Friday, October 21, 2016


Someone who calls himself "the Earl of Destiny" has been sending letters to the press and to Scotland Yard commissioner Nielsen, claiming that he has the answer to all the world's problems. Meanwhile, on the day before his long-delayed wedding to his fiancée Phyllis (Heather Angel), Bulldog Drummond (John Howard, at left) gets a strange letter from his scientist friend Richard Gannett saying he can't attend as he's too busy saving mankind from future wars, and after his signature, he signs "Earl of Destiny." We find out that Gannett has created a death and destruction ray (actually, two rays fired up together); he wants to use it for peaceful ends, but Rolf Alverson (George Zucco) and his henchmen kill Gannett and steal the device for nefarious purposes. When Drummond finds the dying Gannett, his last words are "Look out for the stinger!" and oddly, it turns out that Gannett died from stingray venom, despite being nowhere near water. Once again, Drummond postpones his wedding to investigate with his good friend Algy (Reginald Denny), bring the killer to justice, and get the death ray back before it wrecks havoc.

I'm not typically a film buff completist—I don't need to see every movie in a series—but I have enjoyed tracking down the Bulldog Drummond films, most of which are in the public domain and fairly easily available, though often in somewhat tattered prints (I found this one on the Criterion streaming channel through Hulu and it was in very good shape). Even though Drummond was played by Ronald Colman, Ray Milland, John Lodge and Ralph Richardson (among others), I think I like Howard best of all. He may not be a great actor or cut the butchest figure, but he has an easygoing manner, approaching danger as though it's just another aspect of a playboy's lifestyle. Howard is helped by the antics of the reliable Denny, and the presence of other regulars in the series (Angel as Phyllis, H.B. Warner as the commissioner, E.E. Clive as the resourceful butler—who seems to me to be a model for Woodhouse, the much-suffering butler on TV's Archer). Zucco is, as always, a gem as the madman villain. There is a cute running gag involving Drummond's inability to tie his tie. Though I find the constant stalled wedding antics tiresome, they aren't too intrusive here. A strong entry in the series. [Streaming]

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


On his wedding day, James Dunn is desperately trying to call his bride (Florence Rice) but her line is perpetually busy, so in a gag scene that sets the movie's tone, he sends a telegram. After the wedding, she tells him that she has cancelled their California honeymoon in order to spend time at a house that her father has bought for them. Dunn and his valet (Sam McDaniel) aren't happy about the change in plans, but they have no choice. When they arrive at the house, they meet the caretaker (Robert Dudley), a retired hangman who still makes little nooses as a hobby, and he tells them that the house belonged to a killer named Honeyboy who was Dudley’s last "client." Several surprises are in store for our newlyweds: 1) Dudley claims that the house was left to him; 2) Honeyboy's body is being shipped to the house that very day; 3) arriving to meet it is a clutch of grieving relatives—but they're actually gangsters looking for Honeyboy's secret stash; 4) unbeknownst to anyone, it’s not Honeyboy in the coffin, it’s the very live Killer Blake who has broken out of prison and plans on finding the stash himself. Let the B-movie shenanigans begin.

This amounts to an old-dark-house comedy done on a low budget, and the print I saw is, in spots, very murky, which is a problem when much of the last half of the movie takes place in dark rooms. But generally, this is fairly fun, and one reason is the joke-filled screenplay by Morey Amsterdam, much better known as comedy writer Buddy on the original Dick Van Dyke Show. The laughs don't all land, but a higher percentage do than in the average Poverty Row indie of the era. James Dunn and Florence Rice don't have strong comic chops, but McDaniel has some fun with his limited role, and he gets some good lines; after dealing with secret passages and dead bodies, he exclaims, "In two hours we could be in New York with millions of people around—and all of them alive!" Mabel Todd is a standout as a ditzy moll. Short (under an hour) and painless. [YouTube]

Monday, October 17, 2016

WAY…WAY OUT (1966)

In the far future of 1994, America and Russia have weather stations on the moon, each manned by one weathernaut and one astronomer. When the Americans (Howard Morris and Dennis Weaver) have what amounts to a nervous breakdown (attributed to sexual frustration) and start assaulting each other, NAWA—the weather version of NASA—decides to send up a married couple to replace the two men. Jerry Lewis, the next weatherman in line for the job, has to get married fast, and from a pool of two eligible female astronomers, he picks the lovely and wholesome Connie Stevens. She's not crazy about the idea but agrees if he’'l keep the relationship platonic, which frustrates Lewis no end. On the moon, the two become friendly with the Russians—the sexy Anita Ekberg and her boyfriend Dick Shawn—but a bump develops when Ekberg says that she's pregnant and so a Russian will be the first baby born on the moon. There’s no way that Lewis and Stevens could arrange to beat that, is there?

I'm not really a Jerry Lewis fan, but he's going to be on Turner Classic Movies cruise I'm going on next month, so I thought I should prepare by trying to catch a couple of his movies. I like THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, but I have never taken to his more slapsticky, "Hey, Ladyyyyyy" performances. In this film, he is subdued—his character is a mild playboy figure, though not as extreme as Buddy Love in PROFESSOR—but the surrounding movie is nothing more than an extended riff on sexual frustration. At the time of release, some of this may have seemed almost daring—for example, the Russians are co-habiting but are not married—but now much of it just seems cutesy-smutty. Lewis is bearable, Stevens is appropriately sweet, and Robert Morley is good as their NAWA boss. The rest of the performances are all over the map. Morris and Weaver have good chemistry as the battling men (their fisticuffs scene is a highlight), though Morris is a bit over-the-top sometimes in his near-drooling horniness. Ekberg fulfills her role (to be hot) well; Shawn, also not one of my favorites, is generally OK. What I really liked about this movie, however, is the production design. It's a perfect colorful 60s view on what the future would look like. Watch for a young James Brolin in the opening scenes. Harmless but mostly recommended to fans of either Lewis or of 60s sex farces. Pictured above are Weaver and Lewis. [FMC]

Thursday, October 13, 2016


A composer of film music tells a director the story of where he got his inspiration for his current piece. There's a house in Dorset that the locals call the House of Strange Music; they say that a ghostly melody can be heard that conjures up visions of the past residents, a dysfunctional family named Merryman. Young Francis (Laurence Harvey), a composer and pianist, resents the fact that his older brother John (Alexander Archdale), a violinist, has control of the family estate until his death. Both live in the house along with Francis's wife Elaine; a third brother, the passive Noel who is engaged to Lucy; and the feisty housekeeper Tessa. Francis has been racking up gambling debts and signing John's name to the IOUs, and now John, who is plagued with a weak heart, has had enough and takes steps to disassociate himself from Francis. But Francis is one step ahead and during an angry confrontation, he goads John into a heart attack. John dies and Francis seems to get what he wanted—until strange sounds and visions make the family believe that John's ghost may be haunting the house.

This little-known film is a gem of a Gothic thriller; it has some of the shortcomings of a low-budget B-film—some plot holes, mostly so-so acting—but it also has the young Laurence Harvey (pictured) in his first film role and, though I'm not particularly a fan of his, he is very good here, carrying the movie and standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. The other actors are fair to middling—the strongest being John Teed as Noel and Grace Arnold as Tessa—and it might have been fun to see Harvey enact his role with stronger actors opposite him. But as it is, Harvey has a bit of an Anthony Perkins-Psycho vibe, especially early on. He has a tendency to smirk which some critics think is a fault, but I think it's perfectly in tune with his character. At heart, this is a psychological thriller with a ghost story overlay and a nicely ambiguous ending. The frame story, which features George Melachrino playing himself as a film music composer, is an awkward fit with the rest of the story, but it is unusual. Recommended. [TCM]

Monday, October 10, 2016


George Peppard climbs up soaking wet to the highway from a wrecked car; he has amnesia so he just keeps walking until he comes to a bar where people seem to know him—and they don't especially like him. Turns out he's a playboy-type (even though he's married to Elizabeth Ashley), son of a rich but dying father (Herbert Marshall). The family is particularly disliked right now because Peppard's brother-in-law (Roddy McDowell) is pushing to sell the family factory, which would throw many townspeople out of work. The pianist at the bar (Arte Johnson) seems to loathe Peppard; we soon find out that Peppard was having an affair with his wife (Sally Kellerman). Even worse, when the police find Peppard's car in the river, they find the dead body of Kellerman and want to charge him with murder. Of course, the amnesiac Peppard is a nicer guy than the playboy Peppard, but can he patch things up with his wife, stop the sale of the factory, and get out of the murder charge?

This is not the most original plotline and it becomes predictable pretty quickly, but the movie is generally entertaining—if you can buy the "amnesia change" aspect of the story, which is a tried and true plot device in literature and movies. The young and handsome Peppard (pushing 40 but looking younger) does a nice job in the lead role, managing to convey a certain personality emptiness without coming off as vacuous. Ashley—his wife in real life at the time—has to work with a character that is not well-rounded and so doesn't make  much of an impression. Better are the nasty, brittle Roddy McDowell (gay subtext, of course) and the nastier Arte Johnson, who banishes all thoughts of his comic character on Laugh-In. A strong supporting cast helps: Mona Washbourne as Peppard's aunt, Robert Webber as a cop, and Arthur O'Connell as a doctor. This was Herbert Marshall's last film—he died a year later—and he plays an uncommunicative stroke victim whom McDowell is trying to get around in order to sell the factory. Funniest (unintentionally) line: a rider showing off says about his horse, "Watch me put the wench through her paces—she’s all woman!" Style-wise, it's shot like a TV movie but the widescreen angles are often filled with nice background detail. [DVD]

Friday, October 07, 2016


Archeologist John Benton returns from an expedition to Mongolia where Benton found a scroll in an ancient tomb which may hold the key to the location of the fabled Temple of Eternal Fire. His cameraman Frasier shows some clips of the expedition at a presentation at the local university, but just as Benton is about to discuss his findings, he drops dead at the lectern. The police, led by Captain Street (Grant Withers), find that someone had put a quick-acting poison in his water carafe. Jimmy Lee Wong (Keye Luke), a former student of Benson's, offers Street his help and soon the two are trying to narrow down a list of suspects including Win Len, Benson's somewhat secretive secretary (Lotus Long); Tommy, the expedition pilot (Robert Kellard); Frasier, the cameraman; the owner of a Chinatown restaurant who acts like he has something to hide; and Benton's butler. Added to the mix is Mason, an expedition team member assumed lost and dead in a storm in Mongolia but who may be alive and kicking—and out for revenge.

This is the last of six Mr. Wong B-mysteries from Monogram, and, despite attempts at doing something different, one of the lesser efforts. The primary unusual aspect is that a central Chinese character is actually played by a Chinese actor. I've liked Keye Luke in supporting roles, but here, he doesn't have the charisma or gravitas to anchor the movie. The earlier films all had Boris Karloff in the main role, which points to another interesting thing about this film: it goes back in time to show Wong before he became a card-carrying detective—but this potentially intriguing plot point is never brought forward, so if you were unaware of the earlier Mr. Wong movies, this would just be another Asian detective yarn. Wong fans may enjoy the continued presence of Grant Withers as Capt. Street, but the rest of the supporting cast is unexceptional at best, and in the case of Lotus Long, terrible—she reads virtually all of her lines like it's the first time she's read them. Unsurprisingly, she did not have a stellar career, though she does have small roles in other Mr. Wong movies. I'm sorry that the handsome Robert Kellard (pictured with Luke) had so little to do except look handsome. The plot itself is a little unusual in that it's basically a "Mummy" movie storyline, set in China instead of Egypt, and without a mummy. But the filmmakers don't do much with that novelty, except for the gimmick of having flashbacks to the expedition alternate with the filmed footage that Frasier took. Monogram gets a couple of points for trying, but generally a disappointing end to the series. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

THE MUMMY (1959)

In Egypt in 1895, archeologist Stephen Banning discovers the long-lost tomb of Princess Ananka. The Egyptian spoilsport Mehemet Bey warns him that there is a curse on desecrators, but he ignores that and, leaving his son John (Peter Cushing) laid up with a broken leg, behind at camp, Stephen enters the tomb. He discovers something called the Scroll of Life, reads it out loud, screams, is found a gibbering mess, and spends the next several years in an asylum. Eventually, he comes out of his state long enough to tell his son what happened: the reading of the scroll awoke the mummy Kharis (Christopher Lee), protector of Ananka, and guided by Mehemet Bey, Kharis will be tracking down the desecrators. Sure enough, that's what happens.

This is a Hammer reboot of the Universal series. It’s largely based on the later 1940s B-movie series of Mummy movies (in which the name Kharis is first used) rather than the 1932 classic with Boris Karloff, and it's one of Hammer’s weaker efforts, though not for lack of trying on the part of Lee and Cushing who, like Vincent Price, almost always tried their best even when the material was far below them. The opening sequence, featuring the archeologist going mad, is based directly on the opening of the 1932 film, and though the tomb set is fairly well done, the scene itself misses the mark by quite a bit—it's just not scary. The idea that a living woman (played blandly by Yvonne Furneaux) reminds Kharis of his princess and the Egyptian character who aids Kharis are both borrowed from the Universal mythology to only occasionally effective use. A specific link to the Karloff film is an nicely done flashback scene showing how Kharis became the creature he is. The one plus this has over the earlier series is that the mummy moves quickly and attacks brutally, and Lee, his piercing eyes vivid under the mummy makeup, makes the most of his scenes. This is worth one viewing, but I doubt it would stand up very well to repeat visits. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


Young Melodye (Kim Darby) leaves city life behind to start over in the country; she is hired by the people of the small California farming village of Bendo to be their schoolteacher. The inhabitants are not exactly unfriendly but they are standoffish and seem a bit old-fashioned, having largely cut themselves off from popular culture, and she is surprised when she is given carte blanche to teach in the one-room schoolhouse however she sees fit. But the children are a joyless bunch who don't know how to sing and shuffle when they walk. One young man, Francher (Chris Valentine), shows some promise, but Melodye is freaked out when it seems that he can read her mind. When he shows her his ability to levitate, she realizes she's embedded with a strange group of people indeed, but are they well-meaning or sinister?

This TV-movie is based on the concept created by Zenna Henderson, specifically the frame story to her first short story collection, Pilgrimage: The Book of the People. I read that collection when I was a teenager, and I found the overall idea of the People to be more interesting than most of the short stories themselves, which all tended to have the same themes of conformity and prejudice. I won't spoil your discovery of who the People are, but suffice to say that this movie was intended as a pilot for a TV series that wasn't picked up. Considering its limitations as a TV-movie, it comes off quite well. A big chunk of the acting is done by kids, most of whom did not go on to long acting careers, though all of them, especially Valentine, are fine. William Shatner (pictured above) has a surprisingly low-key role as the village doctor, and Diane Varsi and Dan O’Herlihy play the primary adult roles. The whole thing has a Ray Bradbury feel to it, just as the original book seemed inspired structurally by The Martian Chronicles. This is not on DVD; the print I watched on YouTube was unnaturally stretched out from the original full-screen TV format to an inappropriate widescreen format. I was able to adjust for this on my television, but if you can't do that, beware. [YouTube]

Friday, September 30, 2016


Private detective Humphrey Campbell (Chester Morris) was hired to find Louise (Jean Parker), a missing heiress, and when he found her, he married her. Now they're in Reno on their honeymoon, which doesn't stop his boss Oscar from tracking him down to take on another missing persons case, this one involving Hal Benedict, the son of a wealthy rancher. Humphrey doesn't want it, but Oscar promises Louise a mink coat if she can talk him into it, and of course she does (otherwise, there'd be no movie). Thus are Humphrey and Louise thrown into a most convoluted mystery. Hal was supposed to marry his father's ward Rose, but according to a bar pianist, Hal was dating Irene; when Humphrey goes to visit her, he finds her dead with Rose hiding in the house, insisting that Irene was dead when she arrived. Meanwhile, Humphrey gets involved with a brassy blonde named Gypsy (which makes Louise jealous), a couple of FBI agents also looking for Hal, and a gang of bank robbers led by Red Harris (Dick Purcell) who think that Humphrey is a former gang member turned snitch. Two more developments: it turns out that Rose was engaged to Tom Reed, a foreman on the Campbell ranch; and Hal had hired a Reno private investigator named Copley to get back love letters to Irene that were being used to blackmail him.

There is much more to this B-mystery, and it is a credit to the filmmakers that, though the proceedings get murky, I was for the most part able to straggle along with the labyrinthine plot and enjoy the movie. Morris makes a fine leading man, and he has good chemistry with Parker; the two are pictured above in a slapstick shower scene. The film is based on a book in a series by Geoffrey Homes that featured Campbell; another one was adapted a few years later as CRIME BY NIGHT featuring Jerome Cowan as a re-named Sam Campbell. Morris makes a good fit and it's too bad that no more were made with him—instead he wound up spending much of the decade as another sleuth, Boston Blackie. There's a running gag about how much Campbell likes milk, even ordering it at bars, and how milk gives his wife a rash, but the payoff is very minor. Others in the cast include Astrid Allwyn as Gypsy, Rod Cameron as Reed, Grant Withers, Keye Luke, and Milburn Stone. Entertaining; if you find the plot hard to follow, just go along for the ride. (The title comes from a clock without hands above the entrance to a mortuary.) [YouTube]

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

ENCORE (1951)

This is the last of three British anthology films made from the stories of (and introduced by) W. Somerset Maugham, the earlier ones being QUARTET and TRIO. Television made these kinds of films mostly obsolete, but there is a certain nostalgic charm to this that makes it still quite watchable. In "The Ant and the Grasshopper," wealthy lawyer Roland Culver is constantly approached by his slacker brother (Nigel Patrick) for money which he immediately wastes on gambling. Culver begins refusing and insisting that Patrick be gainfully employed, so Patrick gets jobs that put Culver in an embarrassed position—doorman at his club, bartender at his pub, etc. Finally, Patrick goes on holiday, meets a rich woman, and an unexpected reversal of fortunes closes the story. In "Winter Cruise," which is amusing but is basically an extended variety show skit, Kay Walsh, a good-natured spinster who never shuts up, gets on the nerves of the crew of a cargo ship on which she has booked passage for a vacation cruise to the Caribbean and back. How the crew tries to distract her forms the bulk of the vignette.

The last story, "Gigolo and Gigolette," is about a husband-and-wife acrobat act (Glynis Johns and Terence Morgan, pictured) currently performing at a ritzy resort. At the climax of their act, Johns does a high dive into a small pool of water surrounded by a ring of fire. This is the gimmick that has made them in demand, but after hearing a story of a diver who lost her nerve, Johns becomes convinced that she will too, and tries to get out of doing the high dive. The rest of the story explains her loss of nerve and how her husband tries to help her get it back. Unfortunately, this last story is the weakest—it's well acted but feels underdone. Still, the first two are fun and not completely predictable. Culver, Patrick and Walsh are all quite good. It's a shame that the weak entry wasn’t first—I suspect it's in last place because it's the most serious. [TCM]