Greetings!


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!


Thursday, December 31, 2015

13 Frightened Girls! (1963)

Starring Murray Hamilton, Joyce Taylor, Hugh Marlowe, Khigh Dhiegh, Kathy Dunn
Directed by William Castle
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An American diplomat's teenage daughter studies up on espionage and becomes a secret and successful spy, but doesn't plan on the dangers she will encounter.

Although the screenplay sometimes borders on the ludicrous, this is a very fun picture with Dunn winning the audience over with a charming and engaging performance.  Although I've seen it grouped in with Castle's horror films, it definitely isn't one, but succeeds on its own merits, with some talented young actresses joining Dunn in the cast.  It paints the Chinese as villains in rather broad strokes when judged by modern standards, but fortunately avoids any kind of racist propaganda.  I enjoyed it, and appreciated the filmmakers' avoidance of the most predictable conclusion.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Voodoo Island (1957)

Starring Boris Karloff, Beverly Tyler, Murvyn Vye, Elisha Cook, Rhodes Reason
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A debunker of superstitions is hired to prove a tropical island safe for a hotel magnate's new property, only to find the island is filled with man-eating plants and voodoo-practicing natives.

This film unfortunately sounds better than it is, as despite the presence of Karloff, a good cast, and a promising premise, the payoff once the film reaches the island is rather lackluster.  Nevertheless, there's still moments to enjoy here, with fine photography, believable special effects, and some genuinely chilling scenes.  Writer Richard Landau has done better and one wonders if his script was censored by budget limitations and the inclusion of a lesbian character.  Still, this is a good bit of diverting fun, although anyone expecting horror from the presence of Karloff will be disappointed.  A young Adam West appears uncredited in an early sequence in the picture.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Mystery Of The 13th Guest (1943)

Starring Dick Purcell, Helen Parrish, Tim Ryan, Frank Faylen, John Duncan
Directed by William Beaudine
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A private investigator is hired to protect a young heiress whom her uncle fears may be the target of a murderer after her grandfather's fortune.

A fun mystery from Monogram Pictures that's one of the more entertaining outings from the low-budget studio, this picture has a fine cast and a good script.  After a setup similar to the one-by-one offings in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, the film fails to follow through on that pattern, and surely would have been more suspenseful with more murders spread out over a longer running time.  Purcell and Parrish are good leads however, and Ryan interestingly collaborated on the screenplay as well as playing the movie's cantankerous police lieutenant.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Donovan's Brain (1953)

Starring Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Davis, Steve Brodie, Tom Powers
Directed by Felix Feist
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After failing to save a wealthy man's life, a scientist steals his brain for further research, unsuspecting of the power it will soon wield over him.

One of several film adaptations of Hollywood screenwriter Curt Siodmak's novel of the same name, this is probably the best of the bunch, featuring a strong performance by Ayres as the kindly scientist whose mind is taken over by the brain and transformed into a ruthless industrialist.  Gene Evans and future First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) are good in supporting roles, and Feist and crew cleverly expand the brain's size when it's advancing its evil agenda, and shrink it back down when dormant, accompanied by appropriate sound effects.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

Starring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An expedition on the Amazon river in search of an ancient fossil comes across a missing link between man and fish whose attacks turn deadly.

One of Universal Picture's "classic monsters," although he came decades after Dracula, Frankenstein, and the rest, the Creature From The Black Lagoon makes a memorable debut in this picture, well-directed by Arnold.  The highlight of the film is the impressive creature makeup which looks great whether the beast is swimming underwater or stalking its victims on land, but the production also boasts a strong cast, and impressive underwater photography.  It's a genuine sci-fi classic which proved popular enough to spawn two sequels.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Invisible Invaders (1959)

Starring John Agar, Jean Byron, Philip Tonge, Robert Hutton, John Carradine
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Invisible aliens from the moon with the power to possess the bodies of the dead launch an invasion of Earth, while a nuclear scientist labors to find a defense against their attacks.

Although the story borders on the ludicrous, and the alien attacks are primarily composed of a generous sampling of stock footage, this film has been a long-time favorite of mine, with distinguished actors Tonge and Carradine lending it a certain sense of credibility despite the low-budget trappings.  Although the special effects are low budget as well, they're unique and have a certain charm, as when the invisible creatures are represented by mounds of earth moving on their own accompanied by fearsome growls on the soundtrack.  As long as you don't take the film too seriously, you'll have a good time.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hand Of Death (1962)

Starring John Agar, Paula Raymond, Steve Dunne, Roy Gordon, John Alonzo
Directed by Gene Nelson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist trying to perfect a nerve gas that will eliminate the need for nuclear weapons has an accident that turns him into a grotesque murdering monster.

Not much of substance here, but I still found the film to be a fun and entertaining sci-fi/horror potboiler, with Agar as always a fine lead for this type of picture.  Although the first half of the film is more interesting then the second, which turns into a a standard "monster on the run" outing, the creature makeup is very good, and composer Sonny Burke adds an effective and eerie score.  The picture's also of interest for others in the cast, including future "Eddie Munster" Butch Patrick, "Three Stooges" veteran Joe Besser, and John Alonzo, who would later become an award-winning cinematographer.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Case Of The Stuttering Bishop (1937)

Starring Donald Woods, Ann Dvorak, Anne Nagel, Linda Perry, Craig Reynolds
Directed by William Clemens
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Attorney Perry Mason is handed a new case by a stuttering bishop, who leads him to the discovery that the heir of a wealthy magnate is an imposter.

A departure of sorts from the other Perry Mason films of the 1930s, this installment feels more like a straight adaptation of Erle Stanley Gardner's novel, with none of the humor and wisecracks found in the Mason films starring Warren William and Ricardo Cortez, although a boastful hotel detective does provide some comic relief.  It's a well put together mystery, and Woods and Dvorak make fine leads.  The picture's not quite as entertaining as some of the other Perry Mason films, but it's a worthwhile production.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965)

Starring Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey, Barrie Ingham
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Doctor Who and his companions travel through time and space to a world at war between the peaceful Thals and the evil Daleks.

The first of two feature films adapted from the Doctor Who television serial, this one's not quite as fun as its followup, Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., but is still an entertaining adventure.  Cushing is fine as the brilliant if forgetful doctor, but the screenplay affords a little too much dialogue to the slow-talking robotic-voiced Daleks, who are sometimes difficult to understand.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the picture, which boasts good production design and a fine music score.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kongo (1932)

Starring Walter Huston, Lupe Velez, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Bruce, C. Henry Gordon
Directed by William Cowen
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A white man in the African jungle, consumed with hate after being crippled by another man, plots an elaborate revenge on him through his innocent daughter.

A sound remake of the classic silent Lon Chaney film, West of Zanzibar, this is a good jungle picture with good performances, notably from Huston in the lead, who excels in displaying his character's cruelty but also his grief and compassion in the film's final act.  The filmmakers should also be credited with some strong visual trickery as Huston wins over the jungle natives with some impressive magic routines.  As with most jungle pictures, there is some racist dialogue but not as much as I expected.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Hidden Hand (1942)

Starring Craig Stevens, Elisabeth Fraser, Julie Bishop, Willie Best, Frank Wilcox
Directed by Ben Stoloff
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A mad killer escapes from an insane asylum, and heads for his family estate, where his sister plans to enlist his help in dealing with her greedy heirs.

Although all the usual elements of an Old Dark House thriller are here, the film's lacking any real mystery or suspense, since we know who the killer is from the start of the picture.  Nevertheless, familiar character actor Milton Parsons makes a good boogeyman with crazed eyes and a soft-spoken voice, and his eerie stare from inside a coffin or triggering a deadly trap door is quite effective.  Unfortunately, the rest of the cast fails to make the same impact, with the screenplay adding little detail to their characters, instead focusing on stereotypes played by Willie Best and Kam Tong.  Still, the movie's worth seeing for Parson's performance.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Genius At Work (1946)

Starring Wally Brown, Alan Carney, Anne Jeffreys, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi
Directed by Leslie Goodwins
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Radio stars Miles & Strager report on the crimes of the mysterious Cobra, not realizing the villain is planning to eliminate them and their clever writer/producer.

We have here one of a series of movies starring the comedy team of Brown and Carney, whose delivery and material aren't all that funny, but this is still an amiable production and entertaining time-passer.  This has been one of the more difficult films on Bela Lugosi's resume to see, and although his role is nothing special, as Atwill's loyal henchman, it's on par with his other appearances in comic mysteries in the 1940s.  This is probably also the only film that affords us a look at Atwill in drag, in keeping with the silly nonsense that characterizes Brown and Carney's work.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Case Of The Velvet Claws (1936)

Starring Warren William, Claire Dodd, Winifred Shaw, Gordon Elliott, Joseph King
Directed by William Clemens
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Attorney Perry Mason must put off his honeymoon with Della Street when a woman demands his help at gunpoint.

A lesser entry in the Perry Mason film series without the pacing and energy of other installments, this isn't a bad movie, and fans of William should enjoy it, but I found it rather routine.  Dodd seems to go from loving Mason to wanting to end the marriage somewhat arbitrarily, and although a plot twist with Mason's client trying to implicate him in a murder is interesting, the supporting players don't have much of an opportunity to flesh out their roles.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Maltese Bippy (1969)

Starring Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar, Mildred Natwick
Directed by Norman Panama
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An actor making low budget adult films with his business partner fears his penchant for howling means he may be changing into a werewolf.

We have here a comedy vehicle for TV's Laugh-In stars Rowan and Martin, but fans of the series may well be disappointed, as none of the other actors from the series make appearances, and the film itself is nothing special.  Although there's a few witty lines, there's not enough to provoke genuine laughs, the odd horror-mystery plot seems out of place, and although the film boasts a fine supporting cast, they're not given enough to do.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Carry On Screaming! (1966)

Starring Harry H. Corbett, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Fenella Fielding
Directed by Gerald Thomas
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A police detective tries to solve a series of disappearances of young women, and follows the clues to a mad scientist who's been using a werewolf lackey to abduct the women.

Part of the long-running British "Carry On" series of movies, featuring a recurring cast of character actors in a comedic spin on a popular movie setting each picture, this entry targets horror films, and although not the funniest outing in the series, it's still charming, with a few jokes that stick.  Williams is particularly good as aptly-named scientist Dr. Watt, who uses electricity to recharge his dead body, but is still concerned with maintaining proper decorum.  Although the story is completely silly, Williams and the rest of the quality cast treat it as seriously as possible, making for good fun.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Case Of The Lucky Legs (1935)

Starring Warren William, Genevieve Tobin, Patricia Ellis, Lyle Talbot, Allen Jenkins
Directed by Archie L. Mayo
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Famed attorney Perry Mason is hired to track down the winner of a contest for the prettiest legs, who's disappeared after being cheated out of her prize money.

In this adaptation of Erle Stanley Gardner's novel, we find the story re-worked into a witty comedy vehicle for William as Mason, although Tobin as Mason's secretary Della Street has most of the best lines.  Mayo keeps things moving at a breakneck speed, not giving us time to try to figure out the mystery on our own, but it doesn't matter- this is fine entertainment with good character actors in the cast and lots of chuckles along the way.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Seventh Victim (1943)

Starring Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim Hunter, Evelyn Brent
Directed by Mark Robson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After her sister disappears, a young woman travels to New York to find her, and fears she is in danger when she encounters characters who don't want her to be found.

Not quite a mystery, and not quite a horror film, although with elements of each, this picture is still enjoyable, although it might have been better off committing to one genre or the other.  Part of producer Val Lewton's series of films meant to induce terror through suggestion by leaving anything horrific offscreen, it does has some memorable scenes, including a murder committed in the dark and a memorable chase near the film's climax.  Still, a greater emphasis on twists and turns in the mystery, or greater focus on the nefarious activities of the film's villains, might have elevated this to something even better.  The film's casting is notable, with Tom Conway reprising his role from the unrelated Lewton picture Cat People, Hugh Beaumont of TV's "Leave It To Beaver," and future Oscar-winner* Kim Hunter in her film debut.

*Per IMDB, Kim Hunter won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in A Streetcar Named Desire

Friday, March 20, 2015

Super-Sleuth (1937)

Starring Jack Oakie, Ann Sothern, Eduardo Ciannelli, Alan Bruce, Edgar Kennedy
Directed by Ben Stoloff
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A movie star who aggravates the police by insisting he's a smarter detective, suddenly finds his life in danger when a notorious killer targets him.

More comedy than mystery, this picture's harmless light fluff that's a fun diversion, but not much more, with a nice supporting cast in Sothern, Ciannelli, and Kennedy, but each would go on to better showcases.  Built around Oakie's charming blowhard character, he's amusing enough, but the screenplay spends more time trying to point out his own failures to recognize the killer, then building suspense as to who that might be, revealing the villain fairly early.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Sorcerers (1967)

Starring Boris Karloff, Catherine Lacey, Elizabeth Ercy, Ian Ogilvy, Victor Henry
Directed by Michael Reeves
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An aging hypnotist invents a means by which he and his wife can control the mind of a young stranger, but she wants to use this new power for her own ends.

An interesting late-career showcase for horror icon Karloff, this picture doesn't feature him as the monster, but his wife, played by Lacey, intent on using their subject for the sensation of committing vile crimes without fear of punishment.  Although generally well-scripted, Lacey's descent into using her victim in violence against women seems wrong-headed, trying to emulate horror films of the time rather than trying something new and more imaginative.  Nevertheless, Karloff and Lacey give good performances, and Reeves' direction is also accomplished.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Macabre (1958)

Starring William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White, Jacqueline Scott, Susan Morrow
Directed by William Castle
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A small-town doctor, blamed by many for his absence during his wife's death in childbirth, has no one to turn to for help when his daughter is kidnapped and buried alive.

To the best of my knowledge, this was the first in Castle's series of horror thrillers promoted with special gimmicks to draw in curious audiences.  Per Wikipedia, the gimmick here was an insurance policy that would be awarded to anyone who "died of fright" while watching the picture.  There's no big names in the cast, although audiences will recognize Backus from Gilligan's Island reruns and his Mr. Magoo cartoon voiceovers.  It's an efficient small scale chiller, on par with Castle's best work, and held my interest throughout.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Psycho (1960)

Starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman steals $40,000 from her employer, and drives off to use it to start a new life with her boyfriend, but makes the mistake of stopping for the night at the Bates Motel.

Hitchcock's classic shocker, so influential in ways both good (inspiring countless horror films to come), and bad (launching the "slasher" genre and with it numerous uninspired gorefests), still holds up, thanks to good performances from Perkins, Miles, and Balsam, Bernard Herrmann's unnerving score, and skilled editing, photography, and direction.  It's a little dated in some respects, but it's not hard to imagine the impact the picture had on audiences of the time.  Although the famous horrific shower scene is what's most remembered today, the rest of the film is artfully assembled, and packs enough suspense to be ranked among the best of Hitchcock's classic potboilers.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Naked City (1948)

Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy
Directed by Jules Dassin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The murder of a young model in New York City is investigated by a veteran police lieutenant and his young detective partner who try to find clues in the giant populous city.

An excellent mystery, authentically filmed on location in New York, the film illustrates the grinding efforts of police to solve the crime and takes us step by step through their investigation.  Although the gritty crime procedurals of today likely owe their existence to this picture, producer Mark Hellinger keeps the mood from getting too heavy with his easygoing narration, a number of light-hearted scenes, and charming humor from star Barry Fitzgerald.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gaslight (1944)

Starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury
Directed by George Cukor
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In 19th century London, a young woman returns to her murdered aunt's home to make a new life with her husband, unaware he has diabolical plans to drive her slowly insane. 

A fine dramatic chiller, with Boyer and Bergman both excellent in memorable roles, this picture builds its suspense mainly through dialogue and performance, but also has excellent production values, recreating the gaslit city squares of London, earning both Bergman and the film's art direction Oscars, according to IMDB.  Although the plotline would soon become a tired retread over the years in weak psychological dramas, it's certainly fresh here, but would have been a lesser film without its stars and accomplished director Cukor.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1945)

Starring George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford
Directed by Albert Lewin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young man desirous of eternal youth, wishes for his portrait to age instead of himself, and finds his wish not only comes true, but his evil deeds thereafter are also reflected in his portrait.   

Not completely faithful as an adaptation of the famous Oscar Wilde novel, this effort still comes fairly close, with much of Wilde's witty prose absorbed into the screenplay, and benefits from fine casting, with Sanders and Lansbury bringing standout performances.  It's hard to say whether Hatfield, as Dorian Gray, gives a performance that captures the soulless evil of the character well enough.   He doesn't have many opportunities with much of Gray's vile deeds only alluded to in the screenplay, but a more accomplished actor may have made his on-screen sins more impactful.  Still, this is a worthwhile and well-filmed production.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Ghost Ship (1943)

Starring Richard Dix, Russell Wade, Edith Barrett, Ben Bard, Edmund Glover
Directed by Mark Robson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young third officer spends his first berth at sea aboard a ship whose captain may be responsible for murdering one of his men.  

Although produced by Val Lewton, and often packaged with his other horror films made for the RKO studio, this is more of a straight thriller, but ties into the same psychological themes Lewton was known for.  It's one of his slighter movies in my opinion, with too short a running time to build much suspense, although there's some atmospheric scenes and charming songs from RKO contract player & calypso singer Sir Lancelot.  Wade's role is so similar to his part in Lewton's The Body Snatcher, it's easy to see why he was cast in that film two years later.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Mystery Of Mr. X (1934)

Starring Robert Montgomery, Elizabeth Allan, Lewis Stone, Ralph Forbes, Henry Stephenson
Directed by Edgar Selwyn
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After his latest theft is tied in with the crimes of a serial killer, a debonair jewel thief tries to help the police find the murderer.  

A worthy showcase for the talents of Robert Montgomery, this unusual mystery affords the actor a choice role he imbues with charm and cleverness.  The beautiful Allan makes a tempting prize for his character on the right side of the law and Forrester Harvey is quite good in one of his many blustery character parts.  The rest of the film is as winningly assembled as the cast, as the filmmakers move along the story at a logical pace, and build a suspenseful climax as Montgomery hunts the killer in an abandoned warehouse.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Secret Partner (1961)

Starring Stewart Granger, Haya Harareet, Bernard Lee, Hugh Burden, Lee Montague
Directed by Basil Dearden
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A shipping company executive falls under suspicion when the company is robbed, but the real culprit is a mysterious masked figure.  

We have here a fun British mystery with a very good cast and script that moves along at a brisk pace, augmented by a jazzy score from Philip Green that enlivens the production.  Granger is excellent as the film's protagonist, with Lee, better known as "M" in the James Bond pictures, offering solid support as an aging chain-smoking detective on his final case.  Although the filmmakers don't take the opportunity to build suspense with any chase scenes once Granger goes on the lam, they do a good job of sustaining the mystery to the final climax, which just might take you by surprise.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Shadows On The Stairs (1941)

Starring Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce Lester, Miles Mander
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An aspiring playwright living in an English boarding house discovers that several of the residents are engaged in suspicious activities.  

There's nary a big star to be found in this small-scale mystery which has only a few brief scenes filmed outside the boarding house, but the ensemble of actors do a capable job in the limited environment without overstaying their welcome.  Inescort's portrayal of the house's owner and operator is at times a little over the top, compared to the other actors' more restrained performances, but I still enjoyed the picture.  It's not a great film, but I found it to be a more than enjoyable diversion with a fairly clever story.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Haunted Honeymoon (1940)

Starring Robert Montgomery, Constance Cummings, Leslie Banks, Seymour Hicks, Robert Newton
Directed by Arthur B. Woods
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbles in solving murders, and his crime novelist bride agree to give up mysteries, but find themselves plunged into one when they arrive at their honeymoon cottage.  

Bringing together American stars with a British supporting cast, the MGM studio delivers a fine mystery with many whimsical touches of humor, an appealing lead in Montgomery, and a very lovely Cummings as his partner.  The filmmakers cleverly distract us with the wealthy couple's efforts to give up crime-solving, and so we ignore the clues to the murderer's identity until Montgomery unveils him in the film's climax, and then realize they were right in front of our eyes.  It's very well-executed, and tops the cake of what was already a charming piece of entertainment.  

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Carnival Of Sinners (1943)

Starring Pierre Fresnay, Josseline Gael, Noel Roquevert, Guillaume de Sax, Palau
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A one-handed painter tells the residents of an Alpine inn the incredible story of how he traded his soul for a talisman that brought him fame and riches.

Tourneur's film offers a very engrossing morality play from France I enjoyed very much, well-acted and stylishly presented with some innovative camera work and animated effects.  Although the concept of a man selling his soul to the devil isn't new and wasn't new on cinema screens in 1943, with The Devil And Daniel Webster having preceded this picture by a few years, the story unfolds in a fresh-seeming presentation.  Palau, as the devil, doesn't make quite the same impact as Walter Huston did in Webster, but the real strength of the film is in the beauty of the screenplay's dialogue and Tourneur's skilled direction.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Body Snatcher (1945)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater, Russell Wade
Directed by Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Scottish doctor resorts to buying corpses from a grave robber in order to train his students, but regrets it once the grave robber begins intruding into his life.

We have here one of the best of producer Val Lewton's horror pictures, which avoided showing frightful scenes on screen, but built suspense and chills through shadow and sound and suggestion.  The monster here is Karloff, not in appearance, but in the psychological war he wages with Daniell's character, and both actors are in good form here, well complemented by Robert De Grasse's dark photography, and fine direction by a young Robert Wise on one of his first solo assignments.  The only down note is the wasting of the talents of Bela Lugosi in a small role, although second-billed and heavily featured in the film's trailer and advertising.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1949)

Starring Gwendoline Watford, Kay Tendeter, Irving Steen, Vernon Charles, Connie Goodwin
Directed by Ivan Barnett
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy man and his ailing sister are warned they are under a family curse that will ensure their deaths before the age of thirty.

Based on one of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous tales of horror, this adaptation is a terrible misfire, not creepy in the least, and paling in comparison to Roger Corman's 1960 adaptation of the same story, House Of Usher.  Watford and Tendeter are miscast, conveying none of the haggardness and frailty in their performances that Poe described in their characters, and to expand Poe's short story, the screenwriters add a ludicrous subplot concerning the Ushers' insane mother and her violent protection of a decapitated head.  I could overlook some of these faults if the film was more suspensefully staged, but director/cinematographer Barnett frames almost all the pivotal scenes in long shots without closeups or editing to create excitement.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bowery At Midnight (1942)

Starring Bela Lugosi, John Archer, Wanda McKay, Tom Neal, Vince Barnett
Directed by Wallace Fox
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A psychology professor leads a double life as a criminal, using a mission for the poor as a front for his activities which include theft and murder.

Here we have one of Bela Lugosi's thrillers for low-budget Monogram Pictures, notable for his dual role, and his morbid burial of his past accomplices in a cemetery in the mission's basement.  Anyone familiar with Lugosi's horror films may let loose a chuckle when he admonishes an associate, "I don't want your cat desecrating my graves."  It's a slight movie without much to recommend it, but entertaining in its own right.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Eyes In The Night (1942)

Starring Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Donna Reed, Horace McNally, Katherine Emery
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When an old friend falls under suspicion of murder, a blind private eye searches for the real culprit, and discovers an intricate plot behind the murder.

Edward Arnold makes a fine protagonist in this neat little thriller, convincingly presenting himself as blind, but with the physical and mental skills to equal any seeing detective.  His bravado in confronting the film's villains never comes off as an act or as over the top, a credit to the actor's skill. The picture's cast includes a fine roster of talented character actors, while also showcasing young ingenue Donna Reed, and a well-trained canine, although comedy veterans Allen Jenkins & Mantan Moreland aren't given much to do.  Director Zinnemann, who delivers a skillfully made picture, would eventually go on to helm much bigger movies.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)

Starring Glen Langan, Cathy Downs, William Hudson, Larry Thor, James Seay
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An army colonel is caught in a plutonium explosion, and miraculously survives, but begins growing in size, eventually turning into a 60-foot giant. 

Not a great movie, and the special effects don't hold up very well, with Langan's immense figure in much brighter contrast than the backgrounds he's inserted in, but I'm still rather fond of this picture, and it's arguably Bert I. Gordon's signature film.  At times it's hard to take seriously, with Langan's bald half-naked figure making an awkward impact on the screen, but the actor does a reasonable job of delivering the character's pain and humiliation, and like many of Gordon's other pictures, there's a fun factor in seeing what effects he's going to deliver, and what's going to happen to his characters in the end.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Raven (1963)

Starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wizard tormented by the death of his wife is lured into a confrontation with his father's rival when her spirit is sighted in his castle.

Despite the subject matter of the grim tale of Edgar Allan Poe, screenwriter Richard Matheson uses that poem as a springboard to launch a comedic adventure featuring memorable roles for Price and horror icons Lorre and Karloff, perhaps inspired by Price & Lorre's lighthearted version of Poe's The Cask Of Amontillado in Corman's Tales Of Terror the previous year.   The film suffers from weak special effects and Corman again pulls the stock footage of a burning castle from his earlier Poe pictures, but it's still a fun picture, particularly in the interplay between Price and Lorre, and affords a young Jack Nicholson one of his early credits.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Starring Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone, Shug Fisher, Bob Thompson
Directed by Ray Kellogg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young mechanic assists a rural sheriff in investigating a series of unexplained wrecks, and discover a gila monster that's grown to gigantic proportions is responsible.

Despite its low budget, and wretched special effects, this movie's a fun charmer, with Sullivan very likable in the lead, and delivering some pleasant songs as well.  The gila monster, a normal sized one photographed by itself, is simply not convincing as a giant beast, not sharing the screen with any of its victims, with only some miniature cars and bridges in the background and some booming sound effects to point out its size.  Nevertheless, I was entertained, and didn't have a problem looking past the film's failings.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cat Girl (1957)

Starring Barbara Shelley, Robert Ayres, Kay Callard, Ernest Milton, Lily Kann
Directed by Alfred Shaughnessy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A psychiatrist tries to cure a young woman of the belief that she's inherited her family curse, and is now doomed to stalk and kill human prey in the form of a leopard.

Part horror film, part psychological drama, this is an early showcase for Barbara Shelley, who went on to similar roles in Hammer Films' horror films of the 1960s, and the picture is pretty good in my opinion, although highly derivative of 1942's Cat People.  Shelley gives a fine performance, but I feel the filmmakers could have taken other opportunities to make her seem more catlike.  Those expecting a monster makeup will be disappointed as her character's spirit enters into a leopard rather than becoming one, but the film still has some good suspense to offer and fine black-and-white photography.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unknown World (1951)

Starring Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis, Jim Bannon, Tom Handley, Dick Cogan
Directed by Terrell O. Morse
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A group of scientists fearing the H-bomb may mean the end of everything plan a journey underground to find a place where humanity could continue to exist.

Jack Rabin and Irving Block, who would go on to develop the special effects for numerous 1950's sci-fi films, also produced this effort earlier in the decade, and though the effects are nothing special, the story is a worthy one with a good screenplay that holds your interest.  Tension between the scientists and their financial backer is effectively staged, and Ernest Gold's music score helps propel the film along through some dreary patches.  Filmed in Carlsbad Caverns, which provided the setting for many movies of this type, its scenery is not as spectacularly presented here as in later efforts, but this picture is still a good low-budget adventure.

The 27th Day (1957)

Starring Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Voskovec, Arnold Moss, Stefan Schnabel
Directed by William Asher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An alien being gives a doomsday weapon to each of five representatives from the Earth, giving them the option of using or not using it within a 27 day period.

Heavy-handed at times, and perhaps unfair in its casting of the Soviet Union's leaders as villains, although their nation is never specifically named, this picture still offers an interesting morality tale quite relevant at the time- if you were given a weapon that dangerous could you trust turning it over to your government for safe-keeping?  The resolution the film comes to is a bit too much of an easy answer, but it's still an entertaining movie, with a fine roster of quality actors in the cast.

Destroy All Planets (1968)

Starring Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig, Michiko Yaegaki, Mari Atsumi
Directed by Kenji Yuasa
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Invading space aliens discover the Earth is protected by the flying turtle monster Gamera, but try to exploit his weaknesses by kidnapping a pair of young children.

This Gamera sequel is probably the weakest of the series I've yet seen, featuring less monster action and trying to make up for it by replaying lengthy battle scenes from the previous films, which should have been shortened considerably.  Although the final confrontation with a giant octopus-like creature isn't half bad, the lead-up to that sequence is a bit yawn-inducing, as there's not much of interest once the movie's focus shifts to the young boys' captivity aboard the drab alien spaceship.  By casting American Carl Craig in the role of one of the boys, the film was clearly aimed at both the Japanese and U.S. markets, an approach that would be repeated in the next sequel, Attack Of The Monsters.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

20 Million Miles To Earth (1957)

Starring William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, John Zaremba, Thomas B. Henry
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A spaceflight on a return trip from Venus crashes in the Italian sea, unleashing a creature from the planet that grows to a tremendous size on Earth.

We have here one of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen's finest films, with his detailed character animation for the Venusian creature, (dubbed the "Ymir" although never called that in the picture), among his very best work in my opinion.  The Italian setting also lends itself quite well to the exciting staging of the spaceship's waterbound crash, the Ymir's battle with an elephant in Rome's zoo, and the creature's final stand atop the famous Colosseum.  Avoiding the mistake other sci-fi filmmakers make in placing an overemphasis on the human characters and their subplots, the filmmakers wisely keep the monster front and center, and their cast largely relegated to the background.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane
Directed by John Huston
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Detective Sam Spade is hired to rescue a woman's sister from a criminal, but soon discovers he's been used as a pawn by a group of ruthless characters after a priceless statuette.

Humphrey Bogart makes quite the impact as Dashiell Hammett's private eye in this version of his famed novel, supported by quality turns from Astor, Lorre, and the unforgettable Sydney Greenstreet.   It's not hard to see how this role showcasing Bogart's toughness, intelligence, and humor launched him on the road to stardom, and marked the start of an equally fine career for his director John Huston, who delivered a stylish and entertaining mystery.  Not to be neglected is the excellent dialogue throughout the film, advancing the story and enriching each character.  Perhaps the film's only detriment, albeit a minor one, is the casting of Astor, who despite delivering an excellent performance, is not the knockout beauty that the screenplay describes her as.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Incredible Petrified World (1957)

Starring John Carradine, Robert Clarke, Phyllis Coates, Allen Windsor, Sheila Noonan
Directed by Jerry Warren
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The maiden voyage of a diving bell ends in tragedy as the chain breaks, stranding its four passengers on the ocean floor, but they're able to make their way into an underground series of caverns.

One of the films of the notorious Jerry Warren, this picture's actually not too bad, despite the director's reputation for making haphazard films, often recutting foreign pictures and adding endless-seeming narration to explain the plots.  This effort's an original adventure as far as I know, although Warren cuts in plenty of stock footage, but held my interest despite its obvious flaws.  Although the film's not a highlight of any of its actors' careers, Coates fares worst, saddled with a witchy character whose fits of anger and jealousy don't seem to make any sense.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Metropolis (1927)

Starring Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos
Directed by Fritz Lang
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The son of the master of an utopian city of the future discovers it's powered through the efforts of the subjugated worker class, who are on the verge of rebellion.

A science-fiction epic assembled by the great Fritz Lang at the height of his powers, this film still looks impressive decades after it's original release, with striking visuals, excellent photography, and a suspenseful and exciting climax.  There's much to admire in this influential masterwork, from the golden robot that's become iconic, to Brigitte Helm's dual performance as the saintly Maria and her manic evil alter ego, to the imagery of Metropolis' machines, which are contrasted to the gates of hell consuming men's souls in a memorable sequence.  Kino Video's recent restoration of the film, per its onscreen credits, adds many scenes cut over the years culled from an existing nearly complete print recently discovered overseas.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Time Machine (1960)

Starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore
Directed by George Pal
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On the eve of the 20th century, an inventor creates a functional time machine, which he uses to travel into the far future to escape the horrors of war in the present.

The classic novel by H.G. Wells becomes a classic film in the hands of fantasy filmmaker George Pal, whose credits include Destination Moon, The War Of The Worlds, and Atlantis: The Lost Continent.  Featuring distinctive art direction and good special effects, highlighted by a wonderful imagining of the time machine of Wells' novel, Pal's film makes an impact and has a wonderfully nostalgic sheen to it, abetted by Russell Garcia's charming music.  The makeup of the Morlocks, the film's fearsome villains is well-done as well, and Taylor makes a believable and worthy voice for Wells' ideas.  It stands up with each viewing, and remains one of my favorite sci-fi adventures.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weird Woman (1944)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Morgan, Elisabeth Risdon
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college professor tries to free his wife of her superstitious beliefs by destroying her protective charms, but afterward, terrible things begin to happen to him.

An adaptation of Fritz Lieber's novel, "Conjure Wife," this installment in the "Inner Sanctum" series of movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr., pales a bit by comparison to the novel's 1962 adaptation Burn, Witch, Burn, but still stands out as one of the better films in the series.  As psychological thrillers go, it's not particularly expert, but Chaney and the cast of familiar Universal contract players make it a fun diverting one, enhanced by stock music from the studio's horror films.