Drive-In Saturday Night: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (AIP 1965) & DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS (AIP 1966)

American-International Pictures, never ones to shy away from jumping on a trend, released a pair of secret agent spoofs starring the one and only Vincent Price as the evil supervillain Dr. Goldfoot. AIP president James H. Nicholson himself allegedly came up with the story, wanting to use the film as a showcase for wife Susan Hart, a beautiful woman of limited talent. The first was DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, an endearingly goofy little movie co-starring SKI PARTY’s Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman. The two even use the same character names from that previous film, Tod Armstrong and Craig Gamble – only reversed, with Frankie as Craig and Dwayne as Tod!

Mad scientist Goldfoot, an obvious cross between James Bond nemeses Dr. No and Goldfinger, is Price at his campy best, carving up large slices of ham as the malevolent meanie. His fiendish plot is creating an army of indestructible female robots in gold bikinis to entice the world’s richest men, then having the alluring  androids steal all their money. Into this scenario comes Craig (Avalon), an inept secret agent working for SIC (Secret Intelligence Command), who is accidentally targeted by Hart’s sexy cyborg Diane. Craig goes ga-ga over Diane, and when Goldfoot recalls her to get at filthy rich Tod (Hickman), he desperately searches for his artificial object of desire.

The movie’s so corny, full of wheezy jokes and slapstick sight gags you can see coming a mile away,  you can’t help but laugh. That’s because the screenplay’s courtesy of Three Stooges/Bowery Boys veteran Elwood Ullman, who did a rewrite of Robert Kaufman’s original script. Besides the spy spoof angle, the film lampoons Price’s Edgar Allen Poe films with portraits of Goldfoot’s ancestors resembling Price’s characters (Roderick Usher, Verdon Fell) and a scene with Hickman strapped under a swinging blade that uses stock footage from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM!

Fred Clark plays the SIC chief, who is also Craig’s uncle, which explains how the nebbish got the job. TV actor Jack Mullaney (THE ANN SOUTHERN SHOW, IT’S ABOUT TIME) is Goldfoot’s bumbling assistant Igor, and among the fembots you’ll find 60’s starlets Marianne Gaba, Luree Holmes, Deanna Lund (LAND OF THE GIANTS), Pamela Rodgers (LAUGH-IN), and Salli Sachse. There are cameos from ‘Beach Party’ vets Aron Kincaid, Harvey Lembeck (as Eric Von Zipper!), Alberta Nelson, Deborah Walley, and a certain ex-Mousketeer pictured above. Norman Taurog, who won an Oscar for 1930’s SKIPPY and became a comedy specialist, handles the direction, such as it is.

 

The next entry, 1966’s DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, was directed by… Mario Bava ?!? That’s right, the Italian horror/giallo maestro took over the reigns on this Italian coproduction, mainly because he was under contract to producer Fulvio Lucisano at the time. Bava reportedly hated the film, and I for one don’t blame him… although the first was a good-natured romp, GIRL BOMBS is, well, a bomb!

Price is back as the dastardly doctor, this time churning out killer robots who explode when kissing. He looses them on the generals of NATO gathered for war maneuvers, with the evil intent of dropping the H-Bomb on Moscow, pitting the Ruskies against the good ol’ USA in hopes the two superpowers with destroy each other, then he can split the world with his allies Red China! Price constantly breaks the Forth Wall, giving the audience plot exposition, and some silly asides. Reportedly, Vinnie didn’t like the sequel either, but at least he got a nice Italian vacation for his troubles!

SIC is still out to stop Goldfoot, only instead of Frankie Avalon we get another ex-teen idol, Fabian, who’s just as inept and a real “Hound Dog Man” with SIC secretary Laura Antonelli (VENUS IN FURS, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE). We also get the unfunny Franco and Ciccio, the world’s worst comedy team, who annoy the crap out of me. These two paisans don’t translate well into American humor (the bad dubbing doesn’t help), though they were hugely popular in Italy. To me, they just suck.     

The “hilarious” ending consists of a chase through a kiddie amusement park, a runaway hot air balloon, and… *sigh* why am I wasting words? Sorry, folks, but it’s just not worth it. The first Dr. Goldfoot movie has a silly if sophomoric vibe, spoofing the James Bond craze, teen flicks, and pretty much American-International itself. The sequel is only for masochists and/or Price completists; otherwise avoid it at all costs!

 

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Familiar Faces #7: Gordon Jones, Working Class Hero

Brawny actor Gordon Jones (1911-1963) was never a big star, but an actor the big  stars could depend on to give a good performance. Stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Abbott & Costello knew Gordon could deliver the goods in support, and he spent over thirty years as a working class actor. Not bad for a small town kid from Alden, Iowa!

Gordon as The Green Hornet with Keye Luke as Kato

Jones originally came to California on a football scholarship, playing guard for UCLA. Like his fellow Iowan John Wayne , Gordon began his film career in uncredited parts, and soon moved up in casts lists with films like RED SALUTE (1935), STRIKE ME PINK (1936), and THERE GOES MY GIRL (1937). Gordon’s big lug persona made him ideal for second leads as the hero’s pal, though he did get some leading roles in Poverty Row vehicles like THE LONG SHOT (1938), opposite Marsha Hunt. His big break came in the title role of THE GREEN HORNET, a 1940 serial based on the popular radio program, with Charlie Chan’s #1 Son Keye Luke playing his aide Kato.

‘The Wreck’ menaces Richard Quine as Janet Blair & Rosalind Russell look on in “My Sister Eileen”

Gordon displayed a flair for comedy, and one of his best parts was in 1941’s MY SISTER EILEEN as “The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech”, neighbor to sisters Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair. He made his first film with The Duke in 1943’s FLYING TIGERS as Alabama, a member of Wayne’s volunteer squadron fighting the Japanese in China before the onset of Pearl Harbor. Like many actors of the era, Jones served in WWII, and returned to the screen with 1947’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, starring Danny Kaye as James Thurber’s notorious daydreamer.

Gordon as Mike the Cop on “The Abbott & Costello Show”

Also in 1947, Jones made his first appearance with Abbott & Costello in THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP, with Marjorie Main co-starring. Gordon’s the comic villain of the piece, and his work here led to his being cast as antagonist Mike the Cop in the team’s TV series. He makes the perfect foil for Costello’s zany antics, becoming more frustrated and exasperated every time Costello does something stupid… which is always! Jones was one of two cast members retained after A&C revamped the show in its second season, along with vaudeville vet Sidney Fields, a sure sign the boys appreciated his talents.

Lobby card from 1950’s “Sunset in the West”

Along came Roy Rogers, who employed Gordon as a comic sidekick in six of his cowboy movies. Jones played the character ‘Splinters’ McGonigle in TRIGGER JR, SUNSET IN THE WEST, NORTH OF THE GREAT DIVIDE, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (all from 1950), SPOILERS OF THE PLAINS, and HEART OF THE ROCKIES (1951). TRIGGER JR. is considered by many sagebrush aficionados to be Roy’s best, while TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is an All-Star ‘B’ Western featuring veteran cowboys Rex Allen, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, George Chesebro, William Farnum, Monte Hale, Jack Holt, Tom Keene, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Tyler all playing themselves, as Roy and Gordon help save Holt’s Christmas Tree farm from poachers!

The 1950’s found Gordon again supporting John Wayne in the anti-Communist film BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952) and William Wellman’s plane crash drama ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953), but most of his work was now on television. Besides the Abbott & Costello show, Gordon had recurring roles in three other sitcoms: MEET MR. MCNULTEY (also known as THE RAY MILLAND SHOW) cast him as a friend of Ray’s all-girls-college professor; SO THIS IS HOLLYWOOD found him as the stuntman boyfriend of Hollywood hopeful Mitzi Green; and he was one of a succession of neighbors to OZZIE AND HARRIET. Of course, there were plenty of guest shots, too: THE GENE AUTRY SHOW, MY LITTLE MARGIE, WYATT EARP, LARAMIE, HAWAIIAN EYE, SURFSIDE-6, PERRY MASON, THE RIFLEMAN, THE REAL MCCOYS, MAVERICK, etc, etc.

Gordon and Strother Martin in 1963’s “McLintock!”

Jones made his Disney debut in 1959’s THE SHAGGY DOG as a police captain, and followed it with THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and it’s sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), playing the football coach in both. His last role was again with The Duke, as the smarmy land agent Douglas in 1963’s MCLINTOCK. This comedy Western features another All-Star cast (Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Yvonne DeCarlo, Edgar Buchanan), and Gordon’s right in the thick of things. Unfortunately, Gordon Jones was felled by a heart attack five months before the film’s premiere, passing away at age 52.

Gordon Jones may not have been a big star, but his contributions to film and television did not go unnoticed: That’s right, he has his own star on the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame! Like I said earlier, not bad for small town kid from Alden, Iowa!

Polish Ham: Jack Benny in TO BE OR NOT TO BE (United Artists 1942)

Comedian Jack Benny got a lot of mileage (and a lot of laughs) making fun of his movie career, especially THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT . While that film isn’t half as bad as Jack claimed it was, even better was Ernst Lubitsch’s TO BE OR NOT TO BE, a topical (at the time) tale of a band of Polish actors taking on the invading Nazis during WWII. Jack’s got his best film foil here, the marvelous Carole Lombard, and the movie’s got that wonderful “Lubitsch Touch”, a blend of sophistication and sparkling wit evidenced in classic films ranging from THE MERRY WIDOW and DESIGN FOR LIVING to NINOTCHKA and HEAVEN CAN WAIT.

Benny plays Joseph Tura, the self-proclaimed “greatest actor in the world”, and Lombard is his bantering wife Maria. Together, they lead a troupe of actors in Warsaw in a production of “Hamlet”, but every time Tura begins his “To be, or not to be…” soliloquy, an audience member walks out – unbeknownst to the vain Tura, the line’s a code for Maria’s young lover Lt. Sobinski (Robert Stack) to meet her in the dressing room! Germany invades Poland, and Sobinski’s off to join the RAF, but the acting troupe is forced to disban.

When the eminent Professor Siletsky is discovered to be a secret Nazi agent, the British send Sobinski back to Warsaw before the traitor can reveal the names of the Polish underground to the Gestapo. He reunites with Maria, now working for the underground herself, and Tura catches the young lieutenant sleeping in his bed! Maria returns, and an elaborate plan involving the acting troupe evolves with Tura impersonating Siletsky in order to retrieve that list of names. Gestapo head Col. Ehrardt is initially fooled by Tura, but then the dead body of the real Siletsky is found, just as Der Führer himself is about to pay a visit to Warsaw….

Benny’s vain, egotistical ham actor Joseph Tura is the perfect fit for his comic persona, developed through years of vaudeville and honed to a tee on his popular radio show. His trademark physical mannerisms and facial expressions are priceless, and Lubitsch brings out the best in him. He’s matched by screwball queen Carole Lombard, who shines in every scene she appears in as Tura’s not-so faithful wife. Sadly, this was the 33-year-old star’s last picture; on January 16, 1942, Lombard and 21 others (including her mother) were killed in a plane crash returning from a War Bond rally in her home state of Indiana. She was married to Clark Gable at the time. Among her many films, my favorites are TWENTIETH CENTURY, MY MAN GODFREY, NOTHING SACRED, and this one, released posthumously, and a fine capping to a brilliant career.

The supporting cast is equally brilliant, with young up-and-comer Robert Stack a fine lovestruck Sobinski. Sig Ruman ,  the Marx Brothers’ nemesis in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, gives another great comic characterization as the pompous Col. Ehrhardt (“So they call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt, eh?”). Henry Victor is Ehrhardt’s top aide (and convenient scapegoat) Captain Schultz. Felix Bressart as Greenberg, one of the Polish actors, gets a chance to truly shine when he gives Shylock’s speech from “The Merchant of Venice (“If you prick us, do we not bleed…”). Old friend Lionel Atwill is on board as an actor who’s even hammier than Tura! Among the rest of the cast, you’ll find Familiar Faces like Helmut Dantine, Tom Dugan, Maude Eburne, James Finlayson , Charles Halton, Miles Mander, Frank Reicher , and Stanley Ridges in roles large and small.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE is one of the few films where the remake (1983) is just as good. That’s probably because of producer/star Mel Brooks , a huge Jack Benny fan, who even pays tribute to the great comedian in the film (be on the lookout for the street sign Kubelsky Street, Benny’s given name). But if I had to pick one over the other to watch on a rainy night, it would definitely be Lubitsch’s 1942 classic, mainly because, like Brooks, I’m a huge Jack Benny fan myself! I’m pretty sure Mel would make the same choice.

 

 

Moldy Horror: FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (Warner Bros/Amicus 1973)

I’ve discussed the Max Roseberg/Milton Subotsky Amicus horror anthologies before on this blog. All are good, if uneven, little entries in the genre, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is no exception. This was the last of the Amicus tales of terror, a quartet of creepiness based on the work of British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Mr. Cheywynd-Hayes’s work, so I couldn’t tell you if the movie’s faithful to it or not. I can tell you FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is about 50/50 in the chills department.

An all-star British cast gives it a game try, though. The segments are linked by horror icon Peter Cushing , looking rather gaunter than usual as the proprietor of Temptations Ltd., an antique shop which serves to set the stories in motion. Unfortunately, the part is a waste of Cushing’s talent; I could see him in any of a number of roles in the stories ahead to far greater effect.

The first involves David Warner as a man who purchases an antique mirror, then gathers his friends around to hold a séance. Warner gets more than he bargained for when he’s possessed by a murderous spirit trapped on the mirror’s other side. This segment is particularly gruesome, and Warner is good as always, but so predictable that it failed to satisfy the horror lover in me.

Next up we find Ian Bannen as a drudge married to a shrewish wife (zaftig Brit ex-sexpot Diana Dors ), who steals a Distinguished Service Medal in order to impress an Army veteran-turned-beggar (Donald Pleasence ). Bannen’s invited to dinner at the beggar’s flat, and becomes spellbound by his daughter (Pleasence’s real-life daughter Angela). This one’s got a pretty neat twist ending that I didn’t see coming, which is rare for a hard-core horror fan like me. Kudos!

We turn now to comedy, with Margaret Leighton as a dotty psychic who aids a couple (Ian Charmichael, Nyree Dawn Porter) rid themselves of an Elemental, a mischievous, malevolent spirit trying to possess the husband. Despite some cool special effects during the exorcism scene, and Leighton’s fun turn as the clairvoyant, this segment was just okay.

Finally, we come to Ian Oglivy , who buys a door with a strange-looking carving on it. Bringing it home to wife Lesley-Anne Down, he installs it as a kitschy cupboard door, only to discover upon opening it that it leads to a mysterious blue room where evil and black magic dwell. This was a very good, scary piece with a Corman/Poe type atmosphere, and for me ranked as the best of the lot.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE suffers most from the pedestrian direction of Kevin Connor, making his feature debut. Connor would go on to a fairly pedestrian career, helming the Amicus/Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations; of his filmography, only MOTEL HELL is a real standout. The movie, as I said, is about half successful, and I’d recommend DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS or TALES FROM THE CRYPT as better representatives of the Amicus horror anthologies. But for genre fans, it’s worth a look anyway.

Dirty Boulevard: George C. Scott in HARDCORE (Columbia 1979)

Cracked Rear Viewer: “Back in the day….”

Dear Readers: (groaning) “There he goes again. Another history lesson!”

CRV: “B-but it’s important to put things in their proper historical context!”

DRs: (sigh) “We guess you’re right. Sorry.”

CRV: (beaming) “No problem! Now, like I was saying…”

Back in the day, every major urban city, and many smaller sized ones, had what was known as a “Red Light District”, where sex workers plied their trade. These streets were loaded with sex shops, peep shows, massage parlors, strip joints, and Triple-X movie palaces, with hookers and drug dealers hawking their wares. New York City had its Times Square/42nd Street area, Boston had The Combat Zone near Chinatown, and Montreal the infamous St. Catherine Street. For Los Angeles, the action was on Sunset Boulevard, and it’s into this seedy milieu that writer/director Paul Schrader plunges George C. Scott in 1979’s HARDCORE, which isn’t about sex so much as it is about relationships, both intrapersonal and with society at large,  and a father’s frantic search for his missing daughter.

Dear Readers: (giving the fish-eye) “Boston, huh. That’s your neck of the woods.”

CRV: “Hey, it was a long time ago. I was young, dumb, and full of c…curiosity!”

Scott plays Jake Van Dorn, a repressed, heavily religious businessman from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He and his daughter Kristen lead a safe, secure life revolving around church and family. Kristen and her cousin Marcie are sent on retreat to a Calvinist Convention in California, and soon Jake gets word his pride and joy has gone missing from Knott’s Berry Farm with a strange man. The distraught Jake flies to LA, but when the police prove no help, he hires a somewhat shady PI named Andy Mast to find his daughter.

Mast does, but what he finds shocks Jake to his fundamentalist core… the detective procures an 8mm loop of Kristen having sex with two men. Jake and Mast butt heads, so Jake goes out on his own to roam the grimy side of LA, experiencing culture shock in a world he knows nothing about. The denizens of this grimy arena are an understandably tight-lipped lot, so he takes it upon himself to go undercover as an out-of-town porn investor, sinking ever deeper into the dirty swamp.

Posing as a casting director, Jake meets a lad with the moniker “Jism Jim”, who he recognizes from the loop he saw with Kristen. When Jake starts asking questions about Kristen, now known as “Joanna”, the young would-be stud talks trash about how kinky she was, and an enraged Jake lashes out, beating Jim mercilessly until he gets some info on his daughter’s whereabouts. This leads to Niki, a prostitute and part-time porn actress, who agrees to help Jake… for a price, of course. The unlikely pair, a conservative Midwestern businessman and a freewheeling hooker, travel to San Diego and San Francisco on a grungy trail that takes them to a man named Ratan, a notorious producer of S&M and “snuff” films…

DRs: (scowling) “Sounds pretty gross. Where’s the value in a film like this?”

CRV: “It’s socially significant. And says a lot about the state of America, even today. An apathetic society, turning it’s back on its values…”

DRs: (eyes rolling) “Oh, brother.”

Scott is a sight to behold, going from staid patriarch to obsessed father desperately trying to save his little girl, no matter what the cost. The scene where he sits and watches the stag loop is painful and uncomfortable, as he agonizes over the obscene footage. His veneer of civility, of reliance on God in all things, is shattered when he enters this sleazy world, and Jake in turn becomes as animalistic as the predators that roam those dark streets. Scott was one of his generation’s greatest actors, and he totally immerses himself in the part, adding subtle shadings every time more is revealed about his daughter and himself.

Season Hubley plays the hooker Niki, to whom Jake becomes a father figure. She’s brash, stoned, and street smart, the opposite of Scott’s Van Dorn. He needs her more than she needs him, but the two form a bond, broken only when Jake finds his daughter at last, leaving poor Niki alone to the streets once again. Hubley played a similar role in the 1982 exploitation classic VICE SQUAD, and is an actress who can always be depended upon to deliver the goods. She was the title character in THE LOLLY MADONNA WAR, played Desdemona in a rock version of Othello called CATCH MY SOUL, and appeared with ex-husband Kurt Russell in both the TV Movie ELVIS (as Priscilla Presley) and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Peter Boyle’s Andy Mast isn’t exactly Philip Marlowe, but a knight in rusty armor who knows all the players on the mean streets of LA. He’s got a bit of John Wayne in him, referring to Jake as “Pilgrim” throughout the film, and is an important part of the proceedings. Dick Sargent (the second Darin on BEWITCHED) is Jake’s equally repressed brother-in-law, worried Jake has gone too far down in the muck and mire of Hollywood. Marc Alaimo, Bibi Besch, and Tracey Walter have small roles, as does Hal Williams as “Big Dick Blacque”, a porn star auditioning for Jake who calls him a racist when he doesn’t get the (bogus) part.

This was Paul Schrader’s second film as both writer and director, the first being BLUE COLLAR. He made a splash with his screenplay for TAXI DRIVER, another movie exposing the dirty underbelly of American life. Most of Schrader’s films deal with the dark side of human nature, from AMERICAN GIGOLO to AUTO FOCUS, RAGING BULL to AFFLICTION, and contain religious overtones (Schrader also wrote the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST). Schrader uses music to represent the dichotomy of Van Dorn’s life; in the Grand Rapids scenes we hear the gospel strains of “Precious Memories”; when Jake hits LA, the industrial rock noise of composer Jack Nietzsche dominates. He puts Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Helpless” to good use when Jake enters his first porn shop, and the film ends again with the gospel standard, father and daughter reunited but never to be the same again. HARDCORE may not be an easy film for some to watch, but it’s not supposed to be. In the world of Schrader and HARDCORE, nothing is what it seems, and life is as hard as those grubby streets where anything can be had… for a price.

DRs: “OK, but next time why don’t you review a Disney movie or something. Next thing we know, you’ll be doing porn reviews!”

CRV: (lopsided grin) “Well, you know, some of them do have historic and cultural significance. There’s DEEP THROAT, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR…. hey, wait, come back! I was only kidding!!”

“Back in the day”: Boston’s Combat Zone

One Hit Wonders #13 “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes (Reprise Records 1966)

Los Angeles psychedelic rockers The Electric Prunes rose to #11 on the Billboard charts with their 1966 hit, “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”:

The band were noted for their early use of fuzz-tone guitars, wah-wah pedals, and other studio tricks to add an eerie ambience to their rock’n’roll noise. Though they never had another hit, their 1968 album “Mass in F Minor” has become a psychedelia collector’s Holy Grail, a complex, baroque rock concept LP composed and arranged by David Axelrod (the jazz producer, not the political pundit) sung entirely in Greek and Latin. The record was so complex, in fact, The Prunes had difficulty playing the songs, and studio musicians were brought in to fill in the gaps. A song from “Mass in F Minor” called “Kyrie Elieson” gained some notoriety when it was used in Dennis Hopper’s 1969 biker classic EASY RIDER:

As for The Electric Prunes, they went back to a simpler sound before breaking up in 1970. There were several reunions and re-reunions over the years, but far as I can tell, The Prunes are no longer in existence. Anyone who knows otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment – Prunes fans wanna know!!

Pre Code Confidential #18: FIVE STAR FINAL (Warner Brothers 1931)

Tabloid journalism has been around far longer than the cable “news” channels of today, with their 24 hour a day barrage of nonstop sleazy scandals and “fake news”. A circulation war between publishers Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) in the 1890’s, filled with sensationalized headlines and mucho muckraking, gave birth to the term “Yellow Journalism”, derived from Richard Outcault’s guttersnipe character The Yellow Kid in his comic strip Hogan’s Alley, which appeared in both papers. This legacy of dirt-digging and gossip-mongering continued through the decades in supermarket rags like The National Enquirer and World Weekly News, leading us to where we are today with the so-called “mainstream media” stretching credibility to the max and bogus Internet click-bait sites abounding. All of which leads me to FIVE STAR FINAL, a Pre-Code drama about headhunting for headlines starring Edward G. Robinson and a colorful supporting cast.

Robinson and director Mervyn LeRoy , fresh off the hit gangster epic LITTLE CAESAR, reunited for this sordid little tale as E.G. plays Randall, managing editor of the fictional New York Gazette, pressured by his publisher to boost sagging sales by jazzing things up with girlie pics and juicy scandals. Rehashing the twenty year old Nancy Voorhees murder case, in which a young secretary shot and killed her boss/lover, Randall assembles his team to dig up everything they can on her life today. Staff floozie Kitty Carmody hunts down her whereabouts; Nancy is now Mrs. Michael Townsend, whose daughter Jenny is about to be wed to wealthy manufacturing heir Phillip Weeks.

Isopod, an ex-divinity student ejected for drinking and lasciviousness, impersonates a reverend and visits the Townsends, learning the couple is afraid all this bad publicity will harm Jenny, who was born out-of-wedlock and isn’t Michael’s child. A drunken Isopod brings the scoop back to Randall and the smear campaign is on! A distraught Nancy ends up committing suicide; when Michael finds the body he follows suit. Kitty and her photographer sneak into the Townsend’s apartment and take a pic of the two bodies on their bathroom floor. The scandal causes the upper crust Weeks’s to demand the wedding be called off, and a hysterical Jenny grabs a gun and confronts Randall, Isopod, and publisher Hinchcliffe in an amazingly tense dramatic scene, concluding with Randall telling Hinchcliffe just what he can do with his bloody paper!

Robinson’s staccato line delivery and perpetual scowl make Randall seem as real a newspaper man as you can get. Reluctant at first to sensationalize his paper, he dives right into the mudpit to deliver the goods. His forlorn face when he learns of the tragedy is unforgettable, and his compulsive hand washing throughout the movie suggests a man who can never get all the filth off of them. The fact that Robinson, who gave brilliant performances in films like DR. EHRLICH’S MAGIC BULLET, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SCARLET STREET , KEY LARGO , and so many others, never won an Oscar, only awarded a posthumous statuette two months after his death, is another black eye on the Academy.

A pre-FRANKENSTEIN Boris Karloff plays the unctuous reporter Isopod, a leering slimebag of a man just as creepy as any monster or mad doctor he ever played… maybe creepier! Ona Munson (GONE WITH THE WIND’s Belle Watling) is Kitty, the girl who’s “been around”, George E. Stone (E.G.’s LITTLE CAESAR henchman) is Ziggie, a street hardened “idea man”, and Aline MacMahon makes her film debut as Randall’s secretary Miss Taylor, who’s secretly in love with her boss. Marian Marsh as Jenny is cloying at first, but heats things up when she becomes unhinged at the end. Veterans H.B. Warner and Frances Starr as Michael and Nancy are okay, but Anthony Bushell is rah-ther wooden as Phillip. Familiar Faces include Oscar Apfel, Gladys Lloyd (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson), and the hypnotic Polly Walters as an uncredited switchboard operator.

One innovative scene I found fascinating was a triple-split screen with Nancy frantically trying to call Randall and Hinchcliffe, leading to her death. Le Roy moves his camera to good effect; the film is rarely static, yet LeRoy’s work as director seems to get overlooked in conversations among film buffs today. FIVE STAR FINAL is admittedly creaky in some spots, but overall holds up well, and is as relevant in today’s world as it was 87 years ago. The more things change, the more they remain the same… and more’s the pity.

Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid