Saturday, March 28, 2020


A couple nights ago, courtesy of the MOVIES! TV channel, I watched a 1954 film noir called PUSHOVER. The movie starred two of my favorite actresses of all time--Kim Novak and Dorothy Malone. PUSHOVER was in fact Novak's very first credited film role (she gets a "And Introducing" main title credit).

The movie, set in contemporary Los Angeles, opens with a very well-staged, dialogue-free bank robbery. A bank guard is killed, and $200,000 has been stolen. The police begin to shadow the girlfriend of the robbery gang's leader, a gorgeous blonde named Lona (Kim Novak). Detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) goes out of his way to make her acquaintance, and is assigned to the group of men putting Lona under surveillance. Sheridan and Lona are attracted to one another, and the young woman convinces the older cop to kill her boyfriend so they can make off with the stolen loot. Sheridan hatches a plan to do so...but, as is usual in the shadowy world of film noir, things don't go as planned, and Sheridan's troubles get worse and worse.

PUSHOVER has plenty of the expected noir elements--atmospheric black & white photography, rain-slicked streets, and terse dialogue. Fred MacMurray spends most of the story wearing a trench coat and a fedora, and he constantly has a cigarette dangling from his lips. You get the feeling he is asking for it as soon as he starts making the moves on Lona. Obviously MacMurray's role in DOUBLE INDEMNITY comes to mind when watching PUSHOVER. MacMurray's Sheridan is a cynical, dissatisfied cop who has worked too many years for very little pay. He's easy prey for Lona's charms...yet one would think that a middle-aged cop who has seen everything would be a bit more careful about the situation. The problem is, like most noir anti-heroes, Sheridan is not particularly clever--he thinks he's one step ahead of everybody, but he's actually just getting himself in deeper and deeper. MacMurray is best known now for his Disney movies and his role on the family TV show MY THREE SONS, but he was excellent at playing misanthropic jerks.

Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak 

Considering this was her first major film role, Kim Novak comes off well for the most part. She gets several smoldering close-ups, and she's outfitted with a stylish wardrobe. There are times, though, when one senses that the actress is uncomfortable trying to be a seductive temptress. Early on in the movie she tries to put a husky accent on her voice--thankfully she doesn't do this for the entire running time. Novak's Lona seems more like a nervous young girl than a hard-bitten dame (probably due to the fact that this was Novak's first real film part).

PUSHOVER has a subplot involving Sheridan's stakeout partner (Phil Carey) and his interest in Lona's next-door apartment neighbor, an attractive nurse (Dorothy Malone). One could say that Carey and Malone are the "nice couple" counterpart to Sheridan and Lona. Malone's role becomes more important during the climax. Malone is dark-haired here--later in her career she would go blonde and play a number of roles very much like Lona. It's interesting to imagine an alternate version of PUSHOVER with Malone as Lona and Novak as the friendly nurse.

PUSHOVER was made by Columbia and directed by Richard Quine, who uses a stick-to-the-facts semi-documentary style. At one point Lona goes off in her car, and Sheridan tails her...and I automatically thought of a sequence in VERTIGO where James Stewart also follows Kim Novak around in a car. I was reminded of Hitchcock again in the scenes where the cops spy on Novak (and Carey watches Malone) in her apartment from across the courtyard--they bear a certain resemblance to scenes in REAR WINDOW.

I wouldn't call PUSHOVER a brilliant example of film noir--it's fairly easy to figure out what is going to happen in it. It does happen to be a proficiently made film with an engaging cast.

Saturday, March 21, 2020


This month Turner Classic Movies is showcasing classic film comedian Joe E. Brown. One of his films the channel showed was SON OF A SAILOR, a 1933 title made by Warner Bros. The major reason I watched it was for the fact that Thelma Todd is in it...but honestly, I could have just skipped it.

Joe E. Brown was quite prolific in the 1930s, although looking at him from a 21st Century perspective it's hard to figure out why. He usually played a goofy, naive rube, and his films almost always took advantage of his athletic talent. He had co-starred with Thelma Todd in the bizarre 1931 movie BROADMINDED, which I wrote a blog post on a few years back. (I went into Brown's screen persona in that post a bit more as well.)

BROADMINDED is a truly weird Pre-Code, but it's far more entertaining than SON OF A SAILOR. As one expects from the title, Brown plays an ordinary member of the U.S. Navy named Handsome Callahan (I assume the "Handsome" moniker was meant to be sarcastic). Callahan has a habit of telling tall tales, and this constantly gets him into trouble. While on shore leave Callahan gets involved with an retired admiral's granddaughter, and a couple of spies who are after a device that can fly planes by remote control. Callahan bumbles his way through it all, and winds up getting promoted for his troubles.

Even at his best, Joe E. Brown is something of an acquired taste. In SON OF A SAILOR, he plays an annoying guy who is a braggart to boot....and here he just isn't funny (at least to me). The most interesting part of the story is the beginning, which was filmed on an actual ship, the USS Saratoga. Military buffs will appreciate seeing vintage naval activities, and the ship's layout allows director Lloyd Bacon to use a few off-beat camera setups. Once Brown gets off-ship, the movie slows to a crawl (it seems longer than its 74 minute running time). Brown's constant attempts to get dates with women onshore (by using variations of the same hackneyed story) come off as creepy instead of amusing.

Brown winds up running into the retired admiral's daughter (actually, she literally runs into him, with a car), and he gets invited to the admiral's fancy house party. It's there that Thelma Todd finally makes her first onscreen appearance, halfway into the film. She plays a character called "The Baroness", and she and the man who is her escort are planning to still the plans for the remote control flying device. Thelma sports dark hair for this role--apparently to make her look more exotic (even though she doesn't act or sound all that exotic). The only thing Thelma gets to do is spend a short sequence trying to distract Brown by coming onto him. It's the type of vamp role Thelma did several times in her short career, and the movie doesn't take proper advantage of her talents, despite the fact that she gets prominent billing in the credits and on the advertisements for the movie that I have seen.

Joe E. Brown and Thelma Todd in SON OF A SAILOR

Movie buffs (and John Ford fans) will notice Ward Bond and Jack Pennick in small roles, and the ubiquitous Samuel S. Hinds plays the retired admiral.

Even for a military comedy, SON OF A SAILOR is mediocre. Joe E. Brown does get to participate in a comedic boxing match, but the result is nowhere near as entertaining as similar sequences featuring other movie comics such as Buster Keaton, Abbott & Costello, and The Three Stooges. Thelma Todd fans will be disappointed by her small role here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Today's YouTube public domain theater entry is a cheap 1948 noir entitled PAROLE INC. One of the companies behind the movie was Eagle-Lion, formerly known as Producers Releasing Corporation.

The only notable thing about PAROLE INC. is that it stars Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers, two veterans of the Universal monster movie series. (Bey and Ankers had in fact already played a romantic couple in Universal's THE MAD GHOUL.) The duo are cast against type here--Bey is a shady lawyer with the unique name of Barney Rodescu, and Ankers is his girlfriend Jojo, who happens to run a diner that is the front for illegal activities.

The movie begins with a man swathed in bandages, laying in a hospital bed while dictating into a recorder. The man is a federal agent named Richard Hendricks (Michael O'Shea), and he is detailing a series of recent events. Hendricks was sent to an unnamed state to investigate misuse of the parole board. Disguising as a wanted man, Hendricks finds out that lawyer Barney Rodescu has paid off members of the parole board to get convicts off that he can use for his own purposes. Hendricks stops Rodescu's schemes, but not without cost (after all, the guy is laid up in the hospital).

PAROLE INC. was directed by Alfred Zeisler, who helmed the 1946 FEAR (which I covered a few posts ago). FEAR had a few unusual elements to it, but PAROLE INC. is directed in a very perfunctory manner. Hendricks' dictation turns into a full-length narration, and while this provides plenty of plot info, Michael O'Shea's somewhat generic recitation of it doesn't help matters. O'Shea was in one of the most famous public domain movies, LADY OF BURLESQUE. In that one he spent most of the time annoying Barbara Stanwyck, and in PAROLE INC. he still seems to have a smart-aleck type of manner.

Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers in PAROLE INC.

Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers might have been happy to get out of the Universal thriller rut, but I doubt that they were too thrilled about being in PAROLE INC. Bey doesn't get all that much screen time, but he does make a different kind of B movie crime boss--erudite, classy, and sinister. Evelyn Ankers gets more screen time as Jojo, and she gets to do things such as act drunk, and flirt with Hendricks to try and get information out of him. It's not the usual type of role for Ankers, but she still winds up acting very ladylike (when she realizes that Hendricks is going to get it, she looks like she's about to let out one of her old Universal screams).

The only other notable actor in PAROLE INC. is Poverty Row veteran Lyle Talbot, who plays the local police commissioner (a few years earlier, he probably would have played the role of Hendricks).

The reason I watched PAROLE INC. was because Evelyn Ankers and Turhan Bey were in it. In all honesty this movie doesn't give them all that much more of a showcase than the Universal programmers they each appeared in. But it is nice to see Evelyn get to stretch her talents, even though she's probably the most proper bad girl in B movie history.

Sunday, March 15, 2020


In the late 1980s, a purchased a book called MORE CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM. It was written by esteemed film historian William K. Everson. This volume was a follow-up to Everson's CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM, one of the very first movie books I ever bought.

In MORE CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM, there is a chapter entitled "Horror As a Bonus--Horror in the Non-Horror Film". In that chapter Everson examined a number of films from the early to mid-20th Century that were not considered straight horror features, but nevertheless had elements of the genre. One of the films the author mentioned was a 1932 RKO production entitled SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE. Sometime in the early 1990s, I saw this movie on the AMC TV channel (back when AMC actually showed classic movies).

My long-ago AMC viewing was the only time I had seen SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE, until TCM showed it this weekend. It's a wild pre-code potboiler which has enough plot for two movies, despite the fact that it runs a little less than an hour.

In contemporary Paris, a mysterious Russian named Moloff (Gregory Ratoff) is scheming to take control of the Romanov fortune. He intends to pass off a poor flower girl (Gwili Andre) as Anastasia, the young daughter of the Czar who supposedly survived the massacre of her family. Moloff's plot is stopped by cunning and determined French police investigator (Frank Morgan).

The basic plot description is simple, but the way the actual movie plays out is decidedly not. SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE throws out a number of confusing strands that eventually come together. There's various violent deaths, intricate police procedure, and the evil Moloff's activities, which include taxidermy, scientific experimentation, and a personal hobby of turning some of his victims into statues and displaying them in his home.

Some of the sets used in RKO's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME show up in SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE, as do some of the costumes. Gregory Ratoff's Moloff could easily be a cousin of Count Zaroff. He could also be related to Bela Lugosi. Ratoff gets a few Bela-like closeups, and his Moloff also happens to be a master of hypnotism. Ratoff even recites his lines in a very slow and deliberate manner, much like Lugosi would at times. If Lugosi had played Moloff, SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE would be far more renowned among film geeks today.


The willowy Gwili Andre makes a very fetching damsel in distress, although it's hard to believe in her as a poor flower girl. Future Wizard of Oz Frank Morgan is surprisingly serious and determined as police official St. Cyr. Morgan does do some of his patented eccentric old man act when his character is undercover and in disguise. Morgan's St. Cyr would have been a great candidate for a detective film series of his own.

SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE moves along at a rapid pace, and it has many clever ideas...but this is an example of a movie that isn't long enough. The climax in particular seems very rushed, and it doesn't have the effect that it should. One wants to know more about Moloff and his bizarre actions (his manor house in Paris feels like an old castle, and it comes with secret rooms and a underground laboratory). There's some definite Pre-Code kinkiness in the subplot of Moloff turning women into statues (at one point it appears one of his victims is naked). Moloff even intends to do the same thing to Gwili Andre at the end.

SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE was directed by Edward Sutherland, who is better known for his comedy films, including several with W. C. Fields. (He also had a short marriage with Louise Brooks.) Sutherland indulges in a number of atmospheric camera set-ups, and he would soon get a chance to helm an even wilder Pre-Code horror, the notorious MURDERS IN THE ZOO with Lionel Atwill.

If you get a chance, check out SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE. It's an unusual Pre-Code thriller which tries to do too much in about an hour, but that's better than not doing enough.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU is a 1933 British film starring Thelma Todd and Stanley Lupino. I happened to obtain a grey-market DVD copy of the movie. It's a title that deserves a proper American home video release, and is must-viewing for Thelma Todd fans.

The story begins with Stanley Lupino as Tom and Thelma Todd as Pamela encountering each other while their cars are stuck in traffic. Tom falls desperately in love with Pamela upon first sight of her (can't blame him there), and, as an aspiring songwriter, goes home and immediately writes a hit song called "What's Her Name". Tom searches all over London for her, and finds out that she is the sister of an old friend (John Loder). Tom also discovers that Pamela is a spoiled brat--so much so that her father and brother decide to take advantage of Tom's infatuation to get her off their hands. They come up with a plot to convince Pamela that if she does not marry Tom, her father will lose all his money. Pamela goes ahead with the wedding, but she has no intention of being a real wife to Tom--so the fellow decides to tame this shrew in his own crazy way.

YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU is a lively, fast-moving screwball comedy, running only 70 minutes. It's a perfect vehicle for Thelma Todd, since the movie is so reminiscent of the Hal Roach style of comedy the actress knew so well. This is the first time I had ever viewed a Stanley Lupino performance, and here he has a very goofy, light comedic persona. He also gets to sing a couple of songs. Lupino definitely reminded me of Charley Chase--it's easy to imagine a version of this film with Charley in the lead role. (Stanley Lupino was an English music-hall performer, and the father of actress-director Ida Lupino, who would become good friends with Thelma.)

The director of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU was Monty Banks, who I discovered was a veteran of silent slapstick comedies. There's plenty of traditional movie comedy here, with sight gags, broad characterizations, and plenty of broken household items, courtesy of Thelma's hissy fits. The plot revolves around a classic old movie trope--the goofy guy attempting to win a beautiful woman's hand by totally exasperating her (trust me, in real life this doesn't work).

Stanley Lupino and Thelma Todd

In many ways the role of Pamela was nothing new for Thelma, but she shows once again why she was one of the great screen comediennes of the period. Her facial reactions and line readings bring out the comic intent of every scene she's in. Many Thelma fans have wished that the actress had not been typecast in so many comedies--but the reason she was is that she was so excellent at it.

As expected, Thelma is devastatingly gorgeous at all times, helped by what seems like about a dozen wardrobe changes. According to various accounts, Thelma thoroughly enjoyed her time in the United Kingdom, despite reports that she collapsed on the set during the making of the film. If not for her untimely demise, Thelma might have very well returned to England in the future for more acting work.

The print that I saw of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU was in very good condition, showing that the film didn't appear low-budget. YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU was produced by British International Pictures, and many of those involved with the film (such as John Loder and cinematographer Jack Cox) had worked with Alfred Hitchcock. Thelma Todd is blessed with several exquisite black & white close-ups.

It's too bad that YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU isn't well known, or readily available. It's a very fun comedy, and I think it contains one of Thelma Todd's most notable performances.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

FEAR (1946)

A low-budget version of Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT from Poverty Row studio Monogram? It isn't a joke--it's the 1946 film FEAR, which transports the distinguished story to the black & white shadowy environs of the post-WWII American big city.

Peter Cookson plays Larry Crain, a penniless and bitter student. Larry is desperate for money, and he murders a professor who moonlights as a pawnbroker. Before Larry can steal the man's money, he has to leave to avoid discovery. Ironically, Larry's fortunes improve after the murder--an article he wrote obtains him $1,000 from a magazine, he gets his academic scholarship renewed, and he begins a relationship with a kindly pretty waitress (Anne Gwynne). A sense of overwhelming guilt still gnaws at Larry, and this is exacerbated by a outwardly affable but inwardly cunning police captain (Warren William) who is investigating the pawnbroker's murder.

FEAR has plenty of film noir elements to it, and director/co-writer Alfred Zeisler uses plenty of symbolism. The movie has an overall pessimistic tone, due to leading man Peter Cookson. His Larry Crain is a touchy, moody fellow to begin with, and he remains that way throughout most of the film. Because of this it's hard to work up much interest in what happens to him. In the 1935 CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, Peter Lorre commanded the audience's attention, due to his unique screen presence. Cookson (who I really know nothing about) comes off as just another bland B movie actor.

Former Universal Scream Queen Anne Gwynne brightens the film with her naturally appealing charisma. Gwynne is so appealing that one wonders what she is doing hanging around such a gloomy guy like Larry Crain. It's disappointing that after leaving Universal, Gwynne's film career took such a sharp downturn. (While watching FEAR, one does get a nice look at her legs in one scene.)

The King of Pre-Code, Warren William, makes the most of his small role as Captain Burke, even though he appears overqualified for a movie such as this. One wishes that the story had spent more time with William's character instead of the dreary Cookson. A young Darren McGavin has a small part as one of Cookson's college buddies (I didn't even recognize him).

The idea of taking CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and giving it an urban American noirish twist is an outstanding one. Unfortunately FEAR doesn't have the budget, or the leading man, to carry it out. FEAR also has a cop-out ending that negates the rest of the story. It's easy to imagine a major Hollywood studio doing a noir version of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT in the late 1940s with a much more effective star and technical crew.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Favorite Famous Roles List

Today's list comes from an idea that somehow popped into my head. There's a number of famous roles that have been played in movies (and TV) over and over again--legendary fictional and historical characters such as Dracula, Batman, Wyatt Earp, etc.

The purpose of this list is to present my pick for who was the best in a particular famous role. Simple enough--but when my great friend Joshua Kennedy (HOUSE OF THE GORGON) found out about this idea, he upped the ante by suggesting that I also pick which performer would have been great in a certain famous role. So I'm doing that here as well.

Hopefully this post will spark some discussion. If you have favorites of your own that you'd like to mention, by all means leave a comment below, or on The Hitless Wonder Facebook Page. Remember, there are no wrong answers--just goofy guys who write movie blogs.

My personal choices for:

Best Dracula: Christopher Lee
Person who would have been great in the role: Paul Henreid

Best Van Helsing: Peter Cushing
Person who would have been great in the role: Liam Neeson

Best Dr. Frankenstein: Peter Cushing
Person who would have been great in the role: Claude Rains

Best Frankenstein's Monster: Boris Karloff
Person who would have been great in the role: Chuck Connors

Best Phantom of the Opera: Lon Chaney
Person who would have been great in the role: Christopher Lee

Best Mummy: Christopher Lee
Person who would have been great in the role: Conrad Veidt

Best Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: John Barrymore
Person who would have been great in the role: Tyrone Power

Best Devil: Walter Huston
Person who would have been great in the role: Lee Van Cleef

Best Sherlock Holmes: Basil Rathbone
Person who would have been great in the role: Michael Gough

Best Batman: Adam West
Person who would have been great in the role: Clint Eastwood

Best Joker: Heath Ledger
Person who would have been great in the role: Richard Widmark

Best Superman: Christopher Reeve
Person who would have been great in the role: Gary Cooper

Best Spider-Man: Tom Holland
Person who would have been great in the role: a very young Kurt Russell

Best Hercule Poirot: Albert Finney
Person who would have been great in the role: George Pastell

Best Miss Marple: Joan Hickson
Person who would have been great in the role: Dame May Whitty

Best Doctor Who: Jon Pertwee
Person who would have been great in the role: Lionel Jeffries

Best James Bond: Sean Connery
Person who would have been great in the role: Patrick McGoohan

Best Felix Leiter: Jack Lord
Person who would have been great in the role: James Drury

Best Jack Ryan: Alec Baldwin
Person who would have been great in the role: Rod Taylor

Best Robin Hood: Errol Flynn
Person who would have been great in the role: Ian Ogilvy

Best Davy Crockett: John Wayne
Person who would have been great in the role: Robert Ryan

Best Captain Nemo: James Mason
Person who would have been great in the role: Louis Jourdan

Best Quatermass: Brian Donlevy
Person who would have been great in the role: Peter Cushing

Best Long John Silver: Robert Newton
Person who would have been great in the role: Oliver Reed

Best Abraham Lincoln: Henry Fonda
Person who would have been great in the role: John Barrymore

Best Napoleon: Rod Steiger
Person who would have been great in the role: Peter Lorre

Best Queen Elizabeth I: Flora Robson
Person who would have been great in the role: Barbara Stanwyck

Best King Henry VIII: Charles Laughton
Person who would have been great in the role: Oliver Reed

Best Richard III: Basil Rathbone
Person who would have been great in the role: Peter Cushing

Best Cleopatra: Claudette Colbert
Person who would have been great in the role: Martine Beswicke

Best Julius Caesar: Warren William
Person who would have been great in the role: Basil Rathbone

Best Al Capone: Robert DeNiro
Person who would have been great in the role: Lon Chaney

Best Adolf Hitler: Bruno Ganz
Person who would have been great in the role: Donald Pleasence

Best Winston Churchill: Gary Oldman
Person who would have been great in the role: Charles Lloyd Pack

Best Wyatt Earp: Kurt Russell
Person who would have been great in the role: Burt Reynolds

Best Doc Holliday: Val Kilmer
Person who would have been great in the role: Jack Nicholson

Wednesday, March 4, 2020


THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) is a mystery film with a rather obvious title--what else would they have called it...THE PLAID RAVEN?? It was made by the Poverty Row company Producers Releasing Corporation, and produced by Sigmund Neufeld and directed by Sam Newfield, frequent low-budget filmmakers (and brothers).

The fine character actor George Zucco gets top billing as Amos Bradford, a man who runs a remote inn near the New York state-Canadian border. Bradford uses the inn as a front for some shady activities, and on an obligatory dark stormy night, a number of suspicious people show up. There's a convict on the run (I. Stanford Jolley) who has a grudge against Bradford; a racketeer (Noel Madison) who wants to get across the border; a cowardly bank cashier (Byron Foulger) who has embezzled $50,000; a runaway couple intending to marry (Wanda McKay and Bob Randall); and the prospective bride's father (Robert Middlemass), who happens to be a crooked political boss. Also in on the festivities are Bradford's hulking but dopey handyman (Glenn Strange) and the local sheriff (Charles Middleton).

As expected, the $50,000 winds up missing, and the political boss is found dead. The sheriff wants to pin the murder on the victim's daughter's fiancee, since the men hated each other. Bradford is convinced the young man is innocent, and decides to solve the mystery for himself. Other murders follow, along with some other minor skullduggery....but, this being a cheap B movie, things sort themselves very quickly around the 60 minute mark.

THE BLACK RAVEN isn't an underrated classic, or one of those "so bad it's good" films. The most notable thing about it is the casting. Old movie buffs will appreciate seeing veteran weird guy actors like I. Stanford Jolley and Byron Foulger. Charles Middleton will be best known as the original Ming the Merciless in the FLASH GORDON serials. Wanda McKay is the only female in the cast, and she's quite cute, even though she doesn't have much to do. She appeared in two of the nine films Bela Lugosi starred in for Monogram in the 1940s.

The main attractions here are George Zucco and Glenn Strange, known for their participation in Universal's classic horror film series. Zucco and Strange had already co-starred in THE MAD MONSTER--in that one, Zucco's mad doctor turns Strange into a werewolf-like creature. In THE BLACK RAVEN, Zucco still has the upper hand--he's the boss, and Strange is his lackey. Strange gets to handle the comic relief in this picture, and despite his size and strength, he spends a lot of time being scared and doing pratfalls. Zucco and Strange have an almost Abbott & Costello-type relationship here--at one point Zucco is so frustrated by Strange's shenanigans he slaps him! It's bizarre to see a future Frankenstein Monster act so goofy--but it must be said that Strange does it rather well.

One wonders if the off-screen Zucco considered a movie like THE BLACK RAVEN beneath him. If he did, it certainly doesn't show onscreen. Zucco effortlessly outdoes all the other players by reacting to all the goings-on with an attitude of droll understatement. He makes his dialogue sound much better than it is with his dry delivery of it. Zucco even pulls off this line to Glenn Strange: "With your imagination, you could see the Statue of Liberty doing the conga!" I know for a lot of folks, the biggest joy of watching Poverty Row chillers of the 30s and 40s is seeing cult character actors ham it up, but Zucco goes the other way here. He even makes Bradford somewhat sympathetic, due to his concern for the young lovers (even though you suspect he's got some skeletons in his closet).

THE BLACK RAVEN is a perfect movie to watch on YouTube when you can't get to sleep. It won't take up too much of your time, and you might actually even wind up being amused by it.

Sunday, March 1, 2020


THE UNEARTHLY (1957) is a ultra-low budget crazy combination of science-fiction, horror, and noir. It features elements and plot devices reminiscent from films such as the 1935 THE RAVEN, BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT, VOODOO MAN, and THE BLACK SLEEP.

It is rather fitting that the star of the film is John Carradine, since the story harks back to the many poverty row chillers of the 1940s that the actor appeared in. Carradine plays Dr. Conway, a scientist who is attempting to use glands to prolong human life. Needless to say, he hasn't been very successful in this endeavor. Conway works out of a remote large house, which happens to be fitted out with cells in the basement. These cells are where Conway locks up the unfortunate results of his experiments.

Conway is assisted by a icy attractive young blonde doctor (Marilyn Buferd) who, for some inexplicable reason, happens to be in love with him. He also has a brutish, simple-minded manservant named Lobo (another one of his failed experiments). It won't surprise cult film geeks to know that Lobo is played by the legendary Tor Johnson--but is this the similarly-named character Johnson portrayed in other films?

In his public guise Conway runs a clinic for those suffering special maladies. It is these patients that Conway uses for his experiments. Among the patients the viewer sees are a ditzy blonde (Sally Todd), a jittery addict (Arthur Batanides), and the gorgeous Grace (Allison Hayes). A convict on the run named Mark (Myron Healey) shows up on the grounds, and Conway blackmails him into staying, while also telling him about his mad quest for immortality. (This is where Carradine gets to give the expected mad doctor speech which name-drops various esteemed scientists who were also considered mad.) Unfortunately for Conway, Mark is actually an undercover cop, and eventually brings an end to the doctor's grotesque dream.

THE UNEARTHLY is only 70 minutes long, so it doesn't wear out its welcome. It throws in enough bizarre incidents (and goofy characters) to keep the audience interested. Carradine hams it up quite effectively here (the movie would have suffered if he didn't), and Tor Johnson's Lennie-like Lobo is a hoot, particularly when he's serving cold meals to the patients and telling them when to retire for the day ("TIME FOR GO TO BED!"). Myron Healey's B movie tough guy act is amusing, as is Arthur Batanides' ultra-touchiness. At one point Carradine even gets to perform on an organ that classic horror movie music staple, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", while Healey and Hayes sit serenely on the couch, listening with big grins on their faces.

Allison Hayes fans may be disappointed in her role here, because she's essentially the good girl, and she doesn't get all that much to do, except look fantastic (which she most certainly does). More eye candy is supplied by Sally Todd, who had been a Playboy playmate. She gets to wear the obligatory nightgown and get carried off by Tor Johnson before her character suffers a gruesome fate. Marilyn Buferd is also easy on the eyes--she was a former Miss America--even though her character spends the movie with her hair tied back and wearing a severe dress suit.

The climax of THE UNEARTHLY features an entire cell filled with numerous monstrosities, all victims of Dr. Conway's search for eternal youth. The various makeups were designed by 1950s effects artist Harry Thomas, and they are notable, even though they resemble the creatures from THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS to a certain extent. One wishes more had been made of this motley group--they are only shown at the very end, and they do nothing but aimlessly lurch about. It would have made perfect sense for Carradine to get his just deserts at the hands of these creatures--or have them engage in a drag-out battle with Lobo--but it doesn't happen.

The producer and director of THE UNEARTHLY is credited as Brooke L. Peters, but it was actually a low-budget filmmaker named Boris Petroff (with a moniker like that, he should have been a horror movie star). The story was written by Jane Mann, who was Petroff's wife.

THE UNEARTHLY is not a great film, or even an underrated one. But it does exactly what it was meant to do--provide an hour or so's worth of goofy entertainment. There's plenty of black & white cheap thrillers that promise much and deliver little. THE UNEARTHLY has a fine cult cast and enough sci-fi/horror zaniness to keep one's attention.