Archive for the ‘1950s films’ Tag

So Long at the Fair (1950)   2 comments

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Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) and her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) arrive in Paris on the eve of the 1889 World’s Fair. They’re traveling through, but Vicky, excited about her first trip to Paris, convinces Johnny to spend the next day in the city and take her to the fair. That night, the siblings dine in Montmartre and see a show at the Moulin Rouge.

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“I’m having so much fun! I hope I don’t disappear.”

The next morning, Vicky waits for her brother to pick her up for breakfast. When he’s late, Vicky visits the hotel desk to get Johnny’s room key and check on him. Not only do they not have his key, but the proprietor tells Vicky no such room exists and Johnny was never there.

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“I’m looking for my oh hello.”

Frantic, Vicky searches for Johnny and tries desperately to prove he was with her. The more she insists her story is true, the more people think she’s crazy. With no money, no friends, and no proof, how will Vicky find her brother?

So Long at the Fair follows the main ideas originated in Anselma Heine’s story “Die Erscheinung” (“The Apparition”), in the Richard Oswald-directed silent anthology film Eerie Tales (1919). The concept appears again in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes in 1938. Based on Ethel Lina White’s 1936 story, “The Wheel Spins”, The Lady Vanishes adds Fascists and spies to the already tense tale of a young woman who meets the elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on a train and then can’t prove she was ever there. In that film, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) finally convinces Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) she’s not a nut and the two fight fear, indifference, and bad guys to find their friend. Hitchcock recycled the story again for his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series in 1955 in the episode Into Thin Air starring his daughter Patricia. That show involves a daughter searching for her missing mother and gives Alexander Woollcott story credit. The stories mostly feature young women in the lead roles who spend the majority of the stories trying to prove to pretty much everyone that they’re not insane and “Oh, could you please look for my brother/friend/mom?”

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“Have you met Dad?”

So Long at the Fair differs from the other manifestations of this idea in its presentation. The Jean Simmons version was a Gainsborough Pictures production which means lavish sets, period costumes, and pearl-clutching drama. Costume drama is not usually my favorite film genre, but So Long at the Fair is a good film with some genuinely tense moments. That probably has a lot to do with the cast and director.

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This means no vampires.

Jean Simmons carries the film well. She’s a sweet, innocent girl in peril, but she’s smart and strong enough to stand up for herself and find her brother. She could easily have gone all limp and useless, but the story and the actress are stronger and that makes it more fun to watch. Along with Simmons, the cast includes a few other up-and-coming British actors who acquit themselves well and look lovely too. Honor Blackman has a small part as does the wonderful Andre Morel and the gorgeous Dirk Bogarde. Bogarde has a nice supporting role as a well-heeled artist living in Paris who helps Simmons in her brother quest. Bogarde is young and handsome and terrifically appealing in this film. He and Simmons look good together. Did I mention Dirk Bogarde is incredibly attractive? Oh all right. I’ll stop. He is though.

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See?

Another reason So Long at the Fair works as more than a vehicle for young stars is the direction by the talented Terence Fisher. Fisher directed a boatload of noir, thriller, and horror films for Hammer Film Productions from the 1950s through the 1970s and his ability in those genres transforms So Long at the Fair from the usual Gainsborough melodrama to a more thrilling mystery and makes the heroine’s situation that much more frightening.

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When in doubt, ask some nuns.

Unlike Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) and other Gaslight-type films, we know Vicky’s brother exists. We’ve seen him. The question is will Vicky ever see him again?

I wrote this piece for the British Invaders Blogathon presented by Terence Towles Canote and his site A Shroud of Thoughts

Thanks for the inspiration, Terence!

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Elephant Walk vs. The Naked Jungle: Who’d Win in a Bar Fight?   4 comments

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Paramount released ELEPHANT WALK and THE NAKED JUNGLE within a month of one another in 1954.  They often appeared in theatres on a double bill.  If you see them both, you might think you’ve seen the same film twice.  Both center around a rich plantation owner living in a foreign country with a beautiful wife and major psychological issues.  Both leads have flawed marriages.  Both battle wild animals on rampages.  In ELEPHANT WALK, the creatures in questions are, you guessed it, groundhogs.  OK.  I can’t get anything past you.  They’re elephants.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, the enemies are ants.  Naked ants.  They’re referred to as the Marabunta, which, as you know, mean friendsh…no.  It means naked army ant.  Paramount made both films partially on location.  ELEPHANT WALK takes place in British Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.  They filmed in both Ceylon and Hollywood.  THE NAKED JUNGLE is set in Brazil, but Florida served as a stand-in for the Amazon jungle.  Even the structures of the two films are similar.

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Edith Head did herself proud in both films.

In ELEPHANT WALK, John Wiley (Peter Finch) runs a sprawling tea plantation in British Ceylon.  The plantation, Elephant Walk, got its name because John’s father, Tom, built it on the elephants’ traditional path to the river.  After a whirlwind romance in England, John marries Ruth (Elizabeth Taylor) and brings her back to the family bungalow to begin her duties as the lady of the house.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, Christopher Leiningen (Charlton Heston) writes long, lonely letters from Brazil to his brother in New Orleans.  His brother meets Joanna (Eleanor Parker) and introduces Christopher and Joanna by mail.  The two correspond and eventually marry by proxy.  Joanna travels to the jungle to be Christopher’s wife and run his home.

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Soon after taking up residence at Elephant Walk, Ruth notices subtle changes in her new husband.  Charming and loving in England and on their honeymoon, John becomes distant, gruff, and even brutal in Ceylon.  The oppressive atmosphere of Elephant Walk, along with the influence of John’s long dead father, old Tom Wiley, turn John iron-fisted and cruel.  In THE NAKED JUNGLE, immediately after her arrival in Brazil, Joanna sees differences between Christopher’s letters and his demeanor.  Intelligent and gentle during their correspondence, Christopher becomes insulting and downright nasty in person.

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This is what John Wiley does instead of hanging out with Liz Taylor.

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Leiningen’s sort of an ass.

John Wiley’s main issue is the Governor.  John’s father and the builder of Elephant Walk has been dead for years, but still manages to run the show.  His rules, attitudes, and methods for running the plantation and his house haven’t changed despite his death.  They still celebrate his birthday each year with a big party. They even present gifts to the guests around Tom Wiley’s elaborate, marble crypt, conveniently located on the lawn just steps from the house.  Handy.  The combination of the ever present Tom Wiley, her husband’s hostility, and the middle-aged frat boy mentality of most of the plantation workers drives Ruth away.  She plans to leave with the sympathetic and cultured Dick Carver (Dana Andrews), John’s foreman.

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“I hope she picks me.”

Christopher Leiningen’s problem in THE NAKED JUNGLE is sex and his need to be the first to sleep with his new wife.  Joanna, a widow, fulfills all Christopher’s requirements.  She has manners, refinement, and beauty.  She even plays the piano.  The fact of her first marriage, however, drives him crazy.  You see, Christopher has no sexual experience and he can’t stand the thought that his wife does.  He won’t touch her and plans to send her back to the states.

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“I’m sending you back.”

Naturally, Ruth can’t leave Elephant Walk.  On her way to the boat for England, everyone gets cholera.  Ruth has to stay to boil linens and burn things.  The cholera epidemic strikes at the same time as a major drought so besides the stacks of dead bodies and the quarantine and all, they’re also running out of water and the elephants get antsy.  Get it?  Antsy?  Anyway, thirsty and fed up, the elephants stampede and John races to save Ruth.

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“I’m coming, Ruth!”

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the Marabunta start crawling their way through the jungle toward Christopher’s ranch and civilization in general.  You see, every twenty-seven years, army ants charge through the Amazon eating everything they see.  So the calendar strikes 27 and the ants come-a-runnin’.  Christopher and Joanna have to curtail their trip to the boat to take her back to New Orleans to fight them some ants.

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“Hold it right there, you damned, dirty ants!”

Will John Wiley rescue Ruth from elephants?  Will he see the error of his ways and start his marriage again without his dead dad’s interference?  Will he return the ugly elephant necklace he makes Ruth wear?

Will Christopher beat the ants?  Will he decide to love Joanna despite her horrid promiscuity?  Will William Conrad stop speaking with that ridiculous mystery accent?

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“I’m not sure where I’m from.”

I’ll never tell.

ELEPHANT WALK did better at the box office than THE NAKED JUNGLE and it’s a better film in general.  Peter Finch does a terrific job as the anguished John Wiley, who embraces his imperious father’s memory even as he fights its hold over him.  He’s great when he’s angry and truly contrite while asking for forgiveness.  Elizabeth Taylor’s Ruth looks spectacular in the gorgeous Edith Head gowns and dresses she wears.  She’s a beautiful and sympathetic character who’s torn between her love for her husband and her fear for him and herself in this unhealthy atmosphere.  Dana Andrews is convincing as John’s overseer who falls for Ruth and tries to help her escape.  Abraham Sofaer plays Appuhamy, the efficient head servant at Elephant Walk whose loyalty to the old master tries Ruth’s patience.  His restraint gives the character integrity and allows us to see the change in him as he finally accepts Ruth.  Direction by William Dieterle along with the Franz Waxman score and the actual location shooting gives this film polish and the A-list actors deliver fine performances.

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Abraham Sofaer as Appuhamy

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Abraham Sofaer (in back) as Incacha.

THE NAKED JUNGLE is a less solid film than ELEPHANT WALK.  Heston does a decent job as the immature Christopher.  Deep down he’s a poet who hides his soft side and thinks he HAS to object to his wife’s non-virgin status.  As I said, Heston does a decent job, but he lacks the subtlety his character needs.  Eleanor Parker wears the Edith Head costumes brilliantly and plays the put upon wife well, but she’s far too melodramatic.  She’s more subtle than Lana Turner, but that doesn’t take much.  William Conrad plays his part well, but they saddled him with a goofy accent which detracts from his performance.  Conrad played the Heston role in the radio version of the Carl Stephenson story.  I guess they wanted to throw him a bone.  Guess who plays the faithful servant/overseer?  Yup.  Abraham Sofaer.  This time he’s Brazilian.  Ernest Laszlo and George Pal did the photography and production and Byron Haskin directed.

 

All in all, ELEPHANT WALK and the NAKED JUNGLE will both fulfill your animals running amok needs.  There’s great footage of elephants stampeding throughout ELEPHANT WALK and the scene where they wreck Wiley’s mansion is spectacular.  If you’re into that disease thing, the film also has cholera!

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George Pal produced THE NAKED JUNGLE and the ant effects are decent.  Scenes with ants overtaking grown men are pretty cool even if they’re unbelievable.

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“So many ants.”

Where THE NAKED JUNGLE fails is that ants keep killing people you don’t particularly care about.  A disaster film has to allow us to learn something about its victims before flinging them off cliffs.  If it doesn’t, it’s just some random SyFy film like ANTOPUS VS LOBSTELEPHANT.  To sum up, ELEPHANT WALK is a terrific film with realistic performances that looks wonderful.  THE NAKED JUNGLE is a pretty good film with lots of ants, which is a plus, and a so-so story.  Watch them both and tell me what you think.

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I wrote this piece for the Nature’s Fury Blogathon hosted by the always fascinating Barry of Cinematic Catharsis  He’s a nice guy who runs a terrific film blog.  Please check it out.

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His Kind of Woman (1951)   2 comments

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Until you watch His Kind of Woman, you might not realize Vincent Price is the star. You might believe the credits and think you’re watching a Robert Mitchum/Jane Russell vehicle full of mobsters who crack wise and a beauty who sings a little.

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“Is that a gun in your pocket?”

After all, up to this point, Vincent Price spent a lot of time in costume dramas or as the guy who didn’t get the girl. Gene Tierney threw him over for Dana Andrews in Laura even after she was dead and she dumped him again the next year for Cornel Wilde in Leave Her to Heaven. I’m not sure Hollywood knew what to do with the erudite actor. Handsome, articulate, and athletic, Vincent looked the part of the leading man, but had more to give. You might say he was too smart for his own good.

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“Snatch this revolver from my hand, Grasshopper.”

Male ingenue parts don’t show off your sense of humor much so studios plugged him into the role of the witty, yet evil count. A few films, like Shock (1946) allowed him to show more range, but it wasn’t until Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe phase in the 1960s that Vincent was really allowed to shine. The exception to that is His Kind of Woman. Vincent Price sinks his teeth into the Mark Cardigan role.

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“This is going to be fun.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mitchum and Russell steam up your glasses in this film, but what brings me back to John Farrow’s 1951 crime thriller again and again is the wonderfully over-the-top performance by Vincent Price as Mark Cardigan, the biggest movie star who ever swashed a buckle.

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“Did you close the garage?”

Cardigan travels from Hollywood to gorgeous, mid-century Morro’s Lodge in Baja California, Mexico to hunt and fish and woo his mistress, Lenore Brent (Jane Russell). His sporting ways do little to impress Lenore; she starts warming up to Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum). He’s in sunny Mexico for a mysterious, dangerous reason, which becomes clearer and uglier as the story progresses and we get to know the dastardly Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr). Nick’s a mobster, deported by the U.S. government, who wants to get back into the states. How does a famous and recognizable hoodlum get past customs, and where does the Nazi doctor fit in? Nick plans to use Dan—and I don’t mean he wants to borrow Dan’s passport. Dan, a teetotaler, still manages to intoxicate Lenore and the two begin a sexy little romance. I’ll admit; it’s fun to watch. Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell have terrific chemistry. That said, I still can’t watch this film without wishing it had more Vincent.

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“My Godzilla was the the best! Say it!”

As Mark Cardigan, Vincent, full of boyish charm, tries to get his friend excited about hunting with him, but encounters only sarcasm. He has all this fancy hunting and fishing gear, but no one wants to play. He’s sure Dan will be a sport, but he has mind on other things.

Mark Cardigan: “What about tomorrow morning?
Dan Milner: “All right, what about it?”
Mark Cardigan: “The hunting. I’ve got all the equipment you need. How about me rootin’ you out about five.”
Dan Milner: “Five?”
Lenore Brent: “He shoots them as they crawl out of bed.”

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“Wanna kill some stuff?”

Despite their best efforts, neither Lenore nor Dan can dampen Mark’s enthusiasm and off he goes to his favorite blind quoting Shakespeare. It’s that bigger-than-life, booming attitude that makes me smile every time I watch His Kind of Woman. A combination of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ronald Coleman, Mark Cardigan has all the conceit of a matinee idol with some intelligence and a little humility to balance it out. Mark mentions the danger ahead of them and Dan promises that if his friend dies in battle, he’ll be sure to give him a big sendoff.

Dan: “Well, if you do get killed, I’ll make sure you get a first-rate funeral in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”
Mark: “I’ve already had it. My last picture died there.”

The interplay between Mark and the other characters continues throughout the film. Actually, he doesn’t need anyone to play off. He spends a good portion of the film soliloquizing. What separates this film from others depicting actors forced to face reality is how Mark handles it. He accepts the challenge and the risk gleefully as if he thinks he’s still on stage 6. On his way to fight the gangsters, Mark arms himself and then stops to don a black cape. Fabulous! History abounds with films about self-absorbed actors blurring the line between fantasy and reality, but this is more fun than profound. Part of the reason may be that when Mark looks deeply into his soul, he likes what he sees there. His long-winded speeches about battles and heroes aren’t just for show. Deep down he wants to believe every word and surprises even himself when the bullets start flying. It’s thrilling and joyous and fun.

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“It’s 14 against 2.”
“We’ll take ’em.”
“How do you know?
“Bad guys can’t shoot.”
“Oh right.”

His Kind of Woman has a romance with great chemistry, a twisted bad guy with a taste for torture, a Nazi, and a brilliant, but bored actor dying to prove himself to himself.

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Nazi

I can’t picture another actor who could do the part justice as well as Vincent Price. He has the energy, athleticism, timing, and eloquence to pull it off. Who else could wax poetic while trussing a duck?

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OK. Maybe this guy.

Without delving too deeply into plot summation, I’ll say His Kind of Woman packs a lot into two hours. There’s a love story, a mobster attempting to foil immigration, a Casablanca-like sub-plot with Jim Backus sitting in for Claude Rains, and a Nazi. As Joe Bob Briggs says, “…too much plot getting in the way of the story.” Fortunately, the writers, Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard, along with the talented cast can handle it. This film’s success lies in the philosophy expressed by Jim Backus’ stockbroker when discussing movies in general. “People don’t go to movies to see how miserable the world is. They go there to eat popcorn and be happy.” Preston Sturges couldn’t have said it better.

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That jacket.

This article appeared originally, in a different form, in the Brattle Film Notes.

The Snorkel (1958)   1 comment

Clad in street clothes and a snorkel, Paul Decker (Peter van Eyck) seals the windows and doors of a fashionably furnished living room. Then, he blows out the gas lanterns and cranks them up, filling the room with gas. He and his snorkel hide under the floor boards, safe from the noxious fumes. The unconscious woman on the sofa is not so lucky.

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“I thought we were all wearing snorkels.”

Soon, police arrive at the Italian villa and rule the death a suicide. How else could a woman die in a locked room? Candy Brown (Mandy Miller), the woman’s daughter, disagrees and accuses Paul, Mom’s husband, of the deaths of her mother and of her father three years earlier in a diving accident. Diving-snorkel, get it? She can’t prove a thing and the local police don’t bother to investigate. No one believes her. She’s just a teenaged girl, after all.


Very subtle, Candy.

She’s also wealthy and Paul wants that cash. The death of his wife leaves Mom’s fortune to Paul, but this pesky kid keeps complicating matters by telling police and anyone who’ll listen that he’s a murderer.

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“He’s a murderer.”

Despite successfully convincing everyone else that Candy’s just a bratty, delusional kid, Paul finds her constant reminders of his recent murder off-putting. Candy’s accusations also interfere with his attempts to romance her caretaker, Jean (Betta St. John). In other words, the kid has to go. Can Paul pull off a third murder? Will the Italian police finally look more deeply into why a healthy, happily married mother would kill herself? Why, when renovating their lovely Italian villa in the late 1950s did Paul insist on keeping the gas lamps?


“Why not electricity?”

Directed by Guy Green and written for the screen by Jimmy Sangster and Peter Myers, The Snorkel boasts a creative plot and lovely black and white cinematography by Jack Asher. Anthony Dawson, the tall, long-faced criminal Ray Milland hires to kill Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder, wrote the original story for The Snorkel. An atypical Hammer film, The Snorkel is one of the zippy thrillers like Maniac and Scream of Fear Hammer made alongside their usual Gothic horrors like Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein.

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This is not Frankenstein.

The Snorkel is an entertaining, fast-paced thriller with an unusual plot and good acting. Peter van Eyck, who usually plays Nazis, does a terrific job as the homicidal stepfather and Mandy Miller convinces as the wronged daughter. Despite our knowing the identity of the killer from the beginning of the film, we’re still intrigued by Paul’s meticulous murder plot and we wonder to what lengths he’ll go to hide his crimes and get what he wants. The film doesn’t delve too deeply into background or motive, but who cares? We’re more interested in Paul’s sly machinations and Candy’s methods of stopping him to look for plot holes. Also, The Snorkel has a dynamite ending. What a fun way to spend ninety minutes!

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“What do you mean we’re twenty feet short?”

Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)   Leave a comment

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Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) leads a life of leisure.  He spends his days taking drives in his fashionable car, shopping, then retiring to his large country home with his wife, Monica (Mona Washbourne).  Monica, or Mony as he calls her, is somewhat older than her handsome husband and comes from a more refined social class.  Despite their differences, Mony loves her Teddy Bare and he, in turn, dotes on his elderly wife.  He is kind and solicitous toward Mony and she takes pains to teach Edward about etiquette and culture.  Everything moves along swimmingly until Mony’s attorney, Philip Mortimer (Robert Flemyng), who dislikes Edward, calls on Mony and asks her to rewrite her will, leaving Edward out.  Mony, you see, inherited great wealth when her first husband died.  Philip is pretty sure that Mony’s money, and not her charm, compelled Edward to marry her.  When the two shoo Edward out of the room to discuss Mony’s fortune, Edward fears the worst.  Edward hears that Mony will sign a new will the next morning.  Assuming the new will excludes him, Edward concocts a hasty plan.  He’ll have to move fast or lose Mony’s wealth and his carefree lifestyle.  Fear convinces Edward to act rashly.

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“Where can I find arsenic at this time of night?”

Without going into too much detail, things go poorly for both Mony and Edward.  Mony won’t be coming down to breakfast and Edward learns he may have jumped the gun a bit.  After Edward’s miscalculation, he needs another sugar momma or he’ll have to do something drastic like get a job or some such nonsense.  Enter Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), a brassy ex-barmaid who married the boss and inherited the pub when he died.  She sold the business and now she has money, but no direction.  Edward is taken with Freda’s straightforward personality and her healthy bank account.  Edward and Freda decide to make a go of it, but she’s no fool.  She knows he’s a fortune-hunter, but she can’t help herself.  Despite her street smarts, Freda falls for Edward.

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Mmmm cute bad boy.

All this time, Philip, the attorney, hangs around Edward hoping he’ll spill the beans about Mony’s suspicious death.  Freda is having none of it though and stands by Edward until another woman enters the scene.  Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh), yet another lonely, rich woman starts to show a little too much interest in Edward and then all bets are off.

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“Freda will just love you.”

I’ve said this before, but I love the look of British films of the 1950s and 60s.  That shadowy black and white quality serves as a great backdrop for actors.  This is not a toney art film and director Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me) hangs back and lets the talented cast work.  Dirk Bogarde connives and plans and even outsmarts himself, but he does it so beautifully, you find yourself cheering for him.  Margaret Lockwood always delivers a strong performance.  She’s wonderful as the sarcastic and real Freda.  She was even nominated for a BAFTA for best British actress for her role in this film.  Writer John Cresswell based his screenplay on Janet Green’s play, Murder Mistaken.  The snappy dialogue gives Lockwood and Bogarde a chance to shine and surprises throughout the film keep you guessing.  If you’re looking for a sharp thriller with some black comedy, CAST A DARK SHADOW fits the bill.

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“A whoopie cushion?”

House on Haunted Hill (1959)   8 comments

aaahohh

Vincent Price invites you to a party. Are there balloons and noisemakers and a clown? Gee, I hope not. No, but Price does invite a bunch of total strangers, a creepy housemaid, and a scaaaaary skeleton. Ahhhhh!!

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Avon lady!

Millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) holds a birthday party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a spooky mansion. For those of you playing at home, that mansion is Ennis House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. If his guests can stomach a night in the spooky house, Loren will pay each of them $10,000. That’s about $81K in 2015 dollars. A nice payday. It sounds simple enough until we learn that several people, including Watson Pritchard’s (Elisha Cook, Jr.) brother were murdered in the house. Funny thing though, they never found his head.

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A building from Wright’s pueblo pyramid period.

Just when we think we’re watching a straight haunted house film, Loren and his wife go at it. The couple do their version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and it’s clear this party will end badly. Loren, you see, has had three wives before Annabelle and each has expired under mysterious circumstances. Hmmm. Annabelle confides in guest, Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) that she fears for her life. Her husband, she says, wants to kill her and he’ll stop at nothing. When the servants leave prematurely, locking the party-goers in for the night, they’ll have to contend with ghosts and spirits and a possible murderer among them.

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Vincent has the coolest party favors.

Robb White, frequent William Castle collaborator, wrote the screenplays for House on Haunted Hill, Macabre, The Tingler, and others for the great showman.  Castle directed this movie and filled it with piercing screams, an active skeleton, and a rolling old lady. Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock saw Castle’s big box office returns and decided to make Psycho. Then, Castle saw Psycho and decided to make Homicidal. I hope that’s true. Anyway, we win. All three films are horror classics.

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“There’s no food at this party.”

Oozing charm and menace, Vincent Price does his best Vincent Price. The rest of the cast hold their own, but are nothing to write home about with the exception of Elisha Cook, Jr. His crazed, drunken ramblings about ghosts and unseen forces are appropriately over the top. Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, who might win an Una for screaming artistry, and Robert Mitchum’s big sister, Julie round out the players. Julie Mitchum’s claim to fame in this film is that when offered a drink, she always asks for a scotch and… A scotch and what? Motor oil? Drain cleaner? Mare sweat? It’s an odd thing, but it always strikes me as funny.

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“Aaahoooo Werewolves of London!”

Ever the marketing genius, William Castle used this tagline for House on Haunted Hill. ‘First film with the amazing new wonder EMERGO: The thrills fly right into the audience!’ I wish I had been around to see a Castle film in the theatre. Flying skeletons, fright insurance, cowards’ corner…such fun. By the way, does anyone know a good acid vat installer?

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“I’m not touching you!”

haunty

 

Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)   Leave a comment

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Caryl Chessman, called the Red Light Bandit because he used a red light atop his car to pull over couples, rob them, and rape the women, wrote four books during his twelve years on death row. Cell 2455 Death Row came out while Chessman still lived. The film shows Chessman (William Campbell) as a difficult teen who fell in with the wrong crowd and then became a gang leader.

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I said medium rare!

He pleads guilty to some of the robberies, but innocent to the rape charges and acts as his own attorney in court. It gets a bit Alan-Alda-in-the-last-seasons-of-M*A*S*H-y in this part and the whole thing smells strongly of whitewash and Hollywood filtering. Apparently Chessman did a decent job of fending off the electric chair in real life though. Anti-death penalty crusaders protested and wrote songs on his behalf. Biggies like Aldous Huxley, Norman Mailer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ray Bradbury wrote letters asking for mercy. SPOILER ALERT: When the film opened he was still with us, but was later executed when the secretary asked by the judge to call the jail for another stay of execution, called the wrong number. By the time she found the correct one, it was too late. No kidding. You can’t make this stuff up. The most interesting part of this film is that William Campbell’s younger brother Robert plays Chessman as a youth. Vince Edwards appears as a fellow criminal. Pretty standard.

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The real Caryl Chessman’s mug shot.

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