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Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

I also cover vintage television at my sister site, CLASSICS ON THE TUBE , so please feel free to check that out as well.

Thanks for visiting!


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Doomed To Die (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Marjorie Reynolds, Grant Withers, William Stelling, Catherine Craig
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When her friend's fiancee is accused of the murder of a shipping magnate, reporter Bobbie Logan calls in Mr. Wong to try and clear the young man. 

This was Boris Karloff's last go-round as Hugh Wiley's Oriental detective, and I found the script of the mystery, with a wealth of suspects and a few clever ideas, somewhat engaging before a hasty conclusion wraps things up without really spelling out the murderer's motive.  Static camerawork and too-dark scenery doesn't help matters, but there are some notable character actors in the cast, including Angelo Rossitto of Freaks in a brief appearance as a midget newsboy.  I found the film to fare no better or worse than Karloff's other Wong films, although the actor doesn't have much to do here, so overall I would rank this near the bottom of his filmography.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bluebeard (1944)

Starring John Carradine, Jean Parker, Nils Asther, Ludwig Stossel, George Pembroke
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In 19th century France, a dressmaker is charmed by the intelligent puppeteer who stages operatic dramas with his marionettes, but never suspects he is a serial killer targeting young women.

Another low budget production from Poverty Row studio PRC, the picture is boosted by talented director Edgar G. Ulmer, and John Carradine in a role perfectly suited to his rich voice and screen presence.  It's hard to imagine PRC pulling off a period costume drama, but Ulmer and his crew make it look authentic, although there's nary a French accent spoken among the cast.  In my opinion, this is probably Carradine's best performance for a low budget film, and although his tall and wiry frame was used by other filmmakers for effective boogeymen, he's handsome and debonair enough here to make one wonder why he's wasn't more utilized as a leading man.  Parker is charming as well, as perhaps the only local woman not fearful of the bluebeard on the loose, and Stossel is also welcome as a shady art dealer blackmailing Carradine's character.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1920)

Starring John Barrymore, Brandon Hurst, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane, Cecil Clovelly
Directed by John S. Robertson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Dr. Henry Jekyll, frightened of succumbing to his baser impulses, develops a formula to unleash his darker half, but soon becomes dominated by the persona he calls Edward Hyde.

This early silent adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella is at the very least intriguing, differing quite a bit from later filmings of the story.  I didn't find it to be particularly well-directed, but Barrymore is outstanding as Hyde, in a less bestial but still grim makeup, with long hair, menacing teeth, and bony fingers.  Hunching over, and exposing a pointed-looking cranium, the actor offers quite the contrast to his more reserved portrayal of Jekyll.  That image is showcased in a very memorable sequence where we see a ghostly apparition of Hyde, with Barrymore's head superimposed on a giant spider that creeps onto Jekyll's bed.  Another item of interest is the casting of Hurst as the father of Jekyll's sweetheart, and the script's defining of him as a rogue who encourages Jekyll to yield to temptation, very opposed to the prim and proper stuffed shirt portrayed in the Paramount and MGM adaptations decades later.

Friday, October 6, 2017

King Of The Zombies (1941)

Starring Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, Mantan Moreland, Henry Victor, John Archer
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A government agent, his faithful valet, and their pilot crash land on an island where a mysterious doctor resides and frightening zombies roam the grounds.

Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures delivers a number of horror elements, from the zombies to a graveyard, to Victor's cultured villain with something to hide, but the whole movie's really a comedy vehicle for the always wide-eyed Mantan Moreland.  Although Moreland throughout his career played mainly stereotypical roles which would definitely be looked down upon and criticized today, he had an indisputable comic timing, and talent for delivering rapid-fire jokes, which kept him employed as comic relief on a great number of pictures.  He might have his funniest material in this script, bouncing off the other actors playing their roles as straight as can be, and excelling when hypnotized into becoming a zombie, but definitely not a silent one.  That helps the film flow pretty well, despite Victor's less than compelling villain- Bela Lugosi or John Carradine would have done more with the role.  Despite Monogram's status on Poverty Row, somehow this film earned an Oscar nomination for composer Edward Kay.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Killer Shrews (1959)

Starring James Best, Ingrid Goude, Ken Curtis, Gordon McLendon, Baruch Lumet
Directed by Ray Kellogg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A ship captain becomes stranded on an island where a scientist has transformed tiny shrews into giant ravenous creatures whose bite causes instant death.

One of a pair of low budget horror films produced by Gordon McLendon and his father for the chain of theaters they owned, the other being The Giant Gila Monster, the movie is often ridiculed but I've always found it very enjoyable.  Dogs in costume pass for the shrews, but some very creepy puppet heads with menacing teeth are used effectively in closeups, and the sound effects that accompany their attacks are definitely unnerving.  Best, later to attain greater fame for playing Sheriff Rosco Coltrane on The Dukes Of Hazzard, is fine in the lead, and the supporting cast isn't bad either, with Gunsmoke's Ken Curtis playing a drunk coward, Sidney Lumet's father Baruch playing the cultured scientist, and McLendon more than serviceable as one of his excitable assistants.  Goude, a Swedish model turned actress, whose accent is mentioned but never explained, is capable, but saddled in the script with an odd engagement to Curtis' reprobate that doesn't really make sense.  This is definitely low-budget movie movie making, so the sets are limited, and the threat of an oncoming hurricane is beyond the filmmakers' abilities to depict convincingly.  It's also unfortunate that Judge Henry Dupree's character isn't much more than a stereotype and dispatched so early in the film.  However, I'm still fond of the picture, and would judge it as a more than diverting piece of entertainment.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Monster Maker (1944)

Starring J. Carrol Naish, Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell, Wanda McKay, Terry Frost
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A criminal scientist, on discovering the daughter of a concert pianist resembles his dead wife, becomes obsessed with attaining her, and to that end infects her father with a terrible disease.

This low budget chiller from the PRC studio has its share of effective moments, and features one of their best casts, with Naish and Morgan the standouts.  Naish is creepy, speaking his dialogue in a suave but halting delivery, in a role that almost seems as if it might have been written for Bela Lugosi.  The monster makeup on Morgan is well done, and I liked elements of Albert Glasser's music score.  The budget shows however with some limited sets, and the script has some plot holes and weak logic, such as Birell's unwavering dedication as Naish's assistant after he has rejected her romantically.  Film historian Troy Howarth commented to me that he found the film a bit tasteless for exploiting the real disease of acromegaly, and I can definitely agree with that, and wonder if it was coincidental this film was released around the same time real-life acromegaly victim Rondo Hatton was appearing in movies for Universal as a boogeyman.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Mad Magician (1954)

Starring Vincent Price, Mary Murphy, Eva Gabor, John Emery, Donald Randolph
Directed by John Brahm
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Gallico, a designer of death trap illusions for magic shows, seeks vengeance when his employer prohibits him from starting his own career as a magician.

One of Vincent Price's lesser known films, and one hard to see until it was recently released on video, for me it's a personal favorite among all his movies.  Following his triumph in House Of Wax, it was Price's lone outing afterward as an out and out horror villain for a number of years, and despite the absence of his trademark mustache, he's well worth watching here.  I really like the behind the scenes magic backdrop of the film, and although Price's impersonations of other characters beneath so-called masks aren't always convincing, the dark villainy he's engaged in is on a par with what we're used to in his more popular efforts.  I liked the supporting cast too, as actor John Emery, who plays a rival magician, is marvelous sneering at Price in a French accent, and Lenita Lane is colorful as a murder mystery author and busybody who grows suspicious of Price.