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Swamp Fire

Tarzan vs. Tarzan in the Lousiana bayou!
At some time in studio boardroom had to have said "Let's put those 2 guys that played Tarzan together in one movie. This idea will sell itself to the distributors." He was probably right because SWAMP FIRE is a decently made, well paced movie that does not disappoint viewers.

Johnny Weissmuller starts as Johnny Duval, a war hero returning to his bayou home. He lost a ship he was in command of during the war and vows he will not take up his old position as bar pilot. This does not at all bother his old rival Mike (Buster Crabbe sporting a mustache and a Cajun accent) who sees this as a chance to make time with Johnny's old sweetheart Toni (Carol Thurston, who also appeared with Weissmuller in the Jungle Jim movie KILLER APE (1951)). Too bad but Toni only has eyes for Johnny. To make matters worse a spoiled rich girl (Virgina Grey) has set her sights on Johnny and coerces her dad (Pierre Watkin) to buy up a lot of bayou land and outlaw all trapping, which means the local folks can no longer hunt to feed their families. Is that enough plot for you? Wait, there is a lot more to come, and somehow it all fits into the 68 minutes running time without any of the resolutions seeming like a plot contrivance.

Johnny faces his demons while navigating rough waters one night but just when you think things are going to start going well he is piloting another ship through a dense fog and rams a smaller boat captained by Toni's father! Trying to drink himself to oblivion he is found Ms. Grey who uses this opportunity to poison his mind against Toni. Does it work? Does it ever? Don't forget the jealous Mike is still hanging around and think Johnny has sold out his own people to join the yacht club crowd. He plans a revenge where he plans to . . . oh well . . . you saw the title of the movie, right?

The cast is fabulous. Pierre Watkin had played Perry White in both SUPERMAN serials for Columbia Pictures. Ms. Grey would go on to encounter dinosaurs in UNKNOWN ISLAND in 1948. Mr. Crabbe found a home in B westerns and Mr. Weissmuller never really leave the jungle; starring as Jungle Jim in movies and TV for many years to come.

Budget restraints are pretty obvious. This movie must set a record for the number of rear screen projection shots used but it is still fairly believable and fun to watch.

Jitterbug Jive

One of my favourite Popeye's
To me this is one of the best of the Post-WW2 Popeye cartoons. Olive Oyl and Bluto have joined the zoot suit generation which bugs the sailor somewhat because he has brought stuff to Olive's house for, as he says it, "A real old fashinged party" while she expects to "Boing and bop and blow our top." When Bluto shows up in his saddle shoes and pencil mustache Popeye refers to him as a "male booby-soxer" but Olive is attracted to the swing dancer piano playing muscle man; well she is for the first half of the cartoon anyway.

This is a great musical cartoon with much of the dialog in rhyme (similar to the 1934 Three Stooges short WOMAN HATERS). In other cartoons Popeye admits to being 40 but this time there seems to be a generation gap between him and his comrades. Olive ridicules his "antique antics" but when Bluto goes overboard she is quick to yell for Popeye to rescue her. And oh the magic of spinach! This time out the sailor man not only gets super strong but super cool as well.

There was a semi remake of this cartoon in 1960 called "Coffee House". In that one Olive and Bluto had joined the Beat Generation and spend most of the show show sipping espresso. Bluto even composes a poem to an onion! It is fair to give both of them a chance not only for the fun but to compare the similarities.

Lederstrumpf, 1. Teil: Der Wildtöter und Chingachgook

Not the first and not the best either.
I wonder if anyone would ever remember this movie today were it not for the presence of a young Bela Lugosi in the role of Chingachgook the Native American pal of the hero. (In a case of Life's Little Ironies this very same year found Boris Karloff also playing a Native American in the American made film LAST OF THE MOHICANS which starred Wallace Beery.)

To give credit where it is due, this German made film is remarkably well photographed with the European countryside subbing nicely for the American Northeast. A great deal of action takes place at "the castle" of Old Tom Hutter. To be safe from Indian attacks he built his home on a raft and anchored in the middle of a lake! While at first this seems like a great idea we later see it has its drawbacks too because if you do get attacked (which happens more than one in this 59 minute movie) there is no place to run. The actors, while quite obviously Teutonic, do their jobs well and are never less than convincing. Emil Mamelok is quite good as Deerslayer and Herta Hayden as the woman he loves . . . well . . . sort of loves anyway, is very good. Bela is remarkably effective in the role of Chingachgook. He is the personification of stoicism as he hardly ever changes his facial expression no matter what is happening around him.

Now about what I said about this movie not being the best. There are some racial slurs against American Indians that are downright insulting. Granted, this novel was written a long time ago and they only reflect the attitudes of people at that time but is that any excuse to perpetuate racial intolerance via the media of film? More than once a character named Hurry Harry remarks "Them Injuns may be men but they ain't hu-men!" And our hero himself remarks to the Iroquois chief, "I am a white man. You cannot know what it means to be a white man. I will marry no Indian." That almost had me turning the movie off. Did I mention that I myself happen to be an American Indian? Well I am, and very proud of it.

For the sake of film history it is a good thing that this movie, even in its current truncated form, still exists. For the sake of Bela Lugosi's fans it is also good that some of his silent films, particularly the ones made in Europe, still exist. It is nothing less than miraculous that they survived 2 world wars while locked away in studio vaults. Should you see this movie? Yes! Will I ever see it again? No.

A Christmas Carol

Scrooge's first film adventure.
We can only wonder how the world of literature (and indirectly of movies) might have changed had not Charles Dickens wandered past a cemetery one day and noticed an weatherbeaten tombstone on which was carved "Scrooge. Miser. Died without a Friend" With just that as a foundation his writers imagination soared and he gave us a novel which is loved to this day.

Many filmmakers also found a challenging topic in the short novel and film version of the popular story started popping up early in movie history. Thomas Edison got there first and the first person to play Ebeneezer Scrooge was Charles Ogle, the Edison stock company player who would go on to be the first Frankenstein monster just 2 years later.

We all know the story, but Edison's version was just one reel and so a lot had to be dropped. Gone is Scrooge's nephew and Bob Crachit is nowhere to be seen but it's the ghosts we care about, right? Well they are there in all their surrealist glory. Edison "borrowed" some techniques from Georges Melies as the spirits teach the miserly Ebeneezer his lesson. Double and even triple exposures, which were pioneered by Edison photographer Edwin S. Porter in shorts like DREAMS OF A RAREBIT FIEND in 1906, are used to the fullest here. Okay so the effects are a little bit creaky today, I'll bet people could not take their eyes of the screen back in 1908! The visions of Scrooge's past life and his bleak future are still quite good and performances are better than average.

People used to todays overabundance of CGI will probably say "Humbug!" to this oldie but I for one still enjoy it very much. Give it a try, and don't wait for next Christmas to check it out.

El sonido de la muerte

Treasure seekers find way more than they planned on!
How do you save money when you want to make a scary movie? Easy, just make the monster invisible! It worked (sort of) with INVISIBLE INVADERS (1958) where not only the aliens but also their spaceships were invisible. That is just what happens in this movie only it isn't space aliens this time it's . . . well hold on, I'll get to that.

This b/w Spanish movie offers a bunch of old war buddies who are searching the mountains of Greece for art treasures hidden during WW2. To do this the start blowing holes in a mountain which the locals say is cursed. One blast does uncover a mummy but no his name isn't Popoca and he doesn't come back to life; that's another movie you are thinking of. They also discover a fossilised egg which they decide to take back to base camp. Unknown to them there was a second egg which cracked open. The contents, a blob-like substance, oozes out and . . . vanishes! Not long after that the men are planning what to do with the wealth they are soon to have when they dig up all those treasures (no one worries that the governments of the countries the artworks were stolen from might want them back but just keep repeating "It's only a movie, only a movie, only a movie . . ."). One man wanders outside to enjoy the night air when suddenly he hears footsteps but no one is close then. Then an ear piercing shriek rips through the night air. When the others find the friend he has been ripped to pieces. But who . . . or WHAT . . . did it?

Okay here is what you have been waiting for. The young dinosaur popped out of the egg that hatched but he (it?) just happens to be . . . wait for it . . . invisible! Now this dino is just about mansized but his teeth and claws, plus the fact that you cannot see him until it is way too late, give him the advantage. The treasure hunters cannot even run to their truck and drive away because it might be waiting for them! Hmmmmmm, I'd say we have a problem here.

Effects are surprisingly gory for a movie from 1964 and the suspense is really well constructed. The effects are fair, jump cuts are used the dino's footprints appearing in the sand and when an axe is thrown at the beast it is a blue-screen shot that only semi works. So is this a good film? YOU BET! It is the sort of thing that will make you feel like a kid at the movies on Saturday afternoon again. Of special interest is the inclusion of 27 year old Ingrid Pitt and 22 year old Soledad Miranda in the cast. Both would go on to achieve stardom, Ms. Pitt in Hammer Films and Ms. Miranda in movies for Jess Franco. The movie stops dead in its tracks so both women can dance.

So do we ever get to see the dinosaur? Should I tell you or let you find out for yourselves? Ah, the movie is available from several DVD sources so . . . er . . . "see" for yourselves. you will not be disappointed.

Most Dangerous Man Alive

Atomic radiation does it again.
Take two parts gangster movie, one part science fiction, give it a decent cast and a competent director, shake well and what do you get? This movie!

Ron Randell is Eddie Candell, a big shot gangster railroaded to prison by his double crossing buddies and gold digger ex-girlfriend (Debra Paget, who had already done things like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for DeMille and frankly needed a better agent). Eddie escapes en route to the big house and runs into the desert. Sadly the section of wasteland he chooses to hide in is also the test site for a nuclear bomb. Cue stock footage of an explosion, a mushroom cloud and buildings being destroyed. Eddie survives but the radiation has turned him into:

a. The Amazing Colossal Man

b. The Beast of Yucca Flats

c. The Amazing Transparent Man

d. The Hideous Sun Demon

e. a man whose body is slowly turning to steel and is impervious to

all kinds of weapons.

Did you choose "e"? Way to go, you know this genre very well! Either that or you have already seen the picture.

Eddie returns to his old headquarters and finds his former pals have already taken over all his rackets. It isn't long before he starts breaking necks with his (literal) fists of steel and shrugging off bullets like they were nothing. Can the combined efforts of scientists, the cops and the Army stop the Man of Steel? Ah, that would be telling!

Ron Randell can also be spotted in THE SHE CREATURE (1957). The same year she did this film Ms. Paget appeared with Vincent Price and Lon Chaney in THE HAUNTED PALACE. Watch for Morris Ankrum (THE GIANT CLAW, KRONOS, INVADERS FROM MARS and many more). Director Allen Dwan went clear back to the days of silent films. His best remembered film is ROBIN HOOD (1922) which was written by and stars Douglas Fairbanks.

Cinematography is much better than you would expect from a B movie like this. The characters are well scripted and very authentic, though Mr. Randell does have a tendency to shout "I'm Eddie Candell!" at the top of his lungs every few minutes which gets a little annoying. The special effects, while minimal, are convincing. This is a fun movie and yes it does deserve to be released on DVD, maybe on a double bill with Indestructible MAN. I have a feeling Eddie Candell and Butcher Benton would have gotten along very well together.

Cannibal Campout

Beware of any movie where the actors use their real first names for their characters.
A long time ago, well back during the 1980's anyway, when if you had 6 friends, a camcorder and a long weekend with nothing to do you could make a movie for there were distributors who, for a hefty share of the profits, would sell it mail order for you. This resulted in a lot of movies hitting the video shelves. Oh sure, they hung around for a while but then most of the sank into the obscurity they so richly deserved. Of course now DVD is playing the role of . . . dare I say it? . . . re-animator and these movies are being resurrected for another go round.

All of which brings me to the movie I am here tonight to talk about. Submitted for your approval, CANNIBAL CAMPOUT.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: 4 best pals hit the road for a weekend of fun, take the wrong road and run into some geeky rural types who mean nothing but trouble. What? You've this plot already? Imagine my surprise! One of the characters even looks at the cannibal clan and remarks "Here come the guys from DELIVERANCE." before the trouble really starts. Our villains are cannibals but they have a good reason for their eccentric eating habits; their mother taught them that fast food and store bought food was full of chemicals and the fresher their meat the better. (I'll give you a moment to groan out loud if you wish.)

The plot is predictable in all ways but one. The female lead (Amy Chludzinsky) takes this outing to break the news to her boyfriend that she is pregnant. So right away you think that she at least is going to make it to the end of the picture, right? Well I won't spoil it for you but remember this is an indie picture not released by a major studio so it is best to approach it knowing all bets are off. The characters all have the IQ of meatloaf (the dinner, not the singer) the gore is bargain basement the acting is . . . well . . . what can you expect? One of the forest dwelling cannibals wears a mask for the whole picture and when he finally pulls it off you get a quick look at his mutated face. It is only a brief glimpse but I could swear he was wearing a Toxic Avenger mask!

This movie is soon to be re-released on DVD. Get it if you must. As for me; been there, done that, lucky to still have intact brain cells.

Zombie Honeymoon

A zombie movie with a Tammy Wynette song!!!???
The movie opens with Danny and Denise, a very happy couple, getting married. The next 5 minutes is nothing but them being just so very very happy and planning their lives together that you just know something awful has to happen to them very soon. Sadly it does not happen too soon. Danny (Graham Sibley) and Denise (Tracy Coogan) ditch their jobs, give up their apartment, plan on moving to Portugal and go surfing. While they are relaxing in the sand a zombie, yes a zombie!, comes out of the water and drools a black slime into Danny's mouth Now see if you can guess what happens next.

Danny wakes up in the hospital after being clinically dead for ten minutes. He seems to have no side effects from his experience. Well okay maybe one side effect: He now has an insatiable appetite for human flesh! A morbidly obese jogger is the first to go and when Denise finds Danny in the bathroom chowing down he looks up at her and says "It's not what you think." Hoo boy! Well Danny tries to appease himself with rare steaks but he soon learns there ain't nothing like the real thing, baby. That's when the body count starts to rise.

This is one of those movies where characters incorporate the "F" word into every other sentence and there are long stretches of plot where nothing happens. Danny chows down on everyone in sight and casually wanders home clutching a severed arm. The smartest cop in town figures out something is really wrong with Danny but even he cannot guess the real truth . . . well not until the picture has less than 10 minutes to go anyway.

"Fangoria" magazine praised this film as a romantic horror/comedy but let's face it, Fango lost its journalistic credibility over a dozen years ago. What we have here is a role reverse rehash of the plot of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III with a man as the zombie and his devoted wife standing by him until the inevitable ending. Oh and that Tammy Wynette song? It plays over the end credits. If you are a country music fan you already know which song it is.

I found this movie in a 2for$20 bargain box. Even at that low price I felt cheated. You have been warned.

I Led 3 Lives

Campy? Maybe not.
I watched this show at first out of curiosity and I laughed just as many of my generation probably have . . .or will. Then I started researching that era and now I know they were deadly serious when they made that series! This was the sort of thing that Americans were truly fearful of, a Communist takeover. This was just as serious in the 50's as a Chinese invasion was in the late 1930's. Okay so maybe they dramatised things but they did that in "Dragnet" too, right? This was American propaganda made to make Mr and Mrs. Average American believe that Commies were around every conner trying to subvert the mentality of Post (Korean) War America. This could have been what led to people building fallout shelters instead of swimming pools and schools teaching kids to "duck and cover".

Okay, so maybe I got a little heavy handed in that last paragraph but watching the adventures of Mr. Philbrick led me to wonder just how much of it was Hollywood and how much was real? A certain Mr. Kruschev did promise "We will bury you without firing a shot!" so I really began to wonder and started watching the episodes with a less cynical eye. The one about vacuum cleaners that were really missile launchers smacked of the gadgetry that proliferated the James Bond movies of the 1960's but then, where did they get that idea? The one about taking over an American newsreel company and making propaganda movies seems unreal too but then, remember wasn't the US Government doing the same thing at the same time too?

Today watching "I Led Three Lives" gives me a chill. Everything they were talking about might really have happened. Perhaps all that paranoia was not unfounded. Mr. Herbert Philbrick, wherever you are, thank you.

Jungle Man

Buster Crabbe and Charles Middleton together again.
If we took movies like this seriously we would believe that the jungles of Africa are just loaded with lost cities. From the 1920 serial JUNGLE QUEEN right through TV shows like "Jungle Jim" and "Ramar of the Jungle" there was always some lost civilisation just over the next mountain. Such is the case in this movie also; hey if a plot point works why change it?

This time out we have Bruce (Weldon Heyburn) and his pal Andy (Robert Carson) a couple of rich, bored yachtsmen who decide to abandon sailing regattas and head for Africa to search for The City of the Dead. Coming along are Bruce's fiancée Bety (Sheila Darcy) and her dad William (Paul Scott). William is hoping for a reunion with his brother (Charles Middleton) who became a missionary and has been in the jungle for many years. Now in real life any safari that has perennial comic relief actor Vince Barnett as guide normally would not have much of a chance but hey fascinating indeed are the things you can get away with in a movie.

Also in the jungle is Dr. Robert Hammond (Buster Crabbe) who is known as "Junga" to the natives. They may have been enemies in the "Flash Gordon" serials at Universal but in this PRC picture Buster and Charles are the best of friends. Buster has been searching for the cure to a fatal disease the natives call "malaka" and has sent a sample of the serum he has developed to the States for testing. Sadly the ship carrying the serum is lost, " . . .sunk by a torpedo" as Middleton informs him (a vague reference to WW2 which the US was not yet involved in when this movie was made). I'll get back to this point later.

Bruce and Andy head off looking for the lost city. Whoever lost it must not have looked for it very hard because they find it with relative ease; and does anyone besides me think that Lost City looks an awful lot like Angkor Wat? Along the way there are many problems like attacking lions, giant snakes, headhunters, and of course a sudden outbreak of malaka. Can Buster do anything to save the natives and the explorers? If only the serum were not lost when the ship went down! Ah but wait, that wreck may not be lost after all! But can Buster get to it in the shark infested waters? That would be telling! You'll see for yourself.

The low budget shows. This movie uses tons of stock footage that looks to be about 10 years old or even more. Watch as the actors in this movie look offscreen and react to scenes of wildlife that look like they come from an early documentary. Performances are good despite the limitations. Vince Barnett is amusing while never getting annoying. Buster and Charles react well with each other. Sheila Darcy is quite good and for one scene she even gets to "go native" wearing a skimpy (well, by 1941 standards) sarong while she flirts with Buster.

I had fun watching JUNGLE MAN and if you give it a chance and overlook its shortcomings I think you will too.

Tales of Tomorrow

The grand-daddy of TV sci/fi thrillers.
Television of the early 1950's had lots of science fiction programmes. You had your choice of "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger", "Flash Gordon", "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" and the series I am here tonight to talk about.

"Tales of Tomorrow" was for the most part a well done and effective series which offered plots which never . . . well okay, seldom . . . strayed into outlandishness. Monsters were rarely seen but their presence was always felt. In the "Dune Rollers" episode for example we learn that mysterious rocks found only on a spot called Lightning Island have the power to merge and grow into giant rocks which can move on their own and radiate enough heat to burn a victim to a crisp. (If that sounds familiar and you have never seen the episode you are probably thinking about s similarly theme feature from the 1980's called THE CREMATORS.)

The "Blunder" episode will have you on the edge of your seat but you might as well relax. Scientist Robert Allen risks an experiment which might deplete the Earth's entire oxygen supply. Of course he is certain that this will not happen but his fellow scientists are not at all sure. Can they reach him in time to stop him? The ending will leave you asking "WHAT just happened?"

"The Crystal Egg" will always be a favourite of mine. Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell is a university professor who is asked to examine what appears to be a harmless curio. Ah, but when he looks into it he sees the surface of Mars. And one time, a moment which will make you jump, he sees something looking back at him!

"Test Flight" starring Lee J. Cobb is another good one. Lee is a wealthy businessman who decides to build his own rocket to fly to the Moon. A mysterious engineer offers him a fool proof plan to build a rocket and Lee nearly bankrupts his company to build it. Does it work? Yes, and Lee and the engineer are the test pilots . . . but is Lee ever in for a surprise after take-off.

Everyone has already written about the "Frankenstein" episode so there is little that I can add. So much has been said about this episode that watching it today is a little disappointing because many of you will be expecting more. The one live broadcast may have contained more "juicy bits" but these were edited (if they ever even existed to begin with) for subsequent re-broadcasts. Lon Chaney gives a really great performance, way different from his portrayal of The Monster in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) and this interpretation is wholly original.

"What You Need" was a very satisfying episode also. I was glad William Redfield's ruthless, amoral character got what he deserved but I wish Edgar Stehli had made a different decision at the end. You will see what I mean.

Okay so very often the backdrops are obviously painted. In fact in the "Appointment on Mars" episode the camera follows Leslie Neilsen as he climbs a rock and you can see the studio lights about where the backdrop ends! Characters blow lines and miss cues, even during the commercials which were also shot live. This only adds to the charm of these episodes and recalls the age of Live Television; an era which is sadly gone forever. Thank goodness for collections like this so people like me who missed that era can see what it was like.


A history lesson, D.W. Griffith style.
I waited until the 4th of July to write this because . . . well . . . because it just feels right to be doing it on this day.

In 1924 D.W. Griffith needed a hit, he had not had a big one since ORPHANS OF THE STORM (1921). He'd been working steadily since then but his movies had been smaller in scope and had failed to hit the right chord with audiences. He was planning a film about Patrick Henry when he was contacted by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) who asked if he might expand his ideas to encompass more of the American Revolution. This movie is the result. By the time he had finished he had a 14 reel history lesson and there wasn't a trace of Patrick Henry anywhere.

We all know the story of the Revolutionary War but Griffith threw in a love story with Patriot farmer Nathan (Neil Hamilton) falling in love with Tory aristocrat Nancy Montague (Carol Dempster, a leading lady for Griffith for many years). Complicating matters is the fact that Nancy's father hates Nathan . . . well not just Nathan, he hates all rebels. It does not help matters when, during a skirmish on the streets of Lexington someone jostles Nathan's arm causing him to discharge his gun and accidentally wound Nancy's dad!

Paralelling the love story is the (mostly true but partially embellished) story of Capt. Walter Butler (Lionel Barrymore) a renegade British officer who feels he owes allegiance to no one. With Thousands of Indians form the Six Nations on his side he hopes to crush the colonials and become monarch of his own empire.

Comparisons with BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) are inevitable. The Montague family might just as well be the Cameron's from the earlier film while Nathan could be a part of the Stoneman family. The sequence of the Battle of Bunker Hill is staged very similarly to a scene in BIRTH OF A NATION with the attacking army, in this case the Redcoats, storming a trench packed with Patriots. The only thing missing is Henry Walthall charging across No Man's Land to stuff a flag into the muzzle of a cannon. Amazingly enough the battle scenes in America seem to lack the energy of the battle scenes in BIRTH and fail to draw the audience in. Something is clearly missing. It isn't scope, G.W. "Billy" Bitzer's camera work is quite good. Maybe what is missing is . . . dare I say it . . . sincerity?

The brutality of Capt. Butler and his men is well underscored although much of it happens in long shot or offscreen. Don't expect any heads to be lopped off in closeup like we saw in INTOLERANCE (1916). In one scene Butler's second in command, Capt. Hare (Louis Wolhiem) gouges out the eyes of a captive colonist. We see only the beginning of the deed, for the remainder the camera focuses on Hare's face as he obviously has a good time doing this. Lionel had been working with Griffith on and off since 1912. A story goes that he approached Griffith for work and D.W., knowing the reputation of his famous family, said "I am not hiring stage actors." to which Lionel replied "And I am nothing of the kind, sir!" He makes a very good and quite believable villain. Louis Wolhiem appeared with Lionel's older brother John three times; in SHERLOCK HOLMES and DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (both 1920) and later in THE TEMPEST (1927). As Capt. Hare his wild staring eyes and disheveled hair not only mark him as a villain but make you think he is quite mad also.

Neil Hamilton later remarked that America was his first time on horseback and "I was scared to death.". He hides his displeasure very well though and we can believe he was quite the equestrian by the time shooting was over. Mr. Griffith was very much in love with Carol Dempster and at one point asked her to marry him. She refused and soon left his stock company, after which her star status gradually waned.

Speaking of horses, one accidentally amusing moment which had to be unscripted came during the depiction of Paul Revere's ride. He rides his horse right up on the front porch of a family to announce "To arms! The Regulars are coming!" but as he tries to leave the horse cannot negotiate the steps backwards and stumbles spilling his rider on the ground! I am amazed Griffith did not do another take.

So is America a classic? YES! Don't wait for July 4th to see it, it is enjoyable anytime.

The Mighty Gorga

Where is the other half of the gorilla?
Lost world movies are generally fun, the sort of thing Saturday matinées used to be made for. There was an intrepid hero, a pretty girl, a wise scientist, a villain, a comedy relief and a couple of throwaway characters whom you knew would not make it to the end of the picture. Expect monsters, hostile natives and maybe even a volcanic eruption. All of which would be lots of fun. Well most of those elements are present in the movie I am here tonight to talk about. There is just one thing missing. The fun.

Anthony Eisley owns a circus that is about to go bankrupt if he does not come up with a new attraction. Eisley tells his partner that a "great white hunter" in Africa has sent him a telegram saying he knows where to find "an overgrown gorilla" and quicker than you can say "Professor Challenger" Anthony is winging his way to Africa.

The hunter who sent the telegram is nowhere to be found but his daughter April (Megan Timothy) says he vanished into the jungle several weeks ago. Eisley suggests they go search for him and the giant gorilla at the same time. Complicating matters is Morgan (Scott Brady) a rival trapper whom you just know is going to be a lot of trouble before the picture ends. Anthony and Megan make their way through the dense jungle (allegdly Africa USA but it looks like the wooded area behind a shopping mall) and finally arrive at the base of a plateau. Yes, before you can say "Lost Continent" they are climbing, even though neither brought anything in the way of mountain scaling equipment or even food!

Now the fun really starts. Reaching the top of the mountain with relative ease the lower-than-low budget of this movie begins to show. Megan looks off camera and says "Look at those strange trees!" and Eisley responds "Those aren't trees, they're giant mushrooms." Then she looks in the other direction and Anthony says "That species of plant hasn't existed on Earth for millions of years." (Okay so a circus owner is well versed in botany, it could happen!) The script really enters gonzo-land when the pair spot a South American Indian running through the brush. Now what is he doing in the middle of Africa? Sadly we never find out, that potentially interesting plot point is quickly forgotten.

The local natives worship The Mighty Gorga, a gigantic gorilla (you're surprised?) and regularly make sacrifices of the local pretty women to him. As the witch doctor says to the ape at one point "I know your thirst for the blood of the maidens is great!" I guess he does not know gorillas are vegetarians; though it offers the question of what exactly does happen to the woman Gorga carries away? Megan and Anthony find the missing hunter (whose name is either Bwana Jack or Conga Jack, no two people in the picture seem sure of just what to call him) but there is still the problem of how to get off the plateau without getting killed by either the natives or Gorga. Oh and don't forget, bad guy Scott Brady is waiting at the bottom of the mountain.

So who write this picture, Ed Wood? I know it sure feels that way but Eddie had nothing to do with this. It was the brain(?)child of David Hewitt who gave us WIZARD OF MARS, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME and GALLERY OF HORRORS among others. He was the Ed Wood of the late 60's. No really, I meant that as a compliment.

Special effects include a battery run model of a Tyrannosaurus that had previously been used in the softcore film ONE MILLION AC/DC and half a gorilla costume. I'm serious! We only see Gorga from the waist up! What happened Dave, did you lose the bottom half of couldn't you afford to rent a whole costume? Process photography is terrible,with Gorgo clearly in the foreground while Anthony and Megan are in the blurry background. The ubiquitous Bronson Canyon caves show up again, this time playing the interior of a volcano where a fire monster lives. If the stop motion dragon in the cave looks familiar its because thrifty Mr. Hewitt borrowed a few seconds of footage from the muscleman picture GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON.

So does Gorga get captured and carted off to the circus? Hey, see the picture for yourself and find out. Is this movie a so-bad-it's-good classic? No way! This movie makes WIZARD OF MARS look good by comparison. It's on DVD know so you can suffer . . . er . . . I mean experience it for yourself. The laughter you hear will probably be your own.

The Magician

Interesting thriller
Rex Ingram is probably best remembered for directing Rudolph Valentino's breakthrough film THE FOUIR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1921) but he ventured into the fledgling terror genre with this thriller starring Paul (The Golem) Wegener.

Wegener's character, Dr. Oliver Haddo, is allegedly based on the real life character Alastair Crowley. When we first meet him he is in attendance as the famous Dr. Burdon (Ivan Petrovich) saves the life of lovely Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry, the real life Mrs. Ingram) with an operation on her spine. While recovering, Margaret falls in love with Dr. Burdon and he returns her affections. Dr. Haddo is interested in her too but for far less healthy reasons. Dr. H you see, has been searching for the way to create artificial life in the laboratory (sound familiar?) and a old book on alchemy has informed him that he needs "the heart blood of a maiden" added to certain other chemicals to make this happen.

So determined is Haddo to make this happen that he hypnotises Margaret and marries her while she is under his spell. At his mountain top lab he plans to complete his diabolical experiment. Will Margaret lose her own life so Haddo can create life? Will Dr. Burdon find her in time? Ah . . . that would be telling!

What many of us wonder is, is Haddo a real magician or just a very good hypnotist? In one scene he allows a poisonous snake to bite him but makes the lethal wound vanish with just a wave of his hand. Just a moment later the same snake bites a young woman and she must be rushed to hospital. Now most of us know that a venomous snake expels all its venom at the first bite so the fact that it was the second bite that felled the woman should have been a tipoff that Haddo was not bitten at all. Yes, but remember this is a movie and we have to build up suspense. An amusing scene has Dr. Burdon and Dr. Haddo meeting for the first time in a park. As Haddo walks away Burdon remarks to Margaret "He looks like he stepped out of a melodrama!". As if on cue Haddo glares back, throws his cape over his shoulder and makes a perfect stage exit! It is an innocuous but effective moment and briefly clouds the menace that will soon be facing the lovers.

The sequence most people remember is where Haddo gives Margaret a look at Hell. It is a rugged looking place but rather removed from the horrors of the Italian film L'INFERNO (1909) or even DANTE'S INFERNO (1926). The place is loaded with damned souls but they all dance around carefree while Pan (at least I think it's Pan) plays a tune on his pipes. Another faun (dancer Hubert Stowitts) takes Margaret in his arms and passionately kisses her as the dream ends. So did they really go to Hell or was it all a hypnotic dream? In a key scene soon after this Haddo visits Margaret at her home and we clearly see his lips say the words "your rape" which sends her into the deepest despair. Whether the rape was actual or just implied quickly becomes a moot point because she goes away with him, convinced she can never marry Dr. Burdon now.

Elements of the final reels of THE MAGICIAN figure prominently in the Universal film FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Haddo has a monolithic castle at the top of a mountain, a dwarf assistant do you think his name is Fritz?) and a well equipped lab. I think that not only director James Whale but also the set designer for FRANKENSTEIN had to have sat through this film more than once.

Talkies came along about a year after this film was completed and Wegener, who was uncertain of his ability to speak English, returned to Germany. He was not alone, he was soon joined by Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt and several other actors who had their doubts about being able to effectively perform in a foreign (to them)language.

So is THE MAGICIAN worth seeing? Yes it is, despite its shortcomings it is a well paced and convincingly performed thriller. Give it a try.

Return of the Ape Man

So where was the Ape Man returning from?
Bela Lugosi and John Carradine, both men played Dracula at Universal Studios and both men said "Yes" when Monogram Studios came calling with offers of work. In VOODOO MAN John was Bela's half-wit servant (Long John called that "The worst film I ever made!" of course he said that before he did BILLY THE KID MEETS Dracula.) At least in this film they are fellow scientists.

Prof. Dexter (Bela) and Prof. Gilmore (John) have perfected a way to freeze human beings and then thaw them out unharmed. They have kept Willy The Weasel (Ernie Adams) a "notorious tramp" (as a newspaper article labels him) on ice for 4 months. When he wakes up he thinks he has just spent the night in their basement! Bela suggests they could revive a person who has been frozen longer and suggests they head up to the North Pole to find a specimen of prehistoric man. With hardly any hesitation Carradine agrees and off they go. (Just keep repeating "It's only a movie . . . only a movie . . .")

Do they find what they are looking for? Well this would be an even duller film if they did not! As Bela says "One chance in a million and we've won!" They waste no time in thawing the Neandertal Man (Frank Moran) out but he is far from happy at being awakened from his 50,000 year nap. Bela grabs a handy blowtorch and forces the man into an even handier cage (You see? Fire is his Master! He probably never understood it.")

Now just bringing a prehistoric man back to life would have any other scientist ringing up the Nobel Prize committee but NOT Bela! He wants to transplant half the brain of a modern man into the ape man's skull so the world can hear first hand what it was like to live back then. Carradine is reluctant to do this ("That would be murder.") but Bela retorts "Murder is an ugly word. As a scientist I don't recognise it." Of course while determining just whose brain should be hijacked the Ape Man escapes and brutally kills a policeman. There is a splendid shot of Bela walking down a city street wearing a tuxedo with a lit blowtorch in his hand! This movie just has to be taking place in a parallel universe! Anyway moral and righteous Carradine reads about the killing in the papers and decides to spill the well known beans to the cops. Bela persuades him to drop by the lab first. Can you guess why? Yes! He has found his brain donor!

This movie is fabulous because of the sheer eccentricity of its plot. Bela, who is not even a surgeon, successfully performs brain surgery without even bothering the shave the Neandertal's head; whats more the patient recovers from this complex surgery and it up and walking in just a few hours! Where did Dr. Lugosi study medicine? Also, why is the caveman not hurt by bullets? Was he petrified after having been frozen so long or is that just one really tough animal skin he is wearing? Watch closely for the scene where the ape man climbs through the window of Carradine's home. You will see this prehistoric man is wearing a pair of 20th century underwear!

Originally the Ape Man was to be played by 2 people. Former prizefighter Frank Moran, who appeared in many movies for Poverty Row studios and even a few for the majors, was to be the title character before the brain surgery and George Zucco was to be the post surgery ape man. A still does exist showing the ape man sitting on a table with Carradine and Lugosi on either side. The profile is definitely not Frank Moran! That nose and those eyes do remind me of George Zucco; but that is not him in the movie at any time. A story goes that he got so fed up during the makeup tests that he "got sick" before his scenes could be filmed and Frank Moran played the role all the way through. Maybe George was still mad at Monogram because of his role in VOODOO MAN.

Bela is great. John seems to be just walking through his role, something he seldom did not matter how bad the script was. Then again the script does not give him much to do. With lines like "I believe you're quite mad!" and "As a public minded citizen it's my duty to report how the poor man happened to have been killed." Maybe that is why Bela's character thinks his colleague could only donate half a brain!

Supporting cast includes Judith Gibson, who was sometimes billed as "Teala Loring" and Michael Ames are the young-couple-in-love. Mr. Ames would later change his name to "Tod Andrews" and would star in such things as FROM HELL IT CAME (1957). Watch closely for Horace Carpenter (Dr. Mierschultz from Dwain Esper's 1934 sleaze classic MANIAC) in a non speaking role as a security guard who is killed by the ape man.

They don't make movies like this anymore. You know what? I am kind of sorry they don't.

A Face in the Fog

A late genre entry that isn't too bad.
A bizarre killer called "The Fiend" is holding the city in a grip of fear. No one has seen his face and lived to describe it. He kills with a diabolical poison but there is never a wound on the body. Who is he? How does he commit his crimes? Is he a madman or is he dangerously sane?

This thriller from 1936 came very late into the genre. In fact this was the year the first great cycle of terror films ended due to the British market drying up. Still it is a fun film that mixes suspense with comedy.

Frank Gordon and Jean Monroe (Lloyd Hughes and June Collier) are reporters for the "Daily Journal". Jean prints an article that she has seen the face of The Fiend which gets her marked as a victim. With Frank helping the cops in tracking down clues they track the seemingly crippled, hunchbacked killer to a theatre where a musical show is going on. Hardly have they arrived when the shows lead dancer becomes the next victim. With the producers worried the bad publicity will wreck the show and the playwright playing amateur detective it'll be a miracle if Frank and the cops can get anything done.

If this movie had been made 6 years earlier I would have expected Sheldon Lewis to be in the cast. Whoever dreamed up the character of The Fiend seems to have borrowed a few pages out of Mr. Lewis' acting manual though because our villain reminded me a lot of The Clutching Hand. Of course the idea of a caped, limping hunchback goes back to the 1926 serial OFFICER 444 and maybe even further than that. usually the villain turns out to be an ordinary person in makeup but knowing Who does not always mean knowing Why and that is what keeps us guessing throughout many of the movies in this genre. A FACE IN THE FOG is no exception to that rule.

Acting is fairly competent all around. Lloyd Hughes is best remembered (by me anyway) as the brave reporter who goes with Wallace Beery and Bessie Love to THE LOST WORLD in 1925. Watch for Al St. John as Elmer, the photographer who is scared of his own shadow and keeps tripping over his own feet. Al got started with Mack Sennett and appeared with people like Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle. In the 40's he grew a beard and became "Fuzzy" St. John and acted in dozens of B western with Buster Crabbe, Eddie Dean and any other sagebrush hero who needed a sidekick.

Okay so the comedy relief gets a little strained at times. At one point Frank gets Elmer on the phone and tells him to call the cops because The Fiend is close by. Elmer faints on the spot and when he comes to an hour later the police already have a suspect in custody. The one musical number we get to see is . . .well . . .okay, but it is obvious producer Sam Katzman was no Busby Berkley. As for suspense, expect plenty!

Give this one a chance. You will not be disappointed.

The Invisible Man's Revenge

Imagine that, a movie without a hero, unless you count Brutus the dog.
Ah, to be invisible. It is a fantasy that everyone has thought about from time to time. Never mind that if you really were invisible the liabilities would overwhelm the assets; for one thing you would be totally blind because light would pass right through your retinas without reflecting, so unless bumping into things is your idea of fun being invisible is no great shakes. Now most of the time I like invisible man movies but this time I am willing to make an exception.

Jon Hall took a break from costarring with Maria Montez to be in this thriller. Robert Griffin (Jon) and his pals discovered a diamond mine while they were in Africa. Said pals (Lester Mathews and Gale Sondergaard) double crossed Bob, knocked him over the head and left him for dead. Bob survived but lost his memory and ended up in a South African nuthouse. He escaped after killing 2 guards and stowed away on a ship that brought him back to England. Why did I tell you all this? Because all that took place before the movie even starts and we have to hear about it from various characters the the film progresses!

When Bob finally gets back to his not-so-great-friends Sir Jasper and Lady Irene he finds out that not only did they rob him they subsequently lost most of their fortune due to bad investments! Bob decides that no, that is not revenge enough, he wants whatever is left of the cash PLUS their daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers) as his bride whether she likes it or not! Run out of the mansion Bob gets lost in a storm and ends up at the house of Dr. Drury (John Carradine) whose neighbours think he is batty because he has perfected a way to make living things invisible.

Now here is the part of the movie you have been waiting for. Anxious to experiment on a human being, Drury injects his serum into Bob and, as Fate and the scriptwriter would have it, Bob goes "poof" and becomes invisible. With the help of a local character (former Vaudeville comic Leon Errol, doing a believable Cockney accent) Bob tries to scare Sir Jasper into signing away what is left of his fortune. Does it work? Does it ever? And what about Dr. Drury? How will he feel about letting an invisible maniac loose on the countryside?

This is one time we don't have to worry about the invisibility serum driving the man mad because Bob is bonkers to begin with. The floating effects are predictable but fun and half the fun is spotting the wires. The cast is very recognisable if you like spotting character actors. Lester Mathews had gone up against THE WEREWOLF OF London and costarred with Karloff and Lugosi in THE RAVEN (both 1935) and later ended up battling Fu Manchu on a weekly basis on the "Adventures of Fu Manchu" TV series. Gale Sondergaard is forever identified as "The Spider Woman" from SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SPIDER WOMAN and THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK. Leon Errol costarred with fading starlet Lupe Velez in the Mexican Spitfire series and had his own series of 2 reel comedies. Watch also for Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Hudson in the Sherlock Holmes series), Ian Wolfe (too doggone many movies to list here), Billy Bevan (DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, etc.) and Skelton Knaggs (BEDLAM, ISLE OF THE DEAD, etc.). Brutus the dog who turns out to be the hero of the picture is played by animal actor Grey Shadow. John Carradine is a welcome addition but is not given enough to do. Wisely he does not play his character as a stereotype "mad" scientist. Director Ford Beebe had written and/or directed a lot of serials for Mascot and later for Republic. He also directed NIGHT MONSTER (1942) and even managed to impress Alfred Hitchcock by bringing in such an effective thriller in only 11 days.

INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE is far from the best of the series. You might want to check out INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) or even the 1933 original with Claude Rains for some real entertainment.

Werewolves on Wheels

Could you spot a werewolf in a crowd of outlaw bikers?
Way way back in 1971 this movie played on a double bill with SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES. No I did not see them back then, I was only 6. Now I have both films on VHS. When I heard WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS was now out on DVD I wondered if I wanted to upgrade my copy so I went up to the attic, dug out my old VHS print and blew the dust off it. Three days later after the dust had settled and I could find the door I went downstairs to watch it again.

Yes it is still a fun film but don't expect to see too much of the title character(s). Most of the film deals with a heck-raisin' biker gang called The Devil's Advocates. They tear through small towns scaring the bejeebers out of the plain 'ol country folk, have mini orgies in the back of their van and guzzle beer until the collapse in the dirt. Pretty much they behave the way a scriptwriter believes a biker gang would behave. Anyway, this particular gang makes the mistake of making a pit stop on land belonging to some monks. The brown robed, Gregorian chanting group offer the bikers free bread and wine which you just know is doped. When the leader Adam (Stephen Oliver) wakes up he discovers the cowled ones have spirited his old lady Helen (D. J. Anderson) away to perform a ritual to make her Satan's Bride. Well this does not sit well with the gang who promptly kick some monk butt and rescue Helen. So all is well now? Far from it!

Things go pretty much back to normal until the next full moon; that's when the bikers start turning up dead. Their bodies are ripped apart like . . .well . . . like some wild beast had gotten to them. With their limited intelligence the bikers think the monks are following them, ah but the answer is worse than that!

For a movie that is 2/3rd's biker film and 1/3rd scary movie WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS is not all that bad. The low budget really shows though, especially when it comes to the victims. One slow motion closeup of a throat-ripped corpse falling into the camera is repeated twice! Oh sure, the editing is tighter the second time but you can still tell it is the same scene from earlier. When we finally get to see the werewolf the makeup is pretty effective; sadly the growling of the enraged beast is nothing more than a 10 second loop that is played over and over again on the soundtrack. The wolfman ultimately leaps on a Harley to escape the torch wielding bikers for a chase scene that lasts less than a minute. At least they justified the title.

Performances are okay. Stephen Oliver is best remembered by TV buffs from the old series "Bracken's World" where he played an angry-young-man type under contract to a movie studio. Severn Darden pops up as "One" the leader of the Satanic monks. He can also be seen in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES and CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. A nice surprise is singer Barry McGuire in a dramatic role. He was a one-hit wonder in the 60's with his song "Eve Of Destruction". Watch for former child actor Billy Gray ("Father Knows Best") far less squeaky clean as a member of the biker gang. Deuce Barry walks away with much of the film as Tarot, a card reading mystic who predicts dangers for the gang which, in true movie tradition, nobody listens to until it is way too late.

It was kind of fun watching this movie again. So will I get the DVD version? Well sure it is letterboxed and remastered and all that but I also discovered I kinda like my VHS print with the splices and emulsion scratches. It looks just like a print that might have run in some seedy grindhouse in a bad part of town all those years ago. No, I will keep the print I have. It is worth far more to me in memories.

Musical Mutiny

It's a mutiny, man!
Barry Mahon did everything! From nudies (THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN) to terror (THE DEAD ONE) to kiddie matinées (THUMBELINA) there was no genre this man left untouched. This 1970 movie was shot (mostly)at a theme park in Florida. It looks to me like Barry filmed an Iron Butterfly concert and wrapped enough framing footage around it to make it a real movie. Wait, did I just say "Barry Mahon" and "real movie" in the same sentence?

Well anyway, an 18th century pirate (speaking 20th century hippie lingo) walks out of the sea and speaks directly to the camera, saying "Gather ye 'round me hearties! We're gonna have a mutiny!" Getting a biker to spread the word he then casually strolls to the amusement park. Meanwhile the biker roars through the hangouts of the Flower Children and announces "Come on, it's a mutiny!" and the Love Generation all jump up and run to attend without even bothering to ask where it is. This is where Mr. Mahon pads the film (which turns out to only run 70 minutes anyway) with local bands. There is a Janis Joplin soundalike, a Melanie soundalike and groups with names like The New Society Band and Grit. People show up on bikes, in dune buggies and even in a garbage truck. Mini-subplots have a rich kid and his girlfriend who decide to attend the mutiny (in a chauffeur driven limo!) while the boy thinks about whether he wants to leave the safety of working for his dad and head out on his own. Oh, speaking of the rich dad. He is played by no less than Brad Grinter, the genius behind BLOOD FREAK, the story about a man with the head of a giant turkey who only drinks the blood of drug addicts. Another one has a kid who invents a new kind of soft drink and right away turns into a Capitalist. ("I'll charge $1 a drink. Then I'll raise it to $5. Soon only kings will be able to afford it and I will be the King of Kings.") Wow man, really heavy.

After more padding showing the kids arriving at the park and going on all the rides and even more garage bands we finally get down to seeing Iron Butterfly perform. There is one more plot complication with the Capitalist owner of the park who is, like, on some heavy Materialism trip man, stops the show when he realizes the old pirate (forgotten him hadn't you?) let all the kids in for free. Will peace, love and rock music save the day or will the Establishment triumph yet again? He man, make the scene for yourself and like totally check out this movie. It rocks! For myself, I never realised the uncut version of Iron Butterfly's signature song "In A Gadda Da Vida" was so long! I mean it runs for roughly 9 minutes but the crowd certainly seems to dig it!

This movie sat on a shelf for a long time because . . .well . . . the Hippie Generation ended! Now it has been rediscovered and the New Wave crowd can see what things were like when their parents were kids.

Oh and what about the rich kid and his girlfriend? Well let's just say they ride off to face the future while hanging on the back of a garbage truck. Is that, like, just totally symbolic or what?

The Mysterious Mr. Wong

Bela Lugosi wants to rule China
Ages ago, so the story goes, Confucius gave 12 coins to his disciples and vowed that anyone who came into possession of all 12 would rule the province of Keelat (wherever THAT is!). Many centuries later 10 of the 12 coins have fallen into the possession of Mr. Wong (Bela Lugosi) who will stop at nothing, including murder, to get the other 2. Therein, my dear readers, lies our plot.

Local newspaper reporter Jason Barton (Wallace Ford) hears about the killings in San Francisco's Chinatown and decides to investigate; or rather he is TOLD to investigate by his editor. Barton tracks the killer to the seemingly innocent shop of Ly See the herb dealer (also Bela) who tries to put him on the wrong trail but after several attempts on his life, Barton realises all roads lead back to the humble Ly See. Could he be more than what he seems? Perhaps!

It would be easy to dismiss this film as anti-Asian and racist but let us consider when it was made. In 1935 many Americans feared what came to be known as The Yellow Peril. They feared that China would take over the USA by sheer force of numbers since China's population well outnumbered that of the US. Furthermore the movie reflects the attitudes of Americans AT THAT TIME toward the Chinese. You need only watch a few minutes of SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) or THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (also 1932) to be convinced that Hollywood believed all Asians to be inferior. The dialog in this movie is no exception. When first informed of a killing in Chainatown Ford's character remarks "What do I care about a dead laundryman?". Even MacGillicuddy the friendly cop on the beat down in Chinatown (J. Farrell MacDonald) says things like "Them Chinamen is jabberin' like a room full o' monkeys." and when informed of another death says "Better dead ones than live ones." Sadly this was the attitude of many Americans at the time and this movie, like several others, merely reflects that attitude.

Meanwhile it is a rather good mystery with lots of plots that would do a 12 chapter cliffhanger good with believable villains, good heroes and a plot which never strays too far from believability. Of course Bela's accent is no more Chinese than it was Mexican, Greek, French, German or any other role he had to play in those days but it does lead a touch of exotic authenticity to his role. Obviously turning down the role in FRANKENSTEIN was already beginning to haunt him since Universal loaned him out for this low budget film.

Wallace Ford is quite good as the wisecracking reporter. He fills in the spot left vacant by Lee Tracy after his . . . er . . . "incident" on a Hollywood street and Ford had a niche which he would return to many times in his career.

So is MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG bad? No! Is it a fun film? Yes. Is it worth seeing? Yes! It is 65 minutes well invested in your education into film history and you will not regret it.

Oh, and does Bela's character ever get all 12 coins of Confucius? Now come on, you don't really think I was going to say, did you? Find out for yourself!

Riders of Death Valley

A Universal serial . . . you have been warned.
Back in 1918 Universal Studios gave the world the first feature film that cost over $1 million to make. That was BLIND HUSBANDS directed by Erich von Strohiem. It was 23 years later when Universal also made the first serial that cost $1 million. By this time the Laemmle's, Snr. and Jnr. were long gone and I wonder when Carl Laemmle the elder would have said about spending so much on a serial?

Well that is the movie I am here to-night to talk about. RIDERS OF DEATH VALLEY stars Dick Foran, best known as a singing cowboy. He's backed up by Buck Jones (Edward D. Wood Jnr's fave cowboy actor, there's a bit of trivia for you!), Jean Brooks, Leo Carillo, Noah Beery Jnr. and Guinn "Big Boy" WIlliams. On the side of the bad guys there's Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney Jnr., James Blaine and Monte Blue.

This is a western serial with 4 staff writers working on it so you just know not a single cliché will be left untapped. Characters have names like "Tombstone", "Pancho", "Smokey", "Trigger", "Tex", "Borax Bill", "Cactus Pete" and "Chuckawalla Charlie". There's even a location called "Funeral Pass" (what, no "Deadman's Gulch"? How'd they miss THAT one?). Have I mentioned the plot yet? I haven't? Sorry!

James Blaine and Monte Blue want to run all the prospectors out of Death Valley and grab all their claims for next to nothing. To do they they enlist the help of "Wolf" (Charles Bickford) and his gang. Butch (Lon) is the second in command and just as quick on the trigger as his boss. The good guys are known as The Riders and they just happen to know the location of a lost Aztec gold mine with a fortune in ore. For 15 chapters Wolf and his gang try to get it and are constantly thwarted by the Riders. Complications include framing good guy Jim (Dick Foran) for murder, sabotaging mining equipment, stampedes, explosions, shootouts and LOTS of fistfights! Sadly the cliffhangers are not as good as the ones offered by rival serial makers Republic and Columbia. One example: Jim and Mary are about to be run over by a stampede at one chapter ending but in the next chapter we see the horses have miraculously all missed them! Another one, Jim and Tombstone are going into the mine on an elevator when a minor villain sabotages the cable and they plunge to the bottom. In the next chapter they simply are pulled up again and neither has so much as a bruise!

Charles Bickford had worked as a villain for Cecil B. DeMille in movies like DYNAMITE (1929) and the rarely seen THIS DAY AND AGE (1933) so he knew how to be a convincing bad guy. For Lon Jnr this movie came after MAN MADE MONSTER and before THE WOLFMAN and he was still hoping to get more leading man roles. Noah Beery Jnr does not have much to do in this one but he and Lon would work together again, this time on the same side in OVERLAND MAIL (1944). Monte Blue and also worked with Chaney in the Republic serial UNDERSEA KINGOM (1936).

So do I like this movie? YES! It may be predictable but thanks to so many great character actors and competent direction by serial vet Ford Beebe it is never dull.

Shell Shock

Beach Dickerson as a bad guy!
I recently learned that Beach Dickerson passed away on 7 Dec, 2005. This review is dedicated with deepest respect to his memory.

You know you're watching a low budget movie when the ubiquitous Bronson Canyon stands in for Northern Italy during WW2. Johnny (Carl Crow) is a new guy in the combat unit of tough guy sergeant Rance (Beach Dickerson). Rance has been busted 3 times and it's beginning to look like he'll never get his stripes back. This has made him mad at the world and he rides the soldiers under him without letting up. While trying to take a machine gun nest Johnny freaks out big time and has a mental breakdown. Rance thinks he's faking it just to get some R & R in a nice quiet hospital so he lets Johnny "escape" just for the fun of hunting him down and (maybe) shooting him for desertion. So is Johnny headed for a psycho ward? Is Rance going to gun him down? Has anyone remembered that there's a war going on and the real enemies are the German soldiers who are out there someplace? Is this movie ever going to end?

You wouldn't think a low budget war movie would have an undercurrent but SHELL SHOCK has a motif of losing and recovering ones own humanity. Without revealing too much Johnny finds a few moments of tenderness with an Italian farm girl (Pamela Grey) and Rance gets back in touch with his sensitive side when he meets and Italian-American expatriate (Delores Faith, who deserved way better parts than she got in her short career) who offers him a slow dance and a hamburger.

Okay so some of the people in this picture couldn't act their way out of an empty room; most of this movie is fun and many of the characters are very believable. I enjoyed watching this and I think many of you will too.

We miss you Beach, thanks for everything.

Living Doll

Living Dull
Okay let me get this out of the way first thing. I know I come down hard on certain movies but to be fair I do try to find the good in just abot every movie I review. Well not this time! This movie deserves everything it gets! Why? Stick with me.

Medical student Howard (Mark Jax) is one sick puppy. In fact he would make a good workmate with Bob from NEKROMANTIC. Howard is in love with Christine (Kate Orgill) who works in the flower shop of the hospital but he is too shy to even give her a flower. Christine also has an abusive boyfriend and you just know that Howard will do something about that . . . eventually; but I am getting ahead of myself.

One night a cadaver comes into the morgue and it turns out to be . . . wait for it . . . Christine! He does not buy the boyfriend's story about Christine's drunk driving causing an accident. Well this pushes Bob, who was thirty cents short of a quarter to begin with, right over the edge. He steals her body from the grave and makes her his roommate; he buys her clothes, cooks her meals and so on. In his own sick mind she responds warmly but in real life she is slowly rotting into one very gross looking paperweight. It isn't long before she is talking to him and suggesting he do . . . well . . . certain things.

So does he go on a killing spree? NO! It takes over an HOUR of screen time before he gets revenge for Christine's death. Does he bother to get even with his mean landlady (Eartha Kitt, who must have been starving at the time) or his sleazebag boss? NO! This is the sorriest example of a terror movie I have seen in many moons! Howard's boss dies but it's fron natural causes! No, that was not meant to be a sapoiler. This whole darn movie is a spoiler in itself!

If you want an example of a scary movie involving corpses see Jorg Buttgereit's NEKROMANTIC. This British import will leave a bad taste in your mouth, sort of like rotten meat.

My Lovely Burnt Brother and His Squashed Brain

Did I just see what I thought I saw?
Someone claiming to be the producer of the movie comes on just before the film starts and says "This flick s***ks." That means the makers of this movie will NOT be sued for violating the Truth In Advertising law!

An ugly woman who has obviously never had a date in her life works for a dentist who thinks nothing of chugging a liter of whiskey before operating on his patients. This woman has a brother who was horribly mutilated in an auto accident. He wears a KKK hood because it was a black car that hit him (get it?). Finally fed up with the insults she must endure the woman turns her brother into a brain dead zombie by injecting him with urine (hey I just review 'em, I don't write 'em!) and after making him do nice things like slicing his arm open with scissors and other things I cannot say on this board she uses him to get even with the guys who have insulted her.

Gore has never been more cheesy as we see a bunch of sleazy guys get killed in increasingly brutal ways. You know the filmmakers were not taking themselves seriously by their approach to the killings but that does not make them any less brutal. Of course the trouble with creating a zombie is you never know when he might turn on you. That leads to the merciful end of this 52 minute . . . er . . . thriller?

Underground movies. You either gotta love 'em or hate 'em. I know where I stand on THIS movie and it sure ain't love! Get drunk; no get completely WASTED before you see it. This will not make the movie any better but you sure will enjoy it more!

Caved In

It just isn't safe to go underground.
Take the monsters out of the plot and you might have had a good adventure story, the sort of things we used to see on Saturday afternoons. Oh well, the monsters were a good addition to the plot anyway. Wait . . . did I just say "plot"? I did, didn't I? Oops, my mistake. This was yet another fill-in-the-blank story that managed to offer a few surprises but not many.

Our hero is taken hostage by some French terrorists (insert joke here) who hold his wife and children captive while he is forced to lead a group of them through an abandoned mine in search of a fortune in emeralds allegedly buried there. Now right away you know there are going to be problems and the problem in this movie is:

A. Personality clashes

B. Cave-ins

C. Giant prehistoric Rhinoceros Beetles

D. Bad special effects

E. Bad acting

Did you say "all of the above"? Good! You obviously know what to expect from movies like this. The leader of the terrorists is such an unlikable crumb you just know something really awful is going to happen to him and sure enough, it does! The gun toting psychopath named Marcel who is holding the hero's wife and daughter hostage is just as bad and meets an equally awful fate after he has been in the picture long enough for the audience to really get to hate him.

The giant beetles, and there are loads of them, are fairly well rendered but when they attack you get the feeling you are not watching a movie but a video game. Several of the monsters have a tendency to explode when hit by high velocity bullets and you could almost see a score getting progressively higher in the upper right hand corner of the screen if you use your imagination. CGI effects like these will never replace stop motion animation; at least not in my opinion.

So is this movie good? I've seen better, LOTS better!

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