davidcarniglia

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Reviews

Criminal Court
(1946)

" It Looked like A Frame-Up!"
Good premise for this noir-ish drama of a wrongly-accused woman defended by her attorney fiancee for a mobster's death. Actually it's Steve (Tom Conway) who causes the club owner Vic's (Robert Armstrong's) fatal shooting; their confrontation was related to a bit of blackmail. Are incriminating pictures worth a campaign contribution? (Steve is running for D. A.). We'll see.

It's almost always bad news when the female lead (Martha O'Driscoll as Georgia Gale) works in a club--seems that all clubs in movies are run by mobsters. Georgia was unlucky enough to discover Vic's body; plus she picked up the smoking gun. No surprise that the bad deed goes down at the club, in Vic's office. The odd thing is that Steve was defending himself when Vic pulled the gun on him; it went off when it was wrenched out of Vic's hand. Steve tells the D. A. (Addison Richards) what really happened, but he doesn't buy it. Unfortunately, it sounds too neat--his client can't have killed the guy because he did. So, Georgia goes to trial.

Strangely, Vic's brother Frankie (Steve Brodie) comes up with a strategy to get Georgia off--there was a witness to the shooting. Literally an eaves-dropper, Joan (June Clayworth). She's Vic's undercover agent, technically Steve's secretary. We see that Frankie stands to gain by making Steve happy: with Georgia off the hook, Steve will give up the pictures that show the hoods' cozy relationship with corrupt cops and politicians. Back to the trial.

So, Steve gets Joan to testify. But not without some fireworks. The hoods try to shoot her when she's on the verge of spilling the beans. When things settle down, she paints herself into a corner by giving up clues that could've only be known by an eye witness. So, it's clear that not only is Georgia innocent, so is Steve; he didn't shoot anybody. There's a cutesy touch added; they'll both be back before the judge: this time to get married. The end.

What an excellent production. Every element fits like clockwork: a good cast giving us interesting, believable characters, a logical plot with some unexpected angles, very sharp pacing, good atmosphere, and a breezy, even madcap tone. More a crime drama than a film noir, Criminal Court is entertaining on all counts.

Dead Ringer
(1964)

"Phony Mourning Makes Me Sick"
Bette Davis plays two sides of the same vindictive role here: she's wealthy sister Maggie, lording it over destitute sister Edie. Not for long though. Maggie has just buried her millionaire husband with a blase lack of mourning; but, despite her inheritance, she won't spring for a couple months rent for Edie. What to do? Kill the creepy cheapskate.

Sounds a bit extreme, but Edie learns that Margaret's petulant widow act isn't just posing--she'd faked pregnancy to con her husband into marrying her. She's just an ordinary golddigger. And a black widow, as we see. Turning the knife, so to speak, Edie has Maggie read the suicide note that will surface after Edie kills her.

Since they're twins, it's plausible that Edith can assume Margaret's identity; who's going to miss the down and out poor relation? Once the deed is done, it passes as a suicide. There's even a rationale for that--hasn't Margaret's husband just died? But, of course, Edith has to pass herself off as Maggie with more than identical looks. Things get complicated with boyfriend Jim (Karl Malden, playing a cop, a further complication). She fools him for the most part; but then there's Margaret's gigolo Tony (Peter Lawford).

Tony gets sort of flung at Maggie/Edie at a friend's (Jean Hagen as the supremely trashy Didi's) party. He's not only pushy, relentless, and annoying--he's suspicious. What is she distant? She smokes? The dog likes her? Both the emotional and the banal clues are significant when taken together.

Eventually, Tony realizes that Edie can't be Margaret; ironically at about the same time that Edie figures out that Margaret and Tony conspired in arranging the husband's death (by poisoning). That sets up a superb set of double blackmail. A further edgy detail--Margaret's murdered the day of her husband's funeral.

Tony knows that Edie is masquerading as Margaret, and that means she's murdered her sister; but Edie knows that Tony is good for his part in Margaret's husband's murder. The two killers are in effect stuck with each other. They can dangle the other's skeletons in the closet. Tony has the useful idea that they should just go away together; neither murder has aroused suspicions, so best to leave it that way. The problem is, of course, that obnoxious, needy Tony is about as good a companion as a jail cell.

The resolution is that Edie ends up sicking the massive dog on the pesky Tony. So, all of a sudden he's out of the picture. That works. But, the plodding, steady Jim, having scoped out Tony and his pad, correctly deduces that Tony and Maggie did the deed to the late husband. So, Edie gets set up for Maggie's crime. Absolute irony. What makes it worse is Jim's ever-loyal conviction that Edie couldn't have betrayed him, even after she confesses.

Oddly, she accepts the guilty verdict, and the death row sentence with remarkable composure. In a sense, she has got she always wanted: Jim's love and devotion. It's left to Jim to pick up the pieces: in a sense, he's the one who has lost the most. The only one of the main characters to not be a manipulative jerk, his integrity assured that he survives, but it doesn't prevent him from suffering.

All of the performances are great, the plot and pacing go together well; we hardly notice the long run time. Dead Ringer has a clever premise, carefully built suspense, and some surprises as well. An excellent thriller, well-worth watching.

El sonido de la muerte
(1966)

"Do you mind if I tremble a little?"
Treasure hunters in Greece find something more exotic than gold. Cocoanut-sized eggs, a mummified Cro-Magnon man, and more. Pretty much nothing's good about prowling around in caves in movies of this sort. I'd think that their dynamite blasts were a bit problematic too; but the three gold-diggers, Dr. Pete Asilov ,(James Philbrook), his niece Maria (Soledad Miranda) and Stravos ( Francisco Piqued), just stand by. They're soon joined by Andre, Pete, Rodman, and Sofia (Antonio Casas, Arturo Fernandez, Jose Bedalo, and Ingrid Pitt).

At the homestead, there's planning...and dancing "we danced to bullets the way they dance to music" (referring to WWII, I suppose). Makes for some local color--not Greek, because well, it's a Spanish production. More squabbling about the treasure. Meanwhile, the mummy gets some attention (Pete says it dates back to the Siege of Troy, not exactly Cro-Magnon days). Anyway, back to the cave. There's a bit of a subplot in which the housekeeper, Calliope (Lola Gaos), a local, thinks the party's disturbing ancient spirits. Well, here's a skeleton--of the guy who buried the treasure?

Finally, we hear something approach Stavros; a weird shriek surrounds him, as if he's being attacked. Indeed, he's torn apart, but we don't see what did it. His screams bring the other guys; they also hear what seems to be the cries of a monster. A bit later, thy try and white wash the incident. Hey, it was just a heart attack."so he hacked himself to death too?," Good point. We're talking a million dollar treasure--casualties, so what? Calliope has an idea that locals murdered him (either to guard the treasure, or because they just don't like outsiders).

There's more discussion of the treasure: but they agree to retreat to Athens in the morning. Sofia and Maria consider which guy likes them the most, etc. Dutifully, Calliope goes outside to fetch water--she's attacked. Now the suspense ramps up, as the creature is stomping around, shrieking at, and pounding on the house; the remaining people huddle inside--will it break in? No.

But, not content with surviving, and proving that the allure of the gold is too strong, Pete goes out, stocking up on dynamite on his way back to the cave. He survives long enough to set the charge, then he, too, is ripped up. The others congregate there. Let's get least pick up Calliope's body, huh? Well, when everyone was gone, the creature tore stuff up in the kitchen. Is it daylight yet? Must be, as everyone's fixing to leave. I'll bet the truck doesn't start--of course it won't. Are we going to get to see this creature? I hate to be technical; but they could push start the Land Rover.

Finally, the critter's back in business--in the house. Why don't they just run off? They think of that; at least to lure it away by one of them taking off. The injured guy says he'll stay, and the others should escape. Eventually they spread a huge amount of gunpowder near the house; but it rushes into the pile they have to fall back, throwing axes at it. That wounds the thing. The Land Rover starts; their getaway is short-lived, however. It's on the vehicle's roof! Except for the wounded Dorman, they all flee. He selflessly pours out a gas can and ignites it, killing the monster as well as himself. The end.

This was entertaining stuff. The premise is solid: caves are places of mystery and adventure; especially in the environs of ancient legend and myth. The greedy interlopers, fueled by the promise of easy money, make the quintessential protagonists. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't amount to much until the second half. The egg is literally a throwaway item, the mummy never figures in anything, and the monster never actually reveals itself. It's scary nonetheless, as its invisibility lends another dimension to the fright factor--hence the witness of the title.

The treasure hunters are remarkably careless; holing up in the house isn't much smarter than their continual trios to the cave. It might've been better to compress the time frame; the long night of waiting and enduring the monster's attack saves the movie from the earlier, more casual tone. There's a good story here, but it's only partially shown. That's because the action's obscured by meandering talky stuff and tantalizing red herrings, and because we should get a pay off by seeing the monster at the end.

The Alien Factor
(1978)

"Do you know what this means...?" "No. And I don't want to know."
Though well beyond what I consider to be the classic era of sci-fi (c.1950-1965) The Alien Factor uses a familiar '50s premise of the genre: an alien spacecraft crashes in a rural area, and then weird stuff starts happening. Actually, as the credits roll, we start from outer space. Quickly, though, we zero in on a lover's lane, and a couple necking in a car. They're rudely interrupted by a monster; the big trash heap kills the guy and scares the girl away.

The cops bring the guy's body to a rural clinic--the victim's been lacerated, you know, the marks don't look like they're from any known animal. The girl's in shock. The most discordant thing so far are the cop cars--a Chevy Nova and a VW bug. Anyway, the focus so far is how the guy, Rex was killed. At that point, two things happen: a glowing bunch of lights appears around someone's feet, and a screw-loose guy rides along a dirt road on a motorcycle.

Is this jumble of lights doing something to this guy? Reassembling or inhabiting him it seems. There's another lover's lane couple; the woman goes off in the bushes, and comes on a clearing; we see the glowing human next to a spacecraft. At least, this geometric wedding cake on stilts purports to be a craft of some sort. She sees the trash heap alien and flees...right into the path of the motorcyclist. He goes to check on the woman, but splits. The trash heap stands over her, but retreats when her boyfriend shows up.

Back at the quasi hospital, "something is not quite right." Some alien goo surrounds Rex's wounds. Edie (Mary Mertens), a journalist, calls to ask about Rex. The local guys, meeting at a bar (where else?) figure to help find the "animal" that killed Rex. More or less like a posse, they comb the woods for whatever it is. Ahh, it's another monster--about the size of the trash heap, this creature has sort of metallic scales. It kills the guys. Next thing, there's something invisible creeping up on a guy in the sticks. It sort of consumes and inhabits him. Now, some kids playing.

They find the latest victim; looks like his face has been frozen up by a fire extinguisher. The doctor's got a fancier name for it--basically he's dehydrated. The Sheriff (Tom Griffith) is so blase, it's almost funny; but at least, after five murders, he's calling in the State Police. Oh, boy, another bar scene! There's a sort of tribute-English band, which seems a throwback to the '60s, but I guess no one's particular. I'm thinking some of these folks are on the alien menu. Yes, a drunk guy walking home with eerie, spacey music replacing the rock sound.

He's even reading a monster movie book...in a room done with a lemon, lime, and orange '70s palette. He's got a gun, and skulks die to the basement. Unfortunately, the trash heap monster lies in wait, and attacks him. Next day, an astronomer calls on the mayor (Richard Dyszel). That worthy wants to keep the murder issue on the back burner; the bad press might mess his development project. A meteor (we know it was the model kit spacecraft) landed; the astronomer (i.e., the "crackpot") might be of assistance. Might he be able to track the killers?

Well, the mayor and Mr. Crackpot (Don Leifert) go out in the rough terrain the next day. Spacey music means we're in the presence of monsters. Aha! They find a crashed spacecraft. It's different from the one we saw earlier. They come upon yet another alien: it's white-haired, ghoulish, corpse--like. Again, we see the strange lights, which seem to pass between the alien and one of the guys. Thanks to some alien telepathy, the Crackpot learns that it was transporting other alien species when its craft crashed "non-thinking animal forms" except for one, the invisible one, which is intelligent and dangerous.

"Well, I guess we should call in the Army for something like this." Oh, no, no problem, Mr. Crackpot has a better idea. He has "special equipment." The mayor actually agrees to let the Crackpot a couple of days to deal with the menace; then we might call for help. The mystery is how he can kill the things. Well, meanwhile it seems that Edie's run out of gas while driving through the woods. Nope, she's going to take on the critters with the gas can. Sure enough, they run into the scaly creature. But it's prevented from attacking them by some internal short-circuit. It's the Crackpot's doing: he burst it's brain with a high-pitched sound. Nice going.

Turns out it was indeed covered with sçales, but they're not metallic; the creature's a form of insect. For some reason, the sheriff's not impressed by result. Isn't this method cheaper than calling in the Army. Well, now it's just a matter of using sound to kill the rest of the things. The mayor seems to have visitors at his place. It's the shaggy trash like monster! He wipes out the mayor. Then he pursues the sheriff and a woman. Her screaming sort of helps; these guys don't like big sounds. The deputy shows up; Zachary (he olde Crack)they shoots it with a dart gun. The poison-tipped dart kills it.

"It's been like a crazy nightmare" says the Sheriff, a bit obviously. Turns out, Zachary is something of an imposter. Edie finds him in the alien-infested woods squaring off with the now-visible killer alien it's a truly frightening lizard like thing with bulging red eyes. It looks like Zachary is toast, but, in fact, it dies. Zachary however, has been transformed (or always has been) an alien. In the dim light, she can't quite make out his humanoid form. He's been sent to wipe out the nasty creatures, but the invisible "Lemoid" destroyed his human form. When he does reveal himself, she's hysterical. The Sheriff shows up and plugs him. The end.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. The simple is literally fleshed-out by a variety of monsters; all of them fairly unique. The 'Lemoid" thing is the best, but the dying corpse--like alien is spooky in it's horror-movie way. The heap thing and the scaly insect creature aren't so great (the heap is clearly a guy walking on stilts). But how many movies of this type have as many monsters? The rationale for the visit to earth is the usual crash; but the purpose is completely different. These are the creatures of creatures; in effect, bad guys with really bad guys. It's a bit confusing, as the Lemoid is supposed to be the mindless brute, but in fact, all of them kill.

Another cool device is having Zachary's character as 'one if them.' While it's fairly common to have an alien possession theme, it's worked out differently here. He's just a guy. Then, little by little, he draws suspicion on himself. So the mystery we're not too surprised where he's got all the alien insider knowledge gives way to his exposure in a timely fashion. It makes complete sense that he, unique, would know how to kill the other aliens. As implausible as it is to follow a stranger's advice when there's a gigantic emergency; let's just say it's on the level of the spiritualist who knows how to deal with troublesome ghosts.

The acting is decent, but there only seem to be two moods: indifference and hysteria. Obviously a low budget production, Alien Factor does well to put the emphasis on the monsters. It's tough to get over the styrofoam spaceship; the crash-landed one looks much more realistic, why even show the first one? Despite the slow pacing, and some budget-induced short cuts, we've got some cool variants on the traditional aliens-on-the-loose movie. Definitely worth a look--if only for the monsters.

The Hideous Sun Demon
(1958)

"Weird Killer Still At Large!"
A unlucky scientist, Dr. Gilbert McKenna (Robert Clarke), gets exposed to radiation. Instead of dying, he mutates; but in a Wolfman sort of way. He turns into a monster in daylight (the inverse of the Wolfman's m.o.). Meaning that Gil has to skulk around in the daytime; otherwise he's got some awkward situations on his hands--err, claws. For example, picking up a pretty girl, Trudy (Nan Peterson, a Marilyn Monroe-style beauty) at a bar and taking her to the beach is complicated by the fact that he has to split before dawn.

Otherwise, her cool guy turns out to be the Sun Demon. Fortunately, he's got his assistant Ann (Patricia Manning) and mentor Dr. Bucknell (Patrick Whyte) looking out for him. Ann has to literally talk him out of hiding in a dark closet. Bucknell can't do much for him; at least not right away. They do have a plan. But, in the meantime, they don't want him to prowl around, even at night. He starts reminiscing about Trudy, though.

Sure enough, smitten by her, he gets up at night. She's hanging out at the bar with her sketchy looking boss. When he goes there he walks into a trap; the thugs beat him up. Instead of taking him to the hospital, she takes him home. That's dumber than him going out in the first place. Inevitability, her boss/manager goon drops by. And pulls a gun on him. Dumb goon makes him go outside: Gil, now the demon, throttles him. He gets away, but not before scaring the stuffing out of a bunch of kids. And killing their dog.

He breaks into the office/home, and frightens Bucknell, Ann, and another colleague. Back indoors, he's just Gil again. But the cops come calling; he drives off, clipping a cop outside. He's more or less losing it--even as Gil. A police dragnet is closing in. We see a nice domestic scene: a mom welcomes her little girl back from school...when the kid goes out to play...she wanders into a dark shed. A likely hiding place for a Sun Demon. Or, a hideout for a strange man.

She promises not to tell mommy about the hungry man in the shed. Kind of quaintly, she inadvertently let's on about him to her mom. A pretty tense scene, as the mom calls the police; but the girl runs off to the shed. He's run outside, toting the girl. She gets away. Obviously, though Gil's demonized once again. Now it's a police pursuit on foot. Hiding inside another shed he ambushes and kills one of the cops (don't know why he didn't change back to normal in the shade there).

The apparently final chase is up a water or fuel tower. Once again he overcomes the pursuing cop. To the very top of the tower we go: a final fight with another brave cop. This guy manages to plug the Demon twice. The demon falls to the ground dead. Ann cries out. The end.

This was interesting in that there's a crime drama subplot. Trudy and her mobster boss/boyfriend lead to a seedy series of fights, muggings, hoods and bar scenes. And, the rather drawn-out police stake-out, with Gil on the run, also plays like a crime thriller. The movie starts quickly with Gil already exposed to the radiation. There's no build-up, or even much explanation of what the experiments were about. That's fine--but then it slows down a bit. The crime drama aspect actually keeps the movie from losing our interest.

This is watchable, but not very satisfying. Might have been more cohesive without the sci-fi/horror premise. Why can't Gil be just a scientist who's, say, engaged to the steady Ann, but falls for the cool Trudy, only to take on an underworld of trouble with her? That's a whole different movie, though.

Back to the sci-fi theme: the creature itself is indeed hideous, in a Creature From the Black Lagoon brand of creepy. Not so much in the baggy skin around the arms, but the head is great. Despite some disparate elements, this is worth a look.

Earth vs the Spider
(1958)

"People have gone in there, and never come out again"
A giant mutant spider? Well, we've got a high school science teacher, teenagers, the '50s--now it's stating to make sense. Professor Art Kingman (Ed Kemmer), Carol (June Kenney), and boyfriend Mike (Eugene Persson), their parents, and the Sheriff (Gene Roth) have to deal with the menace. Let's see how it works out.

We start with a cool spider web design as background for the credits; eerie music accompanies. Then, a deserted road, a guy in a pickup--why is this victim always a guy in a pick-up? Actually it's Carol's dad; the mutant spider attack does him in. Then, a sunny scene downtown, as Mike chats up Carol. At the high school, in Kingman's class. Anyway, after school, they take a friend's hot rod to go looking for her dad.

They find a rope like material stretched across the road. And evidence of a crash; and his wrecked truck, tumbled down the hill. No dad. Oh, man, there's an abandoned cave nearby--must be something dangerous in there. This was filmed in Carlsbad Caverns, so this is some cool cave. The next thing is that they discover... remains. A couple of skeletons that is. Then they fall into a net; something sticky about this net, though. They hear an odd animal sound.

"Mike! What is it!?" Well, that's our spider. Didn't have to wait long to see the monster--and it looks appropriately realistic and menacing. An actual tarantula? Next thing, they meet up at Mike's place with the Professor. They're story is cock-eyed as they used to say. But the professor is more convincing with the sheriff; a search party for Carol's dad is in the works. Pest control comes along with DDT. The party goes over the wrecked truck, and enters the cave.

Then we get the obligatory disbelief from the sheriff that anything is amiss. But Carol screams: among the skeletons we see her dad's corpse; it's shriveled up hideously. Then they see the web. Pretty much makes a convert of the sheriff and his boys. Do they spray the area with DDT, which brings on he old spider. It takes care of the deputies. In time honored false sense of security, they think it's dead, no more danger. But the "egghead's" think there could be more of them.

Meanwhile, they've got the 'dead' spider on display at school. As if on cue, one of the spider's legs moves. Oh, it's just an involuntary spasm or something. Somewhat naively, Carol still wants to retrieve the bracelet she lost in the cave. Back at school, the cool cats are frustrated; they've got to get into the rec room to set up for band practice, but the spider's in there. Some of the guys are apprehensive, but they start their rehearsal. Then the drama class comes in, hoping to start their thing.

Hey, these drama kids can swing, Daddy-O! The spider too...yes, it comes out of its stupor: it's alive! The janitor frantically calls the professor; too late. Ok, the sheriff's on it. Meanwhile, Mike and Carol whiz back to the cave. By now, the spider's loose on the town. The Civil Defense siren wails-- literal panic in the streets. Only now does the sheriff call for outside help. But the lines are down. The path of destruction is pretty convincing. The crying baby, the wrecked cars, etc.

And then, yet another stock item: the old cantankerous guy who's hi-tailing it outa there 'cause of that durn-fool critter (he's driving a '39 Dodge, ancient even by 1958 standards). The upshot of this is they figure the spider's about to cruise down the Professor street. Sure enough, it lurks like King Kong outside their house, scaring his wife and baby. Art slams the car into it, stunning it. He lures it away from town. Doubling back, he checks in on the family and their smashed up house.

The lingering problem is the anxious couple looking for the missing jewelry. They go yet deeper into the cave: found it! But we know that that means the spider's going to reappear. Uh, oh, the old guy's still in the vicinity. The long-distance lines are still down. Oh man, the deputy who'd gone for help in the motorcycle is brought in: shriveled corpse #2. The old guy says that the spider's back of the cave (he doesn't know that the teens are there too). Everyone has the same idea at the same time: blow up the cave entrance to trap the spider inside.

The denouement here is going to see the 'kids' rescues while the spider's trapped. But these lovebirds are lost in the cave. Dummies! The only plot tidbit that's heaped on is that they find a skeleton whose one time human left a cryptic note on the wall fifty years before. The crew from town arrives; the teens find their way. Replying dynamite at the cave entrance, the good guys blow it up. But wait! Art arrives with news of the now-trapped teens. Conveniently, there's a short cut than should make a rescue easier.

But is the spider dead? This long subplot of the teens wandering the cave starts to make sense. Since they have to be rescued, they and the rescue party will have to deal again with the spider. So, this is another false ending. It's great to have one of these suspense builders in a movie, but this one has two. The gas didn't kill it; maybe the dynamite didn't either. It didn't. Now the idea is to electrocute it. We know that Mike and Carol are going to work their way out...the caverns give these scenes some fine sense of awe. Still, this kind of takes a while to play out. Eventually, the lost ones are located. And the spider too. Very cool huge electrodes catch the spider between it's poles. It's toast at last. Carol and Mike finally wriggle out. All is well; the end. Not before a twinge of comic relief.

This was much better than I thought it would be. All of the stock situations and plot devices do their part; far from being contrived, they appear in a natural, if expected way. Almost every touchstones of this genre appears: a giant thing wreaks havoc, disbelief turns to horror; then builds into a frantic sense of urgency, culminating--three times here--in attempts to destroy the menace. None of this would carry meaning without the careful way that they're woven together in the plot of The Spider. The only expected element that's missing--how the spider mutated in the first place--is an odd omission.

I'm surprised that this effort doesn't get as much attention as its companion drive-in fare from the era: The Blob, Tarantula, Invasion of the Saucer Men, the Giant Gila Monster, etc. It's a face-paced, decently-acted effort with a good premise. Very entertaining.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
(1958)

"It has to kill us or starve, and we have to kill it or die"
Kind of a weird double plot to this classic era sci-fi movie. The captain, actually Colonel Carruthers, of the first expedition to Mars is being brought back to Earth by the second mission--to stand trial for killing all of his crew. Actually, of course, there's a more convenient explanation for the nine murders: a martian creature killed them. Not only that, but the thing stowed away on board for the return trip. We get a tantalizing glimpse of the vaguely human-sized thing early on.

He's a close relative of the Creature From the Black Lagoon; pretty good guy-in-a-suit get-up. Back on Earth, it seems absurd that powers-that-be assume that the Colonel's a murderer. How could they know what was going on up there? Anyway, I think that that's a unique plot point for this genre. Little by little, the monster makes itself know. Must be a cavernous spaceship--it's got warehouses, and as many rooms as an office building. That's good though, as it means there's plenty of hiding spots. Before too long, the thing kills a crew member.

The critter doesn't waste much time picking off crew members. The victims wind up looking like ghoulish zombies--a very chilling touch. One guy is only grazed by it, and recovers. The first response is to blast the dude with grenades; wouldn't that mess up the ship? Well, not really, and the explosions only stun the creature. So the guys drill it with gunshots; that doesn't damage it either. What's next? Gas grenades.

Since the ship is divided into several levels sealed by hatches, gas seems a good idea; but it doesn't do the trick either. Not only that, it starts breaking through the hatches. By this time, the only good news is that the Colonel is off the hook. The tension keeps up, as it's kill or be killed. The guys have a cunning plan to exit the ship and re-enter below the creature's level. But what then? How about electricity as a weapon? Well, not so much. Neither does a blow torch sufficiently faze it. And another crew member is at-risk.

This is somewhat reminiscent of 1951's The Thing From Another World. A mindless monster goes on a killing rampage in an isolated environment, while the good guys try to figure out how to kill it. The difference here (aside from being in outer space instead of an Arctic military base) is the initial disbelief in the creature's existence. The low-functioning brutal nature of both movie's monsters is here explained by a quick-and-dirty theory that it's a remnant of a dying civilization that's been reduced to barbarism.

Bad move by the monster: it dips into the Reactor Room (this is an atomic powered spacecraft, of course). That also means that the injured guy might possibly be rescued. Meanwhile, the exposed reactor drives the creature batty. It wipes out a couple more unfortunates. Now the plan, such as it is, is to pile a bunch of filing cabinets on the last hatch that's still intact, and cover the spot with a bazooka! Then they figure something out. The creature uses an enormous amount of oxygen. All they have to do is get in their spacesuits, and shut off the oxygen in the ship. When the creature crashes through the hatch, they open up the outer portals. The thing is asphyxiated. We get a closing scene from Washington, D. C. announcing the outcome of the struggle. The end.

This was pretty entertaining stuff. The premise is simple and logical (other than the Colonel initially being a 'suspect'); the pacing kept us zoomed in on the action. The acting is decent, though not at the level of the more memorable performances from The Thing. As mentioned, the interior of the spacecraft serves the utilitarian purposes of the plot, but, other than some rounded walls, it's just too much like an ordinary building. Plus, of course, it would've been shot and blasted full of holes by the weaponry involved in fighting the monster.

Maybe the movie needs some complicating factors; other than a couple of scenes back home, we're either inside or outside the ship. That's it. The claustrophobic environment worked better in The Thing; those folks at least diverted our attention from the setting by 'scientific' discussion and theorizing about The Thing. That stuff also helped to differentiate and flesh-out the characters. But here, the creature's nature and origins are just tossed-off with a couple of lines. Neither the monster nor the characters involved us much. Given the constraints of the script, It The Terror From Beyond Space gave us a good ride.

The Brain from Planet Arous
(1957)

"You Talk Like You've Got Rocks In Your Head"
John Agar stars in this quintessential mix of '50s sci-fi themes. Tracking an object from space that disappears from the desert sky into a mountain; something's there. Steve (Agar) and colleague Dan (Robert Fuller) explore. In a cave, The radioactivity jumps.

And there it is--the evil brain from Arous (Gor)--that absorbs itself into the injured Steve. Returning, Steve necks with girlfriend Sally (Joyce Meadows). That's pretty spontaneous for him; he's different in other ways too. "I know you Steve, and I know when there's something wrong." He gets more aggressive; her dog attacks him. He's out of there. At home, the brain floats off: "who are you?" demands Steve. It seems that the "savage" human Sally is attractive to this alien. Anyway, the brain needs his body because he's a nuclear scientist.

When Sally's dad, John Fuller (Ken Teller), gets home, she tells him that Steve went nuts. John goes to see Steve to check him out. Obviously, the brain wrenches him whether he tries talking as good old Steve. "Don't you think we should do something?!" Sally tells John later. Her dad's oddly blase about it, though. But she thinks that if they go to the mountain, they'll find something out.

Ascending to the same spot as Steve and Dan, they find the mysterious cave. We know something's going to happen. There's the same flash of light...they see Dan's corpse. "Earthlings..." It's alien brain #2 (Val); he's after the criminal brain. John and Sally agree to meet the "thing" again the next night. Meanwhile, Steve is calling the local base commander. Seems that his brain wants to spy on the earthlings' nuclear test. Steve gets the usual Faustian bargain from the alien: your body/soul for unlimited power. As arranged, the Val visits John and Sally.

Somewhat whimsically, it's decided that Val will inhabit the dog's body; it should be above suspicion around Steve. Seems that the aliens should have no trouble sensing each other's presence, but apparently not. Steve's up to no good: he drives out to a spot where he looks up at a passing plane, making it explode. Later, he takes Sally (and the dog) out on a drive. "That's our world out there, Sally, yours and mine!" And then he puts the moves on her again. He tells her about the A-bomb test--his "discovery" will overshadow that puny bomb.

Getting aggressive with her yet again, the dog growls at him. They go to the plane crash site. The Colonel (Henry Travis) is there; radiation is involved in the crash. "It could be the beginning of the end," Steve says melodramatically. Returning home, we see that Val tells them how Gor can be killed. Now the sheriff (Tim Graham) comes to talk to Steve about Dan's death. Dan's body shows the same burn marks as the victims of the plane crash. It seems that since Steve and Dan both coveted Sally, there's a mighty conventional motive for killing Dan.

No problem, as Steve (speaking for Gor), proudly admits to the murders of Dan and the airplane victims. The upshot is that the Sheriff gets toasted too. Ok, on to Washington D. C., and the investigation into the airplane crash. The conclusion is that the attack was from an extra-terrestrial source. Back home, Steve shows up for a bbq at the Fullers, bragging about the nuke test the next day. He promised an alarming "demonstration." He seems to think that he'll be needed in D. C. "all this power and money..." is exactly what she doesn't want to hear about.

It's hard to believe she wouldn't distance herself from her: he's been annoying, borish, not to mention abusive. At the nuclear test HQ the next day, Steve meets the general in charge. Although he's not invited to the top-level meeting, Steve's got his own agenda. He's in. So, watching a TV broadcast of the test site, he makes his own blast. They're astounded, naturally. One officer tries to shoot him, but that guy's immediately obliterated. Steve's demands: a meeting with reps from all the nuclear powers.

Immediate panic. If any country doesn't show, their capital will be obliterated. Absurdly, though, he's soon back to a scene of everyday bliss with Sally. But, she's clued in about how to destroy Gor. Well, the representatives of the Powers indeed show up for the big meeting. Uh, oh, another demonstration is in order. Scratch another airliner. Steve (Gor) demands all of the nuclear powers strategic assets. We're to build spaceships to retake Arous, his home planet.

The Earth's to be retained as a colony. Not so fast: Sally's sneaking around in the !ab, making notes on Gor's vulnerability. When Steve returns, Gor has to exit his body to keep his strength. Sally, who's been hiding, screams. The brain attacks her, but the 'real' Steve hacks at it with an ax. He eventually gets it in the weak spot, and kills it. The end.

This was very well-done; much better than expected. Agar's character is a classic tragic hero: reminiscent of Dracula for his seductive desire for power over women, as well as Faust or Prometheus earthly power (otherworldly too, in this case), if not a god-like immortality. For the most part (minus the inexplicable loyalty Sally continues to show for Steve/Gor), the plot retains an consistent inner believability. There's no wasted scenes; the pacing never lets up. Agar is the perfect ordinary guy turned mad scientist bus alien possession; only Ray Milland's Man With the X-Ray Eyes gives a comparable stare of evil power.

The outer world (the nuclear test business, subsequent big-shot meeting, and DC. Investigation) is blended in well with the basic Gor/Steve, Val and Sally plot. Except for the shots of the actual blast, there's no annoying stock footage, no intrusive narrator. The aliens themselves are admittedly a bit ludicrous; but by just making them brains, the simulation is simplified--we don't need a guy in a suit awkward monster.

The idea of a friendly alien, which could've been a silly ploy, is well thought-out; we learn the backstory while fleshing-out (with brain matter?) the main plot with a more mature theme. That is, unlike many films of this type, the aliens aren't completely evil and without motive. The Brain From Planet Arous takes the conventions of space-age sci-fi, and arranges them astutely, giving us an entertaining and familiar treat.

The Fallen Idol
(1948)

"There's lies, and there's lies"
Based on a Graham Greene short story, The Fallen Idol concerns a boy and the couple who are his parents' servants. That's Bobby Henrey as Phillips, son of the French Ambassador to England (Gerald Heintz). Ralph Richardson and Sonia Dresdel are the couple, Mr. And Mrs. Baines. When Mrs Baines dies, Baines comes under scrutiny; he's been having an affair with the Ambassadors secretary, Julie (Michele Morgan). The boy, who idolizes Baines, knows what he's been up to.

It's clear that Baines and the boy have a familiar and friendly relationship. It's equally obvious that Mrs. Baines isn't the easiest person to get along with. Amazingly, Phillip, who's about ten, has access to a gun. When she refuses to let her husband take Phillipe out on a walk we learn that she's in charge of both of them--the kid's pushed to the point where he tells Mrs. Baines that he hates her. He sneaks out--to a pub.

When he finds his mentor, we meet Julie, who's having tea with Baines. They seem to be discussing some plan. She and Phillipe converse in French; are the ersatz couple thinking of running away together? "Is Julie your niece, or something?" Phillipe inquires. She's more of a something...Baines promises to tell his wife "everything." Now he has to coach Phillipe to keep all this to himself. But suspicious minds are at work. Phillipe goads her into walking out on a perilous window ledge.

Baines consoles the put-upon boy later, but Baines' wife gets after him just for going out. At that point, Baines says his piece "you don't want me around anymore." She acts as though she'd feel abandoned if he left her. Meanwhile, she's getting more stern with Phillipe. So he confesses about Baines' "niece." The upshot is that Mrs. Baines goes off to see a relation. The plot thickens, as Baines phones Julie to plan a day with her; but his wife is still skulking about, and she overhears the conversation.

Unaware of Mrs. Baines' whereabouts, the tryst takes place, and they take Phillipe to the zoo. Their ultimate destination is France. In the meantime, they go back to the embassy. Strangely, they have a telegram from Mrs. Baines: she'll be away for a while yet. Even weirder, Phillipe thinks that Mrs. Baines has taken or even killed his pet snake. After some horseplay with the boy, Julie and Baines get a chance for a quick kiss and embrace. That fun mood is quickly disrupted by the sudden return of Mrs. Baines.

Somewhat conveniently (from her point of view) Phillipe is the only one who sees her. She gets into his room at night, asking for the details about Julie. She attacks him when he tries to alert Baines; he wriggles away. Now she confronts her husband. She yells--he fends her off. While she's perched at the top of the stairs, Phillipe descends the building via the tires escape. Fixated on an open window (reached by the same perilous ledge she struggle on earlier) she leans on it. It flips upward, tossing her to the foyer far below. She's dead.

A policeman finds Phillipe wandering around in the street. He brings the boy to police HQ. He's scared by the cops. They get a call about an apparent suicide at the embassy. They bring him home. For some reason, Baines says that his wife "slipped going down the stairs." Why did he say that? What actually happened seemed more like an accident; after admitting where he was when they were arguing, though, it sounds suspicious that she fell just after standing next to him. He didn't know what happened, as we shall see. The doctor (Walter Fitzgerald) quizzes Phillipe about the goings-on in the house.

Upstairs, Baines tries to coach Phillipe on what to say to the police. The boy's already flubbed by blurting out a question to Baines about "self defense." What's worse is that the telegram from Mrs. Baines is still lodged in a nearby planter (Phillipe had turned it into a paper airplane). Dramatically, it's then sent flying down into the foyer, ramming right into Baines. He talks to the police about his wife's argument with Phillipe; then, he's flummoxed when asked who was the third place setting for at dinner.

"Why not tell them everything?" wonders Julie, as she meets Baines on the street. Chief Inspector Crowe (Denis O'Dea) shows up in the morning. He Interviews Phillipe; oddly, Julie is asked to take notes of his statement. The boy's very reluctant to speak to the cops. He denies everything, especially Julie's presence the day before. It's left to her to admit that she was the other person with Baines. Reluctantly, Baines talks the police through the scenes of the previous night. The only thing missing is that, since he'd walked away into an upstairs room, he didn't see his wife fall. He'd just assumed she fell down the stairs, as that's where he left her.

Phillipe volunteers that Baines didn't kill her. Since no one saw what happened, even Phillipe thinks that Baines killed his wife. At long last, the police discover the tell-tale window ledge. Thanks to a fresh footprint, and an upset flower pot, it's obvious that Mrs. Baines fell from there. Coincidentally, the descending angle is the same from the ledge as from the top of the stairs. The cops are satisfied now--the end. Well, the ambassador and his wife return to bring things full circle.

If this had been tightened up a bit, it would be an excellent movie. The performances were fine all around; the romance was very believable, and the plot added up well. The fact that we know that Baines didn't kill his wife doesn't hurt the plot. The suspense comes from waiting to see who figures out what happened, and how they do so. Until near the very end, it's quite possible that Baines will be unjustly accused of murder.

It's getting to that point that just about kills (!) The Fallen Idol. After Mrs. Baines death, the pacing just stalled. It seems that we were wandering around the foyer and staircase for half the movie. Claustrophobia is a common device in a mystery, but usually doesn't linger long after the mayhem; here it just seems unplanned and stagey. Still, this is entertaining and worth a look.

One last thought: the title would seem to make out Baines as the 'idol'. However, it could just as easily refer to Mrs. Baines--she literally falls. And metaphorically, she's an idol in a negative sense, as in a false or discredited object of worship. Baines, on the other hand, is idolized by Phillipe, as he earns the boy's respect.

Rebel Without a Cause
(1955)

"Why Do We Do This?"
More than a prescient movie about teen angst, Rebel Without A Cause pretty much takes a look at the human condition. James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo are more or less thrown together as misfits who seem to understand each other. On the other hand, the antagonists, Buzz (Corey Allen) and his buddies, aren't so different from them. In fact, Judy (Wood) begins the movie as Buzz's girlfriend.

After the planetarium visit, the simulated apocalypse of the universe begins to play out on among the outcasts of the teen world. Since the universe can't take of itself, what's the point of pretending that existence has rules or meaning? So, there's the completely pointless knife fight. Buzz and Jim (Dean) aren't even fighting over Judy. Among many ironies, Jim and Buzz drop all the posing, and automatically earn each other's respect--by agreeing to the daredevil 'chicken' race. How desperately do we want to give Buzz just a few more seconds to untangle himself from the door handle, so that he too can escape from the car? Nevermind that somebody has stolen two cars and wrecked them in a macho contest. At that point when the cars go off the cliff, there's no good or bad guys--it's just us.

In a way, the lack of order in this view of society is shown by the general weakness and/or falseness of authority. Among the parents and police officers, only Detective Frenick (Edward Platt) and Plato's care-provider seem to know how to talk to the young people with care and respect. The only personal touch from Plato's parents is a check. Since Jim has alienated Buzz's friends by his complicity in that guy's death (ironically, again, as it was Buzz who insisted on the 'chicken' race), the exuberant prelude to the race has become a deadly game once again.

The decrepit mansion scenes are bizarre. There's the ersatz game of Jim, Judy, and Plato playing family; this is harmless, goofy stuff. But the goons are closing in on them. Plato turns the tables by resorting to murder; again, one hopes for a more mundane outcome. Why can't the two sets of misfits just rage at each other drink some beer and eke out some redemption? The actual ending has fate throw another wrench into the works; Plato, aping Jim with his loud red jacket, can't navigate his way out of the planetarium without getting shot.

Whatever sense of teen innocence the movie allows starts eroding right after the school field trip to the planetarium. Very quickly we tumble from the Buzz/Jim rivalry to Buzz dying, to Plato killing and being killed. For once, it's a relief to have a wish-fulfilling final scene, as Jim's dad (Jim Backus) gets smart and says all the right things. Except for some momentary glimpses of joy, however, Rebel Without A Cause is made of unrelenting darkness.

The frantic pacing seems to give little chance for reflection. Indeed, we start off at a low point; with all the 'good guys' at the police station, their unhelpful parents stirring the pot. Despite the depth of feeling among Jim, Judy, and Plato, there's not much romance: no dances, dates, football games. We go from one peek at high school to knife fights, daredevil racing, and shootouts.

This is as much a crime drama and psychological thriller as it is social commentary. What's amazing is that Rebel Without A Cause succeeds on every level. Completely engrossing; very well-made.

The Verdict
(1946)

"Why don't you go to the morgue and interview the corpse?"
Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet solve this murder mystery set in Victorian London. Greenstreet's Police Superintendent George Grodman, has been disgraced when his investigation results in an innocent man's execution. Lorre's character, Victor Emmric, helps his friend find the real murderer, who continues to kill. George Coulouris plays Greenstreet nemesis, John Buckley, the Superintendent who got him fired.

We start at prison, where the execution is in progress. "You sent an innocent man to the gallows this morning" so says Buckley. They've found a mystery witness, Holbrook (Arthur Shields) who has the real story. Buckley, in fact, has sabotaged the case; obviously for his own benefit--never mind the accused. Grodman has nightmares about the events. Then we see Victor Emmric, who's invited Grodman for drinks. Arthur Kendall (Morton Lowry), who was a key witness for the prosecution, is at the gathering, as well as Clive Russell (Paul Cavanagh), not exactly in favor with Kendall.

The two square off outside. Then Lottie (Joan Lording) walks by; she thinks Kendall is a rotter, a cheapskate, and more. Another player in this drama, the landlady, Mrs. Benson (Rosalind Ivan), greets Kendall as he comes in. But, what's this? What's become of Kendall? Mrs. Benson finds Grodman, who comes to help out. Forcing the door, Kendall's found dead. How did the killer get into a locked room? Well, it's Buckley's case. Meanwhile, Victor has a histrionic, even cheerful air about him--typical Lorre.

Anyway, somewhat incongruously, Victor, George, and Buckley are talking about the case. Buckley instantly suspects Victor, but both Victor and George finger Lottie, who at least has a motive. Indeed, she's fumbling around in Kendall's rooms. And there's Buckley, accosting her; funny exchange between Lottie and the landlady (one's a "creature", the other an "old hag"). By now, Buckley is consulting with George. Now they're exhuming the body; Mrs. Benson tries to stop them. Seems she was Kendall's secret admirer. The gist of this adventure is that a bit of evidence found in the coffin supports Lottie's story.

At this point, pretty much the whole cast might be under suspicion. We see Victor and George enjoying Lottie's dancehall performance. Over some late night drinks, Russel's name comes up. She's got dirt on the bigwig. Sure enough, Russel's asking who's been around his room--the police? He goes to see Victor, who evades him. But George is there to chat. Russell let's on that his alibi was faked because he was fooling around with the lady whom Lottie mentioned. Victor, who's hiding, overhears the whole conversation.

Is Lottie hiding something? Look! She gets a parcel tossed into her window. A note to not talk about Frieda, Russel's mistress. Buckley figures that Kendall, already at odds with Russell, had been blackmailing him regarding Frieda. Victor returns home, chatting with the twittering landlady. Hey, Victor has a gun. And then--a mysterious figure in black walks into the building...trying Victor's door. Victor doesn't hesitate to open fire. After several shots, we once again see Mrs. Benson frantically seeking the police. George shows up, and Buckley (in fact, he was the glove-clad mystery man). That worthy has some news. He thinks he knows how Kendall got his.

Buckley, not without reason, assumes the murderer knew Kendall. The victim let him in; Buckley details (with convincing intricacy) how the murderer covered his tracks. The perpetrator was Russell. Since we're not done yet, we know he really can't be guilty. At headquarters, the cops hash out the case. There's some bits that don't fit, but they make it all fit. Russell's tried and convicted. Like the wronged man we began with, he will hang. George implores the doomed Russell to help him locate Frieda.

Well, she's in France. So, George goes in search of her. Finally, she's found... Meanwhile, there's only a few hours before Russel's execution. Great tension and suspense: in fact, Frieda's dead! So much for Russel's alibi. "Dawn means death for somebody" mumbles Victor to a bartender. He stumbles into George's flat. It seems as if George suspects his friend of Kendall's murder. "I'm terribly afraid" admits Victor. George is going to take him to the prison; since Victor is too obvious of a suspect, something's yet to happen.

George insists on telling his story to the cops. Geez. I thought I was clued in that Mrs. Benson had done it--it was George! Despite the confession, it's Buckley who looks guilty--of stupidity. That's it, as we end with George walking to the gallows. A brilliant movie on every level. The premise, with the Grodman/Buckley rivalry, and the host of suspects, works out amazingly well--thanks to an excellent script, and fine performances.

This is a classic mystery; and not at all stagey like so many of its otherwise successful predecessors from the 1930s.

The Houston Story
(1956)

"Murders Blow Up A Storm"
A crime drama with a touch of film noir, starring Gene Barry and Barbara Hale. He's Frank Duncan, an oil driller. She's Zoe, the girlfriend/'kept woman' of local hood Gordon Shay (Paul Richards). Seeing an opportunity to make a fortune by diverting a Texas oil field, Frank teams up with Gordon and another hood, Paul Atlas (Edward Arnold). Before they double-cross him, he turns the tables. Then mafia don Emile Constant (John Zaremba) sends a couple of goons after him.

Frank reads of the apparent suicide of a young girl, a dancer. At the morgue, he's asked to identify her. He arrives at his buddy Louie's (Frank Jenks') house. A fancy car car pulls up later; the strangers wants to talk about the dead girl. There's a not so subtle threat; does Frank know too much about it? Anyway Frank and Louie go to a club where Zoe's singing. After her performance, Frank goes backstage to chat with her. And then mess with her--he doesn't appreciate that she seems to care less what happened to her husband, Joe--dead from an oil rig accident that may have been planned--as the guy was Frank's friend. "Having a husband probably slowed you down some." He wants to talk to Paul, but gets Gordon.

So, Frank's finally gets to Atlas at the swell's mansion. On the agenda: financing for Frank's oil scheme. He presents a plan, "stolen oil, right from the oil field." Why wouldn't Atlas and Shay just bypass Frank? Good question. Anyway, Frank wants Louie to run the would-be company. After Frank leaves, the hoods come right out and say they'll indeed push the newbie out of the way when he's no longer useful. Next thing we know, Frank's making out with Madge at her restaurant; across town, he finds time to have the same fun with Zoe. Two-timer!

Unfortunately for Frank, Atlas and Shay burst in on them--Frank's decked. We travel to the Constant Trust Company. The mobster Constant is disappointed with Shay "I'm afraid the combine will have to look for a new man!" Duncan's deal, providentially, sounds like a bright spot. The mobster doesn't even want FranK. Meanwhile, Frank wants Zoe to decide "which team (his or Shay's) you're on." Out at the nitty-gritty level of the oil business, bribes are taken care of to divert the oil to the new company--nominally headed by Louie. Now the big wheel, Frank basically bait-snd-switches foreign buyers.

To get the oil to market, they need to hi-jack a load of pipe. The hoods stage an accident to lure the oil tanker drivers into an ambush. Against orders, the hoods kill one of the guys. The police figure that something big is brewing--"maybe there's something starting in the fields that we don't know about." Constant's upset about the murder; Frank even more so. Since Frank recorded the conversation in which he told Shay that he didn't want any gunplay, Shay's in the hot seat. Frank's in. It's obvious that Frank is pure ambition; he's just a hood now.

Zoe wants to see Frank. But she's blackmailing him--that's because another hood has a gun to her head. Frank hopes to scrounge up the dough from his safe. Walking into a trap, he hears "Zoe couldn't come, she's all tied up." He means literally. Here's the pitch: $25k or Zoe? Conveniently, there's a window open on this observation deck. Guess who falls out? Scratch one hood. Frank scoots back to Zoe's, but now Shay is there to ambush him. Getting the advantage, Paul has to be prevented him from killing him. Now Frank's telling Paul what to do.

One last independent company stands in the way of the big oil scam. Shay tosses hand grenades into the offending company's rigs; problem solved? No, because the cops catch up with Shay. Paul accuses Frank of double-crossing them. At this point, it seems they've all double-crossed each other. Paul wants to disappear, but the cops are after him too; he's shot in the street. Now, Constant, having overcome his aversion to violence, sicks Kato and Don (Paul Kellett and Charles H. Gray) on him.

Relaxing poolside, Zoe wants them to split "let's get out why we still have our necks." No dice, because, you see, Frank's a big man now. The killers arrive in town. Bursting into the office, Louie tries to fend them off. They smack Louie and leave. Well, so Zoe was right about going away. We knew that. Frank, now panicky, finds Madge, asking her to come with him. But first, she's to get some stuff from his place.

Madge shows up just as Zoe rifles through the corporate safe. Naturally, Zoe tells Madge she's not going anywhere with him. In fact, neither women is. Then Zoe gets kidnapped; she has to give up Frank's location, but they shoot her anyway. Madge calls the cops. They're looking for Frank too. He's waiting there all right. The hoods get there first--but Frank nails them both. Louie's job is to talk sense to Frank; he surrenders. Kind of an anticlimactic ending.

It's hard to get involved with these characters; both leads are just out for themselves, which makes their romance not quite believable. Madge and Louie are the only decent ones. Both are basically just side kicks; it might've been more interesting with Madge and Louie as the main characters. Ten years before this movie, a classic noir plot would show the ordinary guy (Louie) getting in over his head with the underworld, dragging down (before being redeemed by) the loyal, strong-willed girl (Madge). Here, it's the opposite; who cares about Frank and Zoe?

Frank is such a good criminal that he makes the other guys look like chumps. Even Constant is a boy scout by comparison. Others have noted that the initial scenes concerning the missing girl found dead are gratuitous. Aside from that, though, the plot works well, and the pacing keeps the action rolling. But that's it. No suspense, no feeling. The Houston Story is kindnd of entertaining, just not as good as it could be.

Midnight Lace
(1960)

"I'd Stay Out If Pea-Soupers If I Were You"
This thriller has been compared to Gaslight (1944). Here we've got Doris Day and Rex Harrison as Kit and Tony Preston. We discover that Peggy (Natasha Perry) is Tony's lover; what to do with the slightly older, somewhat dreary wife? Well, drive her nuts! A batch of menacing recorded phone calls and a stranger in black nearly accomplish the mission; she thinks that someone is going to kill her.

The first time she hears the creepy voice it seems to float through a thick fog as she walks home. London's made claustrophobic by the 'pea soup'; soon Kit's hysterical. Tony's home to greet her, dismissing her fear. She's soothed by the news that Tony's planned an Italian vacation. In front of Tony's business, there's a mysterious guy waiting, his nose in a newspaper; is he waiting for Kit? Inside, a disgruntled client makes a threat. On their street, some construction crew botches a hoist--a girder nearly squashes Kit.

The supervisor, Brian (John Gavin) helps her; a couple floors up, we see Peggy greet her from a balcony window. Peggy's husband, Roy (Anthony Dawson) a sailor, is out at sea. We see the maid, Dora (Hermione Baddeley) and her son, Malcolm (Roddy McDowell). He's got an odd manner. She gets a telegram from her Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy) who's coming to visit. I guess that's too much of a good thing, as she gets a threatening call from the same voice she heard in the fog. Peggy pops in and comforts her.

Next thing is to consult the police; that is, Inspector Byrnes (John Williams). Since there's no evidence, there's not much to go on. He does have her listen to the recorded voices of some known pranksters. While she's at it, the two guys discuss her mindset. They pick up Aunt Bea at the airport. She relates an adventure in which she's been playfully "stalked" by a suitor. But then Kit gives her the low-down on the "crackpot" caller.

It's clear that Tony would rather attend to business than to his marriage. He wants Bea to accompany her to Italy; why would he stay home? Another call from the stalker. Rather than offer sympathy, he berates her for not staying on the line long enough. The Inspector this time asks Tony some rather pointed questions. Ah, time for a nightclub scene. Bea's date, Charles (Herbert Marshall) is going on about something. When alone, Bea asks Tony if he's really been paying attention to his wife. "There's a slight chill in the air" he admits.

Her next brush with fear comes from a stopped elevator. Kit has to be rescued by Brian. To perk up, they go to a pub. The pace then picks up: more creepy calls, increasing attention from Brian, a shameless shakedown from Malcolm, not to mention a not so subtle hint from Daniel (Richard Ney), Tony's employee, that someone's embezzeling from the company. It seems that just about everyone in the Preston's orbit is up to something. Plus the mysterious man of the night lurks in the fog.

The long, wild, fairly confusing climactic scene begins as Tony enters, just as Kit takes yet another creepy call. The lights dim, and a dark figure enters from the balcony window. It's Roy! He's got a gun; but Tony takes it away and shoots him. Now it's revealed that the mysterious voice comes from a tape player. Seems like Tony's doing. Already spooked by Roy, Kit's incredulous as Tony explains "the (drive you crazy) plan." Actually, she was expected to be so frightened that she would fall out the window. Peggy enters: Tony fingers her as the real culprit; she's the one who pushed Kit in front of the bus.

But Tony hadn't counted on Roy's appearance and dramatic intervention. The sailor had heard of Peggy's thing with Tony, and planned to kill both of them. The embezzlement comes into play here. Tony was trying to payoff Roy to stay out the way. What's weird is that the whole movie goes by without any overt show of affection or clandestine rendezvous between Peggy and Tony. If it weren't for both Tony and Peggy admitting that they wanted something bad to happen to Kit, we'd think it possible that there really isn't much going on between them. That's helps the suspense. The viewer is as much in the dark as Kit.

The last part of the movie, and the ending in particular, leave us thinking and wondering. That's the sign of a good mystery. Harrison is great as a haughty, somewhat cold fish; Day does fine as the unsuspecting wife; the supporting cast, especially Loy, helps keep the pit brewing. Midnight Lace Starts out a bit slow, and has some implausible events, but it's a good update of the Gaslight-style thriller.

La maschera del demonio
(1960)

"Now, You Mustn't Be Afraid Of The Dead"
With a setting reminiscent of Dracula, two professors traveling deep in Moldova (or is it Wallachia?) literally stumble upon an old crypt. We know from the introductory scene that this is the site where witches were put to death in the 17th century. The execution has inquisitorial cruelty; though a satanic thunderstorm averted their burning at the stake, the witches and lovers, Asa and Igor (Barbara Steele in a dual role, and Arturo Domenici), had grotesque spiked masks driven into their faces.

So, in contemporary (19th century) times, our two worldy men of science, Doctors Andre G. and Thomas Kruvajan (John Richardson and Andrei Checchi), delayed in the midst of a haunted forest, and fascinated by the gothic tomb and its ghastly corpse, unwisely unmask the witch, Asa. If that's not careless enough, the crucifix built on top of the coffin is ruined. This meddling means that the witch/vampire comes back to life. In an entirely creepy, ghoulish manner.

If this sort of event were ever possible, this is what it would look like. The special effects look so real. Let me put it this way: imagine something supernatural (a two-hundred year-old corpse coming back to life) that happens as a believably natural process. No science here; pure scavenging-insects and vermin-on-hideous-undead-body, which seethes with a wretched mockery of life. We can almost hear and feel what we're seeing.

Igor, meanwhile, is summoned from his grave by Asa. At Vajda's castle, we find the Prince (Ivo Garrani) and his daughter, Katia (Steele). There's another Dracula-esque device, as we see the reanimated Igor driving a hearse-like coach; it moves in slow-motion, as though in a dream. Since Dr. Kruvajan made the further mistake of getting his blood mixed with Asa's corpse, he turns into a vampire himself. Now under Igor's and Asa's control, Kruvajan kills Katia's father. More bodies fall prey to the vampires, even a dog. At least Kruvajan retains enough humanity to warn Andre away. Although it's unclear what precise sort of devils the unholy Asa and Igor were--they're referred to as both vampires and witches--I don't think it much matters. We could accept that, since a vampire supposedly has supernatural powers, a vampire is a form of a witch.

There's very little normality here; otherwise there might be a romance between Katia and Andre. But no, it's more of the "when this is all over," maybe we might...have a sunrise? The Vajda family's castle is wonderfully authentic and spooky--complete with hidden passageways, crypt, pit, and plenty of late night visits from dead ancestors. Andre and the village priest find a moldering Kruvajan in an old grave. Now we focus on the remaining Vajdas, Ivan (Tino Bianchi) and Constantine (Enrico Olivieri).

But that doesn't mean that the victims stop showing up, dead or otherwise. Andre sets about trying to save Katia from Igor; too late! The last good guy and the main bad guy fight it out. Taunted by her doppelganger Asa, Katia could've been redeemed by Andres love. Constantine, nearly dead, helps Andre to hurl Igor down the pit. Another classic horror scene: the angry, torch-wielding villagers converging on the castle.

Meanwhile, yet another ghastly scene develops when Andre realizes that Katia was saved by her crucifix. She's apparently dead, but not a vampire. Asa, ruining that slight bright spot, reveals that she's the undead: her body is a mass of rotting flesh squirming around a skeleton. In a replay of the first witch-hunting scene--this time not canceled by Satan's intervention--Asa is finally destroyed by the villagers. Whereupon Katia, her soul finally released by Asa, awakens, well at last. Normal happiness is possible. The end.

I haven't seen this since it was first on TV in the mid-sixties; I've never forgotten the absolute horror of many scenes, and the overall scary atmosphere. Maybe I wasn't ready to see this through again--my DVD gave out just 30 minutes in...An omen? Probably. In any case, my reprieve was short-lived; it insisted on working the second time around. The visual experience, as I've hinted at, has a pervasive, sensory twist. This is the nature of nightmares. Almost too good. Very highly recommended.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
(1959)

"There is more evil out there now than I have ever encountered before"
An excellent adaptation of the well-known Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story. In the borderlands between mystery and horror, The Hound of the Baskervilles features the renowned duo of Peter Cushing as Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. We have Andre Morell as Dr. Watson, Marla Landi as Cecile, Ewen Solon is her father, Stapleton; Sir Hugo, the bad-boy ancestor who begat the curse of the Baskervilles, is played by David Oxley. The case is introduced by Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Wolff).

We began in the 17th century, with Sir Hugo, a nasty sociopathic sort. By murdering a village girl, he gets himself torn apart by a mysterious beast. Recently, Sir Henry's uncle, Sir Charles, has suffered the fate of previous Baskervilles. Holmes accepts the case. We quickly discover that, with the exception of Holmes, Watson, Mortimer, and Sir Henry, almost every other character at the remote moors is mysterious, secretive, or just plain creepy. Especially Stapleton, who has an iron grip over Cecile. Rather unexpectedly, there's room for a furtive romance between her and Sir Henry. A potential subplot concerning a possible nemesis, an escaped convict, conveniently getting himself killed by the Hound.

But it turns out that he's the brother of one of Sir Henry's servants, Mrs. Barrymore. Still, a red herring. Besides the curse and the oddball folks nearby, there's Sir Charles' will in play. That is to say, Sir Henry has an automatic motive for invoking the curse to explain Sir Charles' death--he stands to inherit a fortune. Watson gets mired in a swamp, Stapleton continues to be cold and menacing, Holmes gets momentarily lost in an old coal mine, and Cecile and Sir Henry get to know each other very well.

All this would seem rather melodramatic, but the gloomy Baskerville mansion, and, especially the moors surrounding puts everything and everyone in a gloomy, claustrophobic nightmare--color enriches and enhances every scene We're led bit by but to the climactic scene at the same gothic ruins where Sir Hugo met his fate. The hound (an actual dog, with a hellish mask) appears just as Sir Henry brings Cecile there. It attacks Sir Henry. It's soon clear that she's set him up; her father lurks nearby as the dog attacks. Holmes arrives in time to shoot it. Watson's attacked by Stapleton; Holmes manages to save his friend by shooting Stapleton.

In the denouement, we learn that Holmes, noticing Stapleton's tell-tale deformed hand--ala Sir Hugo--figured that Stapleton is an illegitimate descendant of that rake. In fact, next in line to the Baskerville fortune. He's used the legend--and a sort of souped-up hound--to avenge himself on the 'legit' Baskervilles (which also keeps them away from Cecile). A few pleasantries wrap up the final scene, as Holmes can't resist explaining to Watson his suspicions about Stapleton and the fact that the Hound was after all, just a hound-dog.

A fun movie, with smooth performances, good pacing and suspense, and an action-filled ending.

Hide-Out
(1934)

"Either you want to stay in business--or you don't want to stay in business"
A somewhat unusual crime drama in which Robert Montegomery literally hides out in rural New York to escape both the mob and the cops. At a farm, he's nursed back to health (from a gunshot wound) by Miller family. The farmer's daughter, Pauline (Maureen O'Sullivan) falls for Lucky/Jonathan (Montgomery). If that sounds goofy, it kind of is. The first part of the movie, by stark contrast, shows Lucky as a sharp but dangerous criminal, shaking down nightclub owners with his protection racket.

The only thing Lucky retains when he rehabilitates with Pauline is his smooth wisecracking attitude. The nightclub scenes are great: typical of upper-class urban entertainment ninety years ago. Lucky isn't so fortunate with Baby, his girlfriend. Or a blond showgirl. But he's good at making the owners' squirm when he outlines his protection 'service.' when he talks about "giving them a break" on their linen service, it's to the tune of a nickel discount on a hundred napkins; even in 1934, that's not very helpful.

The cops, led by Lt. McCarthy (Edward Arnold), scope out the situation; the Lieutenant knows Lucky is crooked, but the owners are afraid to complain. Among other amusing scenes, we see guys actually counting napkins in a laundry--to see that the nightclubs 'discount' isn't too good, apparently. Things escalate quickly, as a rival gang injured Lucky when he leaves the city. The Lieutenant eventually catches up with him. Meanwhile, Pauline and Lucky have plenty of time to get attracted to each other.

Hide-Out has an interesting premise, and is filled with good performances (particularly the two leads). The comic aspect makes the fish-out-of-water plot work to some extent. But this really seems like two different movies joined by the cliff-hanger device of Lucky's escape from the city. I wonder what this would've felt like if we started with Lucky recuperating at the farm. His notorious background could've been sketched in by flashback. He ends up having to come clean with Pauline anyway. As it is, our initial impression is that Lucky is a creepy jerk. Assuming, if we want to buy the rest of the movie's logic, that he's really just a regular guy who needs to find himself, why begin with the assumption that he's a bad guy?

Definitely gives a receptive quality to the romance.This is entertaining; but a bit muddled. It's worth watching for the high level of the performances and the witty script.

The Dunwich Horror
(1970)

"You're One of Us now"
The story for Dunwich Horror comes from an H.P. Lovecraft tale about the Necronomicon, a guide to revealing aliens known as "the old ones." Unfortunately for Sandra Dee's character, Nancy, her role in this ritual is that of a sacrificial victim. The necromancer here is Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell). Nancy and Elizabeth (Donna Baccala) are lab assistants for Philosophy Ph.D, Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley).

We start with a young woman, Lavinia (Joanne Moore Jordan), Wilbur's mom, giving birth. It actually seems more like she's undergoing what looks like a demonic possession in the gaudiest room imaginable; Old Whateley, Wilbur's grandfather (Sam Jaffe) and two hags look on. The credits are great: a bunch of abstract black figures against a midnight blue background. Then we see Dr. Henry talking to some students after classes. Nancy and Elizabeth are placing the Necronomicon back in its spot at the museum. Wilbur comes to look at it, mumbling to himself. The professor wants to chat; the four of them meet up in a restaurant. Wilbur wants to study the famous book.

No dice: the Necronomicon is priceless, etc. A small consolation is that Nancy agrees to take him home. He invites her into the family mansion.its got a nice, creepy haunted house look about it. Wilbur looks like he's stoned or sleepwalking. Why she would hang out with him is puzzling. He does some cool gesture that makes a big rock rotate. Now he disables her car. Next thing is spiking the tea he's gonna serve her. The ghastly colors of this place are wonderfully hideous. The old guy pops in for a bit. Meanwhile, Nancy's hallucinating, before she has the tea.

Car won't start; no phone here, gee, I guess she has to spend the night. He shows her to a purple bedroom (probably decorated by one of Edgar Allan Poe's relations). She tosses and turns, sees stuff: like she's part of a creepy ritual. Either that or an LSD party. We finally get back to Elizabeth and the professor speculating on Nancy's whereabouts. Well, the odd couple are playing in a meadow, talking about Nancy's nightmare "Why don't you stay the weekend?" Fortunately, the Doctor/Professor and Elizabeth come calling at the old house. Nancy and Wilbur show up.

But she's agreed to shack up with Wilbur for the weekend. It seems weird that she doesn't remember being drugged. I can't figure out why Wilbur and Gramps argue over Nancy. On the one hand, they know that Armitage "knows all about us"; yet, Nancy puts them one step closer to the Necronomicon. Plus she's an obvious subject for their plans. Armitage and Elizabeth look up some local history-on the Whateleys. We get the standard 'stay away from those people' warning. Meanwhile, across town, Nancy and Wilbur are walking around.

Apparently, a distant ancestor was lynched in the town square: meaning, I suppose, because he was suspected of witchcraft. He believed "in another race of beings, superior to man." The good guys go to see Dr. Cory (Lloyd Bochner), who's the local authority on the Whateleys. Cory is guarded, like everyone else about that family. There's a hazy flashback to old Whateleys prognostications on the day if Wilbur's birth. Supposedly, she had twins, one stillborn. Lavinia, tragically, has been institutionalized ever since. They want to talk to her, but she's delusional.

Meanwhile, more picnic romance with Nancy and Wilbur. Despite the rustic seaside pleasantness, there's some creepy ruins nearby, "The Devil's Hopyard." Fertility rites was the name of the game. So we further learn, this is the place of sacrifice; no question that we'll return here. Time for some hallucinations. By this time the only question is how long it's going to take to get to the sacrifice scene. We almost get it right away. But, no, more Elizabeth prowling around the mansion. She slugs the old man, stomps inside; but of course, Nancy is busy practicing to be sacrificed or something.

What she does find is a lot of spirits or monsters or something, spilling out of a closet. The happy couple returns. "Where's Elizabeth?" Now it seems that grandpa doesn't want to mess with The Old Ones; that is to say, he's a humanitarian. Wilbur is the old school Necronomicon devotee. Looks like the old man up and died. There's a funeral of sorts. And, of course, a weird ritual.

Here's a posse from town! "No place here for your kind!" The sheriff wants a death certificate for the old man. Makes sense. The pacing is not helping with either suspended or suspension of disbelief. Wilbur goes to the funeral home, and wrestles with the guard. I don't see the point of fist fights in a horror movie. The supernatural should overcome nature every time,until it's dispelled one way or another. Anyway, Wilbur overcomes the guard, and flees. Lavinia is dying. We switch to her ghastly, writhing, hallucinating self. The same bird houses heard during Whately death--the migration of her soul.

"What was she muttering?" Lines from the Necronomicon, of course. Next scene has Wilbur summoning The Old Ones in The Devil's Hopyard. Nancy is lying on the sacrificial altar. He's got a nasty dagger at the ready. Holding the book, he intones the key lines...things start to go nuts in the old house: there's creatures, fire, lurid colors. Neighbors, the Coles, notice a commotion; well, not only is the place on fire, there's an earthquake. Back with the Necronomicon, Wilbur mentions, "the gate is opening now..." What can Armitage and Cory do?

Converge on the Cole place; with the reformed posse. The plan is to go to Whateleys. Elizabeth crashes, thanks to an apparition/hallucination. She's attacked by a growling demon; just then, arriving the Whateleys, the posse sees that the place is totally burnt down. We don't see much, but they see a demon escape. The sacrifice is tedious slow. Mean,the demon picks off a straggler from the posse. All we see are flashes of color--big deal. I didn't think that the sacrifice would take half the movie...

The good guys eventually get to the sacrificial site. I don't think the Old Ones really are satisfied with Sandra Dee. Thankfully, Wilbur bursts into flames and is thrown off a cliff. "Wilbur's twin took after the father." So he was the demon. Nancy is ok, apparently because a pink cloud materializes over her. The end.

The Dunwich Horror has a lot going for it. The premise, thanks to classic horror author Lovecraft, is promising. The atmosphere, particularly in the Whateley house, is, we might say, a natural for the supernatural. Every other element was weak. Particularly Stockwell's performance. He just acts out of it the entire time. Inadvertently, he gives the movie a very unwelcome campiness. His character plays into the layers of logic; as mentioned, Nancy would be extremely naive to overlook his odd manner, not to mention what amounts to a prolonged date rape (her sacrifice as a suitable symbol of that).

There's something of the Dr. Frankenstein set-up here. In a way, Wilbur is that doctor, with The Old Ones as his monster(s). Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, he doesn't create the demon(s), but summoning them has the same effect. That's fine enough. But that results in the rather silly posse scenes (as in Frankenstein). If we're going to have the outraged villagers, we should also then have a period setting. It's just more appropriate than a bunch of New England rednecks in 1970.

But the worst thing here is the turgid pacing. If the movie had been fifteen I'd twenty minutes shorter, it would have been pretty good. As us, though, it's more than a little boring; especially we don't get much in the way of full-fledged monsters/demons. Probably watchable for Lovecraft fans; otherwise, not so much.

Killer's Kiss
(1955)

"You and lover boy aren't putting me in the hot seat!..."
From the same year as Kubrick's masterful noir, The Killing, this similarly-titled film gives us another look at the director's early career. A guy witnesses a woman being roughed up in her apartment. He helps her out; she ends up getting kidnapped, and the his friend, Albert (Jerry Jarrett)--due to mistaken identity--gets killed. Davey (Jamie Smith) is the good neighbor, Gloria (Irene Kane) the victim, and Vinnie (Frank Silvera), her tormentor. It seems she works for Vinnie as a dance-hall girl. That is, guys pay to dance with the ladies.

Wandering around aimlessly the station, Davey starts reminiscing about the last three days. A boxer, he had a bout the first night. Across the way, their windows in view of each other, Gloria checks him out. Vinnie picks up Gloria; Davey takes the subway to the arena. We see a banal panorama of treats and toys at nearby concession stands. Gloria is at work, getting fixed up. We cut between Gloria and Davey; that's made more interesting because Vinnie's watching the fight on his office TV. Davey is really getting worked over in the ring--he loses by a knock-out.

Later, he recuperates at home. He watches Gloria in her window; his Uncle George calls from the West Coast. Davey tries to get some sleep, but has a nightmare. He's woken by Gloria screaming--Vinnie's attacking her. Davey takes care of her, and asks her what happened. She related that Vinnie popped in unexpectedly; then he wouldn't leave. Obviously, he wanted her to be his kept woman. He's pitiful, desperate. Then the scream: he leaves. Anyway, she dozes off. The next day, she and Davey are fast friends.

He wonders how she ever "got mixed up with" Vinnie. Another flashback from Gloria: mostly about her older sister, Iris, a ballerina. She admires Iris, but is jealous of her success. Strangely, Iris killed herself. In a sort of low-rung imitation of and tribute to Iris, Gloria became a different sort of dancer. Anyway, she and Davey are a couple. They plan to go out West, to Seattle. Vinnie isn't too thrilled about that. Davey arranges to get his wages from Albert; Gloria goes to the dance hall to get hers.

Vinnie gives her this send-off: "I could kill you right here and now." Distracted, Davey misses Albert. That leads to the most noirish alley scene in history. Albert gets rolled by three of Vinnie's goons. After a short return to the brooding present (in the station), we see Davey getting ready to split from his apartment. But Gloria's not home; he sees, across the way, police enter his apartment. He unpacks a pistol. Following Vinnie in a cab, Davey ambushes him. The hood has to take Davey to where Gloria. In an abandoned warehouse, on a deserted, claustrophobic street.

Davey manages to roust all three of the goons. Unfortunately, they get the drop on him, and turn the tables. Now Gloria pleads with Vinnie not to kill her. Coming to, Davey surprises them, and escapes. Down the dirtiest, most woebegone streets in all creation. This is why black and white is used for film noir: even on rooftops, it's oppressive; the people seem hemmed in by the lowering sky. And then, as in the Twilight Zone, we're in a manikin factory. That leads to a bizarre fight with manikins, axes, and spears. Davey wins, and he's soon cleared by the law as well. But Gloria's disappeared. Wait, there she is! We're back at the station, in the scene we started with. The couple reunites, embracing. The end.

The real star here is the atmosphere and the New York City setting. In fact, had Killer's Kiss been silent, we wouldn't have much noticed. If ever there was a film noir in which we see the characters fighting against fate in a hellish environment, this is it. The plot is the merest outline; the romance is swift, but it's believable. It's been said that the music is unattractive--but I think that's intentional; it's a wry commentary on the banality of the dance hall that Gloria longs to escape from.

Maybe the most strictly visual of film noirs, it's nonetheless elegant in its simplicity. Although the ballerina sequence was yet another masterful pleasure to watch, I didn't much see the point of including this subplot. We know next to nothing about Davey; so, why, in such a brief movie, bring up Gloria's family history?

Despite that bit, Killer's Kiss is captivating and original. Ditching the intricacies of the murder mystery plot of the '30s that film noir evolved from, by the mid-fifties we're at the other extreme: a sort of abstract-expressionist view of the underworld.

Murder, My Sweet
(1944)

"I'm In a Very Sensitive Profession... I'm a Quack"
Dick Powell is the perfect Philip Marlowe. This is almost the perfect film noir. From the claustrophobic dingy night-time sets, to Marlowe's hallucinogenic torment, and the swarm of devious characters, Murder My Sweet doesn't stop mixing its brew of the underworld until the very end. The whirlwind plot doesn't give us time to think; in fact, it's spellbinding. But once that lurid glow dissipates, there's some sticky, disturbing residue.

Moose Malloy's (Mike Mazurki's) desperate bid to find his old girlfriend, Velma/Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) doesn't quite fit with the main plot involving her, her husband, Leuwen Grayle (Miles Mander), a certain blackmailer, Jules Author (Otto Kruger), and a jade necklace. Well, the two plots should fit. As Amthor's henchman, he's the bridge between Marlowe and the creeps and nuts. But because he's an insider, so to speak, it seems remarkable that he hasn't run into "his" Velma while accompanying his boss. After all, Amthor's stiffing of Helen/Velma is the spark that motivates the plot. When he discovers her later, he doesn't seem at all surprised; only upset that she's dead.

The other mystery is that Philip seems entranced by Helen almost as much as Moose; yet she looked the other way when the Nazi-like Dr. Sonderburg (Ralph Harolde) on him, presumably so he'd stop snooping around. Moose isn't exactly kind to Marlowe either. I don't just mean his histrionic lack of social skills, but he's the one who chaperoned Marlowe into the sadistic doctor's torture chamber. Right after Marlowe escapes from that hell, who turns up to help him out, but Moose. I don't get it; Moose's character doesn't make a lot of sense.

Helen is at least consistent. She pretended that the necklace had been stolen to throw Amthor off his trail. She's had a string of lovers on the side. It turns out, however, that she has more baggage than that. Thanks to her attitude there's a body count: Marriot (Douglas Walton) gets killed, as well as Amthor, Moose, and, ultimately, herself. Marlowe himself had two close shaves. All thanks to her. A great femme fatale. Even after all of these revelations, she still thinks she can sweet-talk Marlowe. Frustrated with the soft touch, she threatens to kill him. In a bit of snarky poetic justice, Leuwen kills her.

Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley) is the only bright spot in this motley crew. In fact, Marlowe, playing too many angles for his own good, has fallen for her. The closing scene, with the temporarily blind Marlowe dumped into a taxi with her, is as hilarious as it is welcome in this otherwise bleak story.

Great entertainment; and the textbook film noir.

Strange Illusion
(1945)

"Those two are mixed up together!"
A college student thinks that his father's death wasn't accidental. Then his mom's new suitor raises red flags. What's going on? A psychological noir thriller, in which Jimmy Lydon plays the student, Paul, with his sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard), and his mom, Virginia, played by Sally Eilers. Brett Curtis (Warren William) is mom's new boyfriend; a certain Professor Mulbach (Charles Arnt) is not just Brett's friend, he's also the Sanitorium doctor who treats him. Paul's doctor, Vincent (Regis Toomey) backs him up in his quest to figure out his haunting dreams, and deal with his family situation.

The first thing Paul finds out is that Brett might actually be a suspected killer, Barrington. He asks his mom about Brett's background--so, what happened to his previous wife? Drowned, they say. He tells Brett that he's majoring in criminology...and segues into the subject of unsolved crimes. He then hints broadly about locations that the slick but might be familiar with. Instead of "traveling", though, Brett goes directly to Mulbachs office, complaining about Paul. It's obvious that Brett and Mulbach are in cahoots. The professor relates "I'm interested in the financial aspects of this case."

We learn that indeed, Brett is Barrington. They discuss strategy; that is, the timing of Brett's proposal to Virginia. At a weekend pool party, she gives in. When? A quiet wedding is in order, it seems. Later, Paul discovers that his girlfriend Lydia (Mary McLeod) has been sexually harassed by the middle-aged Brett. She sort of brushes it off (strange even for the 1940s). At the engagement party, we have the whole cast present. In a backroom, Paul wants to show Dr Vincent evidence that what he did with Lydia had happened before.

But the incriminating stuff is gone. Paul starts to flashback to the train wreck that killed dad; in the dream, Curtis said the wreck was just what he'd "been waiting for." The doc thinks this episode was "simply too fantastic." Besides, the mysterious Barrington is dead. Now Muhlbach works over Paul; chillingly, he wants Paul to enter the sanitarium! He likes his mom too much, the creep says. Oddly, Paul tells Vincent that being evaluated might be a good ploy. So he takes a 'guest room' there. Paul's intent, of course, is to snoop around the place, and hopefully find some dirt on Mulbach and Curtis.

Skulking about the place at night, Paul sees Mulbach and Curtis drive off. In their car, the two bad-guys discuss Paul; foremost on their minds is getting the marriage done. The plan is more or less an elopement, but she doesn't want to spurn the family, especially Paul. Sneakily, checking up on Paul just means getting a prepared speech on him from Mulbach. Meanwhile, Vincent goes to the D.A. with his suspicions of Curtis's identity.

Naturally, Mulbach doesn't credit Paul's version of his dad's mysterious death. Somewhat lamely, Muhlbach tries to trick Paul into walking off a balcony. Vincent shows up; will Mulbach try to get rid of him? No. Unexpectedly, he encourages Vincent to get to the bottom of the nightmare stuff. Hey, Paul's discovered that the room's bugged...so Vincent, under a convincing ruse, whisks his patient out. He fills in Paul about seeing the D.A. thanks to come great binoculars, Mulbach sees the two of them checking out a car in a garage down the way.

There's incriminating evidence; next stop for the doc--the D.A. Unwittingly, Paul thinks he needs to go back to the sanitarium; he doesn't know that they've been spied on. Back at the family mansion, Lydia is eye-balled by the slimy Brett. Dorothy's surprised to hear that mom is getting married the next day. Well, we'll see about that. The D.A. will have the garage vicinity searched for more evidence of the truck (the actual cause of Paul's father's death). Paul is basically a prisoner in the sanitarium now. It seems that, thanks to done deft fingerprint work, Curtis is indeed Barrington. Paul finds a way out of his room.

The cops break into the sanitarium. By now, of course, Paul's split. Paul made it to the house ok. But Dorothy naively has accepted a ride from Muhlbach. Fortunately, the police head him off; but She's still stuck with Brett, at the backwoods cottage where the evidence was found. Paul and Lydia converge on Curtis/Barrington. A moment later the police arrive and shoot the bad guy dead. The end.

This is an interesting blend of a '30s-style mystery, a noir, and a thriller. Most of the film is set in the Cartright's (modern) Old Dark House. Except for the sanitarium, which makes the atmosphere creep even more. Very good performances, and nice pacing. The plot is straightforward; tension and suspense build throughout, as Paul and his adversaries spar--both sides having faulty information. Oddly, the work-out of the dad's murder isn't wrapped up. That's ok, though, as this is really about Paul. Actually, the psychological aspect is both underplayed and exploited; Paul doesn't suffer from it directly, but Muhlbach and Curtis use it to isolate Paul.

A very entertaining movie that shows how genres aren't hard and fast, but complement each other.

The Mad Magician
(1954)

"Where did you get the idea for a crematorium?" "From a crematorium"
Nothing like Vincent Price in his prime. Something of a follow-up to his 1953's House of Wax role, Price plays a similar character, Don Gallico, creator of a different kind of illusion (magic, not wax figures). Gallico's problem is that he sold out to the up and coming Rinaldi (John Emery); he lost not only his bag of tricks, but also his wife, Claire (Eva Gabor). Frustrated and vengeful, Gallico applies his considerable skills toward eliminating his rival. Of course, his actions create new problems; for one thing, a savvy couple, Alice and Frank Prentiss (Lenita Lane and Jay Novelli), begins to figure out what our mad magician is up to.

In 1880s New York City, Gallico is readying for a performance. Backstage, his assistant, Karen (Mary Murphy) introduces Lt. Bruce (Patrick O'Neal) to Gallico. It's his first show on his own. He's impersonating Rinaldi; but that's part of his act. Among other things, he gets Alice to magically appear under a veil; then, the saw-Karen-in-half trick. Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph) pokes in. He manages to get the act stopped--apparently for contract infringement. It seems that he had worked for Ormond; the old forget doesn't want competition. Then we meet Rinaldi, who has obviously come to take over Gallico's props for his own show.

We then learn that Ormond had also lost Claire to him. Small consolation that she's estranged from Ormond "She's always something of a trollop" he mentions. Worked into a froth by his usurper, Gallico practices the buzz saw with Ormond's head for a prop. Neat trick. Soon, Gallico's working on a bust of Ormond; well, he's got a head start (yes, the guy's severed head). Karen looks in on him. The plan is to burn the body at a bonfire--conveniently, there's one at a local political rally. Of course, this guy's not burned in effigy, as they find bones among the ashes. Posing as a Mr. Jamieson (but disguised as Ormond) Gallico takes a room from the Prentiss's.

Claire comes calling; Gallico drops his disguise when he's working. "Have you forgotten that I was once your wife?" I guess he wishes that he had. And, no, he doesn't know where her current husband is...Anyway, she suspects foul play. Meanwhile, Alice suspects that something's not quite right about their new boarder. Could Jamieson actually be Ormond? (Well, we know that it's more complicated than that). That night, the Prentiss's skulk around, hoping to see Jamieson/Gallico/Ormond when he returns. Worse, Claire waits up for him in his room: she at first thinks he's her husband, then correctly discerns that he's her ex-husband.

He admits as much; he goes onto say that he indeed killed Ormond. Somewhat predictably, she's blase about the whole thing. Next thing we know, she's strangled. Well, both she and Ormond were manipulative jerks. Fortunately for Gallico, the Prentiss's, thinking that Jamieson was Ormond, make the logical conclusion that he killed his wife. Sounds good to the police. Almost immediately though, Alice gets another notion, this time about Gallico. For some reason, he demonstrates a new trick to the nosy couple.

Eerily, it's a crematorium. With himself as the guinea pig, he has Karen slide him in the coffin-like device. Emerging from another room after the 3500 degree sauna, he finds Rinaldi watching as well. They discuss the trick. The real illusion is that people think Ormond killed Claire, and is still running around. Not so fast: Rinaldi implies that he knows the real deal. "What did you do to him, Gallico?" Seems that Rinaldi has simply replaced Ormond as Gallico's nemesis.

The Lieutenant shows up backstage to ask Rinaldi. What are his suspicions about Ormond? Wisely, the Lieutenant means to fingerprint all the people of interest. Aha! Check this out: in this scene, Gallico has posed as Rinaldi. Sneaky. Fingerprints, of course, from Gallico's point of view, would ruin everything. Now the cop tells his captain, incorrectly, that Rinaldi is Ormond (thanks to Gallico impersonating both of them). Spoiling the suspense somewhat, Alice describes the deception perfectly. How did she figure this?

Anyway, she unraveled the entire plot. She tells the skeptical Lieutenant. But now Karen shows up, basically vouching for Gallico's character. Who is it on stage right now then? Rinaldi or Gallico? Looking through opera glasses, even Karen admits that it's probably Gallico. At this point, we know Gallico will be found out; but what we don't know is what will happen to him (and will he need to kill again?). I don't see him giving himself up.

Alice infiltrates his apartment, looking for evidence. She finds a cabinet full of busts, or rather masks, of assorted people, living and dead. Karen, loyal as always, warms him that the Lieutenant is going to fingerprint him. A literal dead giveaway. So, he attacks the cop. And intends to run him through the crematorium. Nice slice of horror. Presumably, the poor guy won't have access tongue escape hatch. The women arrive, just as the Lieutenant is about to be barbequed. He and Gallico fight--but, unexpectedly, Gallico completely gives in. As in letting himself have a one way trip to the crematorium. That's it, the end.

This turned out to be quite a good mystery. Sometimes we know what's going on; but not all the time. Same with the other characters; Price's character is in control. Mad? Sinister? macabre? Very much so. But like the best villains, he also gains our sympathy. But once he starts murdering, as in all tragedies of this type, things only get worse. Magic is maybe the perfect motif (other than the supernatural), to allow a great deal of suspension of disbelief. Gallico's impersonations and his deadly stage devices are the best aspects of the movie.

Unfortunately, the subplot involving Alice and Frank is played for some light comedy; Alice's interest in the mystery is contrived, the humor ineffective. They serve a function in the plot, but would be better off used less. Otherwise, The Mad Magician gives us a great platform for Price's haughty and obsessive persona. For three characters, no less. A slight problem is that Gabor's role isn't very nuanced. She's just a materialistic airhead. I'm not suggesting that Claire should be a saint, but she's completely unsympathetic.

As in many of his better roles, Price personifies the main character. An entertaining movie with a good premise, it works out well for the most part.

Libel
(1959)

"Your terror was of something you couldn't forget"
Dirk Bogarde, Olivia deHavilland, and Paul Massie star in this mistaken identity mystery. Bogarde has a dual role as Sir Mark Loddon and his lookalike Frank Welney; de Havilland is his wife, Margaret, and Massie is his war buddy, Jeffrey. It seems that Loddon, Welney and (Jeffrey) Buckenham were POWs together. They escaped, but one of them went missing. The question that this movie turns on is who disappeared--Mark, or Frank?

Jeffrey is perturbed to see Frank masquerading as Mark; at least he thinks that's what's going on. As a result, Frank sues Jeffrey for libel. Then we get the opposing attorneys Sir Wilfred (Robert Morley) and Hubert Foxley (Wilfrid Hyde-White), and the judge (Richard Wattis). This is a courtroom drama, but has wartime flashbacks. Mark isn't exactly convincing; he's shell-shocked (PTSD we say these days). There's quite a bit of evidence to call his identity questionable. Will we see opposing counsel pull rabbits out of their hats?

So, we begin with a night-time London street scene, and a soldier, Jeffrey, walking about. He goes into a pub; on tv, there's a show featuring the Loddon family. Jeffrey's fixated on the program, so he talks a girl into inviting him over to watch the rest of it. The documentary-like show follows Mark's family history, plus how own. We learn that after the war he'd been hospitalized for a time. Anyway, he can't remember who was at a birthday dinner from before the war.

Jeffrey is boiling up at all the pleasant banter of the program. Now we see the Loddon's point of view. Mark is upset that he can't remember stuff, but his wife smooths things over. Strangely, he looks elderly and with out, especially compared to Jeffrey. Later, he screams at after playing a certain time on the piano. Clearly, he's in a state; a recurring nightmare (or delusion?). Wow, does he have a swanky mansion; while Jeffrey joins a tour of the place, Mark goes riding.

Jeffrey stays on to confront Mark. A strange reunion--Mark's cheery, Jeff's suspicious, calling him Frank. "I know what happened to Mark. I'm going to make you pay for this!" He's not after blackmail. Soon he's looking up Mark's cousin, Gerald (Anthony Dawson). Jeff tells Gerald that Mark "didn't come back from the war." Gerald says that Mark's changed, but doesn't believe he's not literally the same person. He suggests contacting a tabloid paper for an expose: soon they're running this story-- "Bogus Baronet."

Apparently, the gossip mill is up and running; why? By now, Mark accused Margaret of doubting him. Back at Gerald's work place, Jeff reveals that Mark's sued him for libel. Gerald gives him some bit of evidence. Clearly, Gerald stands to gain if his cousin is shown to be an imposter. So far, things are tumbling along with a sort of contrived inevitability; if it's do obvious that Mark is really Frank, why had it taken so long to notice (from 1945 to 1959)?

Is there anything that Mark hasn't told Margaret? He doesn't think so. To court. Mark takes the stand. He admits that his memory is "unreliable" and "disjointed." Nonetheless, he gives some tiny details of pre-war experiences. Frank's name comes up. The attorneys' antics and comments have dome assiduous withering bite. A wartime letter from Mark reveals that Frank looks remarkably like him. A flashback shows both of them (by some cinematic magic) in the prison camp. One's got graying hair; they look like twins. Frank's pretty much a jerk.

A tell-tale sign, missing finger tips, implicates Mark as an imposter like so many nails in a coffin. Another flashback, after there escape from the POW camp. The three guys are creeping along a riverbank; haltingly, Mark describes the scene...the prosecutor says "what about Wellney!" Mark can't remember. He then says that he'd forgot all about Margaret too. At least until after the war. During an adjournment, his attorney discusses strategy.

Gerald takes the stand. His tidbit: Mark has a scar from a childhood accident. But Mark doesn't...now. That night, thinking aloud to Margaret, Mark discovers that the recurring memory is of his reflection; "suppose it's true!" that he's really Frank? From Jeff we get his recall of the POW camp scene just realized by Mark. It seems that Frank had quizzed Mark about details of his earlier life, as though he were outline of a cunning plan. Frank actually mimicked Mark. He taunted that it would be easy to impersonate the wealthy man.

The implication is that Frank killed Mark, then assumed his identity. Now back to the escape part of the flashback; the Germans were able to shoot one of them. Jeff is certain that it was Mark. If the Germans had shot Mark, then Frank couldn't have murdered him. Still, the deception (Frank posing as Mark) could've happened. Margaret thinks Jeff should admit that he's wrong about the whole case. Weirdly, it seems he has a thing for her; or, at least, an interest. "Mark has forgotten so many things" she realizes, but it doesn't add up to much.

It's the difference between Mark not remembering enough about himself because he's really Frank, or, equally possible, that Mark, afflicted with PTSD, just has lost a lot of memory. A German doctor who'd treated a gravely injured British soldier at the end of the war. The body recovered, bit not the mind. He was unidentifiable, and still in a German hospital. "Number 15" appears in court. The man is horribly disfigured, mute. But he stares knowingly at Mark. Is the poor wretch the 'real' Mark? Let's call Margaret to the stand.

Is she certain that her husband is indeed Mark? No? What?! She saw that "Number 15" and Mark recognized each other. Good point. But she doesn't recognize "Number 15." Not s happy house that Mark returns to. He implodes with her, that despite his deception, isn't he, nonetheless, the man she loved and married. Yes, but no. She observed that his PTSD was due to what he did to Mark. He put his jacket on Number 15. Hmm. Flashback time once again. It seems that the reflection that had spooked mark had been Frank's; his would-be imposter snuck up on him with a weapon.

So Mark got the weapon away from him; and attacked him with it, thus turning him into the infamous Number 15. Like Margaret, the appearance of that guy triggered something with Mark. He recovered his memory instantly. "My reflection (in the nightmare) became his." That is, guilty conscience working his mind remembered his reflection instead of Frank's. Jeff admits tha, indeed, Mark is Mark. Well, Mark wins his case, and his identity.

I can't see the point of Jeff attacking Mark in the first place. Unless, Jeff didn't realize he was wrong until the cadaverous Number 15 made his entrance. More likely, Mark seeking and finding the bitty medallion Margaret had given him just before he went off to war is indisputable evidence that Mark's correct. The end.

Pretty good stuff. In fact, there's really two mysteries here: who is Mark? And, did either Mark or Frank kill the other? It gets a bit confusing, but that's ok. Because it gets more interesting too. Mark almost killed Frank, and nominee took on Mark's identity. The introduction of Number 15 gives the story a huge boost. He's almost a Frankenstein's monster; and not just in appearance. Mark sort of created him out of Frank. Ironically, despite Mark's sense of guilt, it was Frank who attacked him; Mark acted in self defense. But he didn't need to nearly kill him. Thus Mark's PTSD.

The first part of the movie is more melodramatic than involving. Once the courtroom scenes start, interest builds towards the end. Given the nuanced performances from Wattis, Morley, and Hyde-White, there's a much-needed injection of lively dialogue and dramatic personalities. Bogarde does quite a job playing no less than three characters; deHavilland doesn't have much to do, though. Massie's role is a little hard to figure. He seems obsessed with exposing 'Mark,' then quickly caves in based on a single but of evidence.

If it's such a crucial thing, why didn't he ask Mark about the medallion before? The larger issue (which has been mentioned by IMDb reviewers, among others) is the nature of identification itself, which never comes up in the movie. Even if soldiers are really mangled, even the enemy can identify them. That's the purpose of dog-tags. If this had been set in the 29th century or before, then the premise would be implausible.

In WWII, not so much. Nonetheless, Libel is an entertaining mystery, with plenty of possibilities, and a surprise witness seemingly from beyond the grave.

Dust Be My Destiny
(1939)

"We're not human beings anymore, we're like wild animals!"
A sure-fire premise: a wrongly accused (a couple of times) drifter/convict runs off with the work farm foreman's daughter. John Garfield and Priscilla Lane, as Joe and Mabel, hit the road when stepfather Charlie (Stanley Ridges), drunk and on the verge of a heart attack, croaks while trying to give Joe what-for when he catches them cuddling. Neither a convincing film noir nor a straight romantic drama, Dust has a little too much from the film genre dust bin.

For one thing, Joe meets up with some Dead End Kid guys after he's released from custody the first time; it's a tiny subplot which is contrived to get him in trouble again so that he can meet Mabel. After he and Mabel split from the work farm, they end up in a '30s version of a reality show marriage ceremony (complete with movie theater crowd of hecklers/spectators). Along with a wisecracking cop, this stuff seems to be from another movie. Just as the bandits-in-the-boxcar earlier. At least they're in love.

But the radio broadcast makes clear that Joe's wanted for Charlie's murder. Wouldn't an autopsy show that he died all on his own? Anyway, the consequence is that we get their rather hectic hitching, railroad bumming, on the lam existence. Which quickly leads to them getting disgusted with each other, and splitting up. She gets a ride from a trucker; well...at the very last second she has second thoughts and they go back to each other. They make it to a diner. But, with no money, Joe has to try a ruse. Doesn't work--but the guy let's them do a bit of work. Then he gives them jobs.

More light slice-of-life stuff, ala The Postman Always Rings Twice: we get the stereotyped Greek restaurant owner, Nick (Henry Arietta). Apparently his type has to be gregarious. So he gives a guy a break. But the respite doesn't last long; cops come looking for Joe, and almost nab him. They get Mabel. Posing as a news photographer, he talks his way into her cell. Another too-slick bit of plot. Well, it's cunningly played. Joe spirits Mabel away whole locking the jailer up. Nick provides the getaway ride to the station. Unlike The Postman-Ringing- Twice Nick, this one doesn't come between the young folks, he just tootles away.

But Mabel wants to Joe to give himself up "we can't go on like this!" So, why'd she marry him? Plot mystery No. 3 or 4. Sure enough, he has to pull a heist to keep them afloat; she (again) threatens to leave him. A deli is his mark. The clerk somehow reads him perfectly: she offers to give him food. He's so taken aback that he returns to their hotel empty handed. He's got to pawn stuff. Another miracle/coincidence: he witnesses a bank robbery. Still having his camera, he gets a photo of the robbers. It's worth a lot to the local paper; he not only gets credit as a good citizen, he gets a job with the paper.

With a healthy bonus. But, there's a catch: "they print my picture, I'm sunk!" Once again they've found a mentor/savior, Mike (Alan Hale), his boss, takes up for them. He finds a way to keep Joe's secret (how is for us to figure out). Another win win: the mob that was behind the bank heist offers Mike a ton of money for the photo negatives. Joe manages to climb aboard when the hoods take Mike for a ride. He gets shot, but recovers quickly. Now he's as good as bagged the culprits; still, his mug is bound to appear in the papers now.

For the third (last?) Mabel threatens to leave him. Finally the cops are wise to him--he's nabbed for Charlie's 'murder'. All of Joe's buddies and helpers testify for him. Still, all of their good will seems to amount to nothing. Joe goes on a rant about how the system's rigged, etc. He's right insofar as his case is concerned; but like a lot of the lines here, it's a bit too contrived. Just like his attorney's feel good speech. Well, the the tear-jerker bit for Mabel takes the cake. Verdict: not guilty. We knew that. I guess no one else thought so until all the nice words. The end.

This could've been a lot better. Had there not been so many coincidences (the major one, of course, the bank job), miles of Hallmark card dialogue, and a confusing tone, Dust might've been an interesting early noir/romantic drama. Even Lane's fine performance is undercut by her character's dithering. Garfield, rather unexpressive anyway, is too flinty and unappealing. It's almost as though his Joe wants to be a wronged man. The supporting cast is quite good; but, as said, they're cheerleading as though Joe is a teenager, not as someone who needs to show maturity.

Good enough, but just that.

Rage in Heaven
(1941)

"Some of my crazy patients are wiser than all your judges..."
Robert Montgomery, Ingrid Bergman, and George Sanders in a romantic triangle. To make it more interesting, Philip (Montgomery) is kind of a loose cannon, having been under the care of Dr. Rameau (Oskar Homulka) in Paris. When Philip returns to his mother's business in England, he woos his friend Ward's (Sanders') girlfriend Stella (Bergman). The story is from a novel by James Hilton.

The doctor confers with the British Consul at the Sanitorium. Apparently, Philip's suicidal. But, on the other hand, he escapes from right under their noses. At a London hotel, Ward meets up with Philip. They swing out to Philip family estate (very swanky). There they meet Stella, mom's (Lucile Watson). "Your both crazy" she surmised, light-heartedly. She admits to mom that she likes Philip, but next thing she's out riding with Ward. Philip is just lounging with mom. But she can't help pushing Stella on him; comparing him favorably to Ward.

Conveniently, Ward shoves off. So Phillip and Stella start flirting (Bergman is positively glowing). Anyway, mom insists that Philip run the family business; Stella pretty much seconds the motion.He manages to offend just about everyone at the office "I don't pay you to think!" He even chews out Stella. Mostly because he assumes that Ward is still in the mix; somehow Philip managed to marry her without any significant lead-up. So, time for Ward to visit. "Is it dangerous to leave you two people alone?" Philip says, not all that jokingly. Philip goes off on a business trip.

Which is a clue for Stella to confide in Ward. "Sometimes I feel that he wants to kill my love." When Philip gets back, he gets creepy again, imply that Ward is messing around with her. Then things literally blow up at the factory with alienated workers striking and rioting. After telling them off, he panics, and concedes everything to the workers. But, then, there was an accident, an employee died. Suddenly, he's a man of the people; he realizes that working conditions are unsafe. Things seem all that great: Ward thinks that Philip tried to push him into a cauldron of molten iron; not to mention that Ward admits he loves Stella.

They tell her that much. Now Philip can't shake his mistrust: "why are you so cruel to me?" she wonders. He says he'll "put an end to" their impasse. But the word "end" could mean anything. Spooked, she decides to leave. And shows up at Ward's. Right off, though, Ward gets a call from Philip. Strangely, Philip agrees to divorce Stella. Aha! He then keeps a journal of what has the feel of a plan: invite Ward to a rendezvous...possibly a knife in the door jam might be a hint. No one else on the premises; makes it easy, no witnesses.

An argument boils up--Philip is the combustible substance. They actually both survive the meeting: but, the dagger is set in the doorman again. It looks as though Philip is impaled on it. Ward's prints are on the thing, as he had to remove it to enter. In court, it looks bad for Ward; but is Philip dead? Must be--Stella's in mourning. But was he murdered? Eek! Ward's guilty. Not only that, he's to be executed. In prison, Ward pleads with the minister to see Stella. Ambiguously, she says "of course we love each other", but since she'd never told him, he doesn't know. She dies get to visit a bit with him.

They literally need "a miracle." The doctor from Paris looks in on Stella. He fills her in: oddly, Philip had assumed Ward's name when he was in France. Perhaps to pretend to be him in more than name. Anyway, she's sure that Philip wasn't murdered. Patients like Philip "love to confess." He has, indeed; the trick is to find the notes. There's an heredity angle to this too--Philip's father had killed himself as well. Sounds a bit Victorian Gothic. He has diaries, says mom.

They're going to find the incriminating one. The hit package had been sent to France. We know that: the diary will be found; it will save Ward. Other than another glimpse of cool pre-war Citroen taxi, this is all predictable. She reads out the diary to the prison warden (confusingly called a "governor"). Ward and Stella now have each other. The end.

As many other reviewers pint out, Rage In Heaven has a great cast, and a solid premise. But it stumbles both as a mystery and as a psychological thriller. The fake murder is a nice touch, but we know that Philip is up to something nasty anyway. If he'd written the diary, but it wasn't known to the viewer until the mom tells Stella of it, then we'd have something. Instead, it's like like setting up bowling pins and kicking them over.

As stated, Bergman is just fine--maybe too fine. She's effervescent no matter what Philip does. What's the reason for her to automatically choose him over Ward? It's obvious right away that Philip would rather sit back and watch others okay around. His blow ups are in line with what a narcissistic rich guy would act like; but we don't know enough about him to see this as less than contrived behavior. Normally, I don't like a lot of backstory anyway, but a bit more would've helped here.

Along with Sanders and Bergman, Homulka's performance is very good. In fact, his eccentric but no-nonsense approach is both stereotypical of a psychiatrist and an acknowledgement of unconventional genius. So, the movie has plenty going for it, and is quite watchable for the good performances. Just don't expect to remember much about it, except for what it promised.

The Secret Fury
(1950)

"There Is Evidence Of Psychotic Shock"
A couple is getting married; but a guy comes forward to say that the bride is already someone's wife. What's the deal? Well, David (Robert Ryan) and Ellen (Claudet Colbert) are going to find out.

Ominously, no one in the house staff seems to know David when he arrives at the wedding mansion. Ellen's aunt Claire (Jane Cowl) jokes a bit with her that she was supposed to have married Eric (Paul Kelly). Then we meet Ellen's guardian, Gregory (Philip Ober). Time for the ceremony.

She was married to Lucien (Dave Barbour) says the interloper. It checks out. She wasn't where she was supposed to have been that day; in fact she was in the town where the previous ceremony took place. But she claims to not even know Lucien. Now we get the backstory from Claire that Ellen had been close to a breakdown.

Sure enough, It's her signature on the marriage documents with Lucien. When they go to see the officiant at the Lucien/Ellen wedding, everyone recognizes her. Now even Claire and Eric start to doubt her. The consensus is they've got to find this Lucien to find out what's going on.

We find Ellen alone, thinking back: a flashback. Her on the beach, by a swanky house, with a guy. When she gets away from the memory, Ellen immediately phones David. She claims that she's cleared up the whole mess. The hotel maid recalls her honeymoon though, with Lucien, that is. "Nice seeing you again." The maid pops back in just as David arrives.

Her memory that ends with her holding a seashell doesn't mean much; she was with a guy. Later, they go to see Lucien, who's with a bunch of musicians. Lucien approaches her, calls her his wife. She is taken aback: how does he know her? It becomes stranger when a shot is heard from the closed room. He's been shot dead.

Of course she's the one and only suspect. She insists that not only did she not kill Lucien, she'd never met him before. No prints on the gun, anyway. It was Claire's gun. Actually, Eric, who's the D.A., had been Ellen's jilted boyfriend (also the loudmouth at the wedding). David is so upset he slugs the D.A.

Later, David comes to Gregory's office with maybe some good news. It seems that Lucien was a blackmailer; that's no good, though, as that gives Ellen more of a motive. A former lover of Lucien's related that he thought that Ellen was dangerous. With Ellen on the stand, Eric implies that she'd been blackmailing Lucien.

Gregory objects in that Eric is not only defaming her, but his personal interest in the case means his intrinsically biased. She starts to lose it; Gregory changes her plea to "guilty by reason of insanity." She's being evaluated at an institution for diagnostic purposes; no "unconscious aggression" detected.

David talks to Claire--she pretty much thinks that Ellen's lost. Nonetheless, he goes to the institution; the doctor says Ellen's living in an "opaque" world. He goes through her things, and finds the tell-tale seashell. Maybe more clues at the beach? Hmm, back to the county records office to check up on the clerk's memory of Ellen.

That guy remembers a scar on her hand. Next stop is the hotel where Ellen stayed recently. Now the maid doesn't remember "the Randall's". He plans to meet her at her room later; looks like a set-up. Very noirish atmosphere: sure enough, amid shadows and lights, she gets strangled before David gets there. So, he finds the body, and the murder weapon.

Wisely, he leaves. Some creepy possibilities; like a guy lurking in his backseat set to strangle him. It's the interloper from the wedding, a friend of Lucien's. Screeching to a halt, David runs away from the car--pretty soon they're fighting. David wins. Yeah, the guy framed Ellen. The judge and make were paid to act their parts in this plot. He killed the maid--but Lucien?

Leave that problem for the cops. On the way there, though, Eric manages to hurl himself out of the car. Is he dead too? Back at the institution, Ellen's playing away at the piano. David and Gregory come by to fill her in. She seems catatonic. "We have proof that you never married (Lucien) Randle." And she could have killed him either.

She comes to life, but then freaks out. What's going on with her now? At her family home, she, David, Claire, Eric and Gregory get together-"she's not insane, she never was" says David. Really? She pulls a gun on Claire and Gregory." To Gregory: "You had me locked up like an animal!" Aha! It's Gregory who's the bad guy; he'd likewise been put-away by her father years before.

It's literally kill or be killed. She has the gun. She knows, that, given her history, she'll never see the light of day if she pulls the trigger. Fortunately, David intervenes: but she looks like the nut, ranting and raving, holding a gun on Gregory. Pleading with David, Eric shows his hand, so to speak, by wielding an ax. David manages to push him back; a falling hunk of debris finishes him off. The end.

The last half hour or so is very good noir; the rest is a decent mystery. That's ok, but there's a substantial change in tone and atmosphere. It's like half a Hitchcock movie. The ending leaves some loose ends, but the revelation that the trusted Gregory is the bad guy is enough to let things fall into place.

The main problem is Eric's unseemly presence in the courtroom. There's just no way that he would've been an appropriate choice as prosecutor. I see that it was Gregory's strategy to allow this, dingbat Ellen wouldn't walk away. And, again in half-Hitchcock style, the nutty, ax-wielding Gregory is sort of conjured out of thin air from his previous avuncular role. It's an interesting subplot, but it's just too much of a switch, too abruptly.

Almost as contrived is Ellen's "sickness." I understand that mental states can be episodic, but she seems to lose it as if on cue. A breakdown in a courtroom doesn't equate to a total breakdown, it's a reaction to stress.

There's enough good stuff here to entertain us; but it's a bit disappointing, nonetheless.

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