Jungle Boogie: Ed Wood’s THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (Allied Artists 1958)

Reincarnation and past lives were popular themes in the 1950’s, mainly because of the success of THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY, which spawned a host of imitators. One of these was THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, a bizarre take on the theme written by the legendary (for all the wrong reasons!) Edward D. Wood, Jr. In this incarnation of the reincarnation subject, we find a pretty young bride who improbably discovers she was once a fierce jungle gorilla!

Big Game Hunter Lance Fuller and his new wife Charlotte Austin are honeymooning at his stately manor. She finds out he’s keeping a gorilla named Spanky in the basement to be shipped to a zoo, and gets a ‘sinister urge’ (sorry!) to see it. Charlotte goes ape over Spanky, and he obviously digs her, too. But worried Lance warns her to keep her paws off the big ape because he’s dangerous.

Later that night, Spanky escapes his cage and fondles our young bride, ripping off her nightie, so jealous Lance shoots the hairy horndog! Charlotte keeps having dreams about Africa, and can’t shake the feeling she’s lived before, so an eminent psychologist (and really, is there any other kind in these movies?) is called in to hypnotize her. Under hypnosis, Charlotte rambles on about one of Ed Wood’s favorite subjects, angora fur: “so soft like a kitten’s fur… it felt so good on me, as if it belonged there”. Ahem, okay…

The couple head to The Dark Continent so Lance can bag some big game, with their faithful houseboy/guide Taro (who speaks in a stilted Brooklyn accent!) in tow. Lance goes traipsing off among the stock footage of wild animals, while Charlotte discovers the animals fear her – because she was once Queen of the Gorillas! And by the way, do Great White Hunters usually change into their pajamas while sleeping in their jungle tents, or wear their sneakers when traversing the jungle veldt (asking for a friend)? Anyway, some Indian tigers have escaped from a cargo ship and are on the loose, attacking Charlotte before Lance kills them, and while she’s recuperating, she somehow (don’t ask me how!) summons a gorilla into camp, and the beast KO’s Lance and carries Charlotte off into the jungle where she belongs!

“It felt so good on me… ” – Ed Wood with Dolores Fuller in 1953’s “Glen or Glenda?” (Ed’s on the right!)

Yep, that’s definitely an Ed Wood story, all right! But Ed didn’t direct THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST – that honor went to producer Adrian Weiss, in his only time sitting in the director’s chair (he’d been working as a writer, editor, production manager, and assistant director since the 1930’s). Weiss isn’t bad, but I would’ve loved to have seen what Ed Wood could have done with a slightly larger budget than usual. Not much larger, mind you, but at least the sets don’t look like they’ll come crashing down on the actor’s heads at any given moment!!

Star Lance Fuller is perhaps best known for his turn as the big-foreheaded alien Brack in THIS ISLAND EARTH, played in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA with Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan, costarred in Roger Corman’s APACHE WOMEN, and was once married to blonde bombshell Joi Lansing. Pretty Charlotte Austin should have had a bigger career, but besides small parts in DADDY LONG LEGS and HOW TO BE VERY VERY POPULAR, and a bigger one in Frankenstein 1970 , she went nowhere. A pair of Hollywood’s top gorilla-suited actors are featured here: Ray “Crash” Corrigan and Steve Calvert .

So while THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST may be silly, it’s perfect Saturday matinee fare, and kids of all ages will go ape over it, as will all you Ed Wood completists out there – and count me among them! I’d never seen it before, but now it’s available all this month on The Film Detective, and if you aren’t familiar with them yet, just follow this link… and tell ’em Cracked Rear Viewer sent you!

 

Sex And Drugs And BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (Allied Artists/Woolner Brothers 1964)


Welcome to the weirdly wonderful world of giallo, pioneered by the late Italian maestro Mario Bava . Though Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (released stateside as EVIL EYE) is considered by connoisseurs the first, it was BLOOD AND BLACK LACE that defined the genre, with its comingling of crime drama, murder mystery, and horror elements coalescing into something truly unique. I hadn’t seen this film in decades before a recent rewatch, and was again dazzled by Bava’s technique. The film has proved to be highly influential in the decades-later slasher genre, yet has its roots set firmly in the past.

The opening sequence is a stunner, as we see the beautiful model Isabelle walking through a woodsy pathway on a dark and stormy night, stalked and then brutally murdered by a faceless, trenchcoated killer. From there, we’re introduced to the remaining cast, members of the haute couture fashion world run by Countess Christina Cuomo. Police Inspector Silvester is on the case, and he gets more than he bargained for, with all the players holding deep, dark secrets. Isabelle’s diary holds the key to the crime, and more gruesome murders follow, with suspects aplenty…

Bava gives us a compact but compelling shocker, and while rewatching, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the movie resembled the films of Val Lewton and 40’s film noir, with dashes of Hitchcock and Welles thrown in for good measure – only saturated with vibrant colors! Garish reds, blues, greens, and violets make the screen pop, aided by some brilliantly deep shadowplay. While Ubaldo Terzano is credited as cinematographer, Bava himself was no slouch in that department, having worked behind the camera since the early 1940’s, and did much of the work uncredited. Best known for his horror films (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, LISA AND THE DEVIL), he worked in every genre, and though he did his share of clunkers (DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, for example), most of his resume contains movies well worth searching out.

Cameron Mitchell  and Eva Bartok are the most recognizable actors here to classic film fans. Mitchell had been around Hollywood since 1945; his best known roles were as Happy in DEATH OF A SALESMAN (a part he originated on Broadway), Lauren Bacall’s suitor in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, and Jigger in CAROUSEL.  When his career dried up, Mitchell went to Europe to star in peplum films and Spaghetti Westerns before returning to Tinseltown for the TV series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL (1967-71). Bartok was familiar to American audiences for playing opposite Burt Lancaster in THE CRIMSON PIRATE, the early Hammer sci-fi SPACEWAYS, and Dean Martin’s first solo outing TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS. Those well-versed in Italian cinema will be able to identify Mary Arden (A… FOR ASSASSIN), Franco Ressel (SABATA), Luciano Pigozzi (WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMATORY, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD), and Enzo Cerusico (HERCULES, SAMSON, AND ULYSSES) among the cast members.

Most familiar to American audiences would be the voice of Paul Frees, who dubs most of the male cast (including Mitchell, for some strange reason). BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was considered controversial in its day, so much so that even American-International wouldn’t release it! It was up to the Woolner Brothers (ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN) to bring it across the Atlantic, releasing through Allied Artists. Critics of the time weren’t kind, but the movie has since taken on a cult status, in large part due to the artistry of Mario Bava. It’s pretty tame compared to today’s gore-fests, yet still manages to pack a punch, with one helluva triple twist conclusione.


And on another note… BLODD & BLACK LACE marks Cracked Rear Viewer’s 1,000th post! 

Happy Noir Year!: THE BIG COMBO (United Artists 1955)

(ATTENTION: There’s a surprise waiting for you at the end of this post, so read on…)

Joseph H. Lewis started his directing career with low-budget Westerns starring singing cowboy Bob Baker and East Side Kids programmers, and ended it back on the range doing epsiodes of THE RIFLEMAN, GUNSMOKE, and THE BIG VALLEY. In between, he created some of the finest films noir the genre has to offer: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS , SO DARK THE NIGHT, THE UNDERCOVER MAN, and especially GUN CRAZY . His last big screen noir outing is the culmination of his work in the genre, 1955’s THE BIG COMBO.

The plot is fairly simple: Police Lt. Leonard Diamond is out to crack gangster Mr. Brown’s “combination”, which controls crime in the city. But Philip Yordan’s screenplay takes that plot and adds exciting twists and turns, indelible characters, and a level of violence audiences weren’t used to seeing at the local bijou. Lewis, aided and abetted by cinematographer John Alton , uses that script as a springboard for some darkly dazzling visuals; the opening scene alone, with a young girl being chased down a dark alley by two menacing thugs, finds Lewis and Alton showing off their talents. The film moves at lightning speed, a pedal-to-the-metal noir that doesn’t let up until the chilling conclusion inside an airplane hangar.

Cornel Wilde  is the obsessed police detective determined to put an end to Mr. Brown’s reign of terror. Wilde had started his own production company along with his wife Jean Wallace (who plays Brown’s moll Susan), and this was their first release. Wallace does fair work in the part, though her performance is eclipsed by the rest of the cast. THE BIG COMBO got them off to a slam-bang start, and their next production, STORM FEAR, found Wilde in the director’s chair for the first time, a seat he would take again for films like THE NAKED PREY, BEACH RED, and NO BLADE OF GRASS.

Mr. Brown wasn’t Richard Conte’s first gangster role, nor would it be his last, but it may very well be his best. Mr. Brown is a smug cocksure sadist, deriding Wilde’s Lt. Diamond every chance he gets (“Book me, small change”, he sneers, referencing the cop’s low-wage job), and his staccato line delivery aids the film’s breakneck pace. Brian Donlevy , no stranger to gangster parts himself, plays his second-in-command McClure, once a big shot, now reduced to flunky status. Donlevy was one of noir’s greatest character actors, and his McClure adds another fine portrait to his Rogue’s Gallery. Helen Walker , in her final screen role, plays the mysterious “Alicia”; to say more about the character would spoil the film, and I want you to see it for yourselves! Suffice it to say Miss Walker gives a bravura career finale.

Many modern critics see ‘gay subtext’ everywhere they look in older films; most of the time it’s something that’s not really there. But the characters of Brown’s hit men Fante and Mingo are without question “more than just friends” in this one. It isn’t anything overt, but Yordan’s script subtly suggests these two psychcopaths are homosexual lovers, and the performances of screen tough guys Lee Van Cleef (Fante) and Earl Holliman (Mingo) leave no doubt in my mind about their off-duty relationship. They don’t flaunt their sexual persuasion or camp it up, but watching their nuanced performances, you just know there’s something beneath the surface. Kudos to both actors for giving these stone-cold killers a deeper shading.

THE BIG COMBO is a gripping crime drama in every way, and a fitting end to Lewis’s film noir body of work. It’s dark, sordid, and unsavory, and must-see for fans of the genre. Those who’ve never had the opportunity to watch it are missing a real treat – and since it’s in public domain, I’ll give you that opportunity right now! Consider it my “Happy Noir Year” present to you and enjoy!:

Cleaning Out the DVR #21: Halloween Leftovers 3

Time to reach deep inside that trick-or-treat bag and take a look at what’s stuck deep in the corners. Just when you thought it was safe, here’s five more thrilling tales of terror:

YOU’LL FIND OUT (RKO 1940; D: David Butler) – Kay Kyser and his College of Musical Knowledge, for those of you unfamiliar…

…were a Swing Era band of the 30’s & 40’s who combined music with cornball humor on their popular weekly radio program. RKO signed them to a movie contract and gave them this silly but entertaining “old dark house” comedy, teaming Kay and the band (featuring Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and the immortal Ish Kabibble!) with horror greats Boris Karloff , Bela Lugosi , and Peter Lorre . It’s got all the prerequisites: secret passageways, a creepy séance, and of course that old stand-by, the dark and stormy night! The plot has Kyser’s band hired for Helen Parrish’s 21st birthday party at said spooky mansion, with band manager Dennis O’Keefe as her love interest. Bela gets the juiciest part as flamboyant phony medium Prince Saliano, Boris is a shady family friend, and Lorre his usual sinister self. Alma Kruger plays Helen’s aunt who’s into spiritualism, which sets things in motion, and bumbling Kay gets to solve the mystery. Nothing earth-shaking going on here, but fun for fans of the Terror Trio. Fun Fact: The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Song, “I’d Know You Anywhere”, written by Jimmy McHugh and Johnny Mercer, and sweetly sung onscreen by Ginny Simms, who had a brief film career of her own after leaving the band in 1941.

THE LEOPARD MAN (RKO 1943; D: Jacques Tourneur) – One of producer Val Lewton’s most unheralded films, chock full of his trademark use of sound and shadows. A black leopard gets loose from nightclub performer Jean Brooks’ act, and a series of gruesome murders follow in a small New Mexico town. This tense, gripping ‘B’ is loaded with eerie scenes; I especially liked the one in which a young girl gets locked in a cemetery and stalked by the killer cat (or is it a human – the movie will keep you guessing!). Dennis O’Keefe is Jean’s publicity agent whose stunt goes awry, Margo (later married to Eddie Albert) a castanet-clicking dancer/victim, and Isabel Jewell shines as a Gypsy card reader. Mark Robson’s marvelous editing job on this and Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE got him promoted to the director’s chair for THE SEVENTH VICTIM later that year. This chilling horror-noir doesn’t get the attention of other Lewton films, but deserves a much larger audience. Fun Fact: Based on the novel “Black Alibi” by prolific pulp author Cornell Woolrich, whose many books and short stories were made into film noir classics.

THE DISEMBODIED (Allied Artists 1957; D: Walter Grauman) – Ice Princess of Horror Allison Hayes IS Tonda, jungle voodoo queen in this low-budget shocker that wasn’t as bad as I expected, far as jungle voodoo epics go. Paul Burke costars as a filmmaker who brings his wounded friend to Allison’s doctor husband John Weingraf’s jungle compound, but let’s face it – the main reason to watch this is Allison Hayes, thoroughly evil and sexy as hell! And that memorably sensuous voodoo dance she performs…

Hot Damn! She’s the whole show in this minor chiller directed by Walter Grauman, who later helmed 1964’s LADY IN A CAGE and tons of TV (including 53 episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE). Fun Fact: Weingraf gets off the best line when he tells Allison, “There are only two places where you belong. The jungle – and the place where I first found you!”. Burn!!!  

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (Filmgroup 1959; D: Monte Hellman) – An uneven blend of the horror and crime genres courtesy of the Corman Brothers finds crook Frank Wolff and his gang (including his perpetually soused moll Sheila Caroll) plotting a gold bar heist using an explosion at a mine as a diversion. Wolff and his cohorts (perennial Corman actor Wally Campo and Frank Sinatra’s cousin Richard!) use good-looking ski lodge instructor Michael Forest to lead them on a cross-country ski trip to make their getaway, but the blast awakens a not-so hideous monster from its slumber that tracks them down! First film for director Hellman has its moments, but the rock-bottom budget defeats him. Filmed on location in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Fun Fact: The unscary monster was designed and played by actor Chris Robinson, the original “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” commercial ad guy!

HORROR HOTEL (Vulcan/Trans-Lux 1960; D: John Llewellyn Moxey) – Also known as CITY OF THE DEAD. New England 1692: accused witch Elizabeth Selwyn curses the town of Whitewood, MA as she’s burned at the stake. Present Day: college student Nan Barlow wants to do her term paper on witchcraft and devil worship, and is directed by her history professor Alan Driscoll to travel to his hometown of Whitewood for research. He even recommends she stay at The Raven’s Inn, run by Mrs. Newless (who bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth!).

Nan immediately notices strange things about Whitewood: the fog-shrouded town doesn’t look like it’s changed in 200+ years, the townsfolk aren’t very friendly, the old reverend warns her “Leave Whitewood”, and weird noises emanate from the cellar. The only person who welcomes her is the reverend’s granddaughter Patricia, newly arrived herself and running an antique bookstore. Curiosity gets the best of her and… DON’T GO IN THAT BASEMENT, NAN!!

When Nan doesn’t return home after two weeks, her brother Ronald and boyfriend Bill become worried. Patricia, too, is worried, and pays a call on both Ronald and Prof. Driscoll. The men decide separately to go to Whitewood and investigate, and that’s when the fun really begins! This is probably Moxey’s best feature film, though he does have some good TV Movies on his resume (THE NIGHT STALKER, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY). Christopher Lee is dark and ominous as Driscoll, but it’s Patricia Jessel (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM ) who stands out in a truly bloodcurdling performance as Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless. The rest of the cast (Betta St. John, Valentine Dyall, Venitia Stevenson, Dennis Lotis) is equally good, and the British actors do a fine job maintaining their American accents. This incredibly creepy nightmare of a movie is an old favorite of mine, and highly recommended! Fun Fact: This was a Vulcan Production from Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, who soon changed their company’s name to Amicus , premiere makers of horror anthologies in the 60’s & 70’s.

Halloween Havoc!: FROM HELL IT CAME (Allied Artists 1957)

I’ve seen a lot of movie monsters in my time. Vampires and werewolves, zombies and mutated bugs, but nothing prepared me for the horror of… Tabanga, the Terrible Tree Monster and star of FROM HELL IT CAME! I’ve seen a lot of Grade ‘Z’ “so-bad-they’re-good” movies as well, and let me tell you, this one’s right up there with the best of the worst. This was the last film from Milner Brothers Productions (who brought you the equally ludicrous PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES) and rightly so. FROM HELL IT CAME is so inept it makes Ed Wood’s epics look like Cecil B. DeMille spectaculars!

So there’s this tribe of suspiciously Caucasian-looking natives living on this South Seas island, okay. The very Caucasian Kimo (Gregg Palmer, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU) is staked to the ground, accused of poisoning his chieftain father with the white man’s “bad medicine”. This is only a ruse by witch doctor Tano (Robert Swan) to take over  the tribe with Maranka (Baynes Barron) and Kimo’s tropical floozy wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgway). Before Tano gives the order to plunge a knife into his victim’s heart, Kimo vows to return from the grave to exact revenge on his lying tormentors.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, scientists Dr. Bill Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Professor Clark (John McNamara) are researching nuclear fallout in the area, which the natives call “Devil Dust”. With them is Army Sgt. Eddie (Mark Sheeler), whose role is so meaningless he isn’t even given a last name. Then there’s Mrs. Kilgore (Linda Winters), man-hungry owner of the local trading post, sporting one of the worst Cockney accents in the history of cinema! Into the picture (via helicopter) comes Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), no relation to Perry Mason, one of those dedicated 50’s “female scientists” that leading men like Bill go ga-ga over.

It’s brought to everyone’s attention there’s a tree stump growing out of Kimo’s grave, and this botanical marvel has a pulse! Some friendly natives warn the gang about the legend of Tabanga, a restless evil tree monster who once terrorized the islanders. Dr. Mason gives it a shot of her new serum to keep it alive, but Tabanga busts out of the lab and makes good on Kimo’s promise to avenge his death against those who murdered him. The shambling stump takes things too far when it shuffles off with Terry. The men chases after it, and realize the only way to stop Tabanga is to shoot a bullet at the knife still protruding from the former Kimo’s chest, driving it through its tree heart! I don’t think even Annie Oakley could pull that off, but scientist Bill manages to do just that, ending the threat of Tabanga, earning the native’s gratitude, and winning the hand of the fair Terry.

The only thing worse than the stilted dialog is the wooden (pun intended) delivery the actors give it. As for Tabanga  itself, this monster wouldn’t scare anybody over the age of five. In fact, I found myself smiling every time it appeared on-screen. This isn’t “rubber suit” monster maker Paul Blaisdell’s greatest creation; then again how do you make a tree scary? I’m pretty sure there are worst films you can watch this Halloween though, so if you’re in the mood for some unintentional Tree Monster laughs, FROM HELL IT CAME will certainly fill the bill. Time to say goodnight, Tabanga:

 

That’s Blaxploitation! 9: THREE THE HARD WAY (Allied Artists 1974)

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An All-Star Blaxploitation cast barrels their way through THREE THE HARD WAY, director Gordon Parks Jr.’s ultra-violent classic that dives into action from jump street and rarely lets up on the gas pedal straight through til the end. It’s the quintessential 70’s action flick whose thin plot only serves to weave a tapestry of wild action set pieces and well-staged stunt work courtesy of stunt coordinator Hal Needham and his stellar stunt gang.

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We’re lured into the action right from the get-go in a pre-credits scene of a desperate young black man escaping from a concentration-camp-like compound. He makes it to L.A. and contacts his friend, the BMW-driving, hot-shot record producer Jimmy Lait, played by NFL great Jim Brown . The kid is then assassinated in his hospital bed and Jimmy’s girl Wendy (Sheila Fraser) is kidnapped. A scene change lets us in on the plot, as white supremacist Monroe Feather and evil scientist Dr. Fortero have designed a “scientific” final solution to the race problem by spiking the water supplies of urban areas with a poison that kills only black folks!

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Jimmy then enlists two of his old pals to help foil the fiendish plot and save Wendy. Another football player turned actor, Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson, is studly Chicago PR man Jagger Daniels. Williamson was already a Blaxploitation icon for films like BLACK CEASAR and HELL UP IN HARLEM, and he and Brown have good screen chemistry (the pair would appear together in four other films). Then it’s on to Washington to recruit Mister Keyes, played by BLACK BELT JONES star Jim Kelly, whose incredible kung-fu moves made up for his lack of acting talent. These three bad-asses proceed to take on the villainous Feather’s army, winding up in an explosive finale that’s violent, bloody, and loads of fun.

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I’ve got to mention the titanic trio of topless female torturers who pop up, riding in garbed in red, white, and blue on matching Kawasakis to dole out punishment on a captured racist. They’re Countess (Playboy cover girl Pamela Serpe), Empress (Irene Tsu of HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI and PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE), and Princess (Marie O’Henry of DELIVER US FROM EVIL and DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE)….

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…and they’re a riotous highlight! They should’ve gotten their own film!

Crazy Jay Robinson, who played Caligula in THE ROBE and DEMETRIOS AND THE GLADIATORS, bring his oily talents to the role of Monroe Feather, and wasn’t even Oscar nominated (I know, I know, but he really is good in the part)! Familiar Faces include Charles McGregor (SUPER FLY’s Fat Freddie), Howard Platt (Officer Hoppy of SANFORD AND SON), Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER), martial artist David Chow (who joins Kelly in a wild battle against some goons), and a young Corbin Bernsen. Richard Tufo composed the score, with songs by Curtis Mayfield’s old group The Impressions. Veteran Lucien Ballard capably handles the cinematography with his usual style.

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As far-fetched and unbelievable as THREE THE HARD WAY is, its non-stop action and likable stars kept me entertained all the way, and that’s exactly what I want out of a movie. It’s one of the definitive films in the Blaxploitation canon, and if you’re a fan like me, you’re gonna love this one. Get that popcorn ready, and enjoy!

Stage Fright: THE HYPNOTIC EYE (Allied Artists 1960)

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) Directed by George Blair Shown: Lobby card

Evil hypnotists have been a movie staple since Svengali first mesmerized Trilby in 1911, but THE HYPNOTIC EYE is in a class of its own. This demented little tale is sufficiently creepy enough to overcome its meager budget limitations, and features the Ice Queen of Horror, Allison Hayes, in the pivotal role of Justine, assistant to master trancemaker Desmond.

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We start with an opening shot of a woman, thinking she’s washing her hair, sticking her head directly into the flame of a stove pilot. That’ll get your attention! A series of horrible self-mutilations have left a dozen beautiful women disfigured and the police scratching their heads. Detective Dave Kennedy discusses the bizarre cases with police psychologist Phil Hecht: “One of them stuck her face in the blade of an electric fan. Thought it was a vibrator. Another one sliced her face with a straight razor. Thought it was a lipstick brush”.

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Dave’s girlfriend Marcia thinks he needs a night out, so along with their friend Dodie they attend the hottest show in town, stage hypnotist The Great Desmond. Dave’s skeptical, but Dodie volunteers to be hypnotized, remembering nothing afterward. Later, she sneaks backstage to visit Desmond, and when she gets home has the brilliant idea to wash her face with sulfuric acid! Marcia has a theory that Desmond is behind all the ghastly mischief, but when Dave interviews the victims, none of them recall going to Desmond’s show… not even Dodie! That proves it! Now Marcia volunteers to be hypnotized by Desmond, and danger takes center stage…

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I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen THE HYPNOTIC EYE, but I will tell you about HypnoMagic!  This was part of the ballyhoo campaign for the film, featuring Desmond hypnotizing the audience (both onscreen and off) into doing his bidding by directly looking into the camera, and using a swirling psychedelic hypno disc to control our minds. This is the kind of thing William Castle   was famous for, and I’m proud to say it didn’t work on me. My will is much stronger than The Great Desmond!

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Dave and Phil follow Desmond and the hypnotized Marcia to a beatnik coffee-house, where we get to hear the latest groovy poem from a hipster played by Lawrence Lipton, titled “Confessions of a Movie Addict” :

Crazy, man, crazy! Equally crazy is Allison Hayes as Desmond’s assistant Justine, the catalyst for all the gruesome shenanigans going on, and the star of ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN is in fine bitchy form. Jacques Bergerac as Desmond is quite the charming sleazebag. The former star of LES GIRLS and GIGI (and ex-husband of Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone) was on his way down in the Hollywood pecking order, but still gives the role his all . The rest of the cast is nondescript, though I’ll give some credit to genre vet Merry Anders (THE TIME TRAVELERS, WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET) as Dodie. Fred Demara, known as ‘The Great Imposter’ for his 50’s-60’s exploits, has a cameo as a doctor. His life was made into a movie starring Tony Curtis; let me assure you they look NOTHING alike.

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This cult classic won’t make any “best-of” lists, and isn’t as gory as what was to come in future sicko 60’s Grindhouse shockers, but it has its moments, and Emile LaVigne’s make-up jobs on the disfigured women is on a par with his work on Zsa Zsa Gabor in QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE  . THE HYPNOTIC EYE is slow in parts,  but provided more than enough deranged fun to satisfy the horror lover in me.

Christmas Surprise: IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (Allied Artists 1947)

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I’d never heard of IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE until it’s recent broadcast on TCM. This unsung little holiday gem was a TV staple for decades before being pulled from viewing in 1990, only resurfacing in 2009 when a small but dedicated band of classic film fans put the pressure on to see it aired once again. And I’m glad they did, for this charming, unpretensious comedy boasts a marvelous cast, an Oscar-nominated screenplay, and a Frank Capra-esque feel without a lot of the Capra-corn.

Capra himself was scheduled to direct it back in 1945, but instead he chose to make another Christmas film you may have heard of, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Veteran Roy Del Ruth obtained the rights, and IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE became the first release of Allied Artists, the larger budgeted, more prestigious arm of Monogram Pictures (and you know how much I love Monogram movies!). The film was cast, shooting began, and the movie was released- in Easter season! I’m not quite sure why a movie based around the Christmas season was released on Easter, but it didn’t matter, as moviegoers packed their local theaters, and Allied Artists had a huge hit on their hands.

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The story: When “industrial wizard” Michael J. O’Connor, “the second richest man in the world”, goes south to Virginia during the winter months, hobo Aloysius McKeever and his dog Sammy appropriate the property. McKeever meets Jim Bullock, a homeless vet evicted from his room because O’Connor bought his building to put up another skyscraper. McKeever invites Jim to stay with him until he gets settled somewhere.

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O’Connor’s headstrong 18 year old daughter Trudy, still depressed over her parent’s divorce, runs away from boarding school and heads to the family mansion. She’s caught by McKeever and Jim, who think she’s a thief trying to steal a mink coat. When she overhears the two talking about the reason they’re in her home, she plays along, calling herself ‘Trudy Smith’ from Dubuque, Iowa, one of fourteen children with an alcoholic father who beats them all regularly.

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Trudy falls for Jim, and while they stroll down the street they run into a couple of Jim’s old Army buddies, Whitey and Hank, and their families, currently all living in their car due to the housing crisis. Soon all nine people are squatting in the O’Connor homestead, and Jim comes up with a plan to turn a former Army camp into housing for homeless veterans. O’Connor tracks down Trudy, but she persuades pop into playing along so Jim won’t think she’s a spoiled little rich girl. He does for a time, but soon gets fed up with the situation and threatens to call the police, forcing Trudy to call mom Mary in Palm Beach, who arrives and gets in on the charade by posing as an Irish cook!

Got all that so far? Good, but there’s a catch: unbeknownst to each, O’Connor is bidding on that same Army property as Jim, causing more complications. But you just know everything’s going to work out in the end; after all, it’s a Christmas movie, and that’s what Christmas movies do! Producer/director Del Ruth wraps things up neatly with a bow on top, and screenwriter Everett Freeman sends us all home happy in the end (his script lost the Oscar to another Yuletime classic that year, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET!).

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Victor Moore gets top billing as McKeever, a gentle soul of a hobo who’s wiser than his outward appearance lets on. Moore was a star of Broadway and early silent flicks who became a reliable character actor (GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937, SWING TIME). He’s definitely an acquired taste, but is more than acceptable here. The young lovers are well played by Don DeFore and Gale Storm . I’ve told you about my long-time crush on Miss Storm here through viewing reruns of her sitcom MY LITTLE MARGIE. Gale had a lovely singing voice to boot, but for some reason Del Ruth chose to have her dubbed! Doesn’t matter, Monogram’s home-grown starlet shines anyway as Trudy.

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It’s Charles Ruggles who really made the film for me as the millionaire O’Connor. Ruggles’ facial expressions, vocal inflections, and willingness to take a pratfall or two are a joy to behold, and the veteran comic character star walks away with the movie’s acting honors. Pre-Code darling Ann Harding (HOLIDAY, THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, THE LIFE OF VERGIE WINTERS), always a welcome presence, has terrific chemistry with Ruggles as his former spouse. Young Alan Hale Jr (Gilligan’s Skipper!) plays Jim’s pal Whitey, and Dorothea Kent (a lovely lass) is his wife. Other Familiar Faces joining in on the fun are Leon Belasco, Edward Brophy, Chester Clute, Dudley Dickerson, James Flavin, John Hamilton, Charles Lane, George Lloyd, and Grant Mitchell.

IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE will be on my Christmas watch list from now on, a delightful screwball tale the whole family can enjoy. Tired of the same old holiday movies? Give this one a try; you can thank me later!

 

Halloween Havoc!: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (Allied Artists 1958)

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QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE has quite an interesting pedigree. Screenwriter Charles Beaumont (THE TWILIGHT ZONE) adapted a story by Ben Hecht, of all people, then director Edward Bernds got his frequent Three Stooges/Bowery Boys collaborator Ellwood Ullman to punch things up a little. The resulting mishmash is a huge contender in the “so-bad-it’s-good” sweepstakes, a sci-fi schlockfest featuring goofy special effects, sexism, and Zsa Zsa Gabor!

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The movie’s right up there with PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  in its cheesiness, except in glorious Technicolor. Set in a futuristic 1985, space Captain Neil Patterson (Eric Fleming, RAWHIDE’s trail boss) and his intrepid crew (Dave Willock, Patrick Waltz) are assigned to shuttle Professor Konrad (sci-fi stalwart Paul Birch) to Space Station A, where there’re “indications of some trouble up there”. Off they go into the wild blue yonder, where they witness the station being blown to smithereens by a mysterious ray (via cartoon animation), then are pulled by a mysterious force to crash-land on Venus! How do they know it’s Venus? Because Konrad takes a look at some leaves and pronounces it so, that’s how!

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The crew (wearing leftover space suits from FORBIDDEN PLANET ), are captured by a gaggle of beautiful Amazonian Venusians, who all speak perfect English. They’re taken to the palace of masked Queen Ylana (Laurie Mitchell), who has wiped out all men on Venus save for a handful of scientists living in exile on a satellite to do her bidding. Ylana believes them to be spies and imprisons them while she makes plans for a counterstrike. She sends for Patterson to be taken to her boudoir, where they share space cocktails for two. Ylana tries to seduce him, and almost succeeds, until Patterson rips off her mask to reveal her horribly disfigured face due to atomic radiation. “Men did this to me”, she says, “men and their wars”,  which explains why she hates men so much- the woman’s downright ugly (in a pretty decent makeup job by Emile LaVigne).

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Having rejected Ylana (and who can blame him!), Patterson’s sent back to his men, who’re taken by some rebel girls to the lab of scientist Talleah (Zsa Zsa, who’s NEVER spoken perfect English!). Talleah tells the Earthlings that Ylana plans to destroy Earth in two days by means of a beta disintegrator ray. They all escape and search for the weapon of mass destruction and the girls, horny after being deprived of men for so long, engage in a  make-out session with the guys inside a cave (except poor Konrad, who goes to gather firewood). After an attack by a silly looking space spider that resembles a child’s plush doll, Konrad warns them an Amazon patrol is outside. Talleah and her girls pretend they’ve captured the men in order to gain access to Ylana’s death ray.

Queen Ylana is captured by the gang, and Talleah disguises herself as Ylana to give the order to stop the destruction of Earth. Ylana breaks free and recaptures everybody, then forces them all to watch as Earth is about to be zapped to kingdom come. But Talleah’s rebels have sabotaged the death ray, causing Ylana herself to be disintegrated. The rebels take power, and are sad to see the Earthmen go. But a communication from Earth tells Patterson and his crew not to fly home in their battered spaceship, they’ll send a rescue mission that’ll take about a year or so. The men rejoice as they realize they’re about to spend a year on a planet filled with sex-starved, beautiful Amazon women!

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Yes, it’s sexist and nonsense and pretty bad, but not PHYNX-like   bad, more like a third season episode of STAR TREK  bad. It’s certainly fun, especially to watch the camera linger lovingly on all that female pulchritude. Oh yes, DP William Whitley knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and the result is a voyeur’s dream. Among the Amazons, you’ll spot 50’s babes like Lisa Davis, Barbara Darrow, Marilyn Buferd  , and Mary Ford (Mrs. Les Paul), all minor actresses who dressed up many a low-budget flick. There’s even an uncredited bit from sexy Joi Lansing  as the girl making out with Waltz’s character before they fly into space.

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Marlin Skiles’ score isn’t bad, featuring some weird instrumentation, using that 50’s sci-fi standard the theremin as well as xylophones and even a harpsichord! The sets and art direction do the best they can with a limited budget, but the special effects are just plain ludicrous. QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE won’t tax your brain, and isn’t (to be honest) very good, but if you’re in the right mood, it’s goofy enough to entertain you this Halloween season. Especially if you’re a guy, and feel like spending 80 minutes ogling hot 50’s sci-fi Amazonian babes! Just ask Commander Trump:

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“Will ya quit gropin’ me, ya big ape!”

 

Halloween Havoc!: ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (Allied Artists 1958)

“HAAARRRY!!!”

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It’s hard not to like ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN. Sure the premise is ridiculous, the script’s way over-the-top, the acting’s hammy, the direction’s practically non-existent, and the special effects flat-out stink. Yet the movie has an endearing, ragged charm in its unintentionally funny way that, like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  , sucks the viewer right into its bizzaro world. Plus, it’s got two of the 1950’s hottest sci-fi/horror babes, Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers!

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A giant space ball lands smack in the middle of Route 66 in the California desert. Heiress Nancy Archer swerves to avoid it, and next thing you know a giant hand grabs her! Meanwhile at Tony’s Bar & Grill, her louse of a husband Harry is living it up with local floozie Honey Parker. No one believes Nancy’s wild tale, as she’s known for being a boozer and has spent time in a sanitarium. Sheriff Dubbitt and his dopey deputy Charlie go with Nancy to the scene of the giant groping. They   find no evidence, pissing Nancy off even more than usual.

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Harry doesn’t believe her either, and tries to calm her nerves by slowly undressing her onscreen and giving her some sleeping pills. Then the shit grabs her Star of India diamond (“the most famous diamond in the world”) and hightails it back to Tony’s so he can suck face with Honey some more. Dr. Cushing (no relation to Peter) is called in the next day and states Nancy’s on the verge of her 19th nervous breakdown. His prognosis is for her to get plenty of rest, but restless Nancy trods downstairs to hit the bottle. When she watches the local TV newsman mocking her story, she reacts by whipping the bottle at the TV screen. Good thing she’s filthy rich!

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Tired of everyone’s crap, Nancy drives with Harry back out to Route 66 to look for the space ball, and finds it once again! “It’s real!” I’m not crazy!”, she gloats, just as the giant paws at her again, grabbing her and the Star of India. Harry shoots at the damn thing with no success, so like any good hubby he skedaddles back home, packs a bag (after fighting Nancy’s loyal butler Jess), and makes a beeline to Honey’s hotel room. The lovers are stopped by Deputy Dopey and brought to HQ, where they discover Nancy’s been found… on the roof of her pool house!

Dr. Cushing and Dr. Lee, I mean Dr. Von Loeb, suspect Nancy may be contaminated with space radiation, and to keep her sedated load her up with morphine. Sleazy Honey thinks this is a good way to get rid of Nancy, and talks Harry into giving her an overdose. When the creep creeps back inside, he’s in for a shock, because Nancy’s grown to gigantic proportions! The Sheriff and Jess invade the giant space ball, discovering a room filled with jewels, which obviously are used to fuel the UFO. They’re attacked by the giant alien, in a medieval costume straight of out Hollywood’s Western Costuming  Company, and get their asses kicked and car totaled for their troubles.

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Nancy wakes up chained to the bed and begins screaming for “HAARRY!” She busts loose and tears the roof off her home, determined to find her miserable wretch of a husband. “I know where he is”, she bellows, “He’s with that woman! I’ll find him!” Like any irate wife, she heads to Tony’s Bar & Grill (must be the only joint in town), and tears the roof off it, grabbing for Harry. Honey’s killed under a pile of debris and Nancy clutches Harry (or rather a doll substituting for Harry) to her ample bosoms. The Sheriff blasts some electrical wires with an assault weapon, causing Nancy to go down in a heap. “She finally got Harry all to herself”, intones Dr. Cushing as our saga comes to an end.

Producer Bernard Woolner (and his brothers )  were famous (or is it infamous) for low-budget schlock like this. They ran a string of drive-ins across the South to play their fare in, and financed a few of Roger Corman’s early efforts. Director Nathan Hertz was better known by his nom de cinema Nathan Juran, winning an Oscar for art direction on John Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (bet you didn’t think Ford’s name would pop up in this post, did you!). His directing credits are uneven to say the least, with some good genre flicks (20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and some clunkers (THE DEADLY MANTIS, BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS) among them.

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Allison Hayes was a gorgeous woman who projected an icy presence onscreen, but adds some pepper here as Big Nancy. Horror fans fondly remember her for ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, THE UNEARTHLY,  THE UNDEAD, THE DISEMBODIED, and THE HYPONOTIC EYE. Yvette Vickers plays  the slutty Honey, as she played the slutty Liz Baby in ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES. Blonde Miss Vickers also lit up the screen in the classic teensploitation REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS, and was a Playmate of the Month in a pictorial by none other than Russ Meyer. Later in life she became a favorite on the horror convention circuit. In 2011, her body was found in her Hollywood home, and it’s said she’d been dead a year before anyone knew it. Yvette Vickers, fantasy of many an adolescent horror fan, died old and alone at age 81.

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Despite all its flaws, and there are many, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN is thoroughly enjoyable. It was remade in 1993 as an HBO movie directed by Christopher Guest, played mainly for laughs. The laughs in the original are completely unintentional, but I really believe it was made with a wink and a nod by all concerned parties. They just had to know the whole thing was goofy, yet played it totally straight. It’s a perfect movie to watch with a bowl of popcorn and some snarky, like-minded friends this Halloween season.