Monday, December 11, 2017
ADVENTURES OF KITTY O'DAY is Monogram's 1945 sequel to DETECTIVE KITTY O'DAY. Jean Parker returns as Kitty, as do Peter Cookson as her boyfriend Johnny and Tim Ryan as Inspector Clancy. (As in the first Kitty film, Ryan is also credited as co-writer.) William Beaudine also returns as director.
In this story Kitty and Johnny work at the swanky Townley Hotel--she as a switchboard operator, he as a travel agent. Kitty's job fits perfectly with her busybody attributes, and while answering a call from the hotel's owner, she overhears the man being shot. Kitty sends Johnny to see what is going on, and he discovers the owner's body. When their old friend Inspector Clancy shows up, the body has disappeared. Of course all sorts of (supposedly) wacky complications ensue, with the body of the murdered man popping up in various spots in the hotel and other suspects turning up dead.
There's a lot more emphasis on comedy in Kitty II than there was in Kitty I. If anything, Kitty is more flighty and emotional than she was in the first film. She also does a lot of screaming here, and Jean Parker's yelps are on a Fay Wray-type level. Parker even gets to engage in some slapstick during a long chase through the hotel's corridors. The mystery (such as it is) takes a back seat to Kitty and Johnny's antics. The duo spend a lot time arguing with one another, and when they're with Inspector Clancy they argue with him, and while these scenes attempt to be funny they get a bit tiring after awhile.
This was the last Kitty O'Day film, and it's doubtful that the series would have improved if it had continued. Monogram was too low budget to give the character any pizzazz--further adventures of Kitty might have worked if she visited exotic locations and had excellent character actors to play off of. It's a tribute to Jean Parker that Kitty O'Day doesn't come off as a total pain in the neck--because when it's all said and done that basically what the character is. The Kitty O'Day movies remind me of the many classic TV sitcoms that would have episodes where the main members of the cast play detective. Jean Parker by far is the best thing about them.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
When I started becoming a film buff in the mid-1980s, the VCR home video boom was starting to commence. Video rental stores were popping up on every corner, and VHS tapes were being sold at just about every type of establishment. The big-name mainstream movies on VHS were rather expensive to purchase back then, but there were plenty of cheap public domain movies to be had.
I noticed that one of the actresses who kept cropping up in these low-budget tapes was Jean Parker. She starred in such famous public domain films as FLYING DEUCES with Laurel & Hardy, ONE BODY TOO MANY with Bela Lugosi, and BLUEBEARD with John Carradine. In the 1930s Parker had appeared in such major pictures as LADY FOR A DAY and RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS, but for whatever reason she was relegated to Poverty Row titles in the 1940s.
It's hard to understand, at least from my viewpoint, why Parker didn't become a major Hollywood star. She was very pretty, with a nice figure, and she had an appealing personality. She was also a more than capable actress who could handle drama and comedy. The lady herself must have been disappointed at her lack of major roles, since she left Hollywood in the mid-1940s and concentrated on stage work.
The actress did get to play a kind-of recurring series role for Monogram in the character of Kitty O'Day. The two Kitty O'Day features are among those many black & white low-budget flicks that I watch on YouTube while trying to get to sleep.
DETECTIVE KITTY O'DAY was made by Monogram in 1944. In this one Kitty is the secretary to a business executive named Wentworth. Kitty's boyfriend Johnny Jones (Peter Cookson) is an accountant dismayed by Wentworth's overwork of Kitty. Kitty is told by her boss to come over to his house after hours to do even more work, and while there she discovers the man hanged. Both Kitty and Johnny--who was handling a large amount of securities for Wentworth--wind up becoming suspects. Kitty decides to try and capture the real culprit, dragging along an exasperated Johnny. The duo's investigations wind up getting them into more trouble, since wherever they go another dead body pops up.
DETECTIVE KITTY O'DAY tries very hard to be like one of those screwball comedies of the 1930s. The movie is only an hour long, and it thankfully moves at a accelerated clip. There's a lot of rapid-fire dialogue exchanges between Kitty, Johnny, and a frustrated police inspector named Clancy (played by Tim Ryan, who co-wrote the screenplay). Clancy has a dumb associate named Mike (dim-witted cops were a dime a dozen in movies like this). The comedy quotient in this is higher than the usual Monogram picture, but it is on the level of a mediocre Three Stooges short. At one point Kitty and Johnny disguise themselves as part of the cleaning staff at a high-rise apartment building, and they wind up getting stuck outside on the building's ledge, but the sequence goes on too long to be effective. The mystery isn't all that hard to figure out, simply because there's not that many leading characters, and about half of them get killed.
Jean Parker carries this film--the character of Kitty would have come off as simply annoying if played by an actress who wasn't as charismatic. We are first introduced to Kitty as she is listening in to her boss' conversation with his wife, a great way to show the audience how noisy she is. Kitty is constantly interrupting people and finishing their sentences, and her deductive "skills" are rather lacking. Whenever Kitty does discover a corpse, she faints. She solves the case basically by happenstance. It is Jean Parker's combination of looks, gumption, and personality that make Kitty tolerable.
DETECTIVE KITTY O'DAY was directed by William Beaudine, who worked on dozens and dozens of similar Poverty Row titles. He would also direct the follow-up film, ADVENTURES OF KITTY O'DAY, which I will discuss in a later blog post.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST (1945) is one of the few horror films produced by Republic Pictures, a studio better known for Westerns. Olive Films has recently released the movie on home video, and believe it or not, I had never seen it before. It is an unconventional vampire tale, and one that I found surprisingly effective.
THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST has very little in common with the other low-budget Hollywood monster flicks made around the same time. It is set in Africa, in contemporary times, instead of a Gothic European location. The cast does not feature any familiar names such as Lugosi, Carradine, Atwill, or Zucco. The story takes place in the fictional town of Bakunda, where a number of mysterious deaths have upset the natives. As you have no doubt guessed, the victims were drained of blood, and there were two tiny punctures in their necks.....
Local plantation official Roy (Charles Gordon) is determined to find out who is behind the murders, and he decides to ask the owner of a waterfront bar, Webb Fallon (John Abbott) if he has any information. The quixotic Fallon has not been in Bakunda long, but he already has knowledge of the seamier aspects of the town. While out on a jungle expedition with Fallon, Roy finds out that the man is a vampire! Fallon puts Roy under his spell, and prevents the man from disclosing this information. There's another reason why Fallon zaps Roy....the undead creature is interested in the young man's pretty fiance, Julie (Peggy Stewart). With help from a missionary, Roy battles against Fallon's dark powers.
John Abbott, a plain-looking and slightly built English character actor, might seem miscast as a vampire. He sure isn't Bela or Chris Lee--but I found his performance kind of refreshing. Webb Fallon's vampiric tendencies are more subtle than the usual cinematic bloodsucker. He doesn't wear a cape or evening dress--ironically he spends most of the movie in a white tropical suit. Fallon even goes about in the daytime when he has to, with the help of sunglasses. He does appear to have superhuman strength (at one point he makes short work of a bunch of toughs during a barroom brawl) and like most of his undead movie brethren he can hypnotize someone within seconds. Instead of coming off as an evil supernatural creature, Fallon gives the impression of someone who is suffering from a curse and is unable to control his actions. Despite his affliction Fallon tries to live a "normal" life (if hiding out in a backwater African town and running a shady dive can be considered normal), and every so often he wistfully reflects on the sadness of eternity. I would even go as far to say that the character of Webb Fallon anticipates other sensitive vampires found in DARK SHADOWS, the Anne Rice novels, and the TWILIGHT series.
The rest of the cast is rather mediocre, except for Adele Mara, who plays an exotic dancer who works in Fallon's establishment. Director Lesley Selander does create a few atmospheric sequences, and since the running time is only about an hour long, the movie doesn't wear out its welcome. This is very much a low-budget production, with the expected studio jungle settings. The native African characters are portrayed just about the way you would expect in a American film made in 1945.
The original story of THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST was provided by Leigh Brackett, who also co-wrote the screenplay. As a writer Brackett worked on some of the most famous films ever made, such as THE BIG SLEEP, RIO BRAVO, and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, among others. She deserves credit for coming up with a vampire story that stands out from pack of 1940s Poverty Row horrors.
THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST has apparently never had an official home video release before. The picture quality (the movie is in black & white) is very good. As usual with Olive, there are no extras whatsoever. I purchased the DVD version of THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST (Olive has also released a Blu-ray version).
I must admit that the main reason I liked THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST so much was that I had never seen it before. When you've seen as many old monster movies as I have, and you've seen them so many times over, you can't help but be intrigued with something that shakes the expected format up a little. I wouldn't say THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST is a great film--but it is a nice little "B" picture that deserves some attention.
Monday, December 4, 2017
My recent internet ramblings led me to stumble upon a 1934 Universal "B" movie called SECRET OF THE CHATEAU, a murder mystery that isn't all that thrilling or mysterious.
The story is set in France, although none of the cast go out of their way to act particularly French. A quirky Inspector named Marotte (Ferdinand Gottschalk) is determined to catch a criminal mastermind who steals rare artifacts, despite not knowing who the culprit is or what he or she may look like. Marotte attends an auction of items from a recently deceased aristocrat's estate, where he encounters Julie Verlaine (Claire Dodd), a woman who he had sent to jail for document theft. The late aristocrat's nephew Paul (Clark Williams) arrives at the auction and lets it be known that his uncle has an original Gutenberg Bible at the family chateau. Julie, the Inspector, and sundry other suspicious characters gather at the chateau, drawn by the priceless tome.
I figured that since SECRET OF THE CHATEAU was produced by Universal, it would have some of the characteristics of that studio's other 1930s thrillers. But director Richard Thorpe stages things in a routine, uninspired manner--this movie looks as if it could have been made at any low-budget studio of the period. One expects the chateau referred to in the title to be presented as atmospherically as possible, but the indoor sets are rather generic. The identity of the criminal mastermind isn't all that hard to figure out (it was the character I suspected the most).
The most interesting thing about SECRET OF THE CHATEAU is its leading lady, Claire Dodd. She appeared in numerous Pre-Code Hollywood films of the early 1930s, and almost always she was the "bad girl" or the "other woman". She almost never got to play leading heroine roles. (She did play Della Street in some of the 1930s Perry Mason movies.) Here she does get lead billing, but her character still isn't exactly on the square--she has a criminal record, and she's egged on by her partner-in-crime to try and steal the Gutenberg Bible. (She does have a change of heart in the end, though.) Dodd was a very elegant looking woman and in her roles she always seemed to have a formidable attitude. It's nice to see her as a leading lady but in all honesty she doesn't get much of a chance to shine here. Dodd would later return to Universal and appear in the 1941 version of THE BLACK CAT with Bela Lugosi and THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET with Lionel Atwill.
The Universal thrillers of the 1930s usually had a stock supporting cast of great character actors, but unfortunately that's not the case here. The movie does feature another Pre-Code cutie, brassy blonde Alice White, and Osgood Perkins, the father of Anthony Perkins, is also in the cast. Ferdinand Gottschalk (there's a name for you) does make an impression as the boastful Inspector.
SECRET OF THE CHATEAU belongs in the "Forgotten Horrors" category, and you really have to be a geeky film buff to want to sit through it. The poster that is at the beginning of this post is more exciting than anything that happens in the film.
Monday, November 27, 2017
A couple months ago one of my favorite Hammer actresses, Jennifer Daniel, passed away. In the blog post I wrote about her as a tribute I lamented how much of Daniel's on-camera work is unavailable to Americans. Recently I was on YouTube and I happened to stumble upon a film called MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE, a 1960 British crime drama starring Jennifer Daniel. The production also features a number of performers who would have or already had links to Hammer Films: John Cairney (THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES), Moira Redmond (NIGHTMARE), and John Van Eyssen (HORROR OF DRACULA).
MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE was part of a series of black & white low-budget mystery stories based on the work of famed writer Edgar Wallace. These films were made at the Merton Park Studios by Anglo-Amalgamated, and they were released in the U.K. as second features. In America the films were shown on syndicated TV as EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERY THEATER. I'm familiar with the series of German "Krimi" films adapted from Edgar Wallace, but I must admit I had no knowledge of the British series.
I can only judge the British Edgar Wallace films from my viewing of MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE, but according to my internet research on the series, the individual entries were very similar. While the German Edgar Wallace films contained such elements as science-fiction, horror, and fantastic adventure, MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE is much more down-to-earth.
The story concerns Larry Wilson (John Cairney), a young man who is serving time for a bank robbery. Larry sets up a fake marriage to the daughter (Jennifer Daniel) of a former cell-mate--this enables Larry to be let out (under police supervision) for the ceremony. Larry manages to escape and hide out at his ex-cell-mate's house. Larry plans to visit his girlfriend (Moira Redmond), who has been hiding the money from the bank robbery...but the wanted man finds out that the woman is now married to the Inspector (John Van Eyssen) who put him in jail! Larry rightfully assumes that his girlfriend and the retired Inspector are sharing the loot, and he sets his sights on tracking them down and getting revenge...but Larry has someone on his trail--another police official (Harry H. Corbett) who is determined to bring him to justice.
It's easy to see from watching MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE why the British Edgar Wallace series was shown on American TV. MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE is about an hour long, and it was filmed by director Clive Donner in a very straightforward, no-frills manner. The story has no overt violence or provocative situations--it reminded me very much of a typical 1960s TV episode. John Cairney brings a lot of intensity to the desperate, hotheaded Wilson, but it's hard to feel any sympathy for him. Jennifer Daniel very capably fills out the "nice girl" role--while watching this I kept thinking that her character was too sensible to be involved in Larry's schemes, and sure enough, she winds up telling all to the police. John Van Eyssen is quite smarmy as the crooked Inspector, but Harry H. Corbett makes the biggest impression as the dogged "regular guy" detective who solves the case.
I certainly wouldn't call MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE a spectacular discovery--from my point of view it's interesting for the cast more than anything else. The poster that you can see above is probably more exciting than anything that happens in the film. I would be interested in seeing more entries from this British Edgar Wallace series--since they were all made in the early 1960s I'm sure there are several Hammer veterans involved in them. For me the main draw here was seeing Jennifer Daniel. She's as beautiful as she was in her Hammer roles, but unfortunately she really doesn't get much to do here.
Saturday, November 25, 2017
Kino Lorber adds to their growing collection of fine Spaghetti Western Blu-ray releases with THE MERCENARY, a 1968 film directed by Sergio Corbucci. (The movie is also known as A PROFESSIONAL GUN.)
This is one of the many Euro Westerns set during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th Century. Paco Roman (Tony Musante) is a peasant mine worker who leads a revolt against his bosses. Paco encounters gun-for-hire Sergei "The Polack" Kowalski (Franco Nero), and the mercenary helps the peasant become a revolutionary hero. Paco's continued reliance on Kowalski annoys determined rebel Columba (Giovanna Ralli). Despite her frustration Columba is in love with Paco, and she convinces him to turn against Kowalski....but the revolutionaries find out that fighting for the people is a lot more complicated than they think.
THE MERCENARY features a typical Spaghetti Western situation with a cool, calculated gringo paired with an emotive, rough-edged Mexican national. Franco Nero brings his usual charismatic screen presence to the role of Kowalski, and he carries the film. Tony Musante is okay as Paco, but this is the type of role would be better suited for Tomas Milian. (When Sergio Corbucci basically remade THE MERCENARY a few years later as COMPANEROS, he cast Milian alongside Nero.) Giovanna Ralli looks more like a fashion model instead of a Mexican peasant woman, but her character of Columba happens to be the most interesting. She's totally committed to the revolution, and she points out time and again how Paco is basically subservient to Kowalski--yet at the same time Columba is in love with Paco and stays loyal to him no matter what. The interaction between Paco, Kowalski, and Columba is what sets THE MERCENARY apart from other films of its type.
Jack Palance also appears in this movie, as the very strange Curly, another gun-for-hire who works against Kowalski and the revolutionaries. Just like Franco Nero, Palance would play a variation of his THE MERCENARY character in COMPANEROS.
THE MERCENARY isn't as nihilistic as other Corbucci films such as DJANGO and NAVAJO JOE, but it still has plenty of violent action. This movie also appears to have a bigger budget than the usual Corbucci picture, and they may be due to it being produced by Alberto Grimaldi. Because of the Mexican Revolution aspects of the story many have called THE MERCENARY a "political" Western...but I can't say that I agree with that. Paco and his followers are basically a rag-tag group of bandits, and what success they do have is owed almost entirely to Kowalski. Paco is constantly having his hide saved by the white European mercenary, even at the very end of the film. Nero's Kowalski is only interested in making money off of whatever situation he winds up in--he even demands that Paco draw up a contract for his services, a contract that includes bonuses and perks! The "people" are not presented all that sympathetically in THE MERCENARY. If anything, I think the film is rather sardonic toward the left-wing politics of the late 1960s. (The script for THE MERCENARY was written by Euro Western veteran Luciano Vincenzoni.)
Kino presents THE MERCENARY in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the movie looks very fine. An audio commentary is provided featuring Alex Cox, who shares his extensive knowledge on the Spaghetti Western genre. A couple of animated image galleries are included, and these are backed with selections from the movie's music score by the brilliant Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
During this year's Monster Bash Conference, I met the esteemed Derek Koch, the man behind the fantastic Monster Kid Radio Podcast. I informed Derek that I would love to be a guest on the show....and a few weeks later Derek called me up and we discussed the 1972 Peter Cushing-Christopher Lee film "The Creeping Flesh". (You wouldn't expect me to talk about a Julia Roberts movie, would you???)
We had a great time, and I think that comes out on the broadcast. I guess this could be considered my first "official" interview....hopefully I won't put anyone to sleep. I'm writing this post on the very day of Thanksgiving, so if you've got nothing to do while resting yourself after the big dinner, I suggest avoiding the crappy NFL games and listen to Derek and I examine what I think is one of the most underrated Cushing-Lee films, and maybe even one of the most underrated examples of English Gothic Cinema. And please check out the other podcasts that Derek has produced....there's all sorts of great geeky stuff in them!