Archive for November 2014

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)   Leave a comment

telegraph poster

Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) loses her husband in the war and the Nazis send her to Belsen. She befriends a sick woman in the concentration camp and tries to help her regain her strength. When the woman, Karin Dernakova dies just before the allies liberate the camp, Victoria assumes Karin’s identity. Neither woman had relatives left alive in Poland, but Karin has family, including a young son in the United States so New Karin travels to the US to care for her friend’s son. No one there has seen Karin so they believe her story. Once in New York, Karin meets the handsome and charming Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), executor of Karin’s rich aunt’s will and guardian to her son.

oj
Did you say iocaine powder?

Alan sweeps her off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, they marry and move to the family mansion in San Francisco’s toney Telegraph Hill section. Almost immediately, Karin senses tension in the household. The housekeeper, Margaret (Fay Baker) resents her presence and seems too attached to both Alan and her son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert).

margaret
Margaret’s domain.

Karin perseveres because of her increasing attachment to the boy, but her worries increase as a series of accidents plagues the household. She also meets and falls for attorney Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) who happens to have helped Karin at the refugee camp in Poland. Karin begins to suspect her new husband, but are her fears rational or is guilt about her own lies making her paranoid?

scary rich
Hi honey!

Directed by the talented and eclectic Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still), The House on Telegraph Hill is a thriller with a crime/noir feel that keeps you guessing. The death of her friend paves the way for Karin to start a new life in America. Is survivor’s guilt making that life impossible or are Karin and the child really in danger? Richard Basehart can play naïve innocence or cunning evil equally well and he leads a decent cast of actors in this little gem of a picture. Fay Baker channels Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers at times and Valentina Cortese was convincing as the beleaguered concentration camp survivor. Gordon Gebert as the little boy does a nice job too.

margaret1
Hands off! He’s mine!

I’ve always liked this film. The small cast and relatively simple story line give the characters room to develop and their acting chops carry off the mystery and deception well. The locations in and around the Telegraph Hill section of San Francisco are lovely even without Lucien Ballard’s cinematography and the sets and costumes also help set the mood. If you like crime films with a bit of old school flair, you’ll like The House on Telegraph Hill.

house

Psst: Richard Basehart and Valentine Cortese married in 1951…

…and divorced in 1960.

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The Deadly Bees (1966)   1 comment

deadly bees

Vickie Robbins (Suzanna Leigh), a British pop star with a grueling schedule has a breakdown during a taping of a Shindig-like show.

shindig
I’m stressed.

Her doctor orders her to recuperate on a friend’s farm on remote Seagull Island. A few weeks on a quiet farm in the country sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Well, it would be if it weren’t for all those deadly bees. You see farmer and all around jerk Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman) keeps bees and spends most of his time experimenting with them to create a race of superbees or bees that can juggle or do your taxes or something. The film never quite tells you. That leaves Ralph’s wife, Mary (Catherine Finn) to run the farm. Their marriage leaves something to be desired as well. Ralph appears to be overly friendly toward the publican’s daughter and Mary is more devoted to her dog than any pesky humans. When Mary’s dog is attacked and killed by bees, the idyllic farm takes on a more sinister mood.

doggie
Why do they always pick on the dog?

Mary blames Ralph for the death of her beloved pet and an already strained relationship careens over an embankment. Vickie starts noticing odd things about her host and she soon suspects he’s using his bees to dispatch people he finds superfluous. She meets H.W. Manfred (Frank Finlay), beekeeper and gentleman farmer who fuels Vickie’s suspicions. After Mary meets the same fate as her pup, Vickie and Manfred pool their knowledge to try and thwart Hargrove.

face bees
Why can’t we keep our honey in a jar like other people?

Amicus Productions, a studio considered a lesser Hammer Studios, produced some terrific low budget horrors in the 1960s and 70s. They often used Hammer actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as well as big name actors and some who once had big film careers. Amicus specialized in portmanteau horror films like THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, TORTURE GARDEN, and VAULT OF HORROR and made some full-length horrors as well. Despite their reputation for low budgets, Amicus had good production values and hired talented actors and writers. Robert Bloch (PSYCHO, STRAIT-JACKET) wrote the screenplay for THE DEADLY BEES along with Anthony Marriott and Gerald Heard from his novel A Taste for Honey. The story originally appeared as STING OF DEATH as part of the ELGIN HOUR television series and starred Boris Karloff. Director, Freddie Francis (THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, TROG) helmed a few Amicus films including several anthology films.
I liked THE DEADLY BEES. Despite the bee effects (superimposing film of swarming bees over the actual film), there was some real suspense and the film had more surprises than I expected. The acting was really good. A lot of the cast straddled high and low budget films throughout their careers. The weird bee science was fun. I love the idea of attack bees that respond to scent and music. I recommend THE DEADLY BEES. I think it’s the first killer bee film so it started a genre I love. It also has an odd cameo. In the opening scene set during the taping of a pop music show, we see a band called The Birds perform. No, they’re not the Turn, Turn, Turn Byrds, but they are the band Ron Wood played in before he joined the Rolling Stones. Their tune isn’t bad either.

Buzzzzzzzzzzz.

ron
I could buy and sell all of you.

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