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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!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Shriek In The Night (1933)

Starring Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark, Purnell Pratt, Lillian Harmer
Directed by Albert Ray
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An undercover reporter tries to solve the murder of a wealthy man who plummets from the penthouse of his apartment building, but a rival reporter is also after the story.

This whodunit is of most interest for the presence of Rogers, who would soon rise to fame after co-starring with Fred Astaire in a highly regarded series of musicals, and she makes a more interesting lead here than most in the plethora of low budget mysteries that came out around this time.  I think the screenplay divulges some clues a bit too early and the film's absence of a music score is to its detriment, which could have added some much needed atmosphere to the mystery.  Still, it's fairly well written with some clever plot devices, and Rogers is engaging.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Gorilla (1939)

Starring The Ritz Brothers, Anita Louise, Patsy Kelly, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi
Directed by Allan Dwan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After being targeted for death by the unknown killer called The Gorilla, a wealthy man hires three bumbling detectives to protect his life.  

This mystery-comedy vehicle for The Ritz Brothers has its charms, and features a talented supporting cast, including horror stars Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill.  The film trades on their sinister personas and they are memorably photographed although neither have a particularly large role in the production.  Nonetheless there is a funny moment that made me chuckle where Lugosi holds up a coat as if he's going to strangle someone with it, as he later did in Invisible Ghost, but then lays it down on the lead actress's lap.  The Ritz Brothers' routines are for the most part not very amusing, and I found it rather surprising that supporting player Patsy Kelly, who excels as the mansion's easily perturbed maid, is given most of the movie's funniest lines, nearly stealing the movie from its featured stars.  While not among the best old dark house chillers, there's still enough of those elements to recommend it, including secret passages, a stormy night, and the fearsome titular ape who has a backstory right out of Edgar Allan Poe.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Monster From A Prehistoric Planet (1967)

Starring Tamio Kawaji, Yoko Yamamoto, Yuji Kodaka, Koji Wada, Tatsuya Fuji
Directed by Hiroshi Noguchi
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A publishing magnate sends a team to the South Seas to bring back unusual animals for his new theme park, but they return with a newly hatched dinosaur, whose parents are soon on its trail. 

Also known as Daikyoju Gappa, this movie came from Japan's Nikkatsu studio, who did not to the best of my knowledge make a lot of kaiju films, and I believe this may have been their first one.  The film is pretty derivative, as the plotline is reminiscent of Gorgo, and the movie is obviously following in the footsteps of Gojira and other Japanese monster films, but I found the production very enjoyable on its own merits.  The special effects, led by Akira Watanabe, are of fairly fine quality, with many of the miniatures the Gappa monsters destroy looking convincing, and the creatures' flight scenes well-executed.  The plot is pretty simplistic, and we've seen many similar characters in other kaiju productions, but good use is made of darkness and shadow to heighten the attack sequences, and the production values are on par with some of Toho's best work.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Monster Walks (1932)

Starring Rex Lease, Vera Reynolds, Sheldon Lewis, Mischa Auer, Martha Mattox
Directed by Frank Strayer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a scientist's death, his heirs meet at the man's home for the reading of his will, a house riddled with secret passages and a cage holding the scientist's fearsome gorilla. 

The presence of the gorilla brings a little novelty to this old dark house chiller, efficiently directed by Strayer, but on meager sets, and acted by a relatively no-name cast.  The presence of a more accomplished star would help matters, with Auer probably the most interesting member of the cast, and no one else having much of an impact.  I still found it enjoyable, with decent atmosphere, thanks to a howling wind and the shriek of the ape, although a music score would have probably helped matters, but it curiously lacks a true whodunit structure, with the murderer's identity being exposed relatively early and not as a great surprise.  There are still a few worthwhile plot twists to follow.  Also black actor Willie Best makes one of his early film appearances, credited as "Sleep N' Eat," and its unfortunately pretty much in line with his other stereotypical roles, without the quality of comic dialogue he would enjoy in some later films.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tormented (1960)

Starring Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Juli Reding, Joe Turkel
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After failing to save the life of an old flame threatening his pending marriage, a jazz pianist is haunted by the woman's vengeful ghost.

Bert I. Gordon's venture into ghostly horror has been ridiculed by some, with a number of scenes that have inspired campy humor, but the film benefits from Carlson's straight forward performance and a capable turn by Gordon's daughter Susan, as well as its memorable special effects.  Composers Albert Glasser and Calvin Jackson use jazzy themes in their score in a good pairing with the film's eerie moments, and George Worthing Yates' screenplay does a good job of advancing trouble for Carlson's character, while trying to cover up Reding's death.  I probably would have preferred for Gordon to employ a little more subtlety and atmosphere, and at times the film is slow-moving, but it's still one of the director's signature works, with the same quality of charm as we've seen in the rest of his filmography.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Little Shop Of Horrors (1960)

Starring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, Myrtle Vail
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A bumbling flower shop employee breeds a plant with an unhealthy appetite for human blood, and is soon urged by the plant to get it human bodies to consume.

The majority of people probably know the off-Broadway musical or its 1986 film adaptation, but probably don't know the story originated in this quickie horror comedy from producer/director Roger Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith.  Despite the low budget and the more primitive special effects, this version holds up remarkably well, with a more macabre tone, and Haze in fine form as a less geeky but still sad sack Seymour with a goofy logic that he makes almost seem like common sense.  In filling the film with offbeat characters alongside Seymour, from the flower-eating Mr. Fouch, to the hypochondriac Mrs. Krelboin who mixes medicines into the meals she cooks, to the pain-loving dental patient (played by future legend Jack Nicholson), Griffith provides unconventional humor in unexpected places, much of which didn't end up making it into the musical.  That makes this a unique black comedy that doesn't deserve the obscurity heaped on it by its more famous adaptations.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The World Gone Mad (1933)

Starring Pat O'Brien, Evelyn Brent, Neil Hamilton, Mary Brian, Louis Calhern
Directed by Christy Cabanne
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wisecracking reporter uses unorthodox methods to find the men behind the murder of a district attorney, one of his dearest friends.

Pat O'Brien, known for his many Irish or Irish-American roles, and perhaps best for his portrayal of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, stars as one of the ubiquitous wisecracking reporters of the 1930s in this low-budget drama.  He's okay although he doesn't have the best of material to work with, nor enough talent behind the camera to showcase him, but those used to his later roles might find some enjoyment in his youthful appearance here.  In fact there's a plethora of character actors better known for their later films in the cast, including Neil Hamilton (Batman's Commissioner Gordon), as well as J. Carrol Naish and Louis Calhern.  The film was distributed by the short-lived Majestic Pictures studio, which is probably best known for their production of The Vampire Bat, and there's a scene where a couple of characters walk by some posters advertising that very movie.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Swamp Women (1956)

Starring Marie Windsor, Carole Mathews, Beverly Garland, Touch Connors, Susan Cummings
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A policewoman poses as an inmate in a women's prison in order to stage a jailbreak, so her new cellmates can lead her to the location of a cache of stolen diamonds, hidden in a Louisiana swamp.

This is by no means a great film, but it is very watchable, and the female stars make it believable and interesting, even if their characters are somewhat broadly drawn.  It's a shame that the only way to see it is in murky public domain prints that don't showcase the Louisiana scenery very well.  Another of Roger Corman's many low-budget productions, and one without a sci-fi premise or horrific monster to pull in much of an audience, it nevertheless worked for me, although the female gang trusts Mathews a bit too easily without ever really suspecting her police trap.  Despite that, the action is pretty well staged, the screenplay isn't bad, (written by David Stern, better known for creating the character of Francis The Talking Mule), and the ladies entertain.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923)

Starring Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry, Kate Lester, Winifred Bryson
Directed by Wallace Worsley
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The deformed hunchback and bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo, falls for the beautiful young gypsy, Esmeralda, when she shows him kindness, but other men also desire her. 

Another of Lon Chaney's great performances and makeups is showcased in this lively adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel, with plenty of spectacle and large crowd scenes also on display.  As the hunchback, though he does engender pathos in his scenes with Miller, the actor plays a particularly vengeful creature, suiting his bestial makeup, jagged teeth, and scowling one-eyed face.  I don't think there've been many faithful adaptations of Hugo's novel, and this has a number of departures, replacing Arch-Deacon Frollo with his brother as the story's primary villain, and conjuring a happy ending for the film, replacing the story's downbeat and tragic coda.  Nonetheless, it recaptures many key sequences from the novel, and Chaney's energetic performance is one for the ages.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Indestructible Man (1956)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Casey Adams, Marian Carr, Ross Elliott, Stuart Randall
Directed by Jack Pollexfen
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A condemned convict dies in the gas chamber, but after being restored to life by a scientist, and given great strength and invulnerability, sets out for revenge against the men who betrayed him.

This is far from a good film, but fans of Chaney's monster movies of the 1940s may find some enjoyment in it, as I did, seeing the favored actor again playing a monstrous character, and given more screen time than in most of his other 1950s roles.  Chaney becomes mute after scientist Robert Shayne "burns out his vocal chords" in resuscitating him with electricity, but given Chaney's other mute roles during the decade, it's likely his alcoholism played some part in that plot detail.  However, an early jailhouse scene comes off well for the actor, and a shot of simmering hatred in his eyes is well utilized.  The film is narrated by actor Casey Adams, also known as Max Showalter, playing a police detective who gets chummy with Chaney's girl, and has a surprise for her at film's end that wouldn't play well in any era but the 1950s.  Jack Pollexfen directs, and I've been fond of other pictures he's written and produced, but his direction is a bit too pedestrian here, not taking advantage of opportunities to heighten Chaney's menace and build suspense.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)

Starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland
Directed by Rupert Julian
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Paris Opera House is haunted by the mysterious phantom, who promises dire consequences if his protege is not allowed to star in the opera.

This silent classic features one of Chaney's best performances in my opinion, highlighted by an incredible makeup, the revelation of which is one of the great moments in cinema.  The other filmed versions of Gaston Leroux's story featured scarred and increasingly gory makeups but they don't compare to this one, which is still truly frightening almost a century later, a tribute to Chaney's craft as an actor and the tortuous contortions he put his body through to make him the "man of a thousand faces."  Unlike the other Phantoms, Chaney also hides his face for most of the film behind a full expressionless mask, making the pantomime of his gestures and other movements paramount in selling the character to the audience.  The film's famous color sequence, in which Chaney dons an impressive bleached skull mask or makeup is also effective in displaying his menace.  I'd have to say the rest of the cast is not in the same league as Chaney, but the sets are elaborate and fantastic, with the shadowy catacombs beneath the opera house, with their dark corners, hidden trap doors, and lavish dressings making a marvelous background for the Phantom's villainy.    

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.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Ape (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gene O'Donnell, Dorothy Vaughan, Gertrude Hoffman
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A doctor turns to murder in the guise of an escaped circus gorilla to obtain the spinal fluid he needs to cure a young woman's paralysis.

One of Boris Karloff's films for Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, the movie is certainly not a favorite of many compared to his other classic films, but I'm rather fond of it.  Playing a kindly doctor who is ironically hated by the townspeople due to his mysterious experiments and untrue rumors about him, I found his performance quite noble and more than adequate.  The rest of the cast isn't as fine of course although I liked Maris Wrixon as his young patient, and Henry Hall as the folksy sheriff.  IMDB credits Ray Corrigan as the man in the gorilla costume, who certainly had a talent for playing apes, and it's a fairly convincing costume for the period.  The film stretches believability more than once, and the story wasn't always coherent, but the print I saw had a lot of jump cuts, so it may have been edited quite a bit. I enjoyed the music, and in general found the film a lot more watchable than some of Karloff's other low-budget efforts.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Vampire Bat (1933)

Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Maude Eburne, George E. Stone
Directed by Frank R. Strayer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Vampire-like killings in a European village are terrorizing the superstitious residents, but a no-nonsense investigator refuses to believe a supernatural creature is responsible. 

Low-budget Majestic Pictures released this horror film on the heels of Dracula and Frankenstein, and it was actually filmed on some of the same sets on the Universal lot.  Strayer is no Tod Browning or James Whale, nor can the photography possibly compare to the Universal horror classics, but the picture is blessed with a strong cast who make the film interesting to watch.  Atwill and Wray, teamed for the third time, after Doctor X and Mystery Of The Wax Museum, give rich performances as does Melvyn Douglas, destined for more prestigious fare, and Dwight Frye who gives us another memorable characterization as the simpleton who becomes a prime suspect in the killings.  Familiar character actors like Stone and Lionel Belmore also add to the fun.  It may not be a great movie, but with this cast and some still eerie chills, I found it more than entertaining enough.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Maniac (1934)

Starring Bill Woods, Horace Carpenter, Ted Edwards, Phyllis Diller, Thea Ramsey
Directed by Dwain Esper
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a mad scientist exhorts his assistant to kill himself so that he can bring him back to life, the assistant instead kills the scientist, and impersonates him while descending into madness.

In between title cards defining various mental psychoses, not all of which may be portrayed in the movie, Esper, a director of low-budget films on sensationalist topics, stages his horrific drama, inserting flashes of nudity and disturbing violence.  Frankenstein was clearly an inspiration with the subject matter of bringing the dead back to life at the forefront, and a story detail is borrowed from Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat, but the overall plot seems pretty much window dressing for scenes in which Esper tries to shock his audience.  Cat lovers may well be deeply disturbed by some dialogue involving a "cat and rat farmer," as well as a horrific scene involving a feline eyeball, which I was relieved to later read was not real.  The film still has the power to shock, so I'll give Esper that, although if he was attempting a serious treatise on madness, he falls greatly short, and there's plenty of flat dialogue readings and a number of scenes that could be considered laughable.  The picture is however certainly unique and watchable, at least I thought so.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Mad Monster (1942)

Starring Johnny Downs, George Zucco, Anne Nagel, Glenn Strange, Sarah Padden
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a scientist succeeds in transforming his innocent handyman into a werewolf, he plots to use the creature for revenge against his enemies.

Poverty row studio PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) distributed this low budget horror film, but with the underappreciated George Zucco in the lead, and he makes up for much of its lack of production values.  Combining a sinister tone, eloquent diction, and an unsettling stare, the accomplished actor is the perfect mad scientist, and has some memorable dialogue at the film's start, confronting phantom images of the men he blames for ruining his career.  Actor Glenn Strange, who would later play the Frankenstein monster for Universal, essays the werewolf, delivering some fine snarls in makeup that's not all that bad, although it might have been more fearsome had his character not remained garbed in overalls.  As I read in a film encyclopedia some years ago, the movie "borrows" a number of plot details from Universal's 1941 vehicle for Lon Chaney Jr., Man Made Monster, and even features Nagel in an similar role to hers in that previous film.  It needed to borrow a lot more than that to be truly of quality, but nevertheless in my mind, Zucco's presence elevates the movie to the standing of one of PRC's finest productions.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Fatal Hour (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Marjorie Reynolds, Grant Withers, Charles Trowbridge, Frank Puglia
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Captain Street counts on the aid of Mr. Wong to unravel the murder of a fellow cop who was drowned while investigating a smuggling ring.

Oriental detectives seemed all the rage in the 1930s and 1940s, with Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, and Boris Karloff's Mr. Wong all solving mysteries in their own series of pictures.  The Mr. Wong series, distributed by Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, had Karloff, but had probably the lowest production values of all the series. Although it's difficult to imagine the British horror icon as passing for Chinese today, the actor had been cast in exotic roles for some time before, notably as the sinister Fu Manchu, and to his credit gives a dignified performance uncouched in stereotype.   This installment is an at times boring affair, with long drawn out scenes and static photography, although I liked it more than other films in the series, due to the presence of Trowbridge, one of my favorite character actors, and a fairly clever plot device establishing a murderer's alibi late in the film.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Revolt Of The Zombies (1936)

Starring Dorothy Stone, Dean Jagger, Roy D'Arcy, Robert Noland, George Cleveland
Directed by Victor Halperin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young archaeologist travels to the fabled city of Angkor in Cambodia to try and find the secret of turning men into zombies, and when he does, uses the power to take what he wants from others.

Another zombie film from the Halperins, who produced and directed the famed White Zombie, is a welcome find, but this movie falls far short of being a worthy followup to the Bela Lugosi classic.  Nevertheless, it's interesting viewing on several levels, for casting future Oscar-winner Jagger, for the insertion of the images of Bela Lugosi's eyes from the first film whenever Jagger has to possess someone, and for a story that tries to go in a different direction.  I thought Jagger imbued a bit of life into his nervous and unsure character, somewhat blandly written, who then becomes brash and confident with his zombies backing him up.  I also appreciated the scenery and sets, which try to recreate what must have been a largely unknown land on the screen, and the climax in which Jagger relinquishes his control makes for a fine and well-filmed denouement to the film.  However, Lugosi's presence is greatly missed, and I found myself wishing the filmmakers would have played up Roy D'Arcy's villain more to create more conflict in the story.  Still, I'm glad the Halperins returned to this well, and the picture does offer an evocative mood that I found worth remembering.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Terror (1963)

Starring Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Richard Miller, Dorothy Neumann
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After being separated from his regiment, a French soldier falls for a beautiful young woman, whom he learns is supposed to have died over twenty years ago.

The pairing of horror icon Karloff with Nicholson early in his career, who has since become an icon in his own right, sounds more attractive than it unfortunately is.  This is a low budget production with a dreary and meandering story, borrowing Karloff and the sets from Corman's filming of The Raven, which is a far better movie than this one.  It does have an excellent atmospheric music score from Ronald Stein to its credit, and Karloff and Nicholson are quite watchable.  However, they deserve a better showcase than this one.  Corman often worked wonders on a shoestring budget, and there's some worthy elements scattered throughout the picture, but they're just not integrated well enough to call this entertaining.  Still, at the very least, Peter Bogdanovich was able to reuse the footage from this movie in his excellent film Targets, which contains one of Karloff's best final performances.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961)

Starring Tor Johnson, Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis, Bing Stafford, Larry Aten
Directed by Coleman Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A defecting Russian scientist is caught in an atomic detonation which transforms him into a maddened murdering monster.

This isn't a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, although it's more watchable then some of Francis' other films.  It's probably most notable for Johnson, the hulking bald wrestler who appeared in a number of notorious director Ed Wood's productions.  This is likely Johnson's biggest role in any movie, but he is only credited as a "guest star" here.  He's still kept off camera for most of the film, which given his limited acting ability was a wise move, but that doesn't keep the rest of the movie from dragging.  A curious oddity about the film is the fact that all the dialogue is dubbed over long shots or scenes where we can't see people's lips moving.  More than likely this was due to problems with sound recording, but the way the film is edited, it certainly is a creative solution, and does give the movie a different kind of vibe to it.  Not enough happens, and there's a number of repetitive scenes, but nonetheless, I can't completely pan the picture, which has a stark and gritty tone to it, well suited to the craggy scenery of Yucca Flats.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nosferatu (1922)

Starring Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder, Georg H. Schnell, Ruth Landshoff
Directed by F.W. Murnau
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A real estate agent sells the house across from his to the foreign Count Orlok, who is in reality a vampire who brings pestilence and death to the agent's homeland.

This was the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, but an unauthorized one that per Wikipedia bankrupted its studio due to copyright infringement litigation.  It is nonetheless a brilliant film from acclaimed director Murnau, with wonderful shadowy photography and a striking performance and makeup for Schreck as the undead count.  The story does depart quite a bit from the Dracula text, changing the character names, and setting up a noble sacrifice by Schroder's character at its climax to bring Orlok's crimes against humanity to an end, instead of utilizing the more familiar confrontation between the villain and the novel's Van Helsing.  That makes the picture somewhat unique among all the Dracula adaptations, and the German Expressionist imagery contained within has kept it a cinema treasure in perpetuity. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Screaming Skull (1958)

Starring John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway, Tony Johnson, Alex Nicol
Directed by Alex Nicol
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A newly married couple move into the home he inherited from his deceased first wife, and the bride is disturbed by her mysterious death and terrible visions she experiences of a disembodied skull.

Although the picture is far from being truly horrific, despite an opening scene promising to pay for the funerals of audience members who die from fright, there is still a bit of craft in the film's construction, and distinguished radio actress Webber has a memorable presence.  Composer Ernest Gold mixes the familiar "Dies Irae" chant into a foreboding main title, and provides some other eerie melodies which are effective.  As a whole however, the film is perhaps a bit too low budget and flatly photographed to rank favorably among other psychological horror films of this type, and comes off as a bargain basement version of The Haunting or The Innocents, although I admired some of the visuals, particularly when a ghost manifests itself at the movie's climax.  Director Nicol also plays the role of the mentally retarded gardener.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959)

Starring Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard, Michael Emmet, Tyler McVey
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A backwoods community is shaken by the deaths of people attacked in the swamp by giant mutated leech monsters, but the local game warden gets no help in proving the creatures exist.

Roger Corman's brother Gene produced this effective picture which I don't think gets the respect it deserves, well photographed and directed in a unique setting for the genre, especially at the time it was made.  The creature design holds up pretty well, and their bloodsucking attacks on their victims while trapped are in an underwater cave are definitely unnerving, following a similar template as used in the Corman-produced Beast From Haunted Cave the same year.  The backwoods characters in the cast, while trading in on some familiar stereotypes, are anchored by Bruno VeSota's general store proprietor, who elicits sympathy as a man detested for his girth by his beautiful and philandering wife, played by Vickers.  They're joined by a capable supporting cast, and Leo Gordon's screenplay does a good job of illustrating the ethical dilemmas facing Clark's game warden while pressure mounts to stop the creatures before their next attack.

Friday, September 8, 2017

White Zombie (1932)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron
Directed by Victor Halperin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy man on the island of Haiti falls for a young bride-to-be and recruits a sinister master of zombies for help in possessing her.

Lugosi stars in this legendary horror film, made independently but lensed on the Universal studio's lot, taking advantage of the existing sets built for their horror classics.  It contains a fine and unique performance from the actor, portraying the voodoo master Murder Legendre as both cultured and sinister, with penetrating eyes under oddly block-shaped eyebrows.  There are similarities to Dracula of course, with Halperin utilizing familiar closeups of the actor's eyes and fingers as in that film, but it's a different character, and Lugosi seems very comfortable in the role as a more calculating villain.  The picture is well photographed by Arthur Martinelli, using some clever staging of shadows in a sequence where Harron sees visions of Bellamy, and some memorable music is tracked into the scenes where Lugosi puts his hypnotic powers to work.  The stiff slow moments of the zombies, and the haunting look of their blank expressions, especially the bulging-eyed former executioner, lends much power to the film, giving it a shocking realism that is still unsettling today.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

One Body Too Many (1944)

Starring Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Bela Lugosi, Blanche Yurka, Lyle Talbot
Directed by Frank McDonald
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An insurance salesman calls on a millionaire with dreams of selling him a policy, only to find him deceased and his heirs scheming to abduct his body to get a better inheritance.

I enjoyed this mystery-comedy with plenty of "Old Dark House" elements, from secret passages to a mysterious murderer among the heirs to a storm that strands the participants in the spooky mansion.  Haley offers a fine comic lead performance, Parker is appealing as the noblest of the heirs, and Lugosi is well-cast as the sinister butler who may or may not be trying to poison the coffee he serves to the mansion's guests.  However, I've never been able to find a copy of this film in an acceptable print, so the image on the DVD I viewed is very murky with many dark scenes hard to view, and inexplicable bright triangle shapes that pop up on screen at regular intervals.  I hope to see a more pristine version of the film someday, but still find it worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Invisible Ghost (1941)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Terry Walker
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

No one suspects a kindly doctor in the mysterious murders on his estate, but whenever he sees his long-lost wife lurking on the grounds, he loses control of his mind and strikes.

The first of Bela Lugosi's nine films for "Poverty Row" studio Monogram Pictures is by far the best of them and a worthy showcase for the horror icon, playing a character far different from the fiends and monsters he's most often associated with.  As the sympathetic and endearing Dr. Kessler, even though he is the villain of the piece, he's completely convincing as a good man afflicted by a temporary but always deadly insanity.  This film was recently discussed on the Monster Kid Radio podcast by host Derek M. Koch and film historian Troy Howarth, and they offered some meaningful insights into the film, including the unusually positive portrayal for the era of the African-American butler played by Clarence Muse, and also noting that director Joseph H. Lewis brought camera movement and interesting staging to the story, not usually a hallmark of Monogram productions.  On this viewing, I also noticed creepily effective lighting on Lugosi as the madness seizes him as well as penetrating closeups of the distinguished actor, allowing him to sell the transformation with his eyes and his expressions, without any special makeup or dialogue.  It's too bad that more Monograms didn't take advantage of Lugosi's talents in this way, but that makes this film a special one, and I had to chuckle at George Pembroke's portrayal of a police lieutenant, speaking the majority of his dialogue without ever removing the fat cigar clenched in his teeth.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Black Dragons (1942)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Joan Barclay, George Pembroke, Clayton Moore, Robert Frazer
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Double agents engaging in sabotage of America's industries are stalked down one-by-one by a mysterious assassin, who leaves a Japanese dagger by each body.

One of the films on Lugosi's contract with low-budget Monogram Pictures, this is more a propaganda piece than a horror film, but Lugosi is fun to watch as the assassin, almost gleefully disposing of his victims, and delivering grim warnings to those trying to learn too much about him.  The plot's a bit far-fetched, but although there's pretty much only standard camera setups on display, the film certainly moves along well enough, and delivers a nice hook in keeping us from seeing exactly what's happened to Pembroke until the movie's final moments.  Barclay and future Lone Ranger Moore are interesting enough as Lugosi's main supporting players, and I was relieved that the script largely steered clear of racial stereotypes, but there is some blatantly sexist commentary in the script that took me by surprise, even for a film of this era.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961)

Starring Antony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Edward Wain, Beach Dickerson, Robert Bean
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An American gangster aids deposed Cuban authorities in smuggling their treasure out of Cuba in his boat, but schemes to seize the treasure for himself with the help of a sea monster he invents.

This was one of Roger Corman's many quickly filmed movies in the first decade of his career, using similar cast and crew from other films he made in the same location.  The picture follows in the footsteps of The Little Shop Of Horrors, using another comedic script from Charles B. Griffith, adding elements like a bumbling American spy and a crewman who enjoys making animal sound effects to the espionage and horror content.  I didn't find it hilarious, although the monster certainly looks goofy, and Corman and crew manage again to make a picture that holds your interest on what had to have been a shoestring budget.  Wain of course is better known today as Robert Towne, an award winning screenwriter behind hits like Chinatown and Mission: Impossible, but showed himself to be a capable actor in films like this one and Last Woman On Earth, also for Corman.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Atom Age Vampire (1960)

Starring Alberto Lupo, Susanne Loret, Sergio Fantoni, Franca Parisi, Andrea Scotti
Directed by Anton Giulio Majano
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist heals the facial scars of a woman with an experimental serum, but when it wears off and the scars return, he turns to murder to restore her beauty.

This Italian horror picture is not a great film, but still fun, with Lupo's scientist covering his murders by disguising himself as a hideous monster through use of another serum that creates scars upon his face and hands.  The screenplay borrows plenty of material from past horror pictures, notably Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and Bela Lugosi's Monogram films, but I liked the creature makeup and Parisi as Lupo's assistant whose dreams of romance with him, and listening to records together (!), are spoiled by his obsession with his beautiful patient.  The copy of the film I saw, from one of Mill Creek's 50 Movie Pack series, appeared to be heavily edited, so would welcome a chance to see the film uncut someday.  It doesn't rank with the greats of Italian horror, but is an enjoyable enough romp through the genre.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Starring Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt
Directed by Herk Harvey
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A professional organist, after surviving a terrible car crash, takes a job playing for a church in another town, but is haunted by visions of a terrifying man stalking her.

One of the most memorable independent films I've seen, the picture is a genuine horror classic, with a talented performance by Hilligoss, and unnerving direction by Harvey.  Although the film has plenty of dialogue, its most effective scenes unfold without it, as we study Hilligoss and her emotional state as she's entranced by a mysterious abandoned carnival and repelled by the frightening ghoul only she seems to see.  Gene Moore's music is the perfect accompaniment for the stark black and white visuals, using unsettling organ notes to build a musical tapestry of horror.  The cinematography and editing are also of a greater quality than you expect to see in an independent movie, building suspense through talented intercutting and intense close-ups of Hilligoss.  Harvey's attention towards the composition of each shot should also be lauded, with the actors perfectly captured in each frame, and eerie long shots, particularly of the palatial carnival setting, adding an exquisite feeling of mystery to the horror.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fear In The Night (1947)

Starring Paul Kelly, DeForest Kelley, Ann Doran, Kay Scott, Charles Victor
Directed by Maxwell Shane
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A mild-mannered bank teller dreams of committing a murder, and becomes shaken after awakening when he finds evidence from the crime in his room.

A low budget film noir of sorts, it's nonetheless a very good one, with an interesting role for a young Kelley, twenty years before being cast as the irascible Dr. McCoy on the classic Star Trek TV series. For those who haven't seen him as anything but McCoy, this is a very different role, and he's earnest and believable as a meek but shaken young man who thinks his life is over.  I'm a person of the same temperament, so I really identified with his character.  Paul Kelly is very good as his detective brother-in-law who's character is cut more from the hard-boiled characters of film noir, and he and Kelley have a compelling on-screen relationship that I found fairly unique.  Maxwell Shane adapted Cornell Woolrich's story and also directed, and employs some interesting visual transitions that echo some higher-budgeted noirs but also make it distinctive on its own.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Creeping Terror (1964)

Starring Vic Savage, Shannon O'Neil, William Thourlby, John Caresio, Norman Boone
Directed by A.J. Nelson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An alien spaceship sets down near a small Southern town and ravenous monsters aboard set out to swallow alive whatever human victims they come across.

This film's been ridiculed for years, and let's face it, even for a movie made by amateurs on a shoestring budget, it's pretty rough.  Largely filmed without audible dialogue, probably due to the unavailability of sound equipment, a narrator explains to us what's going on, while the story focuses on Savage's small-town sheriff (aka director A.J. Nelson), who spends most of the film not doing much of anything except making out with his on-screen wife.  The alien creatures, often dubbed "the carpet monsters," are far from convincing, but are certainly unique, and their swallowing of people whole by pulling the actors within the creature's orifice becomes even more amusing when they seem to have trouble finishing the job.  Frederick Kopp's eclectic musical score probably reaches its high point with some unexpectedly catchy but cheesy rhythms for a sequence in a dance hall, in which a number of the dancing patrons seem to need many more lessons.  As with many amateur productions, the film isn't exactly edited with care, leaving in a number of tedious scenes with no relevance to the plot.  Still, for all its faults, and despite Savage/Nelson's reputation as an odious individual, there's definitely some entertainment value to be had here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Bloodlust! (1961)

Starring Wilton Graff, June Kenney, Walter Brooke, Robert Reed, Gene Persson
Directed by Ralph Brooke
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Young people on a boating vacation decide to explore a mysterious island, and become the captives of a madman who has turned to hunting human beings for his own amusement.

Although not credited as being based on Richard Connell's famous story, The Most Dangerous Game, the movie obviously is and can't compare to the classic 1932 film adaptation.  That doesn't mean it's not fun however, and while Graff is not as memorable as Leslie Banks was in the previous film, he does give a believable performance as the deadly serious hunter.  Robert Reed, the future patriarch of TV's The Brady Bunch, leads the quartet of young people who would seem to be playing teenagers but were actually all in their late 20s or early 30s when this was filmed.  The film was photographed by Richard Cunha, and it fits in well with the four sci-fi/horror shockers he made in the late 1950s, with some grisly scenes of Graff's victims and dark atmospheric music.  Per IMDB, Walter Brooke, who plays another resident of the island trying to escape, would go on to utter the immortal "Plastics" line in The Graduate.

Terrified (1963)

Starring Rod Lauren, Steve Drexel, Tracy Olsen, Stephen Roberts, Sherwood Keith
Directed by Lew Landers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college student writing a term paper on terror is shaken by the crimes of a maniac out to terrify people to death, but ends up confronting the villain in a deserted ghost town.

We have here a low-budget shocker, but one competently directed by Lew Landers, the veteran director with over a hundred credits, and this per IMDB, was apparently his final film.  The ghost town isn't a bad setting for a horror film, and the story is compelling enough, but I didn't find the cast or the screenplay strong enough to make the film truly memorable.  Additionally, while there's a good deal of darkly lit scenes, the photography doesn't make too creative use of them, and while I liked some elements of Michael Andersen's music score, it didn't exactly leave me on the edge of my seat.  As a whole, it's not bad, and held my interest, but for a film about terror, there's too little attention paid by the filmmakers to creating chills within the audience.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Madmen Of Mandoras (1963)

Starring Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas, John Holland, Marshall Reed
Directed by David Bradley
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Enemy agents kidnap a professor who's invented an antidote to a deadly gas, and take him to a foreign nation where one of history's greatest villains may still be alive. 

The main point of interest in this movie is the identity of the supposed man behind the plot, which I won't reveal here, but will say the film was later re-released with added scenes and a new title that gave his identity away.  The scenes without that villain and the sci-fi premise behind his preservation are pretty routine, and a largely unknown cast and an uninspired screenplay don't help matters.  It was good to see familiar 1950s character actors Rivas and Nestor Paiva, and the premise is a good one, but would have made a much better movie in more skilled hands.  It's still worth checking out if you've never seen it, but for me, it just wasn't a highly entertaining film.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

House Of Dracula (1945)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Martha O'Driscoll, Lionel Atwill, Onslow Stevens
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist tries to cure Count Dracula and The Wolf Man of their afflictions, but is transformed into an evil creature himself, and determined to revive the Frankenstein monster.

The final Universal horror rally film before the studio's most popular monsters were teamed for one last hurrah with Abbott & Costello, it's a somewhat lackluster production, following the blueprint of the previous year's House Of Frankenstein a little too closely.  Once again we have Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's monster, a mad scientist, and a hunchback, and although each has their own story and some respectable moments within the film, none of the monsters end up fighting each other.  I still was engaged, enjoyed the performances of Stevens and Carradine, as well as those great Universal music cues, but didn't find the film to be a fitting coda for the long running series.

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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Condemned To Live (1935)

Starring Ralph Morgan, Pedro de Cordoba, Maxine Doyle, Russell Gleason, Mischa Auer
Directed by Frank R. Strayer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A kindly professor, revered by his community, fails to realize that during nightly blackouts, he becomes a bloodthirsty vampire who preys on his friends and neighbors.

I think I probably like this film best among the many low-budget offerings directed by Frank Strayer. It has similarities to the other "vampire" film he directed, The Vampire Bat, although this entry has a much more substantive vampire than the other movie, and it moves along pretty well.  It doesn't compare to the more polished Dracula movies, but I still found it enjoyable.  Morgan doesn't offer much in his vampire persona other than twisting his limbs and expression, but gives a good performance as his decent other half, convincing us through sensitive line readings of his nobility and his love for the much younger Marguerite, played by Doyle.  Gleason is rather bland as Morgan's competition for Doyle, but Auer in an atypical role as a hunchback, is quite sympathetic and memorable.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Starring Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A paleontologist discovers a giant praying mantis has been freed from suspended animation in the Arctic, and is now heading south, feeding on the humans it encounters.

This is a halfway decent "giant bug" movie from the many made during the 1950s, although it is more than a little derivative of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and is plagued a bit by overuse of a large amount of military stock footage.  Nevertheless the special effects are well-done and the mockup of the creature is certainly imposing and frightful, more than likely a cause of nightmares for children of the period.  While the film has a capable enough cast, including Hopper who was to be featured on TV screens the same year as investigator Paul Drake on the Perry Mason TV series, there's not really anything new and different for them to do.  Talton has some moments as a liberated female reporter, but is also saddled with a clunky romance with Stevens her character doesn't seem to be all that interested in.  It's still fun movie monster viewing, but I've seen the same story done far better before.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Land Unknown (1957)

Starring Jock Mahoney, Shawn Smith, William Reynolds, Henry Brandon, Douglas Kennedy
Directed by Virgil Vogel
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A naval research expedition to the South Pole brings along a magazine reporter, but they're forced to crash land on a strange tropical plateau where they encounter prehistoric creatures.

An underrated dinosaur film from Universal-International, the picture boasts a number of interesting special effects, and the creature mockups of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and plesiosaur offer excellent and fearsome detail although no animation is used.  Regardless, the dinosaurs look great in close-up, and the monster suits/puppetry used are very effective, framed against a number of artistic and convincing backgrounds.  Even footage of real-life lizards blown up to giant size, although cruelly staged and largely unnecessary, comes off fairly well visually.  There's some dated situations involving Shawn Smith's heroine, but she still comes across as a strong-willed character, and the rest of the acting ensemble deliver believable performances.  Henry Brandon is particularly memorable as the cruel Dr. Hunter, stranded on the plateau for 10 years or more, who considers himself the area's human master, and schemes to take whatever he wants.  A nice mix of sci-fi action and human drama make this a picture very worth seeking out, and the film's strong visual impact adds to the fun.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Monster On The Campus (1958)

Starring Arthur Franz, Joanna Moore, Judson Pratt, Nancy Walters, Troy Donahue
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A professor of science brings a giant prehistoric fish to his university but discovers too late the creature's blood transforms anything that swallows it into a savage beast of the past. 

An entertaining sci-fi/horror romp from Universal-International with some worthy creature effects, I've always been fond of this picture, although it's probably one of the lesser regarded films of director Jack Arnold.  It's not on the same level as Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man, but it's a lot of fun, with Franz as the obsessed scientist who cares more about his experiments than his college lectures, Pratt as the no-nonsense police detective who has to start believing in the fantastic, and the always welcome Ross Elliott as his ill-fated partner.  Plenty of great Universal cues are tracked into the music score, including a generous sampling from Son Of Frankenstein once a neanderthal man appears on the scene.  Although the film's somewhat predictable, it's still enjoyable viewing everytime I revisit it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Starring Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey
Directed by John Sherwood
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A geologist in a small western town discovers a lethal menace in the remains of a meteor that when combined with water turn into deadly towers of rock.

The "monsters" of the film, tall towers of dark gleaming rock that rise and fall in advancing towards the town, are very unique and make this sci-fi effort from Universal stand out among the alien and giant bug pictures delivered by Universal and rival studios during the 1950s.  Director Jack Arnold, known for helming Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man, is credited with contributing towards the story, and the screenplay is well-structured, balancing the investigation of the rocks with the drama of their dangerous effects on people.   Williams and Albright make a cute couple, and Tremayne and Bardette add professional performances that ground the film.  The special effects, which look very convincing, are cleverly showcased in well-edited sequences that build suspense accompanied by menacing music from Universal's uncredited staff of composers, which per music historian David Schecter, included Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini, and Herman Stein.  With so many winning elements assembled together, this makes for fun and entertaining viewing, and a definite departure from the usual.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Starring Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Paul Langton, Raymond Bailey
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A man finds himself shrinking smaller and smaller after being exposed to a radioactive mist, and his anger and desperation put a strain on his marriage while he waits for scientists to find a cure.

Screenwriter Richard Matheson adapts his own novel, and in the hands of director Jack Arnold and a talented crew, they deliver an intelligent sci-fi drama with some very memorable visual effects.  Some of the shots integrating a tiny Williams into a giant world show their age, but once the story shrinks him down under a foot tall, the combination of rear projection and oversized props is executed very impressively as the film builds to a final climax.  This is probably Williams' best role and he does his part to sell the audience on the fantasy the film presents as if it were a real-life drama.  However I've always been a little disappointed in the film's metaphysical ending which doesn't seem to reward the audience for their investment in these characters.  I understand the reasoning behind it, and wouldn't necessarily have preferred a happy ending, but it just strikes me as a bit insufficient.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The City Of The Dead (1960)

Starring Dennis Lotis, Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Tom Naylor, Betta St. John
Directed by John Moxey
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college student travels to Whitewood, Massachusetts to do research on its past as a site of a historical witch burning, not realizing that a coven of witches still reside there.

This early horror film from writer/producer Milton Subotsky before co-founding the Amicus studio offers effective thrills and chills on a tight budget, as well as truckloads of fog to make the setting even more mysterious.  It would be a very enjoyable watch for any horror fan with excellent black and white cinematography from Desmond Dickinson, and although he's not the central character, Christopher Lee offers the proper notes of menace as an ancient warlock.  It's interesting how the plot somewhat mirrors Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, with Venetia Stevenson meeting her fate in the movie's first half, prompting her brother, played by Lotis, to come to Whitewood to investigate.  The supporting cast is also fine, with Norman MacOwan in particular a standout as the elderly blind priest who warns the coven's victims-to-be in a perfect performance.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Curse Of The Cat People (1944)

Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March
Directed by Gunther V. Fritsch & Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The lonely young daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed takes on an imaginary friend who appears to her in the form of Irena, Reed's ill-fated first wife.

Although a sequel to the 1942 horror classic Cat People, and returning Simon, Smith, and Randolph, there are no references to Simon's curse from the first film, and the focus is on the screenplay's childhood drama, brought to vivid life in a believable performance by young Ann Carter.  That's not to say there aren't dark moments or fantasy elements, with the film set in the legendary Sleepy Hollow, and Simon's appearances well captured through Nicholas Musuraca's excellent photography. Part of me is regretful that producer Val Lewton didn't see fit to crafting a more direct horror sequel to Cat People, but what he's brought to us instead deserves many accolades as a finely etched portrait of a child's imaginative spirit.  Another plus is the performance of calypso singer and RKO contract player Sir Lancelot, who has one of his most charming roles for the studio as the Reeds' kindly housekeeper.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cape Fear (1962)

Starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Martin Balsam
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A dangerous ex-convict stalks the lawyer whose testimony sent him to prison, driving him and his family on edge, convinced he's planning a violent revenge. 

Thompson delivers a great suspenseful thriller, with Mitchum echoing his psychopathic turn in The Night Of The Hunter in another memorable performance, as the clever and villainous Max Cady.  Based on John D. McDonald's novel, The Executioners, the film is not only well-directed by Thompson, but is highlighted by terrific photography by Samuel Leavitt and excellent editing by George Tomasini, augmenting Mitchum's creepy performance.  Bernard Herrmann's score is dark and atmospheric, and so cleverly used throughout the film.  A highlight is the scene in which Lori Martin, as Peck's young daughter, flees from Cady through an abandoned schoolhouse, and Herrmann's score fades in and out to showcase the sound of footfalls echoing closer and closer to her.  The unsettling undertones of the story are captured with palpable tension in this nightmarish film which for me is far more effective than Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bride Of The Monster (1955)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn
Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Local police try to investigate the mysterious disappearances of several people in a swamp, not realizing a mad scientist trying to create atomic supermen is behind it all.

Notorious writer/director Ed Wood was behind this often ridiculed science fiction thriller, and there's plenty of his hallmarks here, perhaps best summed up by the inanimate octopus prop that "murders" its victims, and the clumsy integration of it with live octopus footage.  There's also some less than talented actors in the film, led by Loretta King, who gives an overblown performance as a smarmy newspaper reporter.  However, this is also just about the last starring role for Bela Lugosi, and it shouldn't disappoint his fans, for although he's over the top at times, he sure seems like he's giving it his all as the demented Dr. Vornoff, who hypnotizes King with probing eyes and extended fingers in scenes right out of Dracula.  Some of the dialogue Wood and co-writer Alex Gordon give him is ludicrous, but the actor somehow maintains his dignity.  I have to say that I enjoy Wood's films, despite the low-budget trappings and often inept staging, because they're certainly never boring, and have their own goofy charm.  And in this one, it's clear that a love and respect for Lugosi fashioned the role of one last mad scientist for the aged actor to play.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The War Of The Worlds (1953)

Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Sandro Giglio
Directed by Byron Haskin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Investigations into meteors that crash land on Earth reveal they are actually spaceships from Mars, carrying deadly machines out to conquer the planet. 

Legendary fantasy film producer George Pal presents one of his keystone films, an updating of H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi drama that had been earlier presented as a famous radio drama by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre.  The visual design of the Martian death machines is iconic, and although it probably doesn't hold up as well to modern audiences, it had to have made a huge impact on 1950s viewers, accompanied by unnerving sound effects of destruction.  When we finally get to see a Martian, the creature's composition is also unique and memorable among cinematic aliens.  Barry and Robinson make fine leads, but the film's lasting power really resides in the bleak story and the quality of the pyrotechnic special effects.

The Black Castle (1952)

Starring Richard Greene, Boris Karloff, Stephen McNally, Paula Corday, Lon Chaney Jr.
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An English adventurer arranges to visit the castle of a sadistic count he suspects of murdering his closest friends, and falls for the count's innocent young wife. 

Following in the footsteps of The Strange Door, that film's screenwriter Jerry Sackheim presents another costume drama with horror elements, and like the prior film, succeeds best with the film's villain, Count Karl Von Bruno, portrayed by Stephen McNally.  McNally gives the eye-patched Count a memorable sinister characterization, but there's not much depth to Sackheim's story with a plot proceeding rather by-the-numbers in following similar adventures we've seen before.  Still, there are some exciting perils for Greene to face, including a savage black leopard and a pitful of crocodiles, and Irving Glassberg's photography and the fine supporting cast are worth checking out.  Karloff and Chaney only play minor roles, with Chaney playing a savage mute like those he would later bring to life in The Black Sleep and Indestructible Man.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Strange Door (1951)

Starring Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Sally Forrest, Richard Stapley, William Cottrell
Directed by Joseph Pevney
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A cruel French lord holds a young scoundrel in his castle with a vengeful scheme in mind to marry him to the daughter of the brother he despises. 

Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, this is something of a curious relic, a costume drama with horror elements, produced by Universal Pictures five years after ending their famous series of horror films.  If nothing else, it's a fabulous showcase for Laughton, who is perfectly cast as the vile Sire de Maletroit, and seems to relish the evil character, although the film doesn't quite follow through on a number of opportunities to make him really depraved.  I've read the short story, and there's a beauty in its language that isn't successfully captured in Jerry Sackheim's screenplay, and the sequence in which its young people fall in love, although intact in the film, is not particularly well acted or presented.  Nevertheless, the movie does offer a fun adventure with some worthy dark moments and fine character turns by Alan Napier and Paul Cavanagh, although Karloff seems miscast as an aged knife-brandishing servant, a role unworthy of his talents.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Silent Running (1972)

Starring Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint, Mark Persons
Directed by Douglas Trumbull
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When the Earth decides to scrap a plan to grow vegetation in carriers in outer space, a man assigned to one of the carriers defies orders to save it from destruction.

Most notable for providing the directorial debut for Trumbull, who designed the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey and other science fiction classics, the picture is unique and different and worth seeking out.  Dern gives a memorable performance, as do the amputee actors inside the robot drones who become his primary co-stars for most of the film, and there's an elegance and beauty to their relationship.  Although Trumbull, who also supervised the special effects, doesn't offer any visuals on par with 2001, they are serviceable and appropriately secondary to the actors' performances.  The screenplay does leave a great deal unexplained to the movie's detriment, and more action or mystery in the film's second half could have added excitement, but it remains a distinctive and significant piece of work in my mind.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Climax (1944)

Starring Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, Gale Sondergaard, Thomas Gomez
Directed by George Waggner
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A talented young opera singer lands a coveted role with a prestigious opera house, but the company's psychotic doctor has plans to silence her voice forever. 

This attempt to recapture the success of Universal's remake of Phantom Of The Opera released the prior year, was per Wikipedia a box office disappointment, and it's not difficult to see why.  Although the film returns Foster from the previous production, alongside Karloff and a talented cast, and features some pleasing music, it doesn't offer a story anywhere near as dynamic as Gaston Leroux's classic tale.  While Karloff is an inspired choice to follow Claude Rains' Phantom, the actor is not able to do much to enliven a standard psychological thriller plot.  The film is especially disappointing considering the craftsmen behind the camera- director George Waggner and screenwriter Curt Siodmak both worked on The Wolf Man, but aren't able to work the same magic here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Tower Of London (1939)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O'Neil, Ian Hunter, Vincent Price
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Richard of Gloucester plots his ascension to the English throne through trickery and murder with the aid of a loyal executioner.

After teaming earlier in the year for Son Of Frankenstein, Rathbone, Karloff, and producer/director Lee return for this costume drama retelling the cruelties of Richard III, playing it up like a horror movie by tracking in the title music from their previous film.  It's a marvelous showcase for Rathbone as the villainous Richard, who brings across icy stares and cruel sneers as well as phony airs of sympathy and sincerity to achieve his aims.  He also, despite his debauchery, is the character to root for in the film, opposed by bland heroes played by John Sutton and Ralph Forbes.  Karloff has a marvelous opening scene in which he's introduced as the club-footed executioner sharpening an axe with a raven on his shoulder, but disappointingly doesn't have much more to do in the film than obey Richard's orders.  To be honest, this isn't among the better films of its type, but I enjoy it, and there's a wealth of character actors on display from Miles Mander to Lionel Belmore to Leo G. Carroll, and even a young Vincent Price, who would take on Rathbone's role in the 1962 remake.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Night Key (1937)

Starring Boris Karloff, J. Warren Hull, Jean Rogers, Alan Baxter, Hobart Cavanaugh
Directed by Lloyd Corrigan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An aging inventor, after being cheated out of the chance to implement his new burglar alarm system by the man who swindled him of his previous system, plans a scheme to discredit him.

After Universal Pictures turned their back on horror films in the mid 1930s after their prior successes, Karloff was cast in this comedy/drama, which is still somewhat enjoyable in its own right, but had to be a disappointment to his fans.  Playing an elderly scientist going blind, the actor turns in a distinguished performance, but there's not much heft to the story, nor enough original material to enliven the picture.  There's a fine supporting cast with Cavanaugh memorable as a petty thief who teams up with Karloff, Baxter as a soft-spoken but villainous gangster, and Rogers of the Flash Gordon serials as Karloff's beautiful daughter, and the film was intriguingly directed by Corrigan, who became better known as a character actor in later pictures.  However, as my friend Dan Day Jr. pointed out, it's frustrating to imagine what could have been had the studio backed Karloff in another horror picture during their glory years rather than this light entertainment.