Tuesday, July 31, 2018


The Institute of Oceanography is building the first permanent human settlement on the bottom of the sea and Dr. Halstead approaches renowned engineer Bob Gage (William Lundigan) to help design it. Gage is more interested in outer space efforts, but Halstead explains the importance of his project, to do research on how ocean circulation affects climate and to try and predict tidal waves—not to mention that below the ocean might be the only safe place to live if nuclear war breaks out. Gage signs on, but never really gets enthusiastic about his job until he starts flirting with Halstead's lovely niece Monica Powers (Julie Adams), a psychologist who will be studying human behavior under the sea. Gage designs and oversees production of a series of prefabricated buildings which are then lowered to the ocean floor and lived in, under the name Amphibia City, as the team prepares for a visit from government men. Other members of the team include a former cowboy and Navy frogman, a geologist, a nutritionist who prepares their meals—and who begins a flirtation with the cowboy—and a newlywed couple who spend their honeymoon underwater, and soon are expecting a child. Marlow, the cowboy, sneaks off occasionally to get a nip of whisky he found in a nearby wrecked ship (see photo at right), not realizing that a huge octopus is living just under the ship. When Monica follows him one day to see what he's up to, she gets caught in a sinkhole and is almost octopus food, though a moray eel distracts the octopus long enough for Monica to be rescued. But the sinkhole is a bad portent, and just after the government men arrive, it's discovered that the city is resting on an "undercutting" fault that could give way at any time.

This film has an intriguing storyline but too much time is spent on tedious exposition (some of it narrated) and not enough time is allowed to develop the characters or the situations. The cold war worry about atomic war could have been a fruitful subplot but takes up exactly one line of dialogue. Likewise, the married couple could have provided some melodramatic interest—living in such isolated conditions might cause tension, and worry over the birth might have given us a few minutes of concern, but plotwise, the two of them are kept on a back burner, though the wife does get to make a joke about the possibility of the baby having gills. The low budget is also a problem. The underwater city sets are OK, but the scenes of people in the water were filmed on a soundstage in slow motion with air bubbles added later, which is occasionally problematic. And finally, there's the so-so acting, starting with Lundigan—I like him in his 40s and early 50s movies, but he always did have a tendency to be a bit wooden, and that seems to have increased with age; a younger actor might have brought more energy to the role. Adams is bland but likeable; Chet Douglas is a standout as the cowboy. The climactic destruction scene is well done. Overall, watchable but not memorable. [Amazon streaming]

Friday, July 27, 2018


During an experiment, scientist Robert Clarke gets a large dose of radiation and falls ill. One doctor suspects the problem is mostly Clarke's well-known thirst for alcohol (fellow scientist Patrick Whyte tells lab assistant Patricia Manning—who seems to have a little crush on Clarke—that "whiskey and soda mix, not whiskey and science"). Clarke generally seems OK but he's kept in a hospital for observation. While on the roof therapeutically soaking in the rays of the sun, he falls asleep and when he awakens, he has transformed into a scaly monster with a, yes, hideous face. Getting out the sun returns him to normal. A doctor theorizes that the combination of the radioactivity and the sun's rays has somehow triggered a backwards evolution to our reptilian past. Facing a future as a kind of reverse werewolf, Clarke becomes depressed, quits his job, and stays at home and drinks. One night he winds up in a bar where he hits it off with singer (and wholesome sex kitten, if that makes sense) Nan Peterson. One night, she leaves with him and they have a midnight beach frolic, but when he wakes up at dawn, his transformation hits again and he flees in his car, leaving her stranded. The next time he meets up with her, some shady thugs decide to kick his ass for the way he treated her, but she takes him home for some more frolicking. Soon, however, one of the thugs returns for revenge, but when Clarke becomes the Sun Demon, he kills the thug and goes on the run. We know from other sci-fi films of the era that no good can come to him now.

This has a reputation, maybe based on the title, as an especially bad example of grade-Z moviemaking, but actually if you accept the low budget, it's not terrible—I know, faint praise. The story is full of holes and the sets are cheap looking, and the acting, aside from that of Clarke, who also directed, isn't stellar. But the general situation is as plausible as any other 50s tale of atomic fears, and the makeup for the Sun Demon is pretty effective. Clarke comes off as somewhat sympathetic but also to some degree a maker of his own problems—almost a film noir anti-hero—and is de facto a more interesting character than most 50s monster movie leads. I also enjoyed the full-figured Nan Peterson (whose chief acting credit seems to have been the title role in a 50s exploitation movie called LOUISIANA HUSSY) who tries hard to give her character a multi-dimensional—or at least, two-dimensional—feel. Patrick Whyte bore a passing resemblance to an older Helmut Griem, the decadent Maximilian in CABARET. This is no gem, but it's better than its rep, and is worth a watch. [Streaming]

Thursday, July 26, 2018


In New England at the end of the Civil War, Lavinia Mannon (Rosalind Russell) looks forward to the arrival of her father Ezra (Raymond Massey) and brother Orin (Michael Redgrave) from the war. She's been living with her mother Christine (Katina Paxinou) in the family mansion, and both women have a secret: Christine is in love with seaman Adam Brant; so is Lavinia. And the topper is that Adam is the illegitimate son of Ezra's brother. But incest seems to run in the family: when Ezra returns, we discover that Lavinia has an unhealthy obsession with him. (And as we'll soon discover, Orin seems almost equally obsessed with his mother.)  Erza wants to start over with the unhappy Christine, but when he has a heart attack, she gives him poison—which Adam helped her obtain—instead of medicine and he dies, and Lavinia figures out what happened. When the wounded and passive Orin returns home, Lavinia tells him of her suspicions and Orin kills Adam which leads Christine to kill herself. Brother and sister go off on a South Seas vacation and return to try and resume normal lives, but this proves impossible, in part because Orin is ashamed that Lavinia had a torrid affair with an islander, or so he thinks. When young Peter (Kirk Douglas) comes to court Lavinia, his sister Hazel sets her cap for Orin. Absolutely nothing good will come of these passions.

This almost three-hour film is an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill's play which is itself a modern version of the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. Little attempt is made to open the play up cinematically, and although this movie is generally disparaged by critics, it actually manages to sustain interest in the fashion of a soap opera. Russell (pictured with Redgrave) is too old for the Electra part, but once you get used to her, she holds with screen well opposite the commanding Massey (in the Agamemnon role) and Redgrave (Orestes). Paxinou looks the part but her strong Greek accent and her over-the-top histrionics work against her. However, it can be said—and has been—that all the actors go over-the-top in different ways, as that's what the material calls for. Redgrave comes off the best, though his character is not especially likable. Of course, it seems silly to talk about any O'Neill characters as likable; perhaps they can only be judged as more or less sympathetic. The young Kirk Douglas is not memorable, but that may partly be the weakness of his character. I'd avoided watching this for years, but I'm glad I overcame my prejudices based on critical perception and gave it a shot. [TCM]

Monday, July 23, 2018


We meet Dorothy Mackaill on the last night of her hit musical, prancing about in her scanties and chatting with fellow performer and close friend Frank Fay about leaving her career to marry the rich, older, stuffy Philip Strange. In a scene that was copied later for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, we hear Mackaill tell a reporter about her idyllic high-class past but what we see is how she really gained her performing experience, in rough-and-tumble bars in Africa where one night after her racy show, a drunken Portuguese smuggler (Noah Beery) assaults her in her dressing room; Fay comes to her rescue but when it looks like Berry gets the upper hand, Mackaill smashes a lamp against Berry's face and the two run for it. She tells the reporter about attending a fashionable girls school, but in reality she gets a job in a carnival as a hula dancer called Princess Lulu, accompanied by Fay who remains her protector. After Mackaill goes back onstage, we discover that Noah Berry, his face scarred by Mackaill's attack, is in the audience and seeking revenge. Will Fay, who's clearly been carrying a lifelong torch for Mackaill, be able to save her one more time, from both the dangerous Berry and from a loveless marriage?

Mackaill is largely forgotten today, perhaps partly because she left the business in the late 30s, but she was very active in the pre-Code era. Because of her vivid performance in the gloomy melodrama SAFE IN HELL, I think of her as a tragic type, but she's quite bubbly in THE FLIRTING WIDOW and she pulls off the carefree dancing girl role here quite well. If Fay is remembered today, it’s mostly as Barbara Stanwyck's troubled alcoholic husband, but he's quite good as well, pulling off a cocky yet vulnerable persona for the part of a pining lover. Frank McHugh steals most of his scenes as a drunken reporter who plays an important role in the climax of the film. Despite a murder in the last half, the movie retains a light tone, helped by a couple of fun production numbers. One, "I'm Crazy for Cannibal Love," is a wild comically exotic dance; in "Man About Town," Mackaill enters dressed in a tux and top hat, and then, surrounded by a gaggle of boy dancers, she changes into more a traditional female dance outfit. Recommended for fans of pre-Code musicals. Pictured are Mackaill and Fay. [TCM]

Friday, July 20, 2018


In 1939 French Morocco, a railroad is being built that will go from the north coast of Africa to the west coast, and the people of the tribe known as the Riffs are being rounded up and used as slave labor to build the railroad. But a mysterious figure known as El Khobar leads a band of rebel Riffs and successfully attacks work sites, freeing some of the enslaved. We soon discover that El Khobar is actually an American piano player named Paul Hudson (Dennis Morgan, at right) who shares an apartment with a war correspondent named Johnny. The movie is at pains to make us know that the villain here is not France itself but the local hotshot Youseff (Victor Francen) who is in league with the Nazis, secretly providing major financing for the railroad to use it for military purposes once they conquer the area. Other characters caught up in the action include night club singer Margot (Irene Manning), shady dealer Fan-Fan (Gene Lockhart), and a French colonel (Bruce Cabot) who is on the hunt for El Khobar but who might be persuaded to switch sides if he only knew the truth about the Nazis.

This is the second of three movie versions made of the Sigmund Romberg operetta, vaguely inspired by the activities of Lawrence of Arabia. The 1953 version is apparently relatively faithful to the play, but this version, by making the Nazis the bad guys, becomes something like a musical version of CASABLANCA, with Morgan in the Bogart role, Manning as a poor man's Ilsa, Francen as the Major Strasser figure, Cabot as Claude Rains' Capt. Renault, and even a Sydney Greenstreet stand-in with Gene Lockhart—and two actors from CASABLANCA, Marcel Dalio (the croupier) and Curt Bois (pickpocket) have small roles here. You can tell the two movies even shared some Moroccan street sets on the Warner Brothers lot.  The film begins well as it sets up the characters, and it always looks great in glorious Technicolor with impressive shots of the Riffs riding en masse through the desert (actually New Mexico), but the atmosphere of exotic mystery and adventure dissipates quickly and we get bogged down in, among other things, ineffective comic relief from Lynne Overman as Morgan's buddy Johnny (this element worked no better in the 1953 version) and lackluster acting from Manning as the leading lady. Even the songs feel weak, with most of them, set in a night club, stopping the action dead. Still, on balance, I enjoyed the film; Morgan makes a sturdy and handsome hero and Bruce Cabot is fine as the colonel who might eventually join Morgan's side. And did I mention the wonderful color (pictured at left)? [TCM]

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


We are told that, "through the centuries, in olden times," great heroes have been given the honor of the title of Son of Hercules, and Perseus is one of these men, or will be when we meet him, but first we get some backstory. There's a Hamlet vibe in the royal house of Argos: the previous king was killed by Acrisius who then married his widow, Danae. Her son, who would be heir to the throne, has been missing and presumed dead for many years, but Danae believes that he (identifiable by three marks on his shoulder) will return someday. Acrisius will not let the people of nearby Seriphos pass through his land to get to the sea so they can engage in trade. The soldiers of Seriphos also have to deal with a deadly water dragon and the Medusa, not the serpent-haired woman of mythology, but a shambling treelike monster with tentacles and a single glowing eye with which it turns people to stone. In the middle of a battle between the two armies, most of the Seriphan soldiers, despite being warned not to look directly at the monster, wind up as statues. With his army decimated, the only way to avoid invasion by Argus is for the King of Seriphos to allow Acrisius’s son Galenore to marry his daughter Andromeda.

As Acrisius and Galenore head off to Seriphos seal the wedding deal, enter Perseus, handsome, fair-haired, and nicely built (though not your typical sword-and-sandal muscleman), who pals around with a fawn and enjoys occasional sylvan encounters with a mysterious young woman—who turns out to be Andromeda. And, gasp, he has three marks on his shoulder! When Galenore shoots Perseus's fawn for sport, the two wind up in a duel fought with whips, but Andromeda steps in and arranges for them to work things out in a tournament, with the winner getting Andromeda in marriage. Perseus wins but Galenore ungallantly kidnaps Andromeda. When Perseus goes to Argos after her, Danae recognizes his shoulder marks but Galenore kills Danae. The stage is now set for a climactic battle involving Perseus, Galenore, the two armies, the dragon, and lest we forget the movie's title, the Medusa, as the death of the Medusa may bring the stone soldiers back to life.

As you can tell, this has more narrative than the average Italain peplum movie. I'll let you to go to Wikipedia to check out the story of the mythical Perseus; suffice to say that some of the names and legends of his story (Medusa, Andromeda, relation to Hercules) are here, but mostly the plot is made up fresh for the movie. Richard Harrison makes a nice exception to the rule of the musclebound hero—he is handsome and fit, but he surely doesn’t have super strength. Because of the often atrocious dubbing in these films, it can be difficult to judge a performance, but Leo Anchoriz as the evil Galenore and Anna Ranalli (pictured with Harrison) as Andromeda are fine. The effects are cheap but surprisingly effective, especially the Medusa (pictured top right). This, like MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES, was actually released under a different name in Europe (PERSEUS AGAINST THE MONSTERS) and first appeared in America as part of a television package of Sons of Hercules movies, hence the catchy theme song. Worth seeing, though I wish I'd seen a cleaned-up widescreen version instead of the dull colored pan-and-scan version. [Cable]

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Lord Oliver Greystoke is on safari in Africa with his guide Rokov, but when Greystoke takes aim at a lion, Rokov (Charles Korvin) takes aim at Greystoke and shoots him dead. Rokov and his partner in crime Edwards (Patric Knowles), a patrician looking Brit, steal Oliver's belongings and Edwards poses as the dead man. Their plot: to find Tarzan, Greystoke's cousin, and get him to take them to a hidden treasure of diamonds which they'll claim they want to take back to England to enrich the country's post-war coffers but they actually plan to keep for themselves. Meanwhile, we see Tarzan (Lex Barker) watching some natives use small children as bait for hunting crocodiles. He saves one child, Joey, a white orphan, and lets him stay with him and Jane, teaching the boy survival skills such as being able to stare down a lion. When the men meet up with our jungle family, Tarzan has his doubts, but Jane convinces him to help, so they all (including Cheetah) head out to cross potentially dangerous territory to find the gems. The bad guys act in the usual fashion, doing something stupid (in this case, unnecessarily shooting at a hippo) that puts the entourage in danger. There's also the usual danger from natives (in this case, a cannibal tribe), the usual trapping of Tarzan which puts him out of commission at a crucial moment, and the usual antics of Boy (err, Joey) and Cheetah which end up helping to save the day.

I've now seen all five of Lex Barker's Tarzan movies; he's not as muscly as Gordon Scott, or as articulate as Jock Mahoney, but he seems comfortable in the character. He's not as primitive or hot-headed as Weissmuller, though he still speaks in broken English and he is (rightfully) distrustful of white interlopers. Dorothy Hart is fine as Jane, and actually looks a bit like the original, Maureen O'Sullivan. Tommy Carlton is good as Joey, though this was his only movie role of credit. Hungarian actor Korvin is nicely villainous, and Knowles fills out the sort-of bad guy role well—he's bad at first but soon regrets his actions and tries to change, naturally with unhappy results. There isn't really any "savage fury" on display here—it would be up to Gordon Scott to give Tarzan a little more edge—but this is generally enjoyable, and though a couple of effects shots are poorly done, the stock footage scenes look like they've been refurbished. [TCM]

Monday, July 09, 2018



Matt, a struggling novelist, and his wife Jean inherit some property from a great-uncle whom Matt barely remembers. When they hear it's a cinema in a small town, they get excited about the possibilities, but the reality is that the Bijou is known by the locals as the "flea pit"; it’s a small dilapidated theater with three old and eccentric employees. Hardcastle, the owner of the Grand, the bigger, more modern cinema in town, offers to buy the property from them to turn it into a parking lot, but Matt has a plan: engage in a surface effort to make improvements and keep the place going, so that Hardcastle will up the ante on his price. Things actually start looking up for a while. They show some Hollywood westerns and rowdy teenagers start showing up (partly for the fun of the movies, partly to make out). During "The Mystery of Hell Valley," Percy, the recovering alcoholic projectionist, pumps up the heat so their ice cream sells better, and hiring a lovely young woman to walk around selling snacks also helps. After some ups and downs, and an attempt at sabotage by Hardcastle, Old Tom, the senile usher, solves their problems with his own act of sabotage.

This is a charming little comedy with a nice atmosphere and good performances, but given the actors involved, it's a shame that the characters are not better developed. Matt and Jean are played by real-life couple Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (pictured, of BORN FREE fame), Peter Sellers (in fairly artificial-looking old age make-up) is the projectionist, Bernard Miles is the usher and Margaret Rutherford (Miss Marple in the 1960s movie series) is the cashier. They're all fine, but each character remains flat, defined by only one trait or quirk. Despite the occasional misstep, you're never in doubt that things will turn out fine for Matt and Jean, though the way their happy ending comes about is unusual (and technically seems in violation of America's production code of the era in that someone breaks the law but isn't punished). The ending also has a fun callback to an earlier joke about a trip to Samarkand. It's a feel-good movie with a nice pace and good-natured tone. [TCM]

Thursday, July 05, 2018


During a South Seas storm, radio contact is lost with famed pilot Virginia Allerton and her navigator Max as they fly their plane Lady Bird around the world. At the U.S. Marine base on the South Seas island of Palo Pango, Lt. George Allerton, her brother, is particularly upset, but finally, contact is made and two Marine buddies, Thornton and Barnes, are sent to meet her. When they do, both men fall for her and begin a rivalry to win her heart. Meanwhile, the dashing but dastardly Oliver Barton is operating a gunrunning ring on the island and he is determined to use Virginia's presence as a cover for sending a load of illegal arms to China. Barton's associate is a doddering old guy named Doc Spriggs who is pretending to be an ethnologist (and who actually does believe he has lived many past lives). As they socialize on Palo Pango while Virginia and Max prepare to continue their flight, Barton and Virginia agree on a friendly bet as to who can reach Guam first. Virginia is cautioned to avoid taking a dangerous route over the island when she leaves, but when Barton goes that way, she follows. In short order, she and Max wind up grounded and held by Barton. The plan is that, when Virginia again is not heard from, the swarming of planes looking for her will be a cover for Barton to fly his illegal arms out. But Barton hasn't planned on the involvement of Thornton and Barnes.

This B-adventure film is an odd duck. It’s cheaply made but the flying and action sequences are pulled off nicely. The two lead actors, William Gargan as Thornton and Wallace Ford as Barnes, though likeable, both come off as rather lightweight for Marines, or at least for Hollywood Marines. Ford seems intended as comic relief, but given the light tone of the entire film, it's more like the villain (well played by Gilbert Roland) is there for some dramatic relief. The movie is so light that the odd character of Doc Spriggs (Etienne Giradot) must function as comic relief for the bad guys—otherwise, there is no reason for his character to exist. June Lang is fine as Virginia, showing more spunk than many B-heroines of the era did. Good support comes from Grant Richards as George and Ted Osborne as Max. There is a cute song, "Moonlight Magic," sung by four Marines as a serenade to Virginia. One of the singers is Thurl Ravenscroft, best known for singing "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the original Grinch TV special. This was the first, and apparently only, film shot in Cosmocolor, though it seems only black and white prints still exist. Pictured are Ford (left) and Gargan. [YouTube]

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

SUNNY (1941)

In New Orleans during Mardi Gras, handsome rich guy Larry Warren (John Carroll) is swept away from his sister and parents in a crowd and literally bumps into the lovely Sunny O'Sullivan (Anna Neagle, pictured with Carroll). As she's in a hurry to make an appointment, he tries to navigate their way through the crowded streets, but they run into a street combo who won't let them move while they sing "The Lady Must Be Kissed"—so he kisses her (when she darts off, the combo calls her a "kiss and run girl.") Larry and his family attend the Streamlined Sawdust circus and he sees Sunny performing and makes a date with her; in a mix-up, she is stood up, but Larry finds her and the two hit it off so well, he proposes to her that night. Her circus friends are sad to see her go, but Larry's sister Elizabeth (Frieda Inescourt) feels Sunny is a lower class golddigger and tries to stop the relationship. She thinks she has a sympathetic relative in Aunt Barbara (Helen Westley), but surprisingly, when Sunny visits the family mansion, she finds an ally in the strong willed Barbara. It looks like smooth sailing until, on the day of the wedding, Sunny's raucous circus friends show up and cause chaos ("They're ad-libbing all over the place!" someone says) that threatens to derail everything.

There’s nothing new or very original in this romance of rich snobs vs. salt-of-the-earth folks, but it all passes quickly and painlessly. The Broadway musical this is based on was a big hit in 1925 for Marilyn Miller who reprised her role in a 1930 film version (in which most of the songs were cut out). This B-movie remake has a handful of songs and a few athletic dance numbers performed by Ray Bolger who gets top billing despite having a relatively small role. Neagle, a big star in England, never quite took off in the States, and she seems fairly colorless here. Carroll, one of my favorite B-leading men, made this worth my while with his looks and charm. Edward Everett Horton, as the family lawyer, is another bright spot, as is Helen Westley as the crusty aunt. The somewhat rushed ending (Carroll calls off the marriage because of the behavior of the circus folks, then suddenly changes his mind) tries for an antic madcap tone but mostly feels jumbled and forced. Still, a watchable B-musical. [YouTube]

Monday, July 02, 2018


The last of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies has a more elaborate plot than most of the others, requiring an off-screen narrator to set things up for us. The isolated island of Aquatania, not far from the river that runs past Tarzan's home, has set itself up as taboo to strangers. The people worship a god named Balu, a statue that occasionally comes to life and makes pronouncements communicated to the natives by the high priest Palanth (George Zucco). Balu has the people dive for pearls and bring them to him as offerings. What we soon find out is that Balu is actually a shady pearl dealer named Varga who puts on a mask and robe for his appearances (pictured), and he and Palanth have rigged this island as an easy money-making scheme. When Mara (Linda Christian) is chosen against her will to be Balu's bride, she escapes into the sea and winds up in the river where Tarzan finds her, thinking for a moment that she's a mermaid. Tarzan and Jane take her in, but a gang of Aquatanian men find her and snatch her back to the island. Tarzan goes to rescue her, joined eventually by the local commissioner who is investigating pearl smuggling, and by Tiko (Gustavo Rojo), Mara's boyfriend who was exiled from the island for speaking out against Balu.

Weissmuller went out with a bang with this movie which mostly shook off the formulaic doldrums into which the Tarzan films had settled. Boy is gone (being schooled in England) and the antics of Cheetah the chimp are sharply reduced. The evil white hunter is now an evil pearl trader, and, though the actor playing him (Fernardo Wagner) actually has little to do, his henchman, the fabulous George Zucco, gets quite a bit of screen time to be dastardly. A new character—Benji, the singing mailman, played by John Laurenz—acts as a theatrical chorus, summarizing plot points in song. Near the climax, Tarzan executes a dangerous dive from a high cliff; according to rumor, the stunt man who did the dive died as a result, but that seems to be unsubstantiated. Brenda Joyce as Jane is fine if a bit colorless, but Christian (who soon married Tyrone Power) and Rojo are fine as the threatened lovers. Weissmuller had been seeming a bit bored and bloated in previous films, but for his last stand, he's a bit more energized, even if his acting remained lackadaisical at best. BTW, despite the title, there are no mermaids other than the swimming Mara. [TCM]