 

THE SHADOW (1994)


THE SHADOW (1994). Director: Russell Mulcahy.

A very disappointing adaptation of the famous Shadow pulp character for the big screen is tricked up with special effects and the like but never has the right panache to bring it all to life. Not only is Mulcahy's direction off the mark, but David Koepp's script, although it has good aspects, is sometimes just too campy. (And why is the tragic death of a young sailor who is mind-controlled to jump off the Empire State Building practically treated as if it were comedy?) Why should anybody take the character seriously if the film's creators don't? In this The Shadow is actually Lamont Cranston, who was originally a fiendish, dissolute murderer and criminal before being transformed by an Oriental mentor into an agent of Good, the price for his redemption (of course his evil past makes him a bit of a hypocrite when confronting criminals). 


Alec Baldwin as The Shadow
One thing the picture gets right is the look of The Shadow; when Alec Baldwin [The Departed] puts on the cloak of his alter-ego, FX make his face elongate and change into the well-known hawk-like visage of the pulp hero. Baldwin is not at all bad in the role, but he's much too “contemporary” an actor to get across the proper thirties “feel.” The plot has to do with the emergence of Shiwan Khan (John Lone) the last living descendant of Genghis Khan, who wants Cranston to revert to his evil ways and help him conquer the world. To this end Khan needs a “barillium sphere” to build an atomic bomb. A clever if improbable bit has Khan somehow building a skyscraper which is not visible to anyone in Manhattan. A knife whose hilt comes alive and bites The Shadow, and a doom-trap involving a room full of rushing water, are among the better moments in the movie. A scene with a giant rolling time bomb is like something out of the Batman TV show, however, and there are other stupid moments. Tim Curry and Jonathan Winters (as Cranston's uncle) are excellent performers, but neither of them belong in this movie. Penelope Ann Miller is fine as Margo Lane, but Ian McKellen [X-Men] is wasted as her scientist father. Russell Mulcahy also directed Prayers for Bobby

Verdict: The really great Shadow movie has yet to be made, and the serial is lots more fun than this. **1/2. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

WHERE DANGER LIVES

 Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains
WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950). Director: John Farrow. Screenplay by Charles Bennett.

"Oh, Jeff, what's going to become of us?"

Jeff Cameron (Robert Mitchum) is a young, compassionate doctor who is called upon one evening to treat a woman who has attempted suicide. Margo Lannington (Faith Domergue of It Came from Beneath the Sea) seems to have everything to live for -- beauty, wealth, a luxurious home -- but the man she calls father (Claude Rains of The Passionate Friends) seems a little too dominating. Although Jeff already has a girlfriend in nurse Julie (Maureen O'Sullivan), he soon falls under the spell of sexy Margo, and wants to run away with her. But he discovers there's a major complication and that Margo hasn't exactly informed him of everything ... Before long they're taking a wild journey to Mexico.

Domergue and Mitchum 
Where Danger Lives, with a script by Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett, is unpredictable, so I won't reveal any of the plot twists that will keep the viewer completely absorbed for the film's relatively short length -- but the movie plays. Mitchum and Domergue both offer extremely competent Hollywood-style performances, meaning they are good but often perfunctory, not adding the shadings or nuances that other actors might have. Claude Rains, with only one scene, pretty much takes the acting honors, but that is to be expected. O'Sullivan, who was married to director John Farrow, has a small and thankless role. This is one of many, many movies in which  an essentially decent man (or what is at least meant to be) leaves a good woman flat to run off with a sexier female. Mitchum also appeared in the more famous film noir Out of the Past, but this is the better picture.

Verdict: Zesty film noir with sexy Domergue not having to share billing with a giant octopus. ***. 

THE YOUNG RACERS

Friends or enemies? Mark Damon and William Campbell
THE YOUNG RACERS (1963). Director: Roger Corman.

Stephen (Mark Damon of Young and Dangerous) is a writer who discovers that his fiancee, Monique (Beatrice Altariba), has been seduced and abandoned by a famous Grand Prix driver named Joe Machin (William Campbell of The High and the Mighty). Stephen's initial intention is to write an expose of the married, womanizing sleazeball, and to that end befriends the man and even joins his team. Joe is unaware of Stephen's history with Monique, but discovers it just before the climactic race, with surprising results.

Marie Versini and William Campbell
The Young Racers is an odd, strangely unconvincing picture that somehow manages to hold the attention -- it helps that the pace is fast -- but just never builds up to anything especially explosive (despite the car wrecks in the movie). Mark Damon would have been better cast as the married playboy driver, but he gives a disconnected, unemotional performance -- probably because for some reason his every line was dubbed by William Shatner! -- and Campbell is only somewhat better. You sometimes get the sense that the actors in this were given the script pages only moments before stepping in front of the camera, which may well have been the case. Marie Versini is appealing as Joe's neglected wife, Sesia, but R. Wright Campbell, who wrote the screenplay for this and other Corman films (such as Masque of the Red Death) and was William Campbell's brother, is pretty wooden as Joe's brother, Bob, who hates him but loves his wife. It's no surprise that Wright Campbell never acted in another movie.

Mark Damon
Although Luana Anders [Dementia 13] , who plays Stephen's secretary, Henrietta, can be very effective in other movies, in this she just seems weird, even giving off-kilter line readings. Christina Gregg and Margrete Robsahm make a better impression as two of Joe's girlfriends. Also notable is Patrick Magee, who plays another man whose wife was stolen away by Machin. The action in this veers from Monte Carlo to France to England, and the race at the climax is well-edited and fairly exciting, but this has too much flat acting and a rather inferior script despite its interesting premise.

NOTE: Francis Ford Coppola, who has a bit in this film and was assisting Corman, was allowed by the boss to shoot his own movie with the same crew, set and actors -- Anders, Campbell, and Magee -- as long as it didn't interfere with the shooting of the main picture. The result was the aforementioned Dementia 13, which is lots better than Young Racers.

Verdict: Even Vincent Price couldn't have saved this one. **. 

THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU

Chris Lee as Fu
THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967). Director: Jeremy Summers.

Fu Manchu (Christopher Fee) has not only decided to bring together all sorts of international criminals, including American gangsters, to form a group that he will lead, but has also concocted a diabolical scheme for revenge against his British nemesis, Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer of Unman, Wittering and Zigo) of Scotland Yard. Smith has concluded that a group to be called Interpol should be formed to unite law officers from various countries and combat the criminal scourge. But he is unaware that Fu Manchu has created a double of Smith whose actions will destroy his reputation even as Smith himself is taken captive by his enemy. Dealing with the zombie-like double are FBI agent Mark Weston (Noel Trevarthen of Escort for Hire) and Smith's long-time friend and colleague, Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford).


Horst Frank, Christopher Lee, Lin Tang
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu is the third of five films starring Lee as the notorious Chinese doctor, but he already seems a trifle bored with the role. A bigger problem is a script that never takes advantage of the pulp horror atmosphere of Sax Rohmer's novels. While the Fu Manchu books were never out and out horror novels, they generally had very macabre elements that the film adaptations unwisely omit. Vengeance is simply a prosaic thriller, not too well put together, that could have had any antagonist. Because of the popularity of spy films we also get a Shanghai cop, Inspector Ramos (Tony Ferrer), who employs judo and karate. (Ferrer also starred in several Filipino spy movies.) Lin Tang is back as Fu's nasty daughter, and Horst Frank [Cat O' Nine Tails] plays a gangster who is sent from America as an emissary of mob interests. The script is full of implausibilities, even for this kind of thriller, such as an Asian man's face being turned into a duplicate of Nayland Smith's in 48 hours (!), and the Smith double being sentenced to death when he is clearly mentally disturbed. Followed by The Blood of Fu Manchu. The first film in this series was The Face of Fu Manchu.

Verdict: Disappointing Fu movie you might want to say "foo!" to. **. 

JOHNNY DOUGHBOY

Jane Withers
JOHNNY DOUGHBOY (1942). Director: John H. Auer.

16-year-old Ann Winters (Jane Withers) is sick and tired of playing 12-year-olds in her movies, and runs off to be a woman. She winds up staying at the home of playwright Oliver Lawrence (Henry Wilcoxon of Cleopatra), and gets the wrong idea about his feelings for her. Meanwhile Penelope Ryan (also Jane Withers), the winner of an Ann Winters lookalike contest, comes to visit Ann and is importuned to temporarily replace her by Ann's manager, Harry (Willam Demarest). A group of has-been child actors, played mostly by, well, has-been child actors, want the real Ann to take part in a show they want to do for soldiers; they've been told that they can only go on if a "real" star also participates. Penelope tries to appeal to the spoiled Ann's better nature to get her to do the show, but it may be a losing battle.

Alfalfa, Jack Boyle Jr, and Spanky McFarland
Johnny Doughboy was one of several pictures Jane Withers did for Republic studios as a teen lead when her long run as a child star was over. Nowadays most baby boomers remember Withers, who is still alive, as Josephine the Plumber in many commercials for Comet cleanser (which is also still around), while she may be completely unknown to younger people (aside from film buffs), especially Millennials. Johnny Doughboy is a pleasant minor musical with some snappy tunes in it, including "Baby's a Big Girl Now;" "You Better Not (With Somebody Else);" and "A Guy Like I." An amusing but also strangely sobering number, "All Through," has several former child stars, including Bobby Breen, Baby Sandy, Spanky and Alfalfa, essentially singing about how they're washed up in Hollywood, a song with built-in pathos when you consider the fate of some of these young actors. (Actually Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was not washed up, appearing in a few Gas House Kids comedies as well as other movies and shows for several years afterward.)

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer does his singing routine
Three other cast members of Johnny Doughboy are of note. Jack Boyle Jr. (billed as "Patrick Brook") makes an impression as the handsome singing actor Johnny Kelley and does a great dance routine with Withers, but he had very few credits. Ruth Donnelly [The Family Next Door] is as adroitly acerbic as ever as Miss Biggsworth, who looks after Ann; and Etta McDaniel, sister of the more famous Hattie, is amiable as Oliver Lawrence's housekeeper, Mammy.  "Alfalfa" reprises his funny tone-deaf singing routines from Little Rascals.

Verdict: Another amiable Republic musical. **1/2. 

THE SAINT

Roger Moore
THE SAINT (1964). British television series based on the character created by Leslie Charteris.

Literary creation The Saint -- a slightly shady adventurer who generally was on the side of the angels -- first appeared in a series of films in the forties and fifties, and then became the star of this sixties British series that ran for six years and over 100 episodes. Roger Moore played Simon Templar, famously known as "the Saint," and played him well, with that certain charming insouciance that was also a hallmark in Louis Hayward's theatrical portrayal in such films as The Saint in New York. Moore himself became famous with this series, which was also a hit on American television, and it was undoubtedly for this reason that he was later chosen to play James Bond in 007's more cartoonish adventures. The Saint was first produced in black and white then switched to color episodes for the later seasons. Each episode was an hour long including commercials. Simon would address the audience right before the credits rolled. The character of Inspector Teal was perfectly friendly to Simon in the first couple of seasons, then became the more (over) familiar unpleasant adversary of the movies.

Based on the many episodes I've watched, The Saint was a good but not great series with some memorable episodes. The first episode, "The Talented Husband" about a Bluebeard, was not an auspicious debut, seeming slow and padded. The subsequent episode, "The Latin Touch," with Alexander Knox as an ambassador whose daughter is kidnapped in Rome, was more on the mark. In the clever and suspenseful "Double Take," a Greek millionaire nearly has Simon stumped when he hires a perfect double for his own strange purposes. Board members are killed off one by one in "Scales of Justice," with Jean Marsh as a frightened secretary. The harrowing "Man Who Could Not Die" has Simon attempting to stop a murder that is to take place in deep, isolated caverns. In "Starring the Saint" -- which guest stars Alexander Davion [Paranoiac] and Jackie Collins, Joan's author-sister -- a producer of a movie about Simon's exploits is murdered. Rival female race car drivers really hate each other in "The Fast Women," while an unknown enemy wants ultimate revenge on Simon in "The Time to Die." The exciting "Old Treasure Story" has Simon and a shady group searching for Blackbeard's booty on one of the Virgin Islands.

"The House on Dragon's Rock"
Occasionally a Saint adventure would be a little more far-out than usual. "The Convenient Monster" takes place at Loch Ness and concerns a creature that may or may not be real (although the real thing does show up at the very end). "The House on Dragon's Rock" concerns a mad scientist who for inexplicable reasons wants to breed a new species of giant ants, one of whom almost has Simon for lunch. While one could easily imagine that this was a rip-off of the 1954 monster movie Them, this episode was actually based on a 1937 short story (ghosted for Charteris) entitled "The Man Who Loved Ants." In any case the episode, which takes place in Wales, is suitably creepy, as is the ugly giant ant that is let out at night to, presumably, get the lay of the land. I remember watching this decades ago with my parents and my mother, who had a bit of a crush on Moore but thought he was too pretty,  groaning, "Oh, I didn't know they did stories like this." Frankly, I always thought Moore, while basically masculine, was kind of asexual.

Verdict: Some good mysteries and adventure in this series, although it's not quite on the level of a true classic. **1/2. 

DEAD AND BURIED

James Farentino
DEAD AND BURIED (1981). Director: Gary Sherman.

Dan Gillis (James Farentino) is the sheriff at the small town of Potter's Bluff, which suddenly seems to have an epidemic of homicide. Mutilated corpses are turning up, and we see that the perpetrators are gangs of ordinary citizens attacking outsiders. Dan, however, is even more perplexed than the audience, especially when one of the victims turns up alive with a new identity. Dan's paranoia increases when he suspects that the town's old mortician, Dobbs (Jack Albertson), who is also the medical examiner, may know more than he's saying, and when he finds that his wife, Janet (Melody Anderson), has been reading a book on witchcraft. Then he gets a piece of film that reveals the true horror of the situation, and one especially shocking revelation ...

Jack Albertson
Dead and Buried counts many things among its influences, Frankenstein chief among them, but it also has its own originality if you take it with a grain of salt. There are scenes that go on too long (the opening especially), but otherwise the film is well-paced and consistently suspenseful. Although Jack Albertson [The Subject Was Roses] would not have been my first choice for the role of Dobbs, he's still effective and never chews the scenery. Farentino is excellent, adroitly handling a difficult role, and Melody Anderson [Flash Gordon] is also on target as his wife. The supporting cast, which includes a pre-Freddie Krueger Robert Englund, is well-chosen. Although there are several exciting and chilling sequences in the film, perhaps the most memorably disturbing is an attack on a frightened family in an old abandoned house. The gruesome make ups are expertly handled by Stan Winston. Director Gary Sherman originally wanted this to be a black comedy, but, fortunately, the movie, despite its absurd aspects, is played straight.

Verdict: Very creepy picture with a disquieting premise. ***.

GOOD NEW MOVIE: CROOKED HOUSE

CROOKED HOUSE (2017). Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

When the wealthy and elderly Aristide Leonides is found dead in his bed, his grand-daughter, Sophia (Stefanie Martini), importunes old boyfriend and private eye Charles Hayward (Max Irons) to look into things and discovers the man was poisoned. Suspicion immediately falls upon Brenda (Christina Hendricks), Leonides' much, much younger wife, who was having an affair with the tutor, Laurence (John Heffernan), but there are other suspects as well: Leonides' sons Philip (Julian Sands) and Roger (Christian McKay), and his grandson Eustace (Preston Nyman); their respective wives Magda, the actress (Gillian Anderson), and Clemency (Amanda Abbington); and the spinster aunt, Lady Edith (Glenn Close). Trying to assist Charles as he interviews everyone in the house is young Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), who is keeping a journal as she tries to find out "who-dun-it" before Charles does, but her efforts may get her into trouble -- or worse.

Glenn Close
Crooked House is a good adaptation of an excellent 1949 novel by Agatha Christie, and it builds in suspense and power as it goes along. The actors who make the best impression are the best-known: Terence Stamp [Superman II] in the small role of a Scotland Yard inspector; Glenn Close as the somewhat eccentric but likable aunt; and Gillian Anderson [The X Files] as the flighty tippling actress who isn't much of a mother to her three children. Close and Anderson's characterizations border on caricature at times, but they are both fun, although there are times Close seems to be channeling Cruella de Vil. Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons, is competent enough, but his performance lacks charisma and intensity. Most of the other performers are quite good. The film is handsomely mounted, with especially striking art direction, although sometimes the players seem rather lost in the very wide-screen photography. Apparently the story takes place in the 1950's, which explains the rock 'n' roll, but the atmosphere and fashions are very thirties. Paquet-Brenner also directed Dark Places.

Verdict: Creditable Agatha Christie adaptation is not as good as the book, but worth viewing in any case. ***.