Wednesday, October 28, 2020

OUTSIDE THE LAW On Blu-ray From Kino


Another home video presentation of a rare silent classic from Kino. This time it is the 1920 OUTSIDE THE LAW, co-written and directed by Tod Browning. 

This was an early collaboration between Browning and Lon Chaney, but it is not a tale of the macabre. Set in San Francisco's Chinatown district, it details the efforts of jewel thieves Molly Madden (Priscilla Dean) and Dapper Bill (Wheeler Oakman) from being set up by the dastardly Black Mike (Lon Chaney). The story contains many elements that would be found in most of Browning's work--a small group of criminals infiltrating the homes of naive wealthy citizens, the idea of honor (or dishonor) among thieves, false identities, con games, and lawbreakers trying to change their ways. 

Lon Chaney's name may be at the top of the disc cover, but Priscilla Dean is the true star of this film. Dean is basically forgotten today (I barely know anything about her) but she was one of Universal's leading lights in the early 1920s. She appeared in a number of films under Browning's direction, and in OUTSIDE THE LAW I found her acting style to be very restrained and down-to-earth for the period. Dean's Molly is crafty and independent-minded, and she certainly doesn't need to require upon a man. If she's going to go straight, it's going to be on her own terms. 

Chaney still does make a major impression as the tough as nails Black Mike. (If Chaney had lived past 1930, I think he might have become the first real gangster movie star instead of the first real horror film star.) Chaney also plays a secondary role as a kindly Chinese servant. That role seems to exist just to show off Chaney's abilities in makeup, but the character does have an important factor in the climax. That climax, by the way, consists of some very brutal fistfights and gun battles. 

The climax would be even more notable if one was able to see it more clearly on this disc. At about an hour into the story, nitrate composition becomes very bad, and it lasts throughout the end of the film. I'm not trying to complain about this--Kino and Universal have done their best to make this film available to the public--but it has to be mentioned. The disc case states that this is a new 4K 35mm restoration, and for about the first hour, it looks impressive. An alternate ending from a 16mm version is included, but this does not feature the action-packed climax. There's also a comparison between some of the scenes from the 35mm and 16mm versions. The at times bombastic music score on this release is by Anton Sanko. 

This disc also has a new audio commentary by Anthony Slide. He gives out a lot of info on Priscilla Dean and Tod Browning in particular, along with background on the film's production and why the movie is in the shape it's in. 

OUTSIDE THE LAW may not have as much footage of Lon Chaney as some may want, but it is a very effective crime melodrama. It shows why Priscilla Dean was a major star at one time, and that Tod Browning was a fine storyteller during the silent era. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

THE APE On Blu-ray From Kino


In the late 1930s, Boris Karloff signed a deal with low-budget Monogram Pictures to star in a series of films concerning the exploits of a Chinese detective named Mr. Wong. Karloff's last film in the contract wound up being a horror film: 1940's THE APE, just released on Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. 

Karloff plays Dr. Bernard Adrian, a researcher in a small town who is shunned by the local population. Adrian is determined to find a cure for polio--his own wife and daughter died from the disease, and the only person who is friendly to him, a beautiful young neighbor (Maris Wrixon), is suffering from it. When a circus comes to town, an animal trainer is mauled by a gorilla. Adrian uses the victim's spinal fluid in his quest for an antidote. The antidote appears to work, but Adrian needs more of it--and after he kills the gorilla when the beast breaks into his laboratory, the doctor comes up with the idea to use the creature's pelt and disguise as it, that way he can kill others for more spinal fluid. Needless to say, things don't work out too well. 

THE APE isn't as whacked-out as most Monogram horror product from the 1940s, but it still has its moments. For whatever reason, the townsfolk can't stand Dr. Adrian right from the get-go (at the beginning of the film, a bunch of bratty kids throw rocks at the doctor's house, and this is way before he starts to try to kill anybody). The story bends over backwards to make Adrian a sympathetic figure--the local citizens are for the most part dim-witted rubes, and the one person the doc does kill is an absolute louse. Karloff helps the film immeasurably with his low-key, committed performance. At the time THE APE was made, Karloff was playing a lot of mad (or at least determined) scientists--in a series of science-fiction films at Columbia, and in BLACK FRIDAY at Universal. Those movies and THE APE share some similar features, such as an elderly-looking Karloff dealing with test tubes, looking through a microscope, jotting down notes, etc. (Boris played so many overreaching scientists during this period that one wonders how he was able to differentiate between all the scripts.) 

The ape in THE APE was played by gorilla suit veteran Ray "Crash" Corrigan", and, no, he doesn't for a minute make you think you are watching a real animal. (No matter what you think of it as a story element, the "Guy running around in a gorilla suit" sub-plot lasted a long, long time.) The movie only lasts about an hour, which is just as well (the story wouldn't have held up too well much longer than that). The two writers credited, Curt Siodmak and Richard Carroll, came up with much better material in their careers. Director William Nigh was a poverty row mainstay by this time, but he had directed Lon Chaney during the silent era. 

Kino's presentation of the black and white THE APE is quite sharp, especially considering this is a Monogram picture (this certainly isn't a cheap public domain transfer). An image gallery is included, along with two different audio commentaries. One may wonder why a movie like THE APE deserves two commentaries, but I believe Kino must have realized that some special extras were needed for a hour long low-budget black and white film that can easily be accessed on YouTube. 

Tom Weaver's commentary has plenty of info and dry humor, as he tries to make sense of THE APE's plot machinations. Richard Harland Smith's talk focuses mainly on the careers of those who worked on the picture. After listening to both, you'll know all you need (and more) about THE APE. 

Is this Blu-ray worth buying? If you are a Boris Karloff fan, and a fan of this type of material, yes. Monogram's poverty row horrors have gotten a lot of flack over the years, but in my opinion Kino is doing a service for film buffs in giving some of these productions a proper presentation. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020



WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS (original Italian title IL PLANETA ERRANTE) is one of four 1965 Italian science-fiction films detailing the adventures of the crew of a space station called Gamma One. All four films were directed by Antonio Margheriti (the American versions of these features use his "Anthony Dawson" moniker). 

Sometime in the future, the Earth is reeling under a series of natural disasters. Scientists are convinced that these incidents are being caused by a phenomenon in outer space, and Commander Rod Jackson (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) is sent to Gamma One to investigate. The testy Jackson and his crew discover a weird planet-like mass, and the closer it gets to Earth, the more destruction it causes. The men and women of Gamma One must destroy the mass before it's too late. 

WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS isn't as wild or as woolly as the other three entries in the series. In the early part of the story there's a lot of talk, most of it techno-babble. Much of the plot deals with Commander Jackson's relationships with various crew members, which makes the movie feel like a soap opera in space. It doesn't help that the Commander is in a foul mood all of the time. (I much prefer the leadership style of actor Tony Russel, who ran the space station in the first two Gamma One films.) As in the other stories in this series, there's a romantic triangle--the Commander is engaged to a General's daughter, but he has a relationship with Gamma One's communications officer, a red-haired beauty (Ombretta Colli). This situation doesn't really go anywhere, and one wonders why it was even introduced to begin with.

Things start to heat up when the crew gets to the planetoid. The bizarre mass is mostly covered by a red, jelly-like substance that sucks in unfortunate members of the crew. The Commander and his hand-picked team find a way into the mass, where they encounter giant spaghetti-like "arteries". Apparently the planetoid is some sort of living being (this aspect of the story should have been further developed). These sequences are visually striking, but they are hampered by mediocre attempts to show the characters floating and moving about in outer space. (These "space walks" happen frequently throughout the film.) 

The attempt to destroy the mass leads to a crew member's valiant sacrifice (a common story point in many 1950s and 60s science-fiction films), and the movie ends with a somber funeral--a unique way to climax an outer space adventure such as this. 

Actor Giacomo Rossi Stuart was a Eurocult veteran, and he'll be recognizable to Mario Bava fans. A minor role in the film is played by spaghetti western veteran Franco Ressel (he was the main villain in SABATA). The version of this film that I watched was dubbed in English. 

In summation, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS isn't as outlandish or imaginative as the other films in the Gamma One series. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020



Out of all the blog posts that I have written, the one that has by far gotten the most hits is my examination of the screen pairings of Evelyn Ankers and Lon Chaney Jr. ( My theory on why is that Svengoolie shows about once a month a movie featuring Ankers and/or Chaney, and those watching go on the internet to find out more about them. 

In that post I mentioned that there was one movie co-starring Ankers and Lon Jr. that I had not seen--a 1942 Universal production set in early 20th Century Alaska called NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE. Recently I discovered that the film is on YouTube, in a very blurry-looking condition. But it is there, and I did view it. 

I had always assumed that THE WOLF MAN was the first on-screen pairing between Evelyn Ankers and Chaney, but NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE was made first, even though it was released after. One could still say that THE WOLF MAN is the first real time Ankers and Lon significantly interacted with each other, since in NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE they barely have any screen time together. 

The beginning main titles call the film "Jack London's NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE", because it is supposedly based on one of the famed writer's stories. I'm no Jack London expert, but I have a feeling that very little of his work made it into the finished product. (A number of writers are credited with the screenplay, and story credit is given to William Castle, of all people.) 

A group of settlers in early-1900s Alaska are trying to build a decent community out of the wilderness. Into this area arrives a mining expert named John Thorn (Broderick Crawford). Thorn has traveled to the area at the request of the unscrupulous Nate Carson (Lon Chaney Jr.). Carson has evidence there's a gold mine nearby, but the settlers are blocking his access to it. Carson hopes to drive the settlers away by stopping shipments of their food supplies. Thorn decides to help the settlers, one reason being his attraction to town leader Mary Sloan (Evelyn Ankers). It all leads to a knock-down, drag-out fight between Thorn and Carson. 

NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE is very much a "B" movie, being black & white and only running about an hour. Its plot is one that can be found in many Westerns--the conflict between those who want to settle the land and build something for the future and those who want to make a quick buck. There's nothing extraordinary here, except for maybe the outdoor locations around Big Bear Lake in California that were used (and which the fuzzy-looking version of this movie I saw on YouTube doesn't do justice.) 

Lon Chaney Jr. and Evelyn Ankers

The casting of Broderick Crawford as the main hero is somewhat unique. Crawford and Lon Jr. had a lot in common--both of them were more character actor types, big burly guys who had a working class persona about them. Crawford could have easily played Chaney's role. One gets the feeling that Crawford would much rather be carousing with Lon instead of helping out the clean-cut settlers. There's a hint of romance between Crawford and Ankers' characters, but it never seems real, due to the fact the two actors appear totally incompatible with one another. Ankers is her usual regal self, which makes the viewer wonder what in the heck a lady like her is doing in the Alaskan wilderness. Evelyn constantly looks as if she's not enjoying what she's doing--and, if the stories about Crawford and Chaney's rabble-rousing on location are true, one can understand why. 

Lon Jr. makes a good villain, even if he's more low-key than one would expect in the role. (If Chaney had played this same role later in his career, I think he would have been far more blustery and obnoxious.) There's plenty of comic relief character actors here, such as Andy Devine, Lloyd Corrigan, Willie Fung, and Keye Luke, and far too much time is taken up with their antics.

The director of NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE was Erle C. Kenton, a name familiar to classic Universal Monster fans. Kenton's main job here is to keep the story moving as fast as possible (and I bet he was told to keep the budget down as well). The huge brawl that Crawford and Lon engage in at the climax is well done--it has a realistic sloppiness to it, and it appears that most of it was performed by the two actors themselves. 

I wouldn't necessarily say that NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE is must viewing for Universal Monster fans, or fans of Lon Jr. and Evelyn Ankers. Since the couple barely had any screen time together in it, the movie doesn't shed any new light on their future pairings. It may explain why the two were not friends in real life. One wonders what Ankers' reaction would have been if someone had told her on the set that she and Chaney would be spending a lot of working time together in the next four years. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

CURSE OF THE UNDEAD On Blu-ray From Kino


CURSE OF THE UNDEAD is a Horror-Western, made by Universal and released in 1959. I first saw it on the "Son of Svengoolie" program back in the mid-1980s. One would expect a title like this to be included in one of Shout Factory's recent Universal Horror Blu-ray sets, but it gets a release on its own, courtesy of Kino Lorber. 

In the late 1800s, somewhere in the American Southwest, a small town is undergoing a series of mysterious deaths. The victims (stop me if you've heard this before) have tiny puncture marks on their necks. Dolores Carter (Kathleen Crowley) has other problems--her family's ranch is being threatened by the land-hungry Buffer (Bruce Gordon). After Dolores' father and younger brother are killed, she seeks out a gunman to settle the score, much to the consternation of her boyfriend, the town preacher (Eric Fleming). A mysterious, black-clad stranger named Drake Robey (Michael Pate) comes to Dolores' aid. Preacher Dan doesn't trust Robey, especially when he does some sleuthing and finds out that the gunslinger is one of the undead. Robey wants more from Dolores than just her blood, and it all leads to a showdown between him and the preacher. 

One automatically assumes that CURSE OF THE UNDEAD is somewhat silly, due to the mixing of totally different genres. But it comes out better than expected, considering that it is very low budget. Director and co-writer Edward Dein provides some notable set-ups, and he avoids any tongue-in-cheek humor. 

The leading attribute of CURSE OF THE UNDEAD is Michael Pate's portrayal of Drake Robey. Pate is by far the most charismatic member of the cast. His Robey has a cocky gunfighter vibe, but he also has a sense of tragedy about him, explained by a flashback which reveals how he became a vampire. Pate's Robey isn't totally evil--he appears to have feelings for Dolores, or at least he desires her. He's also the only one in the story that stands up to typical Western bad guy Buffer. Pate's vampire is a bit different than other earlier screen incarnations of the undead, in that he can still move around in daylight, cast shadows, and still pine for a normal life. Michael Pate's Drake Robey is a big-screen vampiric performance that should get more respect. 

The rest of the cast is filled with the type of actors one sees cropping up on various classic TV shows on MeTV every day--Kathleen Crowley, Bruce Gordon, Edward Binns, John Hoyt, and so on. Eric Fleming, who had just started on RAWHIDE when he made this, gets stuck with the "David Manners" role, and instead of heroic, he comes off as stuffy and disagreeable. (It makes sense that Dolores appears to be attracted to Drake Robey.) 

The MeTV vibe extends to the movie's style--it's black and white, and filmed on generic Western sets and locations. (If you came into the middle of the picture, without knowing what it was about, you'd think you had stumbled onto an episode of an old TV show.) Despite that, it's an intriguing tale, particularly for fans of vampire cinema. 

CURSE OF THE UNDEAD is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen on this disc, and the picture quality is quite sharp. The sound is excellent as well, bringing out Irving Gertz's ulta-spooky music score. 

The main extra on this Blu-ray is a new audio commentary by Tom Weaver. As expected, it's filled with facts and trivia, and by Weaver's remembrances of his personal interactions with the director and members of the cast. (For whatever reason, Weaver seems to be a bit snarkier than usual this time around.) A few guests make vocal appearances on the talk, including David Schecter, who discusses the film's music. An extensive image gallery is included (ironically almost none of the advertising artwork reveals that the story is set in the American Old West). A few trailers for other Kino horror/sci-fi Blu-rays are also here. 

CURSE OF THE UNDEAD is one of the last films made by Universal on its lot that dealt with Gothic horror elements. It certainly isn't on the same level as the monster classics made by the company in the 1930s and 40s, but it is effective, and the gunslinger-vampire angle makes it stand out. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020



ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE is a 1960 Italian science-fiction film, directed by Antonio Margheriti. I viewed it on the Tubi streaming channel. The version I saw had an American International Pictures logo at the beginning, and an English voice track and credits. (Margheriti was credited with his usual pseudonym, Anthony Dawson.) 

In the year 2116, reporter Ray Peterson (Rik Von Nutter) is assigned to cover a story on a space satellite. Upon his arrival Peterson receives a frosty reception from the satellite's crew and its commander (David Montresor), who think that the reporter will just be a nuisance. Peterson saves the satellite's navigator, Lucy (Gabriella Farinon) from injury, and the two are instantly attracted to one another, further antagonizing the commander, who also has an interest in the girl. Those on the satellite learn that a wayward spaceship, Alpha Two, has re-entered the solar system, and is on a collision course for Earth. Ray goes along on an attempt to destroy Alpha Two, and he winds up landing on and entering the craft in order to stop it. 

ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE doesn't have anywhere near the flash and flair of the later sci-fi entries helmed by Antonio Margheriti. The movie tries to take a realistic approach to what it would be like to live and work in outer space, but it is hindered by some desultory special effects work and generic characters. Ray Peterson is more annoying than heroic--for a guy that lives in the 22nd Century, and has been in space several times, and is a reporter to boot, he doesn't seem to know all that much about what it is going on around him. He's constantly asking basic questions about everything, which enables the crew of the satellite to explain to him--and the viewer--what is going on. The actor who plays Peterson, Rik Von Nutter, isn't helped by being dubbed, but he's not exactly all that magnetic on the screen to begin with. (Von Nutter would go on to be one of the least-remembered men who played James Bond's friend Felix Leiter in THUNDERBALL.) 

This movie has only one major female character in Lucy, and she doesn't wear any skimpy futuristic costumes--she spends all of her time in common work clothes or a space suit. Love triangles would be a recurring theme in Antonio Margheriti's science-fiction features, but in this story it seems contrived, since Peterson and Lucy fall for each other having barely met. 

The person who catches one's attention the most here is a space veteran named Al, played by a black American actor (and Broadway dancer) named Archie Savage. Al is wise and philosophical, and he acts as sort of a mentor to Ray. Having any black male play a major role in any science-fiction movie made during this period was unusual, let alone the role of an intelligent, competent individual. One wishes that the film revolved around Al. 

Despite all the outer space incidents depicted in it, this movie is still very talky, with plenty of interior scenes. The special effects look more like toys than models. The wild, otherworldy aspects one sees in other Italian science-fiction films are absent here. There's no aliens, or uncharted galactic realms, or any real villains. The Alpha Two spaceship that is supposed to be a threat to all humanity isn't very impressive, and Ray attempts to shut it down by using some good old-fashioned wire cutters. There are a few good ideas here, such as Ray and the crew of the spaceship taking him to the satellite being put into hibernation during the trip. The viewer isn't given much of an idea what society in the 22nd Century is like, except for hints that a world order is in charge. While in space, all the characters are assigned a letters and numbers combination code, and this is displayed quite prominently on the backs of their uniforms. In my mind this made them resemble inmates in a prison. For some reason all the scenes in outer space are in black & white. 

ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE was the first film that Antonio Margheriti would receive full credit for directing, and his style--and choice of subject matter--would get much bolder as time went by. Margheriti would follow this movie up with BATTLE OF THE WORLDS, a much better science-fiction tale (I wrote a blog post on it a couple years ago). It was with a series of features about a space station called Gamma One that Margheriti's imagination and creativity would really flourish. ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE just isn't as riveting as Margheriti's later works. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Brian Clemens' THRILLER--"Spell Of Evil"


Among the many streaming services I have access to through Disney+ and Xfinity is the Tubi channel. I've seen a lot of obscure movies and shows on Tubi, and I've written a number of blog posts on them. 

I recently discovered that Tubi carries episodes of a early 1970s British TV show called THRILLER. This isn't the famed Boris Karloff THRILLER that was produced in the 1960s. The British THRILLER was created by Brian Clemens, best known for his work on THE AVENGERS. 

I had no knowledge whatsoever of this show. Being that it was made in England during the seventies, one can assume that there were many veterans of Hammer Films involved in the program--and that assumption is correct. An episode listing that particularly caught my eye was for "Spell of Evil". This entry starred Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel, who played the young married couple in one of Hammer's best films, THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. The episode also starred Diane Cilento, who worked for Hammer and made a memorable appearance in THE WICKER MAN. 

"Spell of Evil" starts out with a pre-credits sequence that shows the wife of businessman Tony Mansell (Edward de Souza) dying of a mysterious illness. Months later, the lonely Tony decides to submit his name to a dating service. Also immediately after he does this, a bold raven-haired beauty named Clara (Diane Cilento) shows up at his office, and sweeps him off his feet. Tony and Clara get married, and the businessman's life seems revitalized. Tony's loyal and efficient secretary, Liz (Jennifer Daniel) isn't so sure. Liz is distrustful of the new Mrs. Mansell, and her feelings are exacerbated by the fact that she has a crush on her boss. Strange occurrences start happening to Tony's associates, and the man himself starts to suffer from the same symptoms as his late first wife. Liz investigates the background of the mysterious Clara, and discovers that she is a centuries-old witch. 

"Spell of Evil" is an okay tale, but it's fairly easy to discern what's going to happen after the first ten minutes of the show. (Terence Feely is credited as the writer.) Diane Cilento acts suspicious from the very get go, and you'd have to be rather dense not to know that she's behind all the "unexplained" circumstances. The episode is about 70 minutes long, and honestly the story could have been edited down to a half-hour and it wouldn't have lost much. 

Like most British TV shows of this period, the interior scenes of this episode were shot on videotape, while the very few outdoor shots were on film. This gives the show a soap-opera type of feel, which I think mitigates the suspense. There's also a few annoying zoom-ins (the director of "Spell of Evil" was also the show's producer, John Sichel). 

Hammer fans will enjoy seeing Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel together again (this time in modern dress). De Souza is hindered by a wavy perm in his hair that is distracting. Daniel plays very much the same type of character that she portrayed in THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and THE REPTILE--a kindly, stable individual who tries to help others. She is the one who finds out the truth about Clara, by seeking out a Van Helsing-like professor. This aspect of the tale comes near the very end of the show, and more should have been made of it. Diane Cilento gets the showiest role, and she makes the most of it. Would a more subtle approach to the character of Clara had worked? Maybe not, since the episode wasn't really all that thrilling. 

It's hard to judge a television show on the basis of just one episode. If you're familiar with most fantasy/horror tropes, "Spell of Evil" will be very predictable. I might check out a few more episodes of this THRILLER--there's plenty of others that feature Hammer stars. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020



Out of all the films that Turner Classic Movies is showing this October in honor of Peter Cushing being their Star of the Month, the only one I had never seen was TIME WITHOUT PITY. This is a 1957 black & white melodrama directed by Joseph Losey, with a very distinguished cast. 

Things are not going very well for failed writer David Graham (Michael Redgrave). He's just gotten out of a sanatorium in Canada, where he was undergoing rehabilitation for his alcoholism, and he was without contact with the outside world. Back in London, he finds that his estranged son Alec (Alec McCowen) is going to be executed in 24 hours for murdering his girlfriend! Graham gets little help from his son's lawyer (Peter Cushing), so the man decides to do some investigating on his own. He learns that his son had a friendship with the family of Robert Stanford (Leo McKern), an overbearing automobile magnate. Graham is desperate to find something that will clear his son, but the young man won't open up to him, and the Stanford family has plenty of secrets of their own. The real obstacle is Graham himself....can he keep himself sober, and focused, on the almost impossible task at hand?

The "Lead character has only 24 hours to save someone from being executed for a crime they didn't commit" plot has been used in several movies and TV shows. TIME WITHOUT PITY gives a unique spin on this plot due to the character Michael Redgrave plays and his performance. David Graham is a fidgety, out-of-sorts fellow, which is understandable due to the circumstances that he is dealing with. The suspense in this tale comes from the fact that the viewer doesn't believe that Graham isn't going to be much help to his son whatsoever. 

Graham meets a number of eccentric people during his short odyssey, including Robert Stanford's not-so-dutiful wife (Ann Todd), the auto magnate's lover (a sultry Lois Maxwell) and her flighty mother (Renee Houston), and his son's girlfriend's sister (an unrecognizable Joan Plowright in her big screen debut). Hammer fans will notice Richard Wordsworth and Peter Copley in very small roles. (Even though he's playing a "normal" person, Wordsworth still comes off as creepy.) Due to the heavy dramatics of the story, most of the acting is overwrought, particularly from Leo McKern. A pre-credits scene lets the audience know what really happened to Alec's girlfriend, but even from that standpoint McKern comes off as rather obvious. 

Joseph Losey and cinematographer Freddie Francis (billed as "Frederick") make effective use of real-life London locations, but they also add in such artistic touches as plenty of reflective surfaces and several clocks (as to be expected in a story such as this). The bit-of-a-twist ending is surprising, if downbeat. But it fits the film rather well, since the entire affair is downbeat. 

As for Peter Cushing....even though he gets fourth billing, he has very little screen time overall, and he spends most of it reacting to Michael Redgrave. Cushing does give a solid, low-key performance--he's a model of restraint compared to the other actors in the film. But I wouldn't call this role a major event in Cushing's movie career. 

TIME WITHOUT PITY is well-done, and it has some suspenseful elements to it. I liked it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it multiple times. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

My Favorite Episodes Of THE TWILIGHT ZONE

A couple of weeks ago, the legendary Joshua Kennedy informed me that he had been engaged in watching several episodes of the original THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV series. He asked me what my favorite episodes were...and that was not an easy question. THE TWILIGHT ZONE is one of my favorite TV series of all time, and it's one of the few series in which I have every episode on home video. Making a manageable list of favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episodes required a bit of work, since there are so many of them, and so many of them are very well done. 

There's very few TWILIGHT ZONE entries that I would call weak or even mediocre. The entire five season run of the show had a level of excellence and intelligence that is still rare in American television today. Obviously the brilliant writer Rod Serling was the main force behind THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but several talented individuals contributed, including many classic Hollywood veteran directors and actors, and even music composers such as Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith. 

The majority of episodes were written by Serling, but plenty of other greats penned tales for the series, notably Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson. THE TWILIGHT ZONE is best known for its fantasy/science-fiction/horror aspects, but it never was a show for kids--there's a sense of real adult drama in the majority of the episodes that one almost never finds in the genre of the fantastic. Most of the stories told on THE TWILIGHT ZONE are still as relevant as ever (some even more so). 

So here's my list of favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. I tried to avoid picking just the more renowned ones, but certainly some of the most famous tales will wind up here. Please remember that this list only applies to what in my opinion is the real TWILIGHT ZONE, the 1959-64 TV series. This has nothing to do with any later reboots, including the most recent one, which I have no particular inclination to watch.

"The Hitch-Hiker" (First Season) Written by Rod Serling, Directed by Alvin Ganzer
A young woman (Inger Stevens) is taking a cross-country trip by car....and she happens to see the same hitch-hiker over and over again. A simple tale--but quite effectively realized, and perfect for THE TWILIGHT ZONE format. 

"Time Enough at Last" (First Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by John Brahm
A introspective bookworm (Burgess Meredith) survives a nuclear war...but he's not all that put out by the situation, since it gives him plenty of time to read...or so he thinks. This is one of the best known episodes, and it features many of the elements one would see in the show over and over again--put-upon ordinary characters, the end of the world, and the idea that you should be careful what you wish for. 

"The Fever" (First Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by Robert Florey
An uptight middle-aged man (Everett Sloane) reluctantly accompanies his wife on a free trip to Las Vegas. By happenstance the man puts a coin in a slot machine--and he's hooked. I'll never forget this one, mainly because of the way the slot machine "calls" its victim's name through the sound of clinking coins!

"A Stop at Willoughby" (First Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by Robert Parrish
A burned-out businessman (James Daly) gets off his commuter train and finds that he is in a bucolic 19th Century town called Willoughby. As the businessman's life gets worse, he decides that Willoughby is where he needs to be. One could look at this as a tragic tale....but maybe the main character is really better off, wherever he wound up. 

"Walking Distance" (First Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by Robert Stevens
This tale is the flip side of "A Stop at Willoughby". Another businessman tired of the rat race (Gig Young) goes back to his small home town, only to find that is is exactly the way it was when he was a child. But this time, the lesson is that you can't--and you really shouldn't--go home again. One of the most moving episodes, featuring music by Bernard Herrmann. 

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (First Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by Ron Winston
There may have not been any internet arguments when this episode was first aired in 1960, but the ability of humans to turn on and attack each other over essentially nothing was still the same. You don't need aliens to destroy the Earth when humanity is more than willing to do it themselves. 

"Long Live Walter Jameson" (First Season) Written by Charles Beaumont Directed by Anton Leader
Walter Jameson (Kevin McCarthy) really, really looks young for his age. THE TWILIGHT ZONE would deal with the subject of immortality many times, but none better than this episode. 

"Night of the Meek" (Second Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by Jack Smight
This was one of the few episodes of the show to be shot on videotape. A drunken department store Santa Claus (Art Carney) gets fired on Christmas Eve, but then is given the gift of becoming the real Saint Nick. An unusually touching and warm tale from Serling. 

"Shadow Play" (Second Season) Written by Charles Beaumont Directed by John Brahm 
A man (Dennis Weaver) who is on death row tries to convince everyone around him that he is actually having a nightmare, and if he is executed, their lives will end as well. An episode with a truly mind-bending and thought-provoking premise. 

"The Invaders" (Second Season) Written by Richard Matheson Directed by Douglas Heyes
Yes, it's the "tiny men in spacesuits threaten old farm woman" episode. But it still packs a wallop, due to the overall presentation of the idea and Agnes Moorhead's performance. 

"On Thursday We Leave For Home" (Fourth Season) Written by Rod Serling Directed by Buzz Kulik 
This is one of the hour-long episodes of the show. The extra-long format didn't really work for it, but it did for this story. A group of colonists have been stranded on a backwater planet for years. The only reason they have been able to survive is through the strength and determination of their self-appointed leader, a man named Benteen (James Whitmore). When a spaceship arrives, and the group suddenly learns that they are going to be taken back to Earth, their reliance on Benteen goes away, and the man becomes angry and jealous. This episode is an example of what THE TWILIGHT ZONE did best, in using a fantasy backdrop to examine everyday human behavior. This story contains some of Serling's best writing, and James Whitmore excels in the prime role of Benteen, a man who sadly finds out he's not as important as he once thought. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Peter Cushing--The Turner Classic Movies Star Of The Month For October


Ever since I've been on the internet, I've constantly suggested that the Turner Classic Movies cable television channel feature Peter Cushing as a Star of the Month, or at least give him a day during their annual Summer Under The Stars event. A few years ago, TCM featured Christopher Lee as a Star of the Month (in October of course). That got my hopes up that eventually Cushing would receive the same honor. 

Now it has finally come to pass--Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month on TCM for October 2020. Should it have happened much earlier than this? Probably, but this news is one of the best things to happen in this ridiculously horrible year, so we might as well enjoy it while we can. 

Every Monday night in October various Cushing films will be shown starting at 8 PM American EST, and continuing to the following early morning, a total of 25 movies in all. 

An examination of the schedule reveals plenty of the "usual suspects" when it comes to Cushing's acting career, but there's more than a few surprises as well. Let's look at the schedule week by week. (All start times are American Eastern Standard Time.)

Monday, October 5-Tuesday October 6








This is an unusual way to start off the Cushing tribute, since he has very small roles in every one of these films except CASH ON DEMAND and THE END OF THE AFFAIR. CASH ON DEMAND gets the prime time slot, as well it should, since Cushing does have a starring role in it, and it contains one of his best screen performances. (It is also a Hammer film which is not a horror movie.) The last film on this list, VIGIL IN THE NIGHT, is an example of Cushing's work in Hollywood before WWII. It also stars Carole Lombard, who was born on October 6--and because of that, TCM will be showing Lombard movies for most of the day. I point this out because Peter Cushing is my favorite actor, and Carole Lombard is my favorite actress. 

Monday, October 12-Tuesday, October 13

SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST 8PM                                                                                          



SHE 12:30AM



Some interesting titles here, with Cushing playing famous characters such as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Dr. Who. The 1965 Hammer version of SHE pops up on TCM often, while VIOLENT PLAYGROUND is much like the Oct. 5/6 lineup in that Cushing has a small role in it. The exceedingly sleazy CORRUPTION gets the late late late slot, which is just as well. 

Monday, October 19-Tuesday, October 20







Hammer time here, with TCM showing most of the best horror films from the company that Cushing appeared in. I think it's kind of refreshing that THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES gets the prime time slot, instead of Cushing as either Van Helsing or Baron Frankenstein. Cushing's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes for Hammer doesn't get screened nearly as often as his Gothic horror roles. I do wish that FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED got a better time slot, since it is one of Hammer's best (although darkest) films, with Cushing at his most chilling. 

Monday, October 26-Tuesday, October 27






DRACULA A.D. 1972 4:45AM 

One would expect TCM to start things off with the two Cushing-Lee modern Dracula movies, but instead they go with the somewhat obscure NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT and MADHOUSE. FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is one of the better Amicus anthologies that Cushing appeared in, and while SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN has its merits, PC is only in it for one scene! 

All in all, I think the films being screened give a decent overall presentation of Cushing's movie career. There's some of his supporting roles before he started working for Hammer, some of this all-time horror classics, plenty of his collaborations with Christopher Lee, and a few titles that show what he had to go through due to his status as a genre star. 

For those who do not own most of these titles on home video, or are not that familiar with them, or do not have the ability to record them, you might find yourselves staying up quite late (especially on October 19 and October 26). But it'll be worth it! 

I'm very happy Turner Classic Movies chose to honor Peter Cushing in this way. He's always been beloved by monster movie geeks, but this gives his extraordinary acting talent a chance to be exposed to a more mainstream audience.