Thursday, July 18, 2024

CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS

 





Yesterday news broke about the passing of actress Yvonne Furneaux, best known now for being the leading lady of Hammer Films' 1959 THE MUMMY. The dark-haired exotic Furneaux also appeared in LA DOLCE VITA and REPULSION, and she also starred in a number of Italian historical adventures filmed in the late 1950s-early 60s. 

One of these adventures was CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS, a 1962 Italian-French co-production directed by peplum veteran Giacomo Gentilomo. (One of the credited screenwriters is the ubiquitous Ernesto Gastaldi.) CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS is unusual in that it deals with an obscure section of history--Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. The story is set in the Kingdom of Poland, a realm that is dealing with incursions by the Kyrgyz, an Asian tribe. 

The stoutest defenders of Poland's borders are a pair of Dukes who are brothers, Andrei (Mel Ferrer) and Sergei (Jean Claudio) of Tula. Andrei is steadfast and noble, while Sergei is hot-headed and arrogant. (Nearly every Italian sword-and-sandal/historical tale has a plot element dealing with two brothers who wind up facing off against each other.) Andrei defeats Sergei in a contest involving hand-to-hand combat that determines who should command the Polish armies. (Wouldn't there be a better way to determine command than take the risk of having your best military leaders kill each other?) This makes Sergei even more jealous and angry. When the Kyrgyz kidnap Marcia (Leticia Roman), a princess Sergei is planning to marry, he goes off after her--only to be seduced by the Queen of the Kyrgyz (Yvonne Furneaux). The Queen tempts Sergei by telling him that he and his Black Lancers should join up with her people and then attack Poland, which the two will then rule. Andrei can't believe that his brother has turned traitor, but finds out the truth, setting up a major battle between the Polish and Kyrgyz forces. 

CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS (original title I LANCIERI NERI) has plenty of the elements expected of an historical epic. There's impressive and colorful costumes and sets, hundreds of extras, horses being ridden madly across the plains, and a full-blooded music score by Mario Nascimbene. Despite all this the movie has a perfunctory feel about it at times. The dialogue (the version I watched was dubbed in English) is very stiff, as are most of the interactions of the cast. A Mario Bava, or even a Antonio Margheriti, might have given the production more imagination & flair. 



Yvonne Furneaux and Leticia Roman in CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS



Yvonne Furneaux is by far the best thing about the film. Her Queen is cold, cunning, and devious, but her dark beauty is enough to ensnare Sergei into her web. The Queen isn't adverse to doing her own handiwork, and she's also not adverse to killing one of her own subjects if it furthers her schemes. Leticia Roman (who starred in Mario Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) is the light-haired counterpart to the Queen. Roman is essentially a fairy-tale damsel in distress, and even though she's betrothed to Sergei, the script makes plain that she and Andrei are the ones really in love with one another. 

Mel Ferrer doesn't look all that happy being in this movie. I'm sure he realized that Andrei isn't a role that one can do much with--the character reacts to events rather than instigates them. Andrei isn't a swashbuckling Errol Flynn type--he's much too noble and formal for that. Jean Caudio gets the much showier role as Sergei, but the character is more of a conceited jerk than memorably villainous. Andrei and Sergei do get to have a climatic sword fight in a burning temple. 

One thing that does need to be mentioned about CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS is that even though the Kyrgyz are the nominal bad guys, they are not portrayed as cardboard savages. It's their Queen and Sergei that causes all the mischief, and it's even suggested that the Kyrgyz are being treated unfairly by the Poles. 

I watched this film on the Tubi streaming channel, and it was presented in a decent widescreen print, with an underwhelming English dub track. CHARGE OF THE BLACK LANCERS isn't one of the best examples of the Italian historical epic, but it's prime late night viewing, and it shows off Yvonne Furneaux quite well. 



Monday, July 15, 2024

THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL

 





THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL is a 1937 romantic comedy from Warner Bros., directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Fernand Gravet & Joan Blondell. The movie was written by Norman Krasna and none other than Groucho Marx. 

Alfred (Fernand Gravet) is an ex-king of an unnamed European country who now resides in Paris in luxurious exile. The former royal is bored with his existence, until he reluctantly attends the Folies Bergere one night and discovers a flirty chorus girl (Joan Blondell) trying to attract his attention. Alfred assumes he'll just have a fling with her but the chorus girl, an American named Dorothy, isn't all that taken by his indolent ways. In classic movie fashion, the two fight, argue, deceive and fall in love with one another. 

THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL was a starring vehicle for Belgian-born actor Fernand Gravey, whose name was adjusted to "Gravet" for American audiences. Warners tried very hard to turn Gravet into a star--after this film, the actor and Mervyn LeRoy reunited to make FOOLS FOR SCANDAL, which also starred Carole Lombard. FOOLS FOR SCANDAL is now considered one of Lombard's worst films (especially by me), and THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL isn't all that much better. 

It's apparent that Warners was trying to make Gravet out to be a suave, sophisticated light romantic leading man. In this film and in FOOLS FOR SCANDAL, Gravet comes off as annoying and silly instead of witty or charming. In Gravet's defense it must be pointed out that the character of King Alfred doesn't do him any favors. Alfred spends most of the film drunk or asleep, and despite all his money and all the time on his hands, he isn't particularly keen to take advantage of his privileged status. One can easily see why Joan Blondell's Dorothy would play hard to get, but one can't believe she would fall for such a person, despite all his money. It's ironic that Groucho Marx co-wrote the script for this, since King Alfred is the type of elitist fop that the onscreen Groucho would verbally shred to pieces. 

As a matter of fact, while watching this film I thought that it would have been much better if Groucho himself played the role of the King. The sardonic wit that the Marx Brother was known for is sadly absent here. The film lacks the snap and crackle of the best screwball comedies of the era, and the relationship between the King and Dorothy grows tiresome after a while. 

The best thing by far in this movie is Joan Blondell, who displays her usual spunk and effervescent attitude. The thing is, this production is built around Fernand Gravet. He gets most of the close-ups and screen time, and in a number of sequences Blondell's on-camera time is reduced to some reaction shots. Trooper that she was, Blondell tries hard to make it work, but you have to wonder after all the time and energy she spent on the Warners backlot how she felt playing second fiddle to a mediocre European. 



Joan Blondell in a publicity still for THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL

 

The supporting cast for the film isn't as notable as most Warners pictures made around this period. Edward Everett Horton does his typical flighty and fussy bit as a Count who is Alfred's advisor and protector, and Alan Mowbray plays a waiter who gets involved in the machinations of the leading couple's problems. Jane Wyman has a small role, and gets to use a French accent, as Dorothy's friend. 

Warners didn't learn much from THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL. In FOOLS FOR SCANDAL, they cast Gravet as another European nobleman based in Paris, who chases after another spunky American female (Carole Lombard). That film didn't work either, and Gravet was soon back across the Atlantic, where he had a long acting career. Groucho Marx never wrote a screenplay for another film, which is somewhat disappointing. (For all I know, what Groucho originally wrote for this film might have been far better than what wound up on screen.) As for the final verdict on THE KING AND THE CHORUS GIRL, it's worth watching for Joan Blondell, but you have to put up with way too much Fernand Gravet to fully enjoy her performance. 

Sunday, July 14, 2024

TOO HOT TO HANDLE (AKA PLAYGIRL AFTER DARK)

 







In August of 1959 Christopher Lee worked on two different films with very similar plots. Both movies dealt with the tawdry world of London strip joints. The first, BEAT GIRL, is a picture I wrote a blog post about a couple years ago. The second, TOO HOT TO HANDLE (titled PLAYGIRL AFTER DARK in America), I viewed for the very first time on the Tubi streaming channel last night. 

In BEAT GIRL Lee played a notorious nightclub owner. In TOO HOT TO HANDLE Lee is the right-hand man to a notorious nightclub owner, Johnny Solo (Leo Genn). Johnny owns the Pink Flamingo, a popular club located in Soho. The Pink Flamingo is raking in money, despite the fact that its main competitor, The Diamond Horseshoe, is right across the street. The main attraction at the Pink Flamingo is the curvaceous Midnight Franklin (Jayne Mansfield), who also happens to be in a relationship with Johnny. 

One would think that with his professional and personal life, Johnny's got it made. But what he doesn't know is that his associate Novak (Christopher Lee) is conspiring with the Diamond Horseshoe's owner Diamonds Dielli (Sheldon Lawrence) to take over the Pink Flamingo. As various threats against his life and club increase, Midnight begs Johnny to get out of the strip club game, Meanwhile, a Frenchman (Carl Boehm) who is writing an article about the Pink Flamingo tries to get closer to one of the dancers, a mysterious woman who doesn't want to reveal her past (Danik Patisson), while Johnny knowingly hires an underage girl (Barbara Windsor), much to his eventual regret. 

TOO HOT TO HANDLE was directed by Terence Young (DR. NO), who had crossed paths with Christopher Lee a number of times by the shooting of this film. Young keeps all the gangster and soap opera elements moving along, but the movie is hampered by a number of musical acts at the club that come off as more silly than steamy. 

British actor Leo Genn usually played upper-class or military figures, and he's an off-beat choice to fill the role of a tough nightclub owner who has had to battle his whole life. Genn actually does very well as Johnny Solo, even though it is hard to believe it when he fights off a bunch of goons at once. Even more off-beat is the idea of Genn and Jayne Mansfield as a romantic couple, but the thing is....you totally believe that the two care about and love each other. Mansfield gets plenty of chances to strut her stuff on the Pink Flamingo's stage, but her Midnight isn't a brazen hussy or a dumb blonde. She's a woman who knows all too well what nightclub artists like her have to deal with, yet she is also at a loss to figure out how to start a new life. Mansfield is surprisingly good here, giving depth to what easily could have been a cliched character. 

Christopher Lee's Novak is a guy the viewer immediately distrusts at first sight, with his pencil-thin mustache and cheap gangster suit. Novak is also the MC at the Pink Flamingo, and it's fun to watch Lee go from glowering menace to an enthusiastic conveyor of the nightclub's delights. 

TOO HOT TO HANDLE provides plenty of eye candy, with all sorts of scenes showing various dancers blessed with sexy figures prancing about in skimpy costumes. (There's also a backstage catfight). The movie also shows that the strip club life isn't all glamour and glitz. The patrons of the Pink Flamingo are shown to be overwhelmingly middle-aged (or older) lonely businessmen, and the dancing girls are expected to be extra nice to the more wealthy customers. The subplot concerning Barbara Windsor's character sends the film down a dark turn, and it leads to a rather unexpected climax. 

The version of TOO HOT TO HANDLE shown on Tubi appeared uncut, but the colors on it were so faded that most of the time you couldn't even tell what the colors were (this presentation did no favors toward Otto Heller's Eastmancolor cinematography). Despite this I enjoyed the film. The entire subplot involving Carl Boehm could have been easily done away with, and Christopher Lee doesn't get the big climatic scene his character deserves, but the relationship between Leo Genn and Jayne Mansfield, and those two actors' down-to-earth portrayal of it, makes the story work. 

Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Eric Taylor Script For THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN

 





One of the many impressive things about the SCRIPTS FOR THE CRYPT: THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN book is that it contains a reproduction of an entire early script for the film, written by Eric Taylor. (Taylor is credited on THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN for the original story.) This script is significantly different from what ended up in the film. 

I usually don't get into the whole "early script drafts/unmade films" sub-genre.....I would rather spend time discussing what WAS actually made instead of something that never got produced. But the SCRIPTS FROM THE CRYPT: THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN volume gives us a glimpse into how the famed Universal Monster movie series could have gone down a divergent path. 

The major thing about Eric Taylor's script is that it focuses on Wolf Frankenstein, the character played by Basil Rathbone in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. While Taylor brings back Wolf, he does not bring back Wolf's wife Elsa from the proceeding film, played by Josephine Hutchinson. Taylor's script explains that Elsa committed suicide due to her husband's involvement with the Monster! Wolf is now married to another woman named Elayne, and his young son from the last Frankenstein film, played by Donnie Dunagan, is not even mentioned. Wolf was a jittery, high-strung fellow in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and he's not all that warm and friendly in Taylor's GHOST script either. At one point the script has Wolf looking at his second wife in a way that makes the reader wonder if he's contemplating putting her brain inside the monster's body. 

The Taylor script starts out very much like how the actual version of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN begins--with the villagers complaining about how the Monster has cursed them, and their destruction of the Frankenstein castle. Ygor and the Monster scurry away, but in this script they are looking for Wolf Frankenstein, not his brother Ludwig. Wolf runs a sanitarium just like Ludwig does in GHOST, hoping that his groundbreaking work in dealing with mental illnesses will wipe away the shame he and his family carry over the creation of the Monster. (Wolf doesn't want anyone to know about his or his family's past, but he still goes by the name of Frankenstein.) Wolf is assisted in his work by his second wife and his sister-in-law Martha Bohmer (a surname which will wind up being used for Lionel Atwill's character in the final version of GHOST). 

Wolf is also assisted by a hunchback named Theodor. This fellow also wanted to be a great doctor, but his appearance has not allowed him to reach his dream. Theodor and Ygor hit it off after the latter brings the Monster to Wolf's sanitarium, and the two misshapen creatures concoct a plan. Ygor will have his brain transplanted into the Monster, while Theodor will gather all the poor disfigured and crippled folk around the countryside and turn them into an army that will take over and institute a new order. 

Wolf wants nothing to do with Ygor and the Monster, but a conversation with the spirit of his father (as in the final version of GHOST) changes his mind. While the Monster befriends a little girl named Cloestine (as also in the final film), the army of cripples attacks the village, while Theodor tricks Wolf into putting Ygor's brain into the Monster. When Wolf finds out what he has done, he blows up his own laboratory, destroying himself and (supposedly) the Monster, while Elayne and little Cloestine escape. 

One element that jumps out about the Taylor script is the sub-plot concerning the "army of cripples" that Theodor and Ygor gather to get their revenge on the world. I'm sure that even in 1942 the idea that a bunch of physically afflicted people could be led to become a disaffected and vengeful mob would have been considered unseemly, especially with a World War going on, and innocent people being maimed and crippled because of it. The Taylor script has a very dark tone to it--nearly every character in it has some sort of chip on his or her shoulder. There's no generic romantic couple as such, unless one counts Wolf and his second wife (and their relationship seems tenuous at best). 

The character of Theodor is noteworthy--one assumes that he morphed into what became Dr. Bohmer in the final film. The fact that Theodor was supposed to be a hunchback makes one wonder if even a Universal monster film could have had enough room for two quirky scientist's assistants. If Theodor had been in the final film, the character would have taken a lot of the spotlight away from Bela Lugosi's Ygor. One has to wonder...who would have played Theodor? Dwight Frye immediately comes to mind, but at this point Universal didn't appear to want to use him in anything more than a bit part. Would Universal have cast future Frankenstein hunchback J. Carrol Naish? 

The idea of having Wolf Frankenstein return--without the family he had in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN--is worthy of discussion. It has to be asked why Universal did not have Wolf in the final film. Was Basil Rathbone unavailable? Or...did Rathbone read the script, and have misgivings about it? (Wolf doesn't come off very well in the Taylor script.) Another factor has to be considered.....Universal was starting up their Sherlock Holmes series with Rathbone as the master sleuth, and perhaps the studio wanted the actor to focus on that. 

You may have noticed that I haven't really talked about how the Monster itself comes off in the Taylor script. That's mainly due to the fact that the Monster doesn't have much of anything to do in the Taylor version. Just like in the actual GHOST, the Monster is a lumbering, menacing presence who doesn't have much of an impact until Ygor's brain gets put into its head. You can look down on Lon Chaney Jr's stoic portrayal of the Monster in GHOST, but after reading the Taylor script it's obvious that Universal now saw the creature as generic threat rather than a fully realized character. 

I personally feel that THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN we know is far better than the story put forth by Eric Taylor's script. If the Taylor script had been filmed, we wouldn't have gotten the great Lionel Atwill as Dr. Bohmer, and we wouldn't have gotten Evelyn Ankers (although she might have been cast as Wolf Frankenstein's second wife). We also probably wouldn't have gotten to see all the familiar character actors that were cast in GHOST. I believe that Universal made the right decision in not filming the Taylor script as written. 

Thursday, July 4, 2024

DESTINATION INNER SPACE










Included on Kino's SCI-FI CHILLERS Blu-ray release is the 1966 underwater adventure DESTINATION INNER SPACE. 

The story takes place in a sea lab resting on the ocean floor, crewed by scientists and civilians. The lab has picked up a strange underwater signal, and a Naval Commander named Wayne (Scott Brady) arrives on the base to investigate. The signal is actually a flying saucer-type craft, and Wayne and others from the sea lab enter the ship, where they discover a strange cylinder. The group brings the cylinder back to the base, where it grows larger, and eventually bursts open to reveal a large amphibian creature. Wayne and the staff of the sea lab must battle the creature while trying to investigate its origins. 

DESTINATION INNER SPACE may have been made in 1966, but it feels like it comes from 1956. The main reason for that is the story and low budget, but the main cast plays a part in that as well. Scott Brady, Sheree North, and Gary Merrill all had much better acting opportunities in the Fifties. 

The big twist in this genre tale is that the dangerous alien creature is underwater instead of in outer space. It is a unique idea, although it appears the major reason for it was to save money. This movie has plenty of underwater footage, but it is used in the same way as a lot of cheap sci-fi pics used military stock footage--to pad the running time without enlarging the budget. The interior of the sea lab has a generic military-scientific facility look to it, while the exterior of the sea lab and the 'swimming' (as opposed to flying) saucer are models. The problem with the sea lab and saucer models is that they are placed in actual underwater locations, which means that they are shown against real underwater plants and terrain. The result is the perspective is out of whack, and they look just like the small models that they are. 

As for the amphibious creature, it looks like a child's version of the Creature of the Black Lagoon. It's also brightly colored, so instead of being menacing, it comes off as something from either a kiddie show or an early Doctor Who episode. (One does have to give the main cast credit for keeping a straight face around it, and reacting to it as if it is a genuine threat.) More expressive lighting on the creature might--I say might--have helped a bit. (As a matter of fact, the whole movie might have worked better if it had been in black & white and in full frame. Being in color and in widescreen just exacerbates the movie's production problems.) 

Scott Brady does a decent job as the main hero, though he comes off at times as a grumpy middle-aged man (multiple times he struggles to strap scuba gear around his belly). The younger macho male hero is played by Mike Road, who was the voice of Race Bannon on the original JONNY QUEST animated TV show. The script establishes that Brady and Road's characters have a tumultuous history, which caused me to predict exactly how these men would fare at the end of the film. Sheree North and Wende Wagner play female members of the sea lab crew, and their main function is to act as romantic foils to Brady and Road, and to scream loudly when appropriate. Gary Merrill plays a scientist, who as expected wants to study the creature while Brady wants to destroy it. John Howard plays the sea lab's doctor, and he's also in THE UNKNOWN TERROR, which is also featured on the same Kino set as this film. 

The movie was directed in a generic, journeyman-like fashion by Francis D. Lyon, and written by Arthur C. Pierce. DESTINATION INNER SPACE has the overlit, bland look of 1960s television. (It feels very much like an episode of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.) 

Something that struck me while watching this movie for the first time--it has a lot in common with (believe it or not) James Cameron's THE ABYSS. An underwater facility staffed by civilians, an encounter with aliens, a mile-long trench located nearby, a military officer arriving at the facility and causing tension, the facility being cut off from the surface world and the people inside struggling to stay alive and faced with a time limit--both DESTINATION INNER SPACE and THE ABYSS have these things in common. I'm certainly not trying to say that both films are comparable in quantity, but it is something to think about. 

DESTINATION INNER SPACE isn't a great science fiction film by any means, but it is serviceable and watchable enough. A better looking creature would have helped things considerably. 



 

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Book Review--SCRIPTS FROM THE CRYPT: THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN











 


The 16th volume in the SCRIPTS FROM THE CRYPT series from Bear Manor Media focuses on THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal's 1942 follow-up to SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. What makes this book particularly noteworthy is that it's nearly 400 pages, a treasure trove of facts, trivia, commentary, analysis, stills, and just plain Monster Kid fun. 

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN may not be the greatest classic horror film in the world, and it's certainly not one of the longest, clocking in at about 67 minutes. But this book more than makes clear that the film has all sorts of interesting elements to it, including a top cast, excellent production details, and that classic monster movie attitude only Universal of the 1930s-40s could provide. 

The book starts out with an extensive production history of the movie by Greg Mank, and then presents Eric Taylor's original script for the film, which was quite different than what was eventually shot. (I'm thinking about writing a blog post on Taylor's script.) Tom Weaver discusses the Taylor script, and makes a number of observations about the finished film. There's also a reproduction of the movie's pressbook, an analysis of the character of Ludwig Frankenstein by Frank Dello Stritto, and an examination of the various "Igor" types in Frankenstein films by Bill Cooke. 

There's plenty more than that, though......Greg Mank also has chapters on the personal lives of actors Doris Lloyd and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, while Roger Hurlburt presents autographs he has collected from numerous members of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN's cast & crew. There are also mini-bios of a few of the supporting actors of GHOST, a photo gallery focusing on the film's director, George Waggner, and a rare interview with Lon Chaney Jr. 

Needless to say, you get your money's worth with this book, and most importantly, it's a fun, entertaining read. A movie like THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN shouldn't have a stuffy, dour tome written about it. The Universal Classic Horror films were meant to be entertaining.....you can admire and appreciate them without treating them as if they belong on a pedestal. There's a lot of important info in this SCRIPTS FROM THE CRYPT entry, but there's also a lot of laughs and smiles as well. The best way I can describe this book is that while reading it I felt as if I was back at Monster Bash, sitting around listening to my favorite experts on classic monster movies having a great round-table on THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

After reading this book I went and re-watched THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. I wouldn't say that my opinion on it has changed considerably, but I did have a new and better appreciation for the film, and the people who were involved in the making of it. SCRIPTS FROM THE CRYPT: THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN is pure Monster Movie Fan catnip, and an enjoyable examination of a movie that will delight and surprise even those who have watched it dozens of times. 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

THE UNKNOWN TERROR

 







THE UNKNOWN TERROR (1957) was previously unknown to me. The movie is included in Kino's SCI-FI CHILLERS COLLECTION, a two-disc set containing three films. 

Rich explorer Dan Matthews (John Howard) intends to go searching for the mysterious "Cave of Death", a place where his wife's brother never returned from. Dan and his wife, Gina (Mala Powers) are joined in the quest by Pete Morgan (Paul Richards), a cave expert who has a bum leg due to a climbing accident involving him and Dan. The trio arrive at the native village near the cave, and discover an American doctor named Ramsey (Gerald Milton) who is experimenting with strange fungi. Needless to say, the fungi have gone out of control, affecting the natives and the dangerous cave. 

THE UNKNOWN TERROR is a lackadaisical effort--it takes over half the movie to actually get to the cave, and there's more talk than action. The two leads, John Howard and Paul Richards, are a glum-looking duo lacking in spirit--this movie sorely needed a Richard Denning, Kenneth Tobey, or even a John Agar. (During filming John Howard had to have been wondering how he got from THE PHILADELPHIA STORY to this.) Mala Powers doesn't get much to do as the obligatory pretty female, but she does get a scene where she's chased by one of the fungi-infected natives while she's wearing a nightgown. 

As for the weird Dr. Ramsey, he's one of the most mediocre mad scientists in low budget sci-fi/horror history. (The big, beefy, and bald Gerald Milton looks more like a truck driver than a scheming mad doctor.) Why Ramsey is hiding out in a remote jungle location and experimenting with fungi is never made entirely clear. The doc explains to the protagonists that due to his medical knowledge he's become something of a god to the locals, and he's even married to a beautiful native maiden (May Wynn). This comely lass appears to develop an interest in Pete, but like every plot element in this tale, this idea isn't developed enough. 

Something else that isn't developed enough is where, exactly, the "Cave of Death" is. Some reviews of the film suggest that it's in South America, others in Mexico. There's a sense that the cave and the village are on an island--maybe the West Indies?? At the beginning of the film, Dan Matthews holds a party at his home where calypso singer Sir Lancelot performs a folk tune about how a person must suffer before being born again. Matthews believes that this song somehow establishes the validity of the "Cave of Death", although, once again, it's never explained why this is. (Sir Lancelot, of course, will be familiar to classic horror fans for his appearances in the RKO Val Lewton series of films. He even gets special billing on the poster above, although I doubt people went to see this film specifically for him.) 

When the out-of-control fungus is finally revealed, the viewer is shocked to discover that it resembles--giant soap suds! (While watching the climax of THE UNKNOWN TERROR, I couldn't help thinking about that episode of THE BRADY BUNCH where Bobby caused the washing machine to go crazy.) The soapy suds have caused a few of the natives to turn into grotesque monsters (unfortunately we don't get much of a look at their special makeup). At the very last minute, Dr. Ramsey reveals that if the fungus isn't stopped, it will take over the world! (Couldn't the authorities have used a bunch of thick towels to dry the suds up??) 

This ending doesn't exactly get the viewer's heart racing, and along with the generic fake jungle sets, "natives" who are obviously white Americans, and stodgy acting and dialogue, THE UNKNOWN TERROR winds up near the bottom of the 1950s low-budget sci-fi/horror cycle. 

The film was directed by Charles Marquis Warren, who is much better known for his work in Westerns. The movie was shot in Regalscope, a 2.35:1 widescreen process that a story like this doesn't deserve. The widescreen isn't used in a particularly engaging way, and, if anything, it makes the movie's production design look cheaper. 

The soap suds of THE UNKNOWN TERROR won't terrify anyone--unless you're Pig Pen from the "Peanuts" comic strip.