Monday, August 21, 2017

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)

Starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter
Directed by Victor Fleming
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The brilliant young Dr. Jekyll risks his impending marriage and standing in society in experiments to unleash his own dark half, a hideous alter ego who is as depraved as Jekyll is good and decent.

The 1941 version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story isn't quite the film that the 1931 adaptation with Fredric March is, and suffers a bit due to modifications that must have been made to please the Hays Office, giving the movie's predecessor an edge due to its Pre-Code status.  In this version, despite his fantastic theories, Jekyll is a clearly defined Christian, and his atrocities as Hyde are mostly hinted at and kept off screen.  Nevertheless, an early fantasy sequence in the film almost makes up for some of the whitewashing with some very daring imagery.  The picture may be best remembered for its unconventional casting with Turner and Bergman playing the opposite roles one would expect based on their careers.  The film also takes a chance in giving Tracy a somewhat subtle makeup as Hyde, but I think the actor pulls off the role with polish and panache.  It's definitely not as exciting a film as the 1931 version, but it certainly looks impressive, with good photography and some elaborate sets, and does have the advantage of a musical score by the great Franz Waxman.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931)

Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert, Halliwell Hobbes
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The brilliant young Dr. Jekyll risks his impending marriage and standing in society in experiments to unleash his own dark half, a hideous alter ego who is as depraved as Jekyll is good and decent.

For my money we have here the best adaptation ever of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel, and there have been quite a few, but March's exceptional performance and the excellent photography of Karl Struss make this one rise to the top.  Many actors have played Jekyll and Hyde, and many brilliantly so, but March is so unrecognizable as Hyde, another actor could have been credited with Hyde's performance, and I think all would have believed it.  It's true that March's features are hidden under the ape-like Hyde's makeup and toothy grin, but his voice, his mannerisms, and his obsessive stare are so different from what we've seen from March as Jekyll or in his other films, it's no wonder he won the Oscar that year (tied with Wallace Beery).  Struss' camerawork adds excitement to the film, opening with a long sequence where we see through Jekyll's eyes alone, in counterpoint to the coming emphasis on how characters see him and his alter ego, and the visual trickery Struss and editor William Shea employ during the Hyde transformation sequences make them seem vibrantly real.  The picture also has excellent art direction, a talented supporting cast, and Hopkins' pre-Code attempted seduction of Jekyll in the film's early moments still packs plenty of heat.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Devil's Partner (1961)

Starring Ed Nelson, Edgar Buchanan, Jean Allison, Richard Crane, Spencer Carlisle
Directed by Charles R. Rondeau
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A bitter old hermit sells his soul to the devil and in return is given youth, which he uses to pass himself off as his own nephew, and the power to possess the bodies of animals.

Although low budget and possessing little in the way of special effects, this is a compelling little horror picture, notable for its cast, and a terrific unheralded music score from Ronald Stein that's among my favorites of his.  Nelson stars in both of the hermit's guises and gives a good performance, making his swift convincing of the townspeople that the kindly nephew is nothing like the cruel old man utterly believable. I liked him and all the cast- reliable character actor Buchanan is also most welcome as the town doctor, and Byron Foulger is almost unrecognizable as a dirty vagrant. As a horror film, I found the movie effective even with much of the violence occurring off camera, and a good bit of humor also featured in the script.  The animal possession sequences are nothing special, and perhaps could have been better with more money, but regardless I think this is fun viewing for any old-time horror fan.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Devil's Messenger (1961)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Karen Kadler, Michael Hinn, Ralph Brown, John Crawford
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

As Satan admits new arrivals through the gates of hell, he makes an offer to a suicide victim to spare her punishment by delivering items that will lead new souls down a dark path.

Although there's no mention of this in the film's credits, the movie is a repackaging of episodes from 13 Demon Street, a TV series writer/director Curt Siodmak created and produced, which was filmed in Sweden, and hosted by Chaney.  Siodmak's name in fact is nowhere to be found, although IMDB indicates he directed and/or wrote some of the installments included.  Three stories from the TV series are included, featuring a photographer who kills a woman and is then haunted by her image, a scientist who falls in love with an ancient woman found frozen in ice, and a man informed by a fortune teller he is fated to die at midnight.  I can't say any of the tales are particularly memorable, and there's no notable names in their casts.  Among them, the photographer's tale probably comes off best and has the most visually satisfying conclusion.  I found the wrap around story filmed with Chaney and Kadler to be extremely low budget and it doesn't mesh well with the episodes, but as a whole, the film engaged my interest and has a similar feel to the later (if more superior) horror anthologies put out by Amicus in the 1960s and 1970s.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

Starring Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden, Gregg Palmer, Maurice Manson
Directed by John Sherwood
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy scientist, obsessed with controlling what he owns, including his young wife, plans to recapture the Gill-Man and transform him into an evolved form of life.

The second sequel to Creature From The Black Lagoon is an improvement on the previous film, Revenge Of The Creature, staging much of its action in the Florida Everglades, where the Creature, hidden beneath the murky surface, becomes a predatory threat, with underwater photography to rival that in the original film.  It also takes the story further in a unique direction, with the creature becoming less bestial and more tragic as he is robbed of his gills and forced to live on land.  Although Snowden is given a progressive role as a woman concerned with her own needs and seeking to distance herself from both Morrow's controlling husband and Palmer's obsession with her, it's too bad and rather surprising she doesn't have any meaningful scenes with the Creature.  I think the film's strongest plusses are the speculative screenplay by Arthur Ross and the adept music score which paints a different palette than the past two films, featuring a memorable jazz theme for Snowden, and some terrifically suspenseful cues.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Jason And The Argonauts (1963)

Starring Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith, Niall MacGinnis
Directed by Don Chaffey
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young hero recruits a mighty crew, and they set off on a bold quest to bring back the fabled Golden Fleece, but must face many dangers and fearsome creatures along their path.

Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen uses this classic tale from Greek mythology to showcase more of his brilliantly animated creations, including a mighty stone giant, malevolent bat-winged harpies, the legendary Hydra with seven snapping snake heads, and an army of sword-wielding skeletons.  The skeleton sequence in particular stands out as one of Harryhausen's greatest achievements, but all of them are memorable, and Bernard Herrmann's majestic music score adds unsettling motifs for each animated monster.  Armstrong is suitably proud and determined as Jason, and Nigel Green, although perhaps atypically cast as the well-known hero Hercules, makes the character his own and an interesting participant in the action.  Chaffey keeps the story moving efficiently between the creature effects, and the film's bright color palette makes it a vivid rendition of this famous tale.

Revenge Of The Creature (1955)

Starring John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Nestor Paiva, Grandon Rhodes
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After the legendary Gill-Man is captured and put on exhibition in a Florida aquarium, an animal psychologist and his beautiful assistant discover the creature can't be tamed.

This follow-up to the classic Creature From The Black Lagoon can't compete with the original, but Agar brings natural charm to his character in one of his first sci-fi credits, despite his cruel attempts to train the creature with a bull prod.  One hopes this was an invention of the screenplay, and not indicative of the methods real animal psychologists used at the time, which makes me shudder if they were.  The rest of the picture offers efficient thrills, Nelson is gifted with some meaningful dialogue as the film's leading lady, and Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning bring the Gill-Man to life as memorably as in the first film.  However, for me the Creature was far more effective in his native environment.  Paiva is the only actor from the original film to reprise his role, as the charter boat captain Lucas, a rogue more colorful than most of the other characters, and it's a shame he's only around for less than the first half of the picture.