Thursday, December 31, 2015

IT! (1967) / THE FROZEN DEAD (1966)

These two films were shot in England by producer and director Herbert J. Leder and released in the United States together on a double bill. Both are variations on standard horror movie tropes. In IT! (which is basically the Frankenstein monster meets Psycho), Roddy McDowall is an assistant to a museum curator who goes with his boss to inspect the ruins of a warehouse fire. In the smoldering ashes, they find a large stone statue in humanoid from with a spooky-looking pointed head. The curator puts his umbrella in the outstretched arms of the statue and next thing you know, he's dead at the feet of the statue, and McDowall notices that the statue's arms are in a different position. It's taken to the museum and is determined to be the legendary Golem of Prague, a creature who could be activated through mystical means to protect the Jews of the city. McDowall, who incidentally keeps his dead mother at home in a rocking chair, learns to control the indestructible Golem and wrecks havoc around London until the military drops a small atomic bomb in hopes of destroying the creature.

This movie has many faults, the biggest of which is the weak script; they bother to identify the creature as the Golem but then do absolutely nothing with that potentially interesting plotline, turning "It" into just another shambling super-strong monster. Same goes for McDowall's character who seems to be a slightly better-adjusted Norman Bates; he has a crush on the curator's daughter (Jill Haworth) and has the Golem destroy a bridge just to impress her, but she falls for a manlier American (Paul Maxwell) and so winds up a damsel in distress in the climax. But the dead mom is just a weird plot detail from which nothing comes. McDowall does what he can but generally the acting is lackluster. What stops this film from crossing over into camp is the Golem itself, which is treated seriously for the most part. Unfortunately the atom bomb finale is very silly.

THE FROZEN DEAD is a forerunner of the Nazi zombie mini-genre that has sprung up lately (as in 2009's DEAD SNOW). Dana Andrews is a German scientist living in an English mansion who has been working for 20 years on the project of thawing out a handful of important Nazis, including his brother (Edward Fox), who were frozen at the end of the war. Despite getting funding from some surviving Nazi bigwigs, he has not yet had complete success: the bodies can be brought back—as can body parts; Andrews has a wall full of human arms hung like decorations a la Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST—but the brains don't function. The same day that Andrews' niece (Anna Palk) and her friend (Kathleen Breck) arrive for a visit, Andrews learns from his superior (Karel Stepanek) that there are 1500 more Nazis on ice waiting for revival and Stepanek is getting impatient, so Andrews' creepy assistant (Alan Tilvern) kills Breck but keeps her head alive for experimentation purposes. What they don’t count on is Breck's brain establishing a telepathic bond with Palk, who gets visiting American scientist Philip Gilbert to help her search for the missing girl. Though fairly low-key, this is a better movie than IT!, partly due to Dana Andrews who is quite good, and to the production design—the lab is atmospheric, the frozen Nazis are creepy, and the disembodied head looks properly distraught. There is very little gore here for modern viewers, but the tone is properly creepy. [DVD]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

THE COUCH (1962)

From behind his shoulder, we watch blandly handsome and seemingly mild-mannered Charles Campbell (Grant Williams) call the police from a pay phone and tell them he will murder someone in five minutes. Sure enough, as he walks down the street, he stops at a small crowd watching a toy vendor's street demonstration, pulls out an ice pick, stabs a man from behind, and escapes unnoticed. He goes immediately to his scheduled appointment with his psychiatrist, Dr. Janz. We learn that Charles was in jail for some reason and his appointments are court-ordered as part of his release arrangement. Now he has quit his job because a secretary alleged that he made a violent pass at her—he tells Janz that she made the pass—and the doc tells him that he will never get better until he faces up to his resentment against authority figures. The one bright spot in Charles's life seems to be his growing relationship with Janz's receptionist Terry (Shirley Knight); though she's breaking the rules about fraternizing with clients, she slowly falls for him, especially after he tells her about his past—he says he was in jail after his beloved sister died in a car accident for which he was held accountable. But after he calls the cops and commits a second random killing, we find out even more disturbing things about him.

Co-written by Robert Bloch, this plays out like a less-interesting version of Bloch's story for PSYCHO. Charles is very much like Norman Bates: a handsome, high-strung young man with some mildly effeminate shadings and a very troubled background. Instead of a mother fixation, Charles has daddy issues (hence his problem with authority) and, we learn by the end, buried incestuous feelings for his sister, who it turns out is not dead after all. The movie has an effective noir look—I can recall very few daytime scenes in the movie—and the acting is good, especially from Williams and Knight. Unfortunately, things are never quite as tense as they should be, maybe because of the randomness of the killings, or the plain backgrounds which look like TV show sets (though there are a few location shots), or the unexplored plotlines. Williams' backstory is parceled out in small bits but it's all told rather plainly instead of shown—I guess the same thing happens in PSYCHO, but Hitchcock was a master of suspense, and director Owen Crump is not. A potentially interesting situation involving the sexpot young daughter of the keeper of the boarding house where Charles lives goes nowhere—except to provide a bizarre punchline at the very end. Generally this movie deserves its relative obscurity, but fans of Williams (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) will want to see it as he had very few leading roles in his short career. [DVD]

Monday, December 28, 2015


In 1789 France, a group called the Companions of Jehu, led by the mysterious masked Roland, fights the corruption of the court of Louis XVI and of complacent French aristocrats by stealing from the rich in a series of coach robberies and giving the proceeds to the poor. Roland is actually an aristocratic baron (Willard Parker), and one day his band happens to rob a coach containing the King himself, traveling incognito, his unpleasant assistant Gaston (George Macready), and Englishman Sir John Tanley (John Loder), a banking representative who is in the country to arrange a possible loan to the King, with France itself as collateral. At Roland's headquarters in an abandoned abbey assumed to be haunted by the villagers, a plan is hatched: the King, staying in a nearby inn, has been flirting with Christine, a chambermaid (Janis Carter) who is actually one of Roland's Companions, so when the King asks Christine to visit him at his summer place in Charenton, she does, serving as a spy for Roland so his men wind up knowing (and then avoiding) all of Gaston's plots to capture them. But personal problems provide turmoil: Christine, who has a crush on Roland, is jealous of his lover Amelie (Anita Louise) and plots to have the King marry her off to Sir John; the troublemaking Gaston is Amelie's brother, and the Companions begin to feel as if Roland is treating him with kid gloves. By the end, the first wave of the French Revolution solves our hero's problems.

This mild B-swashbuckler is based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas, though it feels more like a lukewarm version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. The low budget leaves most of the big scenes (not just action sequences but also a royal dinner scene) feeling under-populated and under-decorated, but the acting and narrative keep things fairly interesting. The leads are a little on the colorless side, but Macready, Loder, and especially Janis Carter are fun. Carter (pictured above at far right) feels too modern, but she adds a nice jolt of energy missing from Parker and Louise, and I looked forward to her appearances. Lloyd Corrigan is a bland Louis, but Edgar Buchanan adds some spice as Parker's right-hand man. Not one to search out, but not a total waste of time. [TCM]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Up in Actor's Heaven, a theater proscenium arch on a puffy white cloud, former entertainers turned angels sing about their primary chore: to guide struggling actors down on Earth. A somewhat bumbling angel/magician named Phineas botched his last job: as a publicity stunt, he had Terwilliger bury himself alive, but then forgot where he was buried. As a way to redeem himself, Phineas begs to be sent down on another mission, to help aspiring stage actress Karen, currently living in a boarding house fancifully named the Chateau d'Artistes. Karen has been living on a trust fund, but she's soon to turn 21 and the money will come to an end. She's involved in a rather loose romantic triangle with two men living in the same building: her official boyfriend, playwright Paul, though handsome and pleasant, wants her to give up her dream of acting and marry him; her admirer, artist David, who wears glasses and is a little whimsical, encourages Karen to keep trying. Phineas heads down to Brooklyn posing as a producer who wants to put on a show with all of the unemployed actors at the boarding house. He tries to convince a real producer to audition the kids, but of course there are complications, the most important of which is that Paul overhears Phineas in his room talking about "minting" money and assumes that Phineas is a forger—when actually, he is creating the money by magic. Paul calls the police and chaos ensues.

I couldn't come up with a Christmas movie to review this year, but this delightful little gem from the B-studio Republic is close in feeling to a holiday story. It's a fantasy/musical which feels like a cross between two movies which came a couple of years later, THE BISHOP'S WIFE and DOWN TO EARTH. Though the low budget does interfere with total fulfillment of the project, everyone on screen seems so full of cheer and good nature that it seems petty to carp about its production failings. The songs are actually as good as those in any average big-studio musical, even if the actual filmed numbers are a bit lacking. One song, "When You’re In Love," is particularly memorable ("When you’re in love/You're a hero, a Nero, the Wizard of Oz"—though I'm not sure the wicked Nero or the phony Wizard are really good examples of romantic role models.) I like that the rather passive plain-looking David (Robert Duke, who only made two more movies) turns out to be the romantic hero. The boarding house atmosphere is effective. I'd heard of virtually none of the actors except Jay Presson Allen who has a small role as the producer's secretary—she went on to become a screenwriter of some note (CABARET, THE VERDICT). Charles Kemper (Phineas) was a character actor with several credits—in his delivery he reminds me of comic actor Victor Moore. Very fun, and worth hunting down. [Streaming]

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


During an atomic experiment gone wrong, Dr. Noymann (John Carradine) is killed and Dr. Penner (Philip Tonge) wants to stop the program, warning that, in the American/Soviet race for atomic supremacy, radioactivity may be leaking into space and might come back to haunt us. At Noymann's funeral, we see—though no one else does—an invisible presence pushing apart tree branches and making tracks on the ground. Later Noymann's corpse is re-animated, possessed by an invisible alien from the moon. Soon more fresh corpses are being re-animated and they warn Penner that Earth has 24 hours to surrender before the moon creatures begin total destruction of the planet. Penner's assistant, Dr. Lamont (Robert Hutton), tries to warn Washington about this attempted "dictatorship of the universe," but to no avail, and eventually more of the dead are shambling about, wrecking a reign of terror across the globe. Penner, Lamont, and Penner's daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron) are driven to an underground bunker by army major Bruce Jay (John Agar) to do intensive work on how to fight the aliens. But tensions within the group—at least partly romantic, as the major falls for Phyllis even though Lamont seems moderately interested in her—threaten their task just as much as the radioactive "zombies" outside.

This B-science fiction film is notable in at least one aspect: it seems like it might have inspired George Romero to create the zombie walk (or stalk, or stumble, or shamble) for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the same walk which has become iconic. Of course, this movie wasn't the first to depict slow zombies—they go back at least as far as 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE—but the walking dead here, in their dirty and disheveled suits and ties and their hollow eyes look exactly like Romero's creatures, all the creepier for looking almost normal. The narrative doesn't bear close examination, the invisibility part of the plot means nothing, and there's a lot of unconvincing stock footage standing in for world destruction. Still, the atmosphere is occasionally effective—especially in the bunker, a setting that reminded me of Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD—and the acting is as good as it needs to be: Byron and Hutton are colorless, but Tonge (Maureen O’Hara's Macy’s buddy in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) is authoritative, and Agar (pictured with Byron) is stoic and good-looking, exactly what is required here. Carradine only appears briefly. Worth a watch for fans of 50s SF. [Streaming]

Monday, December 21, 2015


Up-and-coming singer Gloria Grahame returns home from a radio appearance and argues with her discoverer and mentor (Maureen O'Hara); Grahame, who sings under the name Estrellita, wants to quit the business and O'Hara, who had to retire when she lost her voice, is angry. After the bedroom door closes, a shot rings out; when the police arrive, they find a wounded Grahame, and an all-too-willing confessor to the crime in O'Hara. Melvyn Douglas, O'Hara’s former lover, doesn't believe that she shot Grahame, and an extended flashback tells how O'Hara and Douglas found Grahame—Douglas says she has "a voice with hormones"—and trained her as an entertainer. Along the way, Grahame gets tired of being just a puppet for O'Hara and starts getting ideas, including dating two men, a lawyer (Victor Jory) and an ex-GI (Bill Williams). So we have plenty of characters who might be suspects, and detective Jay C. Flippen tries to sort things out.

This is a moderately interesting mix of soap opera and film noir, but ultimately things work out in a milquetoastish way leading to a disappointing ending. The acting is good, especially from O'Hara who gets a character with a little more depth than usual—we want to like her, but we also know that her losing her singing voice has twisted her a bit. I was tempted to read a same-sex attraction between her and her protégé, but I’m not sure that reading would fly—though people's motives remain ambiguous throughout. Grahame and Douglas are fine, and Jory has a rare sympathetic role. Comic relief is provided by Flippen and his wife (Mary Philips) who becomes like a Watson to his Holmes—I liked their banter at first, but it got a little tiresome and distracting. Directed by Nicholas Ray who married Grahame not long after filming was complete. [TCM]

Friday, December 18, 2015


Claude Mann is a low-paid bank worker, still living with his strict father, who is a little jealous of his colleague (Paul Guers) who manages to live the high life even though his is married and makes the same salary as Claude. Paul's secret, which he is happy to share with Claude, is gambling. With some recent winnings, Paul buys a car in which he gives Claude a spin, and he talks Claude into going to a casino with him. First time out, Claude wins big at the roulette table and catches the fever, though he is startled when he sees a lovely blonde woman being forcibly escorted from the casino for cheating. Claude decides, against his father’s wishes, to skip the upcoming family vacation and instead go the Riviera to gamble. While there, he meets the blonde (Jeanne Moreau) who he finds out is addicted to gambling, and the two set off on a multi-day roulette table spree in which their fortunes rise and fall spectacularly.

In terms of character and narrative, there's not a lot happening here. Aside from some lightly-sketched character traits, we don't find out much about these two people, and the plot amounts to boy meets girl, boy & girl gamble, boy wins—girl loses, girl wins—boy loses, they decide to leave then change their minds, etc. The ending is particularly disappointing [SPOILER: it's unrealistically happy]. But it's worth watching for the gorgeous black & white cinematography and the glimpses inside real French Riviera casinos. The director, Jacques Demy, later worked with composer Michel Legrand on the classic New Wave musical THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, but Legrand's music for this movie just as effective; it's used sparingly but thrillingly. Moreau is fine, though Mann seems a bit out of his depth with her—she steals the spotlight in every scene she's in.  [DVD]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Though I've never reviewed a Sadie Thompson movie on this blog, this is the third version of the story I've seen, after 1932's RAIN with Joan Crawford and 1953's MISS SADIE THOMPSON with Rita Hayworth. The pre-Code RAIN, with a strong and sexy performance by the young Crawford, is the one to beat. This silent version isn't quite as good as the ’32 film, but it is a solid effort with a strong central performance from Gloria Swanson as the title character who first appeared in a short story by Somerset Maugham. This version begins as a ship filled with restless Marines dressed in their ass-hugging white uniforms arrives in Pago Pago—where the natives are said to be "not lazy, just born tired." Also off the ship are the Davidsons, a secular reformist missionary couple who have come to clean up the islands morality-wise; their friends, the McPhails, a more tolerant couple; and Sadie Thompson, a "good-time girl" (i.e., hooker) who, so she claims, is waiting for a departing ship to come out of quarantine so she can head off for a new job on the island of Samoa. Sadie makes friends with the Marines, in particular Sgt. O'Hara (Raoul Walsh) who falls big time for her, but she quickly makes an enemy of the mirthless and cruel Mr. Davidson (Lionel Barrymore) who tries to have her sent back to San Francisco where he knows she faces jail time. Sadie tries both tirades and sweetness to get Davidson to relent, but to no avail. Finally Davidson seems to convert her—she throws away her make-up and accepts the fact that she'll have to face justice in the States. O'Hara even offers to step in, but she rebuffs him. But one rainy night, Davidson, who's been having unsettling dreams about Sadie, comes to her room with more than praying on his mind. The next morning [SPOILER], Davidson has drowned himself in the ocean and Sadie is hot to trot, wearing make-up again and ready to follow O'Hara to Australia.

I've never quite figured out what transpires between Sadie and Davidson on their fateful night together. Does he force himself on her? Does she seduce him? Has her conversion been fake all along? Did she always have the upper hand? The movies are ambiguous partly because the original story is just as ambiguous, but also because it's more interesting this way. After all, the ways of the human psyche are not always (and maybe almost never) explicable. Swanson is fine; in her hands, Sadie's conversion does seem to be real, whereas I've assumed in the past that it was not. Lionel Barrymore is OK here, but Walter Huston in RAIN remains the best Davidson to my mind. Walsh (pictured above with Swanson), known primarily as a director of crime and war films (HIGH SIERRA, WHITE HEAT, OBJECTIVE BURMA) is fine in the director's chair and as Sadie's sweet-natured love interest. Most fun scene: when Davidson first barges into Sadie's room while she's entertaining, he calls her a "scarlet woman," and she replies, "So's your Aunt Abby" and the Marines toss him out. The last reel of the film is missing and the ending is re-created here by stills and title cards. While it is disappointing not to see the climactic action, the film is still worth seeing, especially for silent movie fans. [TCM]

Monday, December 14, 2015


It's GRAND HOTEL meets IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT as we follow a group of passengers traveling by bus from New York to San Francisco. Steve is riding with his wife Nita, much to the disgruntlement of his mistress Sue who sits by herself. Norman is the playboy son of a logging company owner—his father is having him brought out to his camp in Seattle to make a man out of him. He and Sue meet cute in the first minutes of the film when, as they arrive at the bus station, her suitcase full of lingerie falls open from the top of a double-decker bus and into Norman's open car below. Murphy has been hired by Norman's father to keep him out of trouble on the bus trip which makes it difficult when he starts to fall for Sue. May is a sweet gold-digger who flirts with the bus driver to get her seat, but later when they change drivers, she has to hit up male passengers for her fare. We find out that Steve and Nita have a racket going where they scan the local obituaries to find relatives of the recently deceased and try to squeeze some money out of them by claiming they're delivering a Bible that the dead relative ordered. There's also Willy, a talkative man who prattles non-stop about all the cities they pass through. In Denver, when Nita keeps making trouble, Steve kills her (with a bow and arrow!) in a department store and props her body up like a mannequin in a store display. The police eventually stop the bus to sort things out, and Steve tries to blame the murder on Sue. Can Norman figure out a way to entrap Steve and clear Sue's name?

This is an enjoyable, fast-paced film, mostly comedic, which will interest pre-Code fans because of the brazenness of the affair between Sue and Steve, and the fact the Sue gets off with a happy ending. The plot keep moving, often into unexpected places, and the acting is quite good: among the actors I knew were Lew Ayres as Norman, Alice White as May, Eugene Pallette as Willy (he makes an especially obnoxious but somehow still likable blowhard), and Alan Dinehart and Minna Gombell as the Steve and Nita. Craig Reynolds has a small role as the first bus driver, June Knight (with whom I am not familiar) is fine as Sue, and the eagle-eyed will catch Walter Brennan and Jane Darwell. White and Ayers are pictured above. [YouTube]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

THE SHOW (1927)

A shepherd and his daughter have brought their sheep to the big city (Budapest) to sell them. Lena, the inexperienced girl (Gertrude Short), flirts with handsome Cock Robin (John Gilbert), a "ballyhoo" man for the Palace of Illusions, a combination carnival and freak show. One of his jobs is to play John the Baptist in a short stage show where he gets his head cut off by an executioner, by order of Salome (Renée Adorée), who, offstage, is in love with Gilbert, though a burly thug known as the Greek (Lionel Barrymore) harbors an unsavory desire for her and is jealous of Cock Robin. The shepherd gives his money to Lena for safe keeping while he goes out on the town, then is killed by the Greek in an attempted robbery. The next day, a grieving Lena, assuming that Cock Robin wants to marry her, gives him the money to keep while the police investigate the murder, but Cock is tempted to keep the money for himself.

There is a lot more going on in the narrative of this silent film, including a plotline in which the tough-skinned Salome shows a sentimental side by reading letters to an blind and elderly neighbor from his solider son; he thinks the son is on the battlefield, but he's actually a prisoner condemned to death and she composes fake letters to make him proud of his son. There's also a creepy spider woman named Arachnida, a huge poisonous lizard—remember, if you show us a poisonous lizard in the first act, it's gonna have to bite someone before the end—and a few nice lines, including Salome's warning to her fellow performers about making eyes at Cock Robin: "Keep away from him—you're freaks, not vampires!" There’s a nicely tense scene in which the Greek replaces the fake executioner's sword with a real sword in the John the Baptist beheading, and the finale is fairly thrilling, with a fun last shot. Tod Browning directed—he had flair and a sense of the macabre (DRACULA, FREAKS) but his films sometimes feel a little shaky in plotting and production, though this suffers less from that than his Dracula. The silent acting is solid, with Adorée and Gilbert especially good. [DVD]

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


The Sunburst is a fabled jeweled golden disc stolen from the Incas hundreds of years ago, and Harry Steele (Charlton Heston), a tour guide in Peru who is not above using his studly charms to snag female tourists, thinks he can piece together a map that will lead him to the Sunburst. But grizzled rival Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell) wants the disc as well, and tries to scare Steele off the search. Steele meets up with Elena (Nicole Maurey), a Rumanian refugee looking to get to the States but being trailed by a diplomat who wants to bring her back. Steele appears to give her up to the diplomat, but he only does this in order to get his hands on the diplomat's private plane; when he does, he and Elena take off for Machu Picchu to find the Sunburst. They become friends with Stanley (Robert Young), leader of an archeological dig, and Elena finds herself with feelings for both Steele and Stanley. When Morgan shows up with a gun, events build to a predictable climax.

The reason I watched this was because I heard that Steven Spielberg based the look of Indiana Jones on Heston's character in this movie. Jones might also have a bit of Steele's personality, though Steele also resembles any number of other pulp fiction adventurers. Heston is particularly good here, looking rough and tough and like he might just fuck anything that moves. Mitchell is very effective as a slimy villain—you can almost smell the ripe sweat on him. I was less impressed with Maurey but it's fun to see 30s star Glenda Farrell in a supporting role. Exotic singer Yma Sumac who had a five octave range, and who actually was Peruvian, has what amounts to a cameo as, yes, a Peruvian singer. The color movie looks good, with some actual location shooting, but ultimately very much a B-level adventure film, lacking that spark of acting, writing or directing that would make it stand out. [Streaming]

Friday, December 04, 2015


Test pilot Breezy McLaughlin (James Craig) is looking forward to joining the Air Force, but when he finds out that his boss has told the government that Breezy is too important to let go, he has a fit; that night at the Propeller Club, he disrupts a performing dog act, led by Horatio and featuring chorus girl Maisie Ravier (Ann Sothern), leading to them being fired. Breezy gets Horatio a job at the aircraft plant, and Maisie tries as well, though since she doesn't have a birth certificate, she gets Horatio to lie and swear that he's known her all his life. Once she's settled in, sparks continue to fly between Breezy and Maisie, but Maisie's roommate Iris (Jean Rogers) soon snags him. Iris is a nasty piece of work—at one point, she fakes a suicide attempt to get attention—but Maisie keeps out of it until Breezy finally gets the military orders he's wanted. Breezy and Iris decide on a quickie wedding before he heads to his base, but Maisie discovers that Iris is a cheating gold digger and sets out to squelch Iris's plans. But it may not be easy: Iris has told the factory bosses that Maisie got Horatio to lie for her—and why was Maisie seen entertaining three young German men who were "Heil Hiltering" all over the place?

This was the seventh movie in the Maisie series and Ann Sothern was still doing a fine job in the title role. Most of the movies end with Maisie about to settle down with some handsome fella, but the next one always starts with Maisie being free and easy again. Tying her down to one guy would have been a mistake, so I forgive them these contradictions. Between CONGO MAISIE and this one, she's been softened a bit—her Congo self could not have had her own TV sitcom, but this one could (and it seems there was a TV pilot done in 1960). As usual, she has a B-size leading man, and Craig (pictured with Sothern above) is perfect for the part, just as John Carroll was in CONGO MAISIE, both coming off as low-budget Clark Gable-types. (I don't mean to damn those actors with faint praise, but as good as they are in B-movie leads, neither one had a prayer of actually replacing Gable.) Rogers is a somewhat bland bad girl, but supporting actors John Qualen and Connie Gilchrist are fine, and the novelty comedy act the Wiere Brothers are amusing in their short bit in which their mocking of Hitler is mistaken (briefly) for genuine Nazi fervor. Second-feature fun, with the added bonus of wartime propaganda. [TCM]

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Five years before Agatha Christie published Ten Little Indians came this B-thriller which uses the same set-up. Eight people get telegrams inviting each one to a penthouse cocktail party supposedly in their honor. The guests include Hardie Albright (a radical college professor who has just been fired from his job), Samuel S. Hinds (the college administrator who fired Albright), Edward Ellis (the city's district attorney), Edwin Maxwell (a shady but important figure in city politics), Donald Cook (a reporter) and Genevieve Tobin (a singer who flirts with both Albright and Cook). At some point, a voice comes out of the radio; it's their unseen host who proclaims that they'll be playing a game of death, even predicting the times that people will start croaking. Sure enough, people do start dying and they all begin to realize that, not only do they have unsavory connections with each other, but they've all offended the mysterious host in some way. It also becomes clear that the host can see and hear the guests, so they begin to suspect each other. The front gates of the apartment are electrified and so they are all trapped, letting the host toy with his victims until, we assume, by daybreak there will be none.

Since we all know Ten Little Indians so well, this film, based on a novel and play called The Invisible Host, pales a bit in comparison, but it kept my attention throughout. Though no one actor shines, all of them come off well without an obvious weak link. I especially like Maxwell, who looks like a B-movie Edward Arnold, and Albright. There are some plot problems but nothing major. Admirably, the comic relief is kept to a minimum (an addled butler who pops in and out briefly)—though there is also a lack of wit in the writing, which is one of the things that makes Christie's novel and play more interesting. The sets are very nice for a B-budget film, and the effect of the electrified gates, which is used more than once, is spectacular. Worth digging up. (Pictured above are Cook and Albright) [YouTube]