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!: WEREWOLF OF LONDON (Universal 1935)

Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot wasn’t Universal’s first Wolf Man . That honor goes to Henry Hull in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, a chilling but lesser film in the Universal canon. This one reminds me more of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE than any of Chaney’s lycanthropic outings, and Jack Pierce’s makeup job is a little light in the hirsute department (more on that later).

British botanist Wilfred Glendon travels to Tibet to search for the rare mariphasia lumina lupina, a flower that only blooms in moonlight. Trekking into a forbideden valley, he is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. Returning to London with his find, Glendon is confronted by the mysterious Dr. Yogami, who says they’ve met before. Unbeknownst to Glendon, Yogami is the werewolf in question, who wants the phosphorescent moonflower as an antidote for his own lycanthropy. Yogami manages to steal the two blooms, leaving Glendon to transform into a howling, snarling beast.

Glendon’s affliction is alienating him from wife Lisa, who turns to ex-beau Paul Ames for comfort. Glendon is fearful as Yogami has warned him “the werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best”. The murderous beast within him murders two women before another flower blooms, which Yogami also steals, paying for it with his life. Then Glendon goes after Lisa before finally being gunned down and put out of his anguished existence by Scotland Yard.

Henry Hull (1890-1977), whose film career stretched back to 1917, reminds me a bit of Colin Clive in his portrayal of the tortured soul Glendon. Hull had a long career as a character actor; some of his best known films are BOYS TOWN, JESSE JAMES, HIGH SIERRA, LIFEBOAT, and THE GREAT GATSBY. Hull advocated against Pierce’s fully furred werewolf makeup (rumored to be similar to his later Wolf Man job), arguing the script calls for Glendon to be recognized by his wife. He won the argument, and the result was okay… though Pierce’s later job for Chaney remains the most iconic. (By the way, Hull’s nephew Courtland Hull is the long-time proprietor of the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol, CT, a Halloween destination for horror movie buffs since 1966.)

Valerie Hobson (Lisa) and Lester Matthews (Paul) were kept busy by Universal in 1935, she in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN , he in THE RAVEN Warner Oland took a break from his Charlie Chan movies at 20th Century-Fox to play the part of Dr. Yogami, the unfortunate Tibetan who bit Glendon. Comic relief is provided by Spring Byington as ditzy Aunt Ettie, and Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury as a pair of drunk old flophouse proprietors. I could’ve done without all three. Director Stuart Walker had done two Charles Dickens adaptations for Universal, 1934’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS (with Hull as Magwich) and THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (starring Claude Rains ). His direction here is pretty lifeless, lifted only by the acting of Hull and Oland.

Since that’s about all I’ve got to say on WEREWOLF OF LONDON, I’ll turn things over to the late Warren Zevon to serenade us with his 1978 hit “Werewolves of London”. Take it away, Warren!:

Halloween Havoc!: MAN IN THE ATTIC (20th Century Fox 1953)

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The story of notorious 19th Century serial killer Jack the Ripper has been told countless times on the screen. The case has never been officially solved, and there are probably more theories about Jack’s identity than there were victims. Author Marie Belloc Lowndes wrote “The Lodger”, a speculative fiction novel based on the Ripper murders, that was in turn made into a silent film by the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock  in 1927. The film was remade in 1932 with the same star, Ivor Novello, then again in what’s probably the most famous version, 1944’s THE LODGER , starring Laird Cregar, Merle Oberon, and George Sanders. Almost a decade later, the tale was again remade, this time with Jack Palance as the mysterious MAN IN THE ATTIC.

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Fog shrouded London’s Whitechapel District is being terrorized by a fiend known in the press as Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard is baffled, police patrols have been doubled, and the female populace is in fear of their lives. It’s during this time Mr. and Mrs. Harley advertise for a lodger, and Mr. Slade answers the ad. Slade tells them he’s a pathologist working odd hours, and rents not only the room, but the attic room above, so he can conduct his experiments in privacy. The Harleys also house their niece Lily, a music hall actress about to make her stage debut.

Lily’s visited backstage by Anne Rawley, former star now working as a prostitute, offering her best wishes. We then see Lily perform a musical number, while Anne meets her doom at the hands of the Ripper. Inspector Warwick questions Lily about the visit, and states there’s a witness who describes Jack as wearing an Ulster (top coat) and carrying a black bag. Coincidently, this also describes Slade’s attire. Aunt Helen begins to have suspicions about her new lodger, but Uncle Henry dismisses them as feminine nonsense.

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Slade opens up to Lily about his childhood. His mother was an actress who cheated on his father and ended up a prostitute. Lily feels sorry for him, and thinks he’s innocent, even after he’s caught burning his bag and Ulster. Inspector Warwick doesn’t, and when the Ripper strikes again, he leaves a thumbprint in his victim’s apartment. Warwick wants to use the new technology to compare it with Slade’s prints and, while in the lodger’s room, discovers a picture of Anne Lawrence, first victim of the Ripper. After another musical number (a Can-Can dance!), Slade appears in Lily’s dressing room, asking her to run away with him. When she rebuffs his advances, he pulls a knife, revealing himself to be Jack the Ripper after all.Warwick and the police arrive and bust down the door, but the Ripper escapes, commandeering a carriage, careening down the streets of Whitechapel with the police in hot pursuit. Slade walks out into the river, and a search proves fruitless. Jack the Ripper is dead… or is he?

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Jack Palance gives a creepy, understated performance as Slade, and in fact saves the film from the doldrums, for MAN IN THE ATTIC isn’t all that suspenseful. There’s really no doubt he’s the Ripper, mainly because there are no other suspects. Palance was fresh off his success as the gunslinger in that year’s SHANE, and this low budgeter was his first starring role. He illicits some sympathy as the lonely, isolated Slade, though his Scottish accent comes and goes.

Hey, it's Aunt Bee!
Hey, it’s Aunt Bee!

It’s a rare chance to see THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW’s   Frances Bavier (Helen) play something besides Aunt Bee, but if I told you I didn’t think of Mayberry’s favorite aunt while watching I’d be lying. Character actor Rhys Williams does well with the part of Uncle Henry, but the two young leads, Constance Smith (Lily) and Byron Palmer (Warwick) leave much to be desired. Quite frankly, they’re both boring, even during Lily’s musical numbers. Horror vet Lester Matthews (WEREWOLF OF LONDON, THE RAVEN  ) has a small part as Warwick’s superior, while other Familiar Faces include Sean McClory, Lillian Bond (THE OLD DARK HOUSE), Harry Cording, and Isabel Jewell.

Director Hugo Fregonese had more success in Europe and his native Argentina then he did in Hollywood, due to the lack of quality scripts he received in America. There are some atmospheric scenes here, but they’re few and far between. MAN IN THE ATTIC isn’t the best adaptation of THE LODGER (that would be the ’44 version), but it’s not the worst. That dishonor goes to the 2009 remake, updating the story to modern-day LA, with a copycat Ripper on Sunset Strip. It’s just kind of bland and mediocre, and if you’re not a big Jack Palance fanatic, there’s no reason to watch this one.

 

CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt. 5: Fabulous 40s Sleuths

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It’s time again for me to make room on the DVR! This edition features five Fabulous 40’s films of mystery and suspense, with super sleuths like Dick Tracy and Sherlock Holmes in the mix for good measure. Here’s five capsule reviews of some crime flicks from the 1940s:

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WHISTLING IN THE DARK (MGM 1941, D: S. Sylvan Simon): The first of three movies starring comedian Red Skelton as Wally Benton, aka radio detective ‘The Fox’. Skelton is kidnapped by a phony spiritual cult led by Conrad Veidt to devise “the perfect murder”. Ann Rutherford and Virginia Grey play rivals for Red’s affections, while Eve Arden is her usual wisecracking self as Red’s manager. Some of the jokes and gags are pretty dated, but Red’s genial personality makes the whole thing tolerable. Fun Fact: Rags Ragland (Sylvester) was once the Burlesque comedy partner of Phil Silvers.

Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) Lionel Atwill (Professor James Moriarty)
Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) Lionel Atwill (Professor James Moriarty)

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (Universal 1942, D: Roy William Neill): Basil Rathbone IS Sherlock Holmes in this fourth entry in the series. All the gang from 221B Baker Street are along for the ride (Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Mary Gordon) as Holmes tries to foil a plot to steal a new bomb sight (for the war effort, don’t you know) by his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty. A secret code holds all the answers. That Grand Old Villain Lionel Atwill plays “The Napoleon of Crime”, and it’s terrific to watch screen vets Rathbone and Atwill engage in a battle of wits. In fact, it’s my favorite Universal Holmes movie because of the pairing of the two. Fun Fact #1: Rathbone and Atwill also costarred in 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Fun Fact #2: Kaaren Verne (Charlotte) was the second wife of another screen villain, Peter Lorre!

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TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (RKO 1945, D: Anthony Mann): Ann Rutherford’s back as a female cab driver who helps an amnesia victim (Tom Conway) piece things together in this early effort from director Anthony Mann. Unlike Mann’s later films, the tone’s light and breezy here. There’s lots of plot twists to keep you guessing, and Conway and Rutherford have good onscreen chemistry. Cracked Rear Viewers will recognize supporting players Lester Matthews (The Raven), Jean Brooks (The Seventh Victim), and Jane Greer (Out of the Past). Hollywood’s favorite drunk Jack Norton does his schtick in a bar scene (where else?). Fun Fact: Actor Dick Lane (reporter Haley) later became a TV sports commentator in the 50’s, announcing pro wrestling and Roller Derby matches!

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DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (RKO 1947, D: John Rawlins): Chester Gould’s stalwart comic-strip cop (personified by Ralph Byrd) goes up against gangster Gruesome, who uses a paralyzing gas to commit bank robberies. Boris Karloff is Gruesome (of course he is!), and adds his special brand of menace to the proceedings. (At one point, Dick’s aide Pat exclaims, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were doing business with Boris Karloff!”) Gould’s trademark quirky character names like L.E. Thal and Dr. A. Tomic are all in good fun, and the Familiar Face Brigade includes Anne Gwynne, Milton Parsons, Skelton Knaggs, and Robert Clarke, among others. Fast moving and fun, especially for Karloff fans. Fun Fact: Boris played many gangsters early in his career, including a role in the 1932 Howard Hawks classic SCARFACE.

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THE THREAT (RKO 1949, D: Felix Feist): Convict Red Kluger (Charles McGraw) busts out of Folsom Prison and kidnaps the cop who sent him away (Michael O’Shea), the DA (Frank Conroy), and his former partner’s moll (Virginia Grey again). The police go on a manhunt to capture Kluger and save the others in this taut, suspenseful ‘B’ crime noir.  Quite brutal and violent for it time, with McGraw outstanding as the vicious killer on the loose. A very underrated and overlooked film that deserves some attention. Highly recommended! Fun Fact: Inspector Murphy is played by Robert Shayne, better known as Inspector Henderson on TV’s SUPERMAN.

Enjoy others in the series:

Halloween Havoc!: Karloff and Lugosi in THE RAVEN (Universal 1935)

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Universal’s “Twin Titans of Terror” teamed up for the second time in THE RAVEN. Their 1934 pairing in THE BLACK CAT was the studio’s top grossing film that year, so it was only logical to reteam the two stars in another Poe based outing. But while in THE BLACK CAT they were evenly matched, here Boris plays second fiddle to Bela’s mad Dr Vollin. Lugosi takes center stage and creates one of his nastiest villains, a sociopath out to avenge his unrequited love.

Young Jean Thatcher loses control of her car and crashes off a cliff. The doctors, including her boyfriend Jerry Holden, agree only Dr. Richard Vollin can save her. Vollin refuses over the phone, stating he’s retired from practice, so Jean’s father, Judge Thatcher, travels to Vollin’s estate and, appealing to his vanity, convinces the doctor to do the surgery. He does so, and falls in love with his young patient in the process.

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When we first meet Vollin, he’s in his study with a representative from the local museum, reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (as only Bela can!), while a staute of the bird casts an ominous shadow on the wall behind him. “The raven is my talisman”, he says. “Death is my talisman”. Vollin isn’t interested in donating any of his large Poe memorabilia to the museum; in fact, he tells the gentleman he’s building the torture devices made famous in Poe’s tales. When told that’s an interesting hobby, Vollin replies (again as only Bela can), “It is mooore…than just a hobby”. The thin veneer of sanity is already beginning to give way to Vollin’s madness.

Jean has recuperated well enough to give a dance recital in Vollin’s honor. Her interpretive dance “The Spirit of Poe” is accompanied by an actor reciting the poem, music swirling while she performs her ‘danse macabre’ for the audience. Vollin is enraptured, but the Judge is worried about where this is all heading. Confronting Vollin at his home, he realizes the doctor is more than just infatuated. Warning him away from Jean adds fuel to the madness burning within Vollin. Fugitive criminal Edmund Bateman shows up unexpectedly at Vollin’s door. Bateman’s been told the doctor can “change my face” to avoid the police, but Vollin has other plans. He operates on the criminal’s “nerve ends” causing Bateman to become a grotesque looking monstrosity. When his face is revealed to him before a wall of mirror, Bateman angrily shoots them out (Welles’ inspiration for LADY FROM SHANGHAI, perhaps?) Vollin tells Bateman he’ll turn him back if Bateman’s willing to “torture and kill” for him. Reluctantly, Bateman agrees to assist in Vollin’s demented scheme.

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Karloff’s Edmund Bateman, though a killer, is played for  sympathy. Born with an ugly mug, Bateman felt driven to “do ugly things”. Like the Frankenstein Monster, Bateman’s been battered and beaten by a world he never made, lashing out at the injustice of his lot in life. Boris always gave his best characters a touch of humanity (the monster, Grey in THE BODY SNATCHERS, Elman in THE WALKING DEAD), and makes us feeling sorry for the brutish Bateman.

Vollin invites Jean, her father, Jerry, and two other couples to spend the weekend at his estate. A storm is brewing outside, but inside Vollin it’s already raging. Bateman abducts Thatcher and hauls him down to Vollin’s basement, where his torture devices are set up. Strapping Thatcher to a slab, Vollin gazes up at the blade hanging above the judge’s prone body. He flips a switch and, like in Poe’s “The Pit and The Pendulum”, the blade slowly descends, swinging to and fro aimed at Thatcher’s midsection. “Try to be sane, Vollin”, Thatcher pleads, but it’s far too late for that. Laughing manically (as only Bela can!), he replies with glee, “Death will be sweet, Judge Thatcher!”

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Another switch is flipped, and Jean’s entire room drops to basement level. Jerry and one of the couples (the other is fast asleep) hear Jean’s screams and find a panel leading to the basement. Vollin orders Bateman to throw Jean and Jerry in a steel-walled room, and locking them in, the walls begin to close in on them. Now completely insane, Vollin rails the two “will never be separated, never!…What a torture! What a delicious torture!” Bateman, realizing Jean’s about to be crushed to death (she was kind to him earlier despite his hideous kisser), shuts the switch off, but not before Vollin gut-shoots him. Struggling to his feet, Bateman overpowers the doctor and, in a last heroic feat, drags him in the room and pulls the lever, causing Vollin to be crushed by his own devious torture chamber.

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Lugosi’s descent into madness is one of the great accomplishments in horror. Building slowly, by the end he’s completely over-the-top deranged. I don’t think anyone could pull off the role of Richard Vollin the way Beal Lugosi does, and it’s one of his top acting jobs. Karloff gets the most out of his subservient role, and milks it for all the sympathy he can. Irene Ware (Jean) makes a fine damsel in distress (she worked with Bela before in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN), while stalwart Lester Matthews (Jerry) plays the romantic lead (Matthews also was in the bizarre Savage Intruder with Miriam Hopkins). Samuel S. Hinds (Judge Thatcher) is no stranger to horror movie buffs, appearing in MAN MADE MONSTER and SON OF DRACULA, while Ian Wolfe (Snuffy, one of the guests) made over 300 appearences in a career that stretched from 1934 to 1990.

Director Louis Friedlander moves the film briskly along from a top-notch script by David Boehm. Friedlander would change his name to Lew Landers, a workhorse of a director who did everything from Gene Autry Westerns to Boston Blackie mysteries. Landers worked again with Karloff on THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU (1942) and Lugosi on RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1943). Grinding em out quickly was Landers’ forte, and though he worked strictly in the B-realm, his films were generally well received. Television called in the 50s, and Landers made a home there, most notably on KIT CARSON, HIGHWAY PATROL, and RIN TIN TIN.

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Karloff and Lugosi made eight films together (including their cameo in 1934’s GIFT OF GAB), and while most genre fans rate THE BLACK CAT as their best pairing, I’m kind of partial to THE RAVEN. Neither film is literally based on Poe (“suggested by” the title cards say), but this one is more close to the “Spirit of Poe”. It’s a showcase for the talents of Bela Lugosi at the peak of his acting powers, with Boris Karloff lending good solid support. If you can only see one Karloff/Lugosi team-up this Halloween, I highly recommend you make it THE RAVEN.