Man of the People: John Ford’s THE LAST HURRAH (Columbia 1958)

This post has been preempted as many times as tonight’s State of the Union Address! 


John Ford’s penchant for nostalgic looks back at “the good old days” resulted in some of his finest works. The sentimental Irishman created some beautiful tone poems in his 1930’s films with Will Rogers, and movies like HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE QUIET MAN convey Ford’s sense of loss and wistful longing for simpler times. The director’s THE LAST HURRAH continues this theme in a character study about an Irish-American politician’s final run for mayor, running headfirst into a new era of politics dominated by television coverage and media hype instead of old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground handshaking and baby-kissing. It’s not only a good film, but a movie buff’s Nirvana, featuring some great older stars and character actors out for their own Last Hurrah with the Old Master.

Based on Edwin O’Connor’s 1956 novel, the film opens with the superimposed words ‘A New England City’, but you’re not fooling us New Englanders, Mr. Ford… we know that ‘city’ represents Boston and it’s Irish-dominated political scene! We’re taken inside a stately manse, where we see Mayor Frank Skeffington emerge from his bedroom, dressed and ready to go. He pauses before a portrait of his late wife before going to meet with his political operatives to plan the next campaign.

Skeffington’s a wily rascal, a product of the slums who hasn’t forgotten his roots or from where his power comes, as he visits a local widow at her late husband’s wake and hands her an envelope of cash, telling her it was his own late spouse’s last wish, then strong-arms the undertaker into giving the Widow Minnihan a discount. Skeffington is not above using his office for blackmail, and rumors of graft surround him, especially among the city’s blue blood elite. That such a charming scoundrel is played by the great Spencer Tracy only adds to his likability. Tracy was one of the most extraordinary screen actors ever, Golden Age or current, a performer who relied on instinct rather than method. Watch any Tracy film; he plays his roles so natural, you can’t see the seems.

The film follows Skeffington as he runs his old-school campaign, in contrast to his telegenic Kennedyesque opponent Kevin McClusky, who’s backed by the Yankee Brahmin. It’s basically a series of vignettes as Skeffington’s nephew, local sportswriter Adam Caulfield, is invited to join in for an inside look at politics. Ford regular Jeffrey Hunter (THE SEARCHERS, SERGEANT RUTLEDGE) plays Adam, representing the new generation, and serving as a sounding board for Tracy’s Skeffington as he bemoans the loss of the old ways to media saturation and manipulation (though Skeffington’s no slouch in the manipulation department himself!). Tip O’Neill once said “All politics is local”, and that sums up Frank Skeffington in a nutshell.

LAST HURRAH, Edward Brophy, Spencer Tracy, Jeffrey Hunter, Ricardo Cortez, Pat O’Brien, 1958

THE LAST HURRAH is populated by a cast of veterans on both sides of the campaign trail. It seems like the entire “Hollywood Irish Mafia” is on hand for this one, with the exception of James Cagney (who refused to work with Ford again after their MISTER ROBERTS behind-the-scenes fiasco). Skeffington’s ward heelers include Pat O’Brien as his chief operative Joe Gorman, Ricardo Cortez representing the Jewish voters, James Gleason as pugnacious ‘Cuke’ Gillan, and Carelton Young as the blue-blooded Winslow, who’s crossed over to Skeffington’s side. But of all the mayor’s men, I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE Ed Brophy as Ditto, the dense but loyal ward boss who acts as court jester to Skeffington. Ditto lives for serving Hizzoner, down to wearing a duplicate of the mayor’s trademark Homburg hat (which he calls his “Grey Hamburger”). The undying affection Ditto has for Skeffington is palpable, and is reciprocated by the mayor. It’s Brophy who’s in the final shot, taking that long walk up the flight of stairs, head down, to pay respects to his boss, and Brophy gives a marvelous all-around performance.

The blue bloods are represented by Basil Rathbone as banker Norman Cass and John Carradine as publisher Amos Force, and with those eminent screen villains you just know they’re the bad guys, along with Basil Ruysdael as the Protestant bishop. Donald Crisp is the Catholic Cardinal, who grew up in the same slum as Skeffington but is on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Wallace Ford plays perennial candidate Charles J. Hennessy, who always runs and loses (there’s one in every town!), and Frank McHugh his ever-optimistic campaign manager. Among those who shine in smaller roles there’s Anna Lee as the Widow Minnihan, Jane Darwell in a comic cameo as an old lady who goes to all the local wakes (and there’s one of them in every town, too!), Willis Bouchey as Adam’s anti-Skeffington father-in-law, Ken Curtis as Monsignor Killian, Charles B. Fitzsimmons (Maureen O’Hara’s brother) as the vacuous McCluskey, O.Z. Whitehead as Cass’s equally vacuous son, and many more, some uncredited. Familiar Face spotters will have a good time with this one!

THE LAST HURRAH isn’t a Ford classic on a par with STAGECOACH , THE GRAPES OF WRATH, or others. It’s one of those smaller Ford efforts, despite the high-powered cast, a rumination on simpler times. The Skeffington machine gets outgunned by modern technology, allowing a pretty-boy puppet to replace the older, more experienced pol. This is progress? Whatever side of the political divide you fall on, you have to agree we need more charming rascals like Frank Skeffington, who actually care about their constituency, and less of those acrimonious, talking-point-repeating elitists who think they know what’s best for us unwashed masses and only serve to divide. But before I turn this into a political diatribe and piss half you Dear Readers off… just go watch the movie!

Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF DRACULA (Universal 1945)

Since I’ve already reviewed HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN back in 2015,  we now turn our attention to HOUSE OF DRACULA, the last “official” entry in the series (though the Universal Monsters would ‘Meet Abbott & Costello’ three years later). The film tries to put a new slant on things, using science to conquer the supernatural, but winds up being just a hodgepodge of familiar horror tropes without much cohesion. HOUSE OF DRACUA does have its fans, but I’m not one of them.

John Carradine  returns as Count Dracula, introducing himself as Baron Latos to Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens ) and seeking a cure for his vampirism. Edlemann discovers a “peculiar parasite” in Dracula’s blood, and believes he can cure him through a series of transfusions. But the Count, that sneaky devil, has his fangs set for Edlemann’s pretty nurse Militza (Martha O’Driscoll),  whom he hypnotizes with those hypnotic eyes of his. Drac reverses a transfusion, and turns Edlemann into a Jekyll & Hyde-type homicidal maniac.

Also looking for help is Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man, seeking relief from his lycanthropic curse. Lon Chaney Jr. once again takes the dual role, sporting a pencil-thin moustache this time (for his “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” series”). Talbot, fearing the full moon, gets himself locked in the local jail, where Edlemann and Inspector Holtz (Lionel Atwill, in his fifth and final different part in the saga) watch him transform before their very eyes. Tired of waiting for a cure, Talbot throws himself into the sea below Edlemann’s estate, is rescued by Edlemann, and the pair find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster in a cavern.

The procedure on Talbot is a success, and Edlemann promises his hunchbacked nurse Nina (Jane Adams) she’s next on the list. But Edlemann,    now gone mad thanks to Dracula’s tainted blood, kills his servant Siegfried (Ludwig Stossel, no relation to John!) and Nina, and brings The Monster back to life, just as Inspector Holtz and a gang of those angry villagers barge in, and chaos ensues as Talbot shoots Edlemann and The Monster is destroyed in a fiery finish lifted straight from GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (with Lon playing  The Monster!).

Carradine is good as Dracula, as he was in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (not so much in BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA , however!). His “hypnotic eyes” rival Bela Lugosi’s, and he makes a very suave vampire. Chaney, though, is way too whiney this time around, and when he’s finally cured I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to listen to his complaining anymore! Glenn Strange, in his second of three appearances as The Monster, is once again little more than a prop. Onslow Stevens tries as Edlemann, but is defeated by Edward T. Lowe’s ludicrous script, which constantly contradicts itself, often in the same scene! As for the rest, Atwill’s done the Inspector routine a thousand times before, Martha O’Driscoll isn’t convincing as Militza, Jane Adams does manage to gain some sympathy as Nina, and Skelton Knaggs’s part as a villager is  underwritten.

It’s not director Erle C. Kenton’s finest hour, either, though George Robinson’s cinematography helps a bit. HOUSE OF DRACULA seems like too much of a rush job, as if Universal just wanted to be rid of its Monsters once and for all. The Second Horror Cycle was winding down, and though the studio would bring all it’s Monsters back for ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, it took Hammer Films’ CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN  and HORROR OF DRACULA , along with the release of the Universal Monster Movies to television with SHOCK THEATER in 1957, to fully bring Frankenstein’s Monster, Count Dracula, and the rest of the brood back to bloodcurdling life.

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S GHOST (Universal 1944)

THE MUMMY’S GHOST, Kharis the killer mummy’s third time around, finds the plot wearing a bit thin in this rehash, as once again the High Priests of Arkham… wait, what? Arkham? What happened to Karnak? Did the High Priests suddenly change religions? Just another example of continuity shot to hell in this series, though we do get an upgrade in the High Priest department with John Carradine boiling the tanna leaves instead of Turhan Bey .

At least George Zucco as Andoheb is still around to brief Yousef Bey (Carradine) on the plot up til now, dispatching him to Mapleton to fetch back Princess Ananka and Kharis to the temple, though the usual tanna leave spiel is upped from three to nine. There are no more Bannings in Mapleton, but still plenty of victims for Kharis to kill. Frank Reicher is back too, as Professor Norman, giving a lecture on the saga of Kharis to his university students, including 31-year-old Robert Lowery as Tom (probably trying to avoid the draft… there WAS a war going on, remember). Tom’s girlfriend is Egyptian babe Amina (Ramsay Ames), who gets the creeps whenever Egypt is mentioned in an obvious case of foreshadowing.

Norman is experimenting with tanna leaves, which of course brings Kharis back on the scene (looks like he’s packed on a few pounds, too). Kharis kills the old Prof and drinks his tanna tea, and the following morning Amina is found passed out on the front lawn in her nightgown, sporting a streak of white in her hair. Mapleton’s in a tizzy again, with rumors of The Mummy’s return running rampant, and who shows up… yep, Yousef Bey’s in town. Bey hooks up with Kharis and they try to steal Ananka’s body from New York’s  Scripps Museum, but after killing the guard, find Ananka has turned to dust. “Her soul has entered another form”, says Yousef, and I’ll give you three guesses just WHOSE form it is!

Big city Inspector Walgreen (Barton MacLane ) is called in, and after being briefed states, “Sounds like a lot of applesauce to me” in his gruff, Barton MacLane kind of way. Moving on to Mapleton, Walgreen has a plan to capture Kharis (though it’s not a very good one), however, the shambling mummy kidnaps Amina and brings her to Yousef, who suffers from the fatal flaw in all High Priests of Karnak (er, Arkham. Whatever!)… he can’t keep his fez in his pants! Strapping her to a table, Yousef vows to make Amina and himself immortal via Tanna fluid injection, only to be killed by Kharis, who fights off Tom and carries Amina off into a swamp, where they sink into the mire.

Ramsay Ames was a beauty, and a popular G.I. pin-up girl during WWII, but not a great actress. Not even a good one. Lowery is pretty stiff, too, though he managed to have a long career, mostly in Westerns, serials (he was the screen’s second Batman), and on TV as the big-top owner on CIRCUS BOY (co-starring 12-year-old  future Monkee Mickey Dolenz ). Carradine hams it up, MacLane just plays a variation of his gruff cop characterization… in fact, acting honors in this one go to Peanuts, Tom’s faithful little pooch! Director Reginald LeBorg tries to create a chilling atmosphere, but is hampered by the lower-than-usual budget. THE MUMMY’S GHOST is the weakest entry in the story of Kharis and Ananka, but there’s one more to go before we wrap those mummy bandages up for good…

 

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (Universal 1944)

Jon Hall is back as The Invisible Man, but not the same one he played in INVISIBLE AGENT . Like all the Invisible Man movies, THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE features a new protagonist, as Hall plays Robert Griffin, an escaped mental hospital patient who comes to London seeking his share of a diamond mine after being left for dead in the African jungle by partners Sir Jasper and Irene Herrick. Griffin has returned to get what’s coming to him, and he does… Irene dopes him, and the couple throw the rascal out. Disoriented, Griffin stumbles into a nearby river, where he’s saved from drowning by shady Cockney Herbert Higgins.

Higgins and his disreputable attorney pal try to shake down Jasper, but are confronted by the local chief constable. Griffin’s left to fend for himself, when he stumbles upon the home of Dr. Drury, a scientist experimenting with invisibility on animals. After some scientific mumbo-jumbo, Griffin agrees to act as a human guinea pig for Drury, who successfully turns him transparent. But Griffin leaves him flat and sets out to get his revenge on the Herricks…

Jon Hall was mainly cast in heroic roles, notably in John Ford’s THE HURRICANE and a series of Arabian Nights fantasies with Maria Montez and Sabu. Here he gets a villainous turn, and he’s quite good as the madman Griffin. Too bad Hall didn’t get more horror parts, though later in his career he directed and starred in the 1965 cult film THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER. Never really noted for his acting abilities, Hall carries himself well in this programmer.

A restrained John Carradine plays Dr. Drury without his usual horror movie scenery-chewing. Gale Sondergaard makes a sinister Irene, but her role is small. Lester Matthews (THE RAVEN ) tries for sympathy as Sir Jasper, but didn’t  receive any from me. In fact, most of the cast members are unsympathetic due to their backgrounds as written in Bertram Milhauser’s screenplay. As for the romantic leads, Evelyn Ankers gets limited screen time as Julie Herrick, and Alan Curtis as her boyfriend, reporter Mark Foster, is just plain boring.

That leaves veteran comic actor Leon Errol to steal whatever scene he’s in as Herbert. Errol had been spending most of his time making shorts for RKO and supporting Lupe Velez in her “Mexcian Spitfire” films, and he’s given a good showcase here playing Hall’s more-than-slightly crooked confidant. There’s a very funny scene set in a pub involving Errol, an invisible Hall, and a game of darts that allows Leon the opportunity to show off his comedy chops, which he does with his usual expertise.

John P. Fulton’s  special effects in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE don’t seem up to his usual high standards, which could be a result of the film’s lower-than-usual budget. Ford Beebe keeps things moving swiftly in the director’s chair, and there are some decent horror parts, but on the whole THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is the weakest entry in the series. H.G. Wells’s classic creation, like all the Universal Monsters, would meet Abbott & Costello in 1948’s A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN , and return with the duo in 1951’s A&C MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN. Then poof, he was gone… not seen again until revived for a 1958 British TV series (where he still wasn’t, uh, seen!).

Halloween Havoc!: CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Universal 1943)

Universal decided the time was ripe for a new monster, and 1943’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN introduced the world to Paula Dupree, aka The Ape Woman! What’s that you say? You’ve never HEARD of her? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – The Ape Woman is the most obscure of the Universal Monsters despite the fact she was featured in three films, with various degrees of quality. The first is the best of the bunch, a fun little ‘B’ lifted by the presence of John Carradine in the first of his patented mad scientist roles.

Animal trainer Fred Mason returns from Africa with a shipload of lions, tigers, and a powerful female gorilla named Cheela. He’s greeted at the docks by his sweetie Beth Colman, who tells Fred that her sister Dorothy has “some kind of glandular problem” and is being treated at Crestview Sanitarium by endocrinology expert Dr. Sigmund Walters. Walters has some rather strange ideas on treatment, including experimenting with large animals.

The outwardly charming doctor is invited to visit Whipple’s Circus, where Fred and Beth work, at their winter headquarters. He spies Cheela and gets one of his aforementioned strange ideas, and uses Gruen, fired from his job as animal handler for being drunk, to steal Cheela away. Gruen does so, and is promptly dispatched when Walters tosses him to the big ape. Walters will let nothing stand in his way of the advancement of science, including murder, as his nurse finds out! Her brain is used to transform Cheela into a beautiful woman, who he dubs ‘Paula Dupree’ (apparently because he just likes the name!). Walters brings ‘Paula’ to visit the circus, and when Fred is attacked in the cage by the big cats, she enters and the kitties back off! Now Fred wants to use ‘Paula’ as part of the act, but when she sees Fred and Beth making out, her jealousy transforms her into The Ape Woman…

Yep, it’s another “Science Gone Too Far” scenario, and Carradine has a grand old time as Walters, killing in the name of science and creating his Ape Woman. He’d go on to play the “mad scientist” part in almost two dozen films, the horror role he’s most remembered for by genre fans. I love Evelyn Ankers in this; Universal’s #1 “Scream Queen” gets to do more than just be a pretty decoration in need of saving, and even disposes of the villain on her own! Milburn Stone (GUNSMOKE’s Doc Adams) plays Fred; his resemblance to famed circus lion tamer Clyde Beatty (at least from the back!) allowed Universal to use lots of stock footage from Beatty’s 1933 film THE BIG CAGE for all the animal action shots.

The lovely but not-so talented Acquanetta is ‘Paula’, product of Walters’s mad science. She plays the part mute, which is fine, because the former model wasn’t the greatest of thespians. Born Mildred Davenport in South Carolina, the studio dubbed her “The Venezuelan Volcano” because of her exotic good looks. Acquanetta later claimed to be of Arapaho ancestry, though most research points to an African-American heritage. Whatever the case, her film career was brief, but later in life she became a local celebrity in Mesa, Arizona by starring in her third husband’s car dealership commercials on TV, and hosting segments of the local late nite movie show. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 83.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan  broke out his gorilla suit to play Cheela, a teenaged Martha Vickers (under the name MacVicar) is little sister Dorothy, Lloyd Corrigan (no relation to Crash) circus owner Whipple, and Vince Barnett, Paul Fix , Fay Helm, Frank Mitchell, Ray Walker, and Grant Withers all pop up in small roles. CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whose later filmography includes BACK TO BATAAN , CROSSFIRE, THE CAINE MUTINY, and THE CARPETBAGGERS. It’s not the greatest of Universal Horrors, but compared to its two sequels, it’s a classic, as we’ll soon find out…

Gettin’ a Woody: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (United Artists 1972)

*(but were afraid to ask)

Say what you will about Woody Allen (and I’m sure some of you will), but from 1969 to 1977 he wrote, directed, and starred in some of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies ever made (after that, things got a bit pretentious, and his output has been hit-or-miss far as I’m concerned). Allen’s inventive mind took Dr. David Reuben’s best-selling sex manual EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (*but were afraid to ask) and turned it into a hilarious anthology that skewers not only societal mores and morals, but every segment parodies a different film genre.

Some are better than others, but each has something funny to offer. The first, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, finds Woody as a medieval court jester whose lousy Bob Hope one-liners bomb with the King (Anthony Quayle). The randy jester is dying to enter the Queen’s (Lynn Redgrave) “royal chambers”, but gets nowhere until a sorcerer (Geoffrey Holder ) gives him a powerful aphrodisiac. The potion works, making Her Highness super-horny, but there’s a snag… the King has locked her in a chastity belt! Much as they try, they can’t get the belt unlocked, and then the King walks in… and once again, Woody loses his head over a woman!

Next up is “What is Sodomy?”, and if this segment doesn’t have you rolling on the floor laughing, you need a funny bone replacement! Gene Wilder stars as a married medical doctor who falls in love a patient named Daisy. Trouble is, Daisy is a sheep! No, not a brain-dead political follower, a real, wooly, baa baa sheep! From Armenia, no less. Wilder’s deadpan performance is an outrageous riot, and that final shot of him after he’s lost everything, including Daisy, sitting slumped on skid row drinking a bottle of Woolite, is guaranteed to leave you itching in hysterics.

“Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?” is done entirely in Italian, spoofing the films of Fellini and Antonioni. Woody’s frigid wife (Louise Lasser ) just can’t enjoy sex, no matter what he tries to turn her on… until they do it in public. Out in the open, she can’t get enough! While the style of this is pitch perfect, it’s one of the weaker segments, as is the next, “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?”, with Lou Jacobi as a middle class, middle-aged Jew who likes to dress in women’s clothing, and gets busted when he meets his daughter’s fiancé’s parents, unable to resist trying on his future mother-in-laws clothes. The portly, mustachioed Jacobi in drag is a sight to behold, though!

“What Are Sex Perverts?” is done as an old black and white kinescope of a game show called “What’s My Perversion?”. This send-up of “What’s My Line?” has emcee Jack Barry and a panel of celebrities (Pamela Mason, Regis Philbin, Robert Q. Lewis, Toni Holt) trying to guess the peculiar kink of the guest (who likes to expose himself on subways!), followed by a contestant who gets to live out his fetish on live TV – a Rabbi that likes to be tied up and spanked by a buxom shiksa (“You’ve been a naughty Rabbi!”) while his wife eats pork at his feet! Offensive, yes… but damn funny!

“Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research Accurate?” is without a doubt my favorite in the film, a low-budget sci-fi/horror lampoon with Woody as an intern and Heather MacRae a reporter who encounter the fiendish Dr. Bernardo, who has created that most terrifying of creatures, The Giant Boob!! Bernardo is played by that maddest doctor of them all, the great John Carradine at his hammy best. The massive, mutated mammary wreaks havoc and lactates its victims to death across the countryside, and if you love those old 1950’s giant monster movies as much as I do, you’re gonna love this!

Last but not least, “What Happens During Ejaculation?” stays in sci-fi territory as a FANTASTIC VOYAGE-style adventure inside a man’s body as he’s about to have sex with a woman (Groucho’s paramour Erin Fleming). Tony Randall , Burt Reynolds , and Oscar Beregi run the brain, Woody is a cowardly sperm afraid to take the leap, and Jay Robinson steals it as a priest who almost spoils the fun (“Blasphemy!!”).

Only the warped mind of Woody Allen could conceive of a film like this, and I don’t really know if it could be made in today’s “everybody’s offended”  climate. But here it is, and the movie genre parodies are spot-on. I love this film, and would highly recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor, but if you’re one of those easily offended people… well, I feel bad for ya!

 

The Horror Stars of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Paramount 1956)

Last night, as I usually do during the Easter/Passover season, I watched Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. It’s a movie buffs delight, an All-Star spectacle featuring three Oscar winners ( Charlton Heston , Yul Brynner , Anne Baxter ), one who should’ve been (Edward G. Robinson ), and a literal cast of thousands! Something that’s always stood out to me is the number of horror movie stars that appear in various parts, a plethora of Hollywood practitioners from my favorite genre:

John Carradine as Aaron

Carradine’s  credentials in horror films are well documented, and he deserves his spot in the pantheon of Monster Movie Greats. As Moses’s brother Aaron, Carradine has his best “straight” role since THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

Vincent Price as Baka

Our Man Vinnie plays the evil slave master Baka, who gets his just rewards at the hands of John Derek’s Joshua. Price was a few short years away from his work with William Castle, Roger Corman, and horror immortality.

Yvonne DeCarlo as Zipporah

Yvonne DeCarlo  was already an old hand at these costume epics, and would soon find herself wrapped in the shroud of Lily Munster on TV’s THE MUNSTERS!

Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi

The distinguished Sir Cedric was well-known for his horror work at Universal in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS , THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, INVISIBLE AGENT, and the 1933 British film THE GHOUL, starring Boris Karloff.

Debra Paget as Lilia

 Miss Paget was also no stranger to costume dramas. Her last films before retirement were Corman’s TALES OF TERROR and THE HAUNTED PALACE, both alongside Price.

Nina Foch as Bithiah

Nina Foch  was a legendary acting coach, but in the 40’s as a Columbia contract player headlined the horror movies RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (opposite Bela Lugosi) and CRY OF THE WEREWOLF.

Eduard Franz as Jethro

Franz plays Jethro, father of Zipporah, and was featured in such fare as THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD , THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE, CYBORG 2087, and TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE.

     Ian Keith as Ramses I

Keith has an interesting connection to horror: he was actually considered for the part of Count Dracula in 1931 over Bela Lugosi , and again for 1948’s ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN ! Thank Cthulhu that didn’t work out!

Eagle eyed fans will spot other horror notables in lesser roles, some uncredited: Dame Judith Anderson (REBECCA’s spooky Mrs. Danvers), Terence de Marney (DIE, MONSTER, DIE!), Patricia Hitchcock (PSYCHO), Michael Mark (FRANKENSTEIN), Gordon Mitchell (FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS), Dorothy Neumann (GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW , THE TERROR ), and Onslow Stevens (HOUSE OF DRACULA). Happy hunting, and Happy Easter and Passover from Cracked Rear Viewer!

Bela Lugosi as Jesus in 1909!

Halloween Havoc! Extra: Vincent Price Does “The Monster Mash”

In what’s become an annual tradition here at Cracked Rear Viewer, it’s time for Halloween season’s theme song, “The Monster Mash” ! This time around, Vincent Price and his fiends, including fellow horror icon John Carradine , perform the hit from 1981’s cult movie THE MONSTER CLUB, featuring a scary soliloquy by Vincent on the monsters known as “humes”! Without further ado, here’s this year’s “Monster Mash”! And Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!:

Small But Powerful: HITLER’S MADMAN (MGM 1943)

Culver City’s MGM “dream factory” and Gower Gulch’s PRC were miles apart both literally and figuratively.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer boasted “more stars than there are in heaven”, while tiny Producer’s Releasing Corporation films starred faded names like Neil Hamilton, Harry Langdon, Bela Lugosi , and Anna May Wong. MGM films featured lavish, opulent sets; PRC’s cardboard walls looked like they would fall over if an actor sneezed. Poverty Row PRC movies were dark and grainy; MGM created glossy, gorgeous Technicolor productions. MGM specialized in big budget extravaganzas, whereas PRC rarely spent more than $1.98. Miles apart – so why did major studio MGM purchase and release a movie originally made for minor PRC, HITLER’S MADMAN?

For one thing, it’s a damn good film, and an important one as well. Based on the true-life atrocity of the destruction of Lidice, Czechoslovakia on June 10, 1942 after the assassination of Nazi Reichsprotektor Reinhardt Heydrich, known as “The Hangman of Prague”, HITLER’S MADMAN was produced with loving care by German exile Seymour Nebenzal, the influential producer of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933). Nebenzal was working as an independent producer for PRC at the time, and for one of their films it certainly has a big-budget look and feel; for MGM however, it looks made for the bottom half of a double feature.

Another German ex-pat made his directing debut with HITLER’S MADMAN: Douglas Sirk, later widely praised for his Technicolor 50’s melodramas like MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, and IMITATION OF LIFE. Sirk’s style here is more film noir than 50’s kitsch, thanks in great part to DP Jack Greenhalgh… or is it? Another German refugee, Eugen Schufftan , is credited as “Technical Adviser”. Schufftan was one of Germany’s greatest cinematographers, working with all the legends of cinema in his native land. He was DP on Lang’s METROPOLIS and Gance’s NAPOLEON, and shot films for European giants like Pabst, Ophuls, Siodmak, and Zinnemann. But his U.S. status at the time was such that he couldn’t join the cinematographer’s union, so no DP credit allowed. The same thing happened on Edgar G. Ulmer’s BLUEBEARD (1944); Jockey Feindel got the screen credit, while Schufftan is listed as “Production Design”. Schufftan would later be unionized, and received an Oscar for 1962’s THE HUSTLER.

The screenplay by Peretz Hirschbein, Melvin Levy, and Doris Malloy (with an uncredited assist from Ulmer) is based somewhat on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s famous poem “The Murder of Lidice”. This fictionalized account tells of Karel Vavra, one of six parachuted into Czechoslovakia by the RAF to stir up support for the underground movement, bringing a message of hope and resistance to the downtrodden people. Karel is reunited with his lover Jarmilla Hanka , whose father Jan is wary of resistance, preaching patience and pacifism. When rabble-rouser Bartonek is arrested under the charge of “sabotage” on Heydrich’s orders, Jan goes with the man’s wife to plead with the Nazi Mayor Bauer. Their pleas fall on deaf ears; Bartonek returns home in a pine box.

Heydrich’s car, travelling on official business, is slowed down at Lidice because of a religious festival being held in the town. Angered by this foolishness, the Nazi gets out and begins to scold the villagers. Father Cemlanik turns the other cheek, only to receive a slap from Heydrich. His faith is tested as Heydrich tries to provoke him, and when the Reichsprotektor uses a sacred cloth to wipe the dust off his boots, Cemlanik can stand no more. Charging at Heydrich, the priest is shot dead in the street. Jan does an about-face and pledges to kill Heydrich, with aid from Karel and Jarmilla. They ambush his auto on his return, mortally wounding “The Hangman”. SS Leader Himmler places the call to Hitler himself as Heydrich dies. Der Fuhrer gives him a grim order: Lidice is to be “razed to the ground, her name to be eradicated from every signpost… all male inhabitants over 16 years of age will be shot, all women interred in concentration camps, all children taken from their mothers and placed in correctional institutions”.

Let’s take a moment to praise John Carradine’s performance as Reinhardt Heydrich. Unlike his hammy “mad doctor” roles, Carradine gives a restrained portrayal of pure evil. Carradine has ice water running through his veins, visiting a university teaching intellectualism (“Intellect is poison”, he tells them matter-of-factly), then rounding up the female students to “entertain” the brave German soldiers at the Russian Front, making him little more than a lowly pimp. He shows no remorse when one of the girls, rather than be enslaved, jumps out a window to her death. Even on his deathbed, Heydrich is evil until the end: “I should have killed all of them, not 30 a day, 300… 3,000”. John Carradine is absolutely chilling as Reinholdt Heydrich, scarier here than in any of his horror roles, and the performance is on a par with his work in John Ford’s STAGECOACH and THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

The rest of the cast amounts to what would’ve been an all-star movie by PRC standards. Universal leading man Alan Curtis (, BUCK PRIVATES,   PHANTOM LADY ) plays Karel, while former Paramount starlet Patricia Morison (who’s still alive as of this writing at age 102!) is Jarmilla. Her father Jan is Ralph Morgan, a PRC regular whose brother Frank (THE WIZARD OF OZ), worked for MGM. A round of applause goes out to comic actor Edgar Kennedy  in a rare dramatic role as Nepomuk, a hermit who lives in the woods. We’re never sure whose side Nepomuk’s on until the ambush on Heydrich when he aids the rebels. He also leads the men of Lidice in singing the Czech National Anthem as they’re lined up to be killed in a stirring scene, certainly Kennedy’s finest screen hour.

Ludwig Stossel is the Nazi Mayor Bauer, efficient and loyal to the party. He’s proud of his two sons – and gets word they’ve both been killed at the Russian Front. His wife Magda (Johanna Hofer) goes to pray at the village church shortly after Father Cemlanik is murdered, and meets Jan there. The scene reminded me of THE FIGHTING SULLIVANS , told from the German point of view. Cemlanik himself is played by Al Shean, formerly of the vaudeville duo Gallagher & Shean (and uncle of the The Marx Brothers! ). Others in the fine supporting cast are Howard Freeman (Himmler), Ava Gardner   (uncredited as one of the university students), Frank Hagney, Victor Killian, Vicky Lane, Michael Mark, Tully Marshall, Elizabeth Russell (heartbreaking as Mrs. Bartonek), Peter van Eyck, Blanche Yurka (Mrs. Hanka), and I’d swear I recognized Leon Askin (Gen. Burkhalter of HOGAN’S HEROES) as a Nazi, but he’s not listed on IMDb. Do any sharp-eyed readers know if it’s him?

This shocking, well-made film would’ve probably fallen into obscurity like many PRC movies if not for MGM. As it stands, Fritz Lang’s HANGMEN MUST DIE, released in March of ’43, is the better known film version of the story of Lidice. HITLER’S MADMAN was released five months later, and though it’s definitely low-budget, it’s a polished little gem, thanks in large part to the efforts of Nebenzal, Sirk, Schufftan, and John Carradine. The story of Lidice is not to be forgotten, a tragedy of human suffering and human evil, and I urge you Dear Readers to watch it as soon as possible.

A MEMORIAL TO THE MURDERED CHILDREN OF LIDICE STILL STANDS TODAY. NEVER FORGET.  

Happy Birthday Elvis!: THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS (MGM 1969)

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Elvis Aron Presley was born on this date in 1935. The King of Rock’N’Roll got the older generation “All Shook Up” when he burst on the national scene in 1956 with hits like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog”. He also made his first film that year, the Western LOVE ME TENDER, and was an immediate box office sensation. His following three films, LOVING YOU, JAILHOUSE ROCK , and KING CREOLE, were well done, but after his stint in the Army, and the success of 1961’s BLUE HAWAII, Presley’s 60’s movies followed a strict formula, thanks to manager Col. Tom Parker, with interchangeable titles like KISSIN’ COUSINS, HARUM SCARUM, and DOUBLE TROUBLE.

By the late 60’s, things had changed. The Beatles  were top of the pops, the psychedelic revolution was in full effect, and Elvis hadn’t had a hit record in a few years. The movies were still profitable, but lacked energy. Presley’s 1968 Comeback TV Special put The King back on his throne, and he ready to move with the times. Reportedly, he was offered the Jon Voight part in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, which the Colonel adamantly refused to let him do, and Glen Campbell’s role in TRUE GRIT, the Colonel again vetoing on the basis of being billed lower than John Wayne (really, Colonel?). One of Elvis’ last movies was THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS, a departure from the usual formula casting Presley as the boss of a traveling Chautauqua show in 1927 Iowa.

allvip.us Elvis Presley The Trouble With Girls 1969

Elvis is the white-suited, cigar smoking Walter Hale, leader of the troupe of actors, orators, and musicians who pull into the sleepy town of Radford Center. His “Story Lady” who runs the children’s pageant, Charlene, is a union-advocating proto-feminist, refusing to give the mayor’s daughter the lead, preferring the much-more talented Carol. Carol’s mother Nita is constantly being sexually harassed at work by her druggist boss Wilby, and wants a better life for her kid. Young Betty wants to leave small town life behind too, and is eager to get noticed.

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There’s also an illegal blackjack game going on by the riverbank, run by Chautauqua worker Clarence, and when Wilby gets in a fight after accusing the dealer of cheating, his body’s found floating in the river the next day. Clarence is arrested for murder, but Walter discovers Nita did the deed, and finds a way to help her and profit from it by having her confess before a live audience. Charlene is appalled at his exploitation of her, and Walter’s charlatan attitude in general, and quits the company, but sly Walter figures out a way to get her thrown out of town and back on the train for the next stop.

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Walter Hale is a change of pace role for Elvis, as is the film. He does get to sing, but his musical moments are few and far between. His lead Bible Singer gets ill, so he fills in on the traditional Gospel number “Swing Down Sweet Chariot”. He does a bluesy rendering of “Clean Up Your Own Backyard”, and does an introspective “Alone” at the piano near the end. There’s a few bits and pieces of vocalizing, but mainly Elvis acts, and while Walter Hale’s no Joe Buck or Ranger LaBoeuf, it’s certainly different than his usual leading roles, and Elvis does a fine job.

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Presley’s surrounded by a cast of pros. Marlyn Mason (Charlene) is best known for her TV roles. Sheree North (Nita) was a 50’s starlet in HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR and THE LIEUTENANT WORE SKIRTS, and later appeared as The Duke’s ex-love in THE SHOOTIST Edward Andrews (Walter’s assistant Johnny) is always good. Dabney Coleman’s at his sleazy best as Wilby. Nicole Jaffe (Betty)may not look familiar to you, but you’ll recognize her voice… she’s the voice of Velma from SCOOBY DOO! (Frank Welker, who voiced Fred, is also in the cast) Anissa Jones (little Carol) was Buffy on TV’s FAMILY AFFAIR.

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There are some fun cameos here. Vincent Price plays the erudite Mr. Morality, giving the crowd a lecture on the evils of sin as only Price can. John Carradine pops up as Mr. Drewcolt, a Shakespearian actor (Betty: “Do you think Romeo and Juliet had pre-marital relations?” Drewcolt: “Only in the Des Moines company”). Carradine even gets to recite a snippet of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet”, which must’ve pleased him no end! Joyce Van Patten is comical as distance swimmer Maude, who discovers Wilby’s body.

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THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS is entertaining, though anachronistic in places (all the women wear mini-skirts, for example), a solid comedy-drama that gave Elvis Presley a chance to break out of the formulaic “teen musicals” he was getting too old for anyway. There was one more movie on the way, CHANGE OF HABIT with Mary Tyler Moore, before his film career ended, with only a couple of tour documentaries in the 70’s before his tragic death in 1977 at age 42. Elvis left an indelible mark on the world of music, but in movies only a handful tested his mettle as an actor. THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS tries to break the “Elvis movie” mold, and will satisfy even non-Presley fans. Happy birthday, King Elvis, long may you reign!