Friday, June 30, 2017

Black Friday (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Stanley Ridges, Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne
Directed by Arthur Lubin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A doctor uses a gangster's brain tissue in a life-saving transplant for a dear friend, but when he sees traces of the gangster's memories in the man's mind, he tries to unlock them to find a hidden fortune. 

The final teaming of Karloff and Lugosi for Universal is an entertaining film, but disappointing as the two horror icons are on far from equal terms, as Lugosi plays the minor role of a rival gangster.  I've heard Lugosi originally was to play Karloff's part as the doctor before Karloff decided to take over that role, and Universal must not have had enough confidence in the actor to give him the part of the dual-minded college professor, eventually played by Ridges.  I think it would have been fascinating to have seen Lugosi play either of those roles instead of the one he does play, but it's still good to see him here.  Despite all this, Ridges gives a fine performance, convincingly creating two different characters, with a little help from the makeup department, and Boris is always fun to watch, even if this is not one of his better parts.  The film's story is not all that unique, borrowing from both Jekyll And Hyde and The Hands Of Orlac to a certain degree, but the cinematography is well-polished and it certainly moves at a snappy pace.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame, Michael Coles
Directed by Alan Gibson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In modern day London, a young man succeeds in bringing about the reincarnation of Dracula, but a descendant of the vampire's greatest foe is ready to challenge the monster.

After their remarkable success at creating quality period productions in their horror films, the British Hammer studio tried something new, bringing the classic Dracula character into modern times.  Some purists might have been offended by this tactic, but this is a hard film to dislike with a number of winning elements, including the return of Peter Cushing who plays two Van Helsings in the film, again providing a dynamic counterpoint to Christopher Lee's evil count.  Absent from the Hammer Dracula series for 12 years, while a number of blander leading men filled in, Cushing is wonderful to see back, and though he's aged and not the man of action he was in Horror Of Dracula and Brides Of Dracula, he gives a dextrous contemplative performance in keeping with his age, and cinematographer Dick Bush does a masterful job of capturing Cushing's still piercing blue eyes and the intelligence behind them.  While Christopher Lee does not have a whole lot to do, he's fierce and elegant at the same time, and Neame is quite good as the young rabble-rouser who covets Dracula's immortality and power.  Don Houghton's screenplay should be credited with introducing the count to 1972 without changing the character or relying on culture shock humor, and Michael Vickers' rock-tinged score adds catchy accompaniment and excitement while still heightening Dracula's menace.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bride Of The Gorilla (1951)

Starring Barbara Payton, Lon Chaney Jr., Raymond Burr, Tom Conway, Paul Cavanagh
Directed by Curt Siodmak
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The foreman of a jungle plantation murders the owner in order to have his attractive young wife, but is then cursed by a native servant into becoming something far from human.

Written and directed by Curt Siodmak, who wrote several screenplays for the classic Universal horror films of the 1940s, the picture has been compared by film historian Tom Weaver to The Wolf Man, which Siodmak also scripted, as I recall from a commentary where he noted a number of interesting parallels between the two productions.  This movie is not in the same league as that film, but Burr has a brutish presence that works for his character, and although Chaney is not ideally cast as a native police commissioner, he approaches the role seriously and pulls it off with distinction.  Payton as the film's star is lovely to look at but her performance didn't make much of an impact on me- I thought she was a bit better in Four Sided Triangle.  For my money, Siodmak wasn't as talented a director as he was a writer, and that may hurt this film a bit, which drags here and there, but thought he was successful in creating a memorable jungle setting and atmosphere.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Missile To The Moon (1959)

Starring Richard Travis, Cathy Downs, K.T. Stevens, Tommy Cook, Nina Bara
Directed by Richard Cunha
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On the verge of losing control of his planned spaceflight to the moon, a scientist takes off with two escaped convicts as his crew, and on landing, they find the moon inhabited by gorgeous women.

The last of Richard Cunha's four low-budget science fiction thrillers he directed in the late 1950s, this one is also something of a remake of 1953's Cat-Women Of The Moon, and has the same kitschy charm, although there's plenty of sexism on display.  Each of the moon women is costumed in outfits meant to attract the male gaze, which they try not to let us forget, overemphasizing their chests to an almost incredible degree.  That doesn't mean the picture isn't fun, with clunky rock monsters and giant spiders on noticeable wires menacing the Earth astronauts and entertaining us.  The film also adds the new story element of a power struggle between the moon's aging queen and her upstart lieutenant, which doesn't have any depth to it, but adds some witchy conflict where its sorely needed.  Alert viewers should notice stock footage from several other science fiction adventures, and Cunha clearly made this on a shoestring, but it's a shame his series of entertaining cult favorites had to end here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Meet Boston Blackie (1941)

Starring Chester Morris, Rochelle Hudson, Richard Lane, Charles Wagenheim, Constance Worth
Directed by Robert Florey
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Former safecracker Boston Blackie finds the police on his trail when he returns home to New York, which is complicated when he's suspected in a pair of murders tied to an espionage ring.

The first "Boston Blackie" film in Columbia's long series starring Chester Morris as the ex-con trying to help others while keeping the police at bay, this is a more dynamically filmed adventure than I expected, perhaps due to the presence of innovative director Florey at the helm.  There's some clever exchanges in the screenplay, an exciting car chase, and Hudson is very cute as the young lady who's driven into trouble by Morris, but falls for him anyway.  It's fun to spot some of the familiar character actors who have very brief cameos in the film, including Byron Foulger and Nestor Paiva, and although the espionage plot is not a terribly unique or interesting one, the picture held my interest, and I found it very entertaining.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Invisible Ray (1936)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton, Violet Kemble Cooper
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An obsessed scientist discovers a powerful new element in Africa which makes his touch poisonous, and when it is taken from him and his wife falls for another man, he plots a deadly revenge. 

The third pairing of Karloff and Lugosi features Karloff in the showier part (which apparently originally was supposed to have gone to Lugosi), but the Hungarian actor gives a fine performance as the distinguished scientist Doctor Benet, although it's far from an ideal showcase.  Karloff is more memorable as Janos Rukh, whose weary movements and penetrating stare create a believable character whose brilliance has been overshadowed by those have scoffed at his theories.  The film rather closely parallels Universal's earlier effort, The Invisible Man, casting Karloff as another killer maddened by his greatest discovery, and like that film, features some breathtaking special effects.  Depictions of planets moving through a starfield captured by Rukh's astral projector are of greater quality than similar scenes from productions made decades later, and the visuals depicting a character's demise at film's end are utterly unforgettable.  Franz Waxman, who created one of horror's best film scores for Bride Of Frankenstein, also contributes effective cues for this movie's soundtrack, including both menacing themes for Karloff's attacks, as well as some lovely music for Frances Drake's leading lady.