Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cat People (1942)

Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, Jack Holt
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A ship designer falls for an exotic Serbian sketch artist, but although they agree to marry, she is tormented by a fear that she is descended from the evil cat people of her village.

Producer Val Lewton's first in a series of horror films for RKO Pictures that aimed to build terror through shadow and suggestion rather than with onscreen frights, it's my favorite of his pictures, and arguably the best of the bunch.  Very well scripted by DeWitt Bodeen, and effectively staged by director Tourneur, it's a genuine classic with a fine performance by Simon and some wonderfully suspenseful scenes including Simon's silent stalking of Randolph on a dark street at night and in an unoccupied swimming pool.  Although the integration of Simon with a real-life panther could have been handled better in my opinion, there's not much else to criticize, except that Lewton's follow-ups never quite had the same impact as this film.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Brain From Planet Arous (1957)

Starring John Agar, Joyce Meadows, Robert Fuller, Thomas B. Henry, Kenneth Terrell
Directed by Nathan Hertz
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A criminal from a planet of super powerful brains travels to Earth, and takes over the body of a nuclear scientist and makes plans to conquer the world.

I love this movie, for although it's a low-budget drive-in feature with obvious wires in the special effects sequences, and lacks standout performances or any great depth in the story, it's a heck of a lot of fun.  The loopy story conceived by Ray Buffum, who also scripted similar low-budget efforts such as Teenage Monster and Island Of Lost Women, is elevated by professional actors like Agar, Meadows, and Thomas B. Henry, who don't do their careers any favors here, but help bring the film across with enough conviction to suspend our disbelief.  Director Nathan Juran (billed as Hertz here as he was in Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman) was per IMDB, a former art director for several films and later helmed a couple of Ray Harryhausen's best pictures, and makes the most of his budget here, mixing stock footage with a collapsing set to convey the villain's mental-powered destruction of an army installation, and conveying its possession of Agar's body with glowing eyes in an appropriately eerie effect.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lured (1947)

Starring George Sanders, Lucille Ball, Charles Coburn, Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke
Directed by Douglas Sirk
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A dance hall girl is recruited by the London police to help them trap a serial killer who targets young women through the personal ads of the newspaper.

Considering Lucille Ball's later acclaim as a comedic actress, it's interesting to see her play a dramatic role here, supported by several accomplished actors whose performances are equally fine, including Karloff as a demented fashion designer, Coburn as the determined police inspector, and Sanders, cast in a familiar role as a wealthy entrepreneur and lothario.  Familiar screen villain George Zucco has an entertaining change-of-pace role as Ball's protector.  Ball, who is given an impressive variety of outfits throughout the film, has never looked lovelier, and the film has strong direction by Sirk and innovative camera work.  The mystery itself though takes a rather implausible turn to cap off with a happy ending, but that's no doubt what the audience for pictures like this would have preferred.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Faust (1926)

Starring Gosta Ekmann, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Frieda Richard, Wilhelm Dieterle
Directed by F.W. Murnau
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An angel and demon make a wager on whether a scientist trying to save his people will be tempted to sell his soul.

Nosferatu director Murnau presents another picture filled with dark and memorable imagery, telling the classic story of Faust, tempted by Mephisto in a wonderful performance by Jannings with a leering eye and mischievous smirk.  The first half of the film is by far the best with some sensational visuals that obviously influenced the "Night On Bald Mountain" sequence in Walt Disney's Fantasia.  After Faust commits to Mephisto for the price of the youth he's lost, the picture drags a bit while conveying the love story with the innocent Gretchen, before building to an acceptable climax.  Nonetheless, it's another impressive production from Murnau, and likely one of silent cinema's most important works.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Who Done It? (1942)

Starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Patric Knowles, William Gargan, Louise Allbritton
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of sandwich counter workers at a radio station try to solve a murder committed in the building, but end up becoming suspects themselves.

A winning outing from the Abbott & Costello comedy team in one of their earliest pictures, this film has gags and routines a plenty and not all of them work, but there's still plenty of amusing moments.  Although the mystery at the film's center is fairly basic and not particularly well structured, that's not what we're here for, and the comedic duo is in fine form against the whodunit backdrop.  There's also a fine roster of character actors peppered throughout the film, including Thomas Gomez, Ludwig Stossel, Mary Wickes, Jerome Cowan, and William Bendix.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lightning Strikes Twice (1934)

Starring Ben Lyon, Thelma Todd, Pert Kelton, Laura Hope Crews, Skeets Gallagher
Directed by Ben Holmes
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy playboy's plans for a reunion with his fiancee are spoiled by a murder investigation and a vaudeville couple looking to extort money from him.

This comedy-mystery isn't a particularly funny one, and wastes the talents of Todd, who per Wikipedia, made a name for herself in slapstick comedy shorts, but doesn't get to participate in any of  the comic scenes here.  The film actually feels like a two-reel short stretched out to feature length without care paid to the spacing of gags throughout the film, and although it piles complication upon complication to the mistaken identity plot, there's never a sense that the playboy isn't going to be able to work everything out by picture's end.  It's still enjoyable in it's own right, but it's no comedy classic.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Coe, Virginia Christine, Kay Harding, Dennis Moore
Directed by Leslie Goodwins
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Twenty-five years after disappearing in the swamp, Kharis the mummy is uncovered and returned to life, and sets upon searching for the reincarnation of his Egyptian princess.

The final film in the 1940s Mummy series from Universal, it's an improvement over its predecessor, The Mummy's Ghost, taking good advantage of the bayou setting, although the cast is populated with actors playing unfortunate stereotypes.  Nonetheless, the picture has the fun feeling that permeated Universal's monster movies during the decade, and uses the Mummy more sparingly, making his stalking scenes more effective.  None of the actors from the previous film, save Chaney, return, but Virginia Christine fills in well for Ramsay Ames and has an effective sequence emerging from the muddy bed of the swamp.  Although Coe doesn't stand out well as the film's token high priest, the underappreciated Martin Kosleck fares better as his sinister assistant.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Voodoo Woman (1957)

Starring Marla English, Tom Conway, Touch Connors, Lance Fuller, Mary Ellen Kay
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A greedy woman in search of a fortune in the African jungle stops at nothing, while a mad scientist schemes to create a powerful monster.

Perhaps most notable for actor Russ Bender's work on the screenplay, he doesn't exactly distinguish himself in this rather preposterous jungle thriller, although it's bizarreness helps it to qualify as a guilty pleasure.  A definite low point in refined actor Conway's career, which has him don a ludicrous native headress in order to collaborate with the voodoo practicing natives, but English gets the most attention as a tough talking murderous femme whose character development doesn't get beyond a line revealing she grew up in the slums of Pittsburgh.  The production would make an interesting double-bill with English's previous feature, The She-Creature, which also featured a female monster.