Thursday, June 29, 2023



When THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES debuted on the ABC TV network in March, 1992, it had a huge amount of hype attached to it. One must remember that the early 1990s were the "In-between years" for Lucasfilm--the early Star Wars and Indy theatrical films had come and gone, and at this point no one was expecting any more of them in the future. George Lucas fans were excited to see what he could do with a weekly TV series. 

By the end of the 1993 TV season, however, ABC decided to not renew the series. The hype had considerably died down, and as I remember there wasn't much of an outcry over the series going away. (Actually, the series did continue--four TV movies would be released later on The Family Channel. Does anyone even remember The Family Channel??) So why did one of the most heavily anticipated TV shows of all time come to such a quick end? And why has it seemingly barely made an impact? 

I was a regular viewer of the Young Indy show at the beginning....but I soon began to realize that this show had very little to do with THE Indiana Jones that we watched on the big screen. The Young Indy show was more George Lucas' attempt at a history lesson than a venue for fantastic adventure. 

Lucas wanted to use the Young Indy character as a way to get younger folks interested in history and social studies. That's a noble idea....but viewers (like me) wanted to see young Indiana Jones do, well, Indiana Jones type of stuff. They didn't want to be given a lesson in early 20th Century world affairs. 

The show provided stories from two periods of Indy's life: a 10 year-old Indy (played by Corey Carrier) and a teenage Indy (played by Sean Patrick Flanery). The preteen Indy only featured in a handful of episodes--I think George Lucas realized there were only so many stories you could build around a 10 year-old kid. (Watching one of the Young Indy episodes starring Corey Carrier on Disney+, I came to the realization that he kind of reminded me a bit of Jake Lloyd--which explains a lot about how THE PHANTOM MENACE turned out.)

The original TV episodes also had introductions and endings featuring a 90 year-old Indy (played by George Hall). Old Indy would tell a story relating to his youth, which would lead into the actual episode. The joke was that Old Indy was invariably looked upon as a crazy old coot, and no one really wanted to listen to him. I never liked the "Old Indy" idea--I thought it lessened the larger-than-life quality of the character. (Apparently Lucasfilm agreed--I'll get to that later.) 

I thought Sean Patrick Flanery did a decent job as the teenage Indy. He was certainly handsome and earnest enough--but his Indy is just too poised, too clean-cut. Harrison Ford's Indy had plenty of rough edges, and a mercenary streak. The teenage Indy just seems too decent at times. I realize the Young Indy TV show was aimed at younger viewers, and George Lucas certainly didn't want to show the character doing anything nefarious....but I never felt that Sean Patrick Flanery was playing the real Indiana Jones. 

One big problem Flanery had was that he wasn't competing against Harrison Ford--he was competing against River Phoenix. Phoenix had of course played the teenage Indy in the opening sequence in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, and he absolutely nailed Harrison Ford's body language and speaking pattern. 

Phoenix also played, in my opinion, a much more believable Young Indy. In LAST CRUSADE, we are shown that Indy lives with his father in a run-down house at the edge of the desert in the American Southwest, and it doesn't appear to be much of a life. In the Young Indy TV series, the character travels all over the world, meeting all sorts of famous people. Obviously, George Lucas wasn't going to build a whole TV series around a teenager and his uncommunicative dad sitting around a bleak landscape, but the movie Young Indy and the TV Young Indy feel like two different people. 

George Lucas was determined to get as many famous historical events--and as many famous historical personalities--into the Young Indy show as possible. Among just some of the renowned people that Young Indy meets and interacts with are Winston Churchill, John Ford, Thomas Edison, Sigmund Freud, Paul Robeson, Pancho Villa, Woodrow Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, Emperor Karl of Austria, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Ho Chi Minh....and that's just a partial list. If Indy had met a historical figure or two every other episode, I could accept that. But he meets multiple famous figures in every episode, and he even becomes personal friends with some of them. The amount of world celebrities shoehorned into the Young Indy show got to be ridiculous. 

The same could also be said about the various historical events Indy winds up witnessing. I realize this was just a TV show, but.....what are the odds of one person experiencing all these happenings?? In most of the shows, there are so many historical figures, and so many important events going on, that Indy is reduced to being more of an observer than an actual participant. 

I've only re-watched a few Young Indy episodes on Disney+, but what I did see didn't change my original thoughts on the series. The shows are very dialogue-laden, and they even feel stuffy at times. Lucasfilm used the Young Indy show as a test platform for CGI, which was in its infancy at the time. The early CGI used on Young Indy looks terrible now--reinforcing my belief that practical effects age much, much better than anything created digitally. 

While doing internet research on the show I found out that the entire series was filmed in 16mm. I was taken aback by this--I vividly remember the publicity for the show going on and on about how its was filmed all over the world, and how Lucasfilm spent so much money, time, and energy on it. I don't know if the episodes being presented on Disney+ have been remastered or restored in any way, but the shows I watched have a dark, murky look to them. 

Something else about the Young Indy show being available on Disney+. These are not the original broadcast versions of the show. When the show was being prepped for home video release, Lucasfilm took the original 28 episodes and 4 TV movies and reorganized and re-edited them into 22 "chapters" (new linking material was provided for some of the episodes as well). The Old Indy wraparounds were jettisoned also. These 22 chapters are what you see when you currently watch the show on Disney+. I certainly don't miss the Old Indy segments, but once again Lucasfilm has taken one of their products and made it impossible to see the original version of it. I think there's something disconcerting about that. 

I'm kind of surprised that Disney+ decided to carry the Young Indy show--for years and years it seemed as if Lucasfilm didn't even want to admit it existed. Obviously the hype over the new Indy movie is the main reason for Disney's action. I wonder how folks who weren't even born when the Young Indy show debuted would react to it now. Considering that most people didn't get too excited about it in the early 1990s, I highly doubt that the iPhone touting masses of today would be very impressed with it. You can't fault George Lucas for wanting to get viewers interested in history, but a TV show based on one of the most famous characters in filmed entertainment should have been much more successful. 

One more thing--Harrison Ford did make a cameo appearance in one of the Young Indy episodes. He appears as Indy in the introduction and climax of "The Mystery of the Blues". You might be able to win some bets with that information. 

Monday, June 26, 2023



THE LAST CHANCE is a 1968 Italian spy film, originally titled SACCO INTERNAZIONALE. It happens to be the very last film that Eurospy queen Daniela Bianchi starred in--and I doubt after this movie she missed the acting business very much. 

The MacGuffin in this espionage tale is an Albanian freighter that has exploded near the Italian coast. An American newspaper reporter based in Rome named Patrick Harris (Tab Hunter) has some information about the incident, and various folks from the West and the East want to know what he knows, including an American embassy official (Michael Rennie). Soon Harris is on the run, wanted for a murder he didn't commit and trying to avoid attempts on his own life. 

Most Italian genre knockoffs have enough crazy elements to be entertaining, but THE LAST CHANCE opts for a more down-to-earth approach. This approach, however, just makes the picture slow-moving and dull. There's no exotic locales, or James Bond-style hanky-panky going on--and there's no impressive action sequences either. Writer-director Giuseppe Rosati (who is billed on the credits as Niny Rosati) uses way too many tight close-ups, and there's also a plethora of shots of various characters sitting in a car while driving. 

Tab Hunter wasn't the most charismatic actor to begin with, but he doesn't have much to work with here. We never really find out what's so important about the Albanian ship blowing up, and we don't really get to know why everyone in the film thinks Patrick Harris is such a threat. The clumsy editing doesn't help a confusing plot.

Daniela Bianchi plays Harris' wife, and she spends most of her time worrying and looking anxious. She's lovely as always, but she doesn't even get the advantage of a stylish wardrobe. Michael Rennie has very little screen time before he's bumped off. Spaghetti Western fans will recognize Franco Ressel as a police inspector. 

THE LAST CHANCE has a third-act twist that I sort of anticipated.....but this was negated by another twist, coming at the very last minute, that just seemed a desperate attempt to give the story a "happy" ending. 

There are far better Eurospy movies out there than THE LAST CHANCE. Daniela Bianchi herself starred in a few of them--and she deserved a better production for her last film. 

Sunday, June 25, 2023



Last Friday night I attended a White Sox-Red Sox game in Chicago. The White Sox lost (what did you expect?), but I got home in time to view an episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR on MeTV. What made this particular episode special is that it guest starred Christopher Lee, and I had never seen it before. 

"The Sign of Satan" (which was first broadcast in May of 1964) concerns a mysterious European actor named Karl Jorla (Christopher Lee of course). A Hollywood production company has discovered an obscure Austrian film that Jorla appears in, and a producer is so impressed by the actor's eerie presence that he wants the man to come to America and star in a horror movie. Jorla arrives, willing and ready to work....but the fellow has some strange attitudes, such as refusing any type of publicity and choosing his own secretive living quarters. Jorla reveals that the Austrian film he worked on was made by real devil worshipers, and it contained a real Black Mass. It also was never intended to be shown to a general audience. Jorla is desperately afraid that the sect behind the film will attempt to inflict some sort of revenge upon him. His Hollywood co-workers think Jorla is exaggerating, but they soon find out how truthful he has been all along. 

The role of Karl Jorla was made for Christopher Lee. There were still plenty of actual horror stars around in 1964--but Boris Karloff would have been too old, Vincent Price too obvious, and Lon Chaney Jr. wouldn't have fit the role at all (neither, I think, would have Peter Cushing). Ironically the short story that "The Sign of Satan" is based on, Robert Bloch's "Return to the Sabbath", was written in the 1930s. (Bloch did not do the teleplay of "The Sign of Satan" -it was written instead by Barre Lyndon.) By 1964 Lee had already appeared in a number of European big screen horrors, and while at the time he had gotten global attention for his Hammer monsters, he was still probably a mysterious figure to most American TV viewers. 

Lee's Jorla is certainly a disconcerting character at times. Lee uses what sounds to be a Germanic-style accent (although one could also say his voice sounds generically central European). Lee is also fitted out with dark fake eyebrows and a wig that resembles one of Elvis Presley's late 1950s hairdos. I'm sure the eyebrows and wig were an attempt to make Lee look even more spooky, but they're also distracting at times, and Lee didn't really need them. 

Christopher Lee in "The Sign of Satan"

As shown in the above picture, Lee in the episode is able to make use of one of his most expressive features--his hands. One important point about "The Sign of the Satan" is that Lee is not the menace--he's the one being menaced. Due to this Lee's Jorla is pensive and abrupt around others, and the actor even gets to be involved in a fight sequence when Jorla is attacked by an assailant. 

As for the plot of "The Sign of Satan", if you're familiar with this type of material (and heaven knows I am), you won't be surprised with how the story plays out. One issue is that the story could have been easily told in just a half-hour. (THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR was obviously the longer version of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Both this series and THE TWILIGHT ZONE worked better in the shorter format.) 

"The Sign of Satan" was directed by Robert Douglas. a regular on the series. Nothing stylistically stands out about it, except the footage from the obscure film Jorla appeared in--it at least looks more interesting than what happens in the main story. Familiar classic TV faces such as Gilbert Green, Adam Roarke, and Myron Healey play the Hollywood types working alongside Jorla, and Gia Scala plays Jorla's leading lady. One expects that the exotic Scala will make a major impact on the story, such as having a relationship with Jorla or being endangered by his situation, but she gets very little to do. 

The major importance that "The Sign of Satan" had on Christopher Lee's acting career was that it was the first time he traveled to Hollywood. According to Jonathan Rigby's biography of Lee, the actor arrived in California in March of 1964 to work on the episode. Lee enjoyed his short stay, despite his misgivings about leaving his wife and infant daughter back in their current residence in Switzerland. Lee made a few contacts, and met a few celebrities--but he was disappointed in not getting a chance to meet Alfred Hitchcock himself. (Lee would make many more trips to Hollywood in his life, and at one point he lived there for a time.) 

I wouldn't call "The Sign of Satan" a great example of 1960s American TV, but it was a major event in the career of Christopher Lee. If you are a true fan of the actor you need to see it if you haven't--just try not to keep staring at the wig he's wearing. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023



WOMEN IN WAR is a 1940 picture made by Republic, concerning the trials and tribulations of a group of Englishwomen who become nurses at the beginning of Britain's entry into WWII. The movie features several actors familiar to classic horror films fans, including Peter Cushing. 

Wendy Barrie plays Pamela, a spoiled woman who accidentally kills a man while defending herself from his unwanted advances. Her lawyer gets her out of the situation by having her join the women's auxiliary corps as a nurse. After her training, Pamela is sent to France, where she attracts the attention of a handsome RAF pilot (Patric Knowles). The pilot, however, is engaged to one of Pamela's fellow nurses (Mae Clarke). Pamela decides to encourage the pilot, and this and her cynical attitude doesn't make her very popular with the rest of the nursing staff. It all ends with the nurses being called to the front and having to avoid being shelled during an artillery barrage. 

If you didn't know any better, you'd assume that WOMEN IN WAR was made by Universal. There are a number of actors in it that were veterans of that studio's thrillers, including Patric Knowles, Mae Clarke, Lawrence Grant, Lester Matthews, and the ubiquitous Holmes Herbert. Peter Cushing has a very small role as a RAF captain, but he does get to be onscreen alongside Mae Clarke a few rimes, making this a direct connection between the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

Wendy Barrie plays the role of Pamela almost too well. She's so cynical and cold that one wishes that somehow she gets her comeuppance. Pamela doesn't want to be a military nurse, so one expects that her character will go through a change of heart and perform some sort of heroic or noble act...but she doesn't. Pamela is so unlikable that the viewer doesn't care too much about what becomes of her, or the fact that the matron of the nurses (Elsie Janish) happens to be her mother, which she hasn't seen in 20 years. Mae Clarke (as she almost always did in a supporting part) steals the movie as the decent alternative to Pamela. 

WOMEN IN WAR was directed by John H. Auer, and it was actually nominated for an Oscar in the best special effects category. The FX battle sequences are quite good for the period (and the budget), but the story is more like a soap opera instead of a war tale. Film geeks will appreciate it the most, due to the supporting cast. 

Monday, June 19, 2023



PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU (1970) is something of a follow-up to the popular 60s comedy WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT. It attempts to be sexy and funny, but it's just plain weird. The main reason I watched it was due to the fact that Veronica Carlson makes an appearance in it. 

PUSSYCAT is set in Rome and concerns the amorous adventures of one Fred C. Dobbs, played by Ian McShane. (Yes, the character does have the exact name as the one played by Humphrey Bogart in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.) Fred is an apparently successful English playwright, who doesn't do much actual writing, because he's too busy living it up in Italy with all the various women in his life. Fred has a wife (Anna Calder-Marshall), a mistress (Beba Loncar), a buxom maid who he is very familiar with (Gaby Andre), and he's just hired the maid's gorgeous teenage niece (Katia Christina) as his "secretary". Fred also has one-night stands with just about every woman he comes into contact with. All this activity bothers his wife, who decides to play the field for herself, especially when she encounters a handsome American movie star who goes by the name Grant Granite (John Gavin). In between all the many romantic encounters between all the main characters, all sorts of wacky and bizarre happenings ensue. Unfortunately none of them are very amusing, or entertaining. 

PUSSYCAT tries to be a Swinging Sixties sex romp, with plenty of mini-skirts, cleavage, beautiful women, and several makeout sessions, but it just winds up being a big tease. Nothing really raunchy ever happens, and because all the characters act so silly, you don't really care what happens to them. The movie tries to set up Ian McShane as cool, hip, and charming, but from today's perspective he's an irresponsible sexist lout. It's also hard to believe that every woman in the movie would go swooning over him, even if this is a dopey comedy. 

Writer-director Rod Amateau was an American TV veteran, and it shows in the fact that the film's attempts at humor are on a very mediocre sitcom level. There's a number of LAUGH-IN-style blackout gags, parodies of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, freeze-frames, and occasional sarcastic narration. Fred's best friend is a "scalp therapist" (Fred's afraid of losing his hair) who gets a kick out of listening to his client's stories of his numerous affairs. The goofy doctor (Severn Darden) has a stern wife (Joyce Van Patten), and the two are constantly trying to kill each other (sadly a lot of screen time is spent on this subplot). Fred also has nightmares about a male gorilla who is in love with him (don't ask). 

Towards the climax all the main characters get involved in the production of a lousy spaghetti western. The ironic thing about that is the cinematographer of PUSSYCAT was Tonino Delli Colli, who did the same job on THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. But even he couldn't make this movie any better. 

As for Veronica Carlson, she's in the pre-credits sequence (she and Ian McShane are trying to make out in her very small car). Veronica also appears in about the first twenty minutes of the movie, and after that she is gone....and so was my interest in anything else about the story. Another famed Hammer lady, Madeline Smith, has a very small role as Fred's young sister-in-law, who is another one of his conquests. Eurocult veteran Paul Muller has a cameo as a guru at a party--every Swinging Sixties movie has a party sequence where all sorts of fine-looking young folks wearing eccentric costumes dance and gyrate for about five minutes. 

The music score for PUSSYCAT was by Lalo Schifrin, even though variations on Burt Bacharach's WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT theme are used a number of times. There's also a main credits song called "Groove Into It" which is sung by a guy who sounds like Tom Jones, but his name is actually one Henry Shed. 

PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU is one of those many 1960s bedroom farces that have aged horribly. It's also 100 minutes long, and by the time I was halfway through it I was waiting for it to end. It does have plenty of attractive women in it (Veronica Carlson, as expected, is simply stunning), but it never adds up to anything. I watched this film on Tubi, and I will say that their widescreen presentation of it was of Blu-ray quality. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023



With the new Indiana Jones movie coming out at the end of this month, I've decided to write a few Indy-centric posts this June. Today I'll be looking at what is probably the most controversial Indy film--a movie that still gets fans going on the internet 15 years after its release. 

I saw INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL during its opening weekend back in May 2008. At the end of the movie, I just sat there and thought, "Well...." I was trying to be positive, and think what I liked about it, but honestly, nothing really stood out. It wasn't great, but it wasn't was kind of, okay. And maybe that's the biggest problem that CRYSTAL SKULL has--it's merely okay, when it is an INDIANA JONES movie, directed by Spielberg, produced by Lucas. I expected something more. After a few days thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that it probably didn't even need to be made in the first place. 

I purchased the film when it came out on DVD, but until I re-watched it last night, I hadn't seen it in years. I usually watch RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK at least once a year--as a matter of fact I viewed it again a few weeks ago--and I re-watch the other Indy films about every other year. But I've never felt the need to watch CRYSTAL SKULL on a regular or even a semi-regular basis. 

Watching it again didn't change my original feelings about it. It's not as terrible as some make out, it's a decent two hours of entertainment, but....there's something lacking in it. It seems to be lacking....tension? A sense of danger? My great friend, Joshua Kennedy of Gooey Films, says it lacks grit. 

One thing that needs to be discussed is George Lucas' original intentions for the film. According to J.W. Rinzler's wonderful book THE COMPLETE MAKING OF INDIANA JONES, Lucas envisaged the story to be a throwback to the many low-budget sci fi flicks he remembered from the 1950s. Lucas was also very adamant that aliens be somehow incorporated into the screenplay. 

The alien element didn't sit too well with Steven Spielberg, who of course had already gone down that road a number of times before in his directorial career. Harrison Ford also had plenty of doubts about Lucas' story concepts, and for these reasons it took a while to get everyone on board for what became CRYSTAL SKULL. 

When you watch CRYSTAL SKULL, you kind of get the sense that Spielberg and Ford were not all that excited to do it. It's not like those talented men phoned it in--far from it--but there doesn't seem to be the same kind of excitement and adventure that is found in the other Indy films. 

I think one reason CRYSTAL SKULL is lacking is that the main quest is not driven by Indy himself. He's sort of roped into a plot that involves aliens, international espionage, the search for El Dorado, hive minds, other dimensions, etc. The other Indy films had a clear, concise storyline. CRYSTAL SKULL has a more scattershot approach, and the script also has to give Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, and Shia LaBeouf things to do. 

As for Shia LaBeouf....he's not as grating as I originally thought him to be, but honestly the whole Indy meeting up again with Marion and finding out he has a son subplot could have been easily written out of the picture without all that much effect on the main story. The big problem with LeBeouf is that the movie tries too hard to present him as a cool bad boy, when he really isn't. (It's the audience that really decides whether a character is cool, not the filmmakers.) It doesn't help that LeBeouf is given things to do like swing Tarzan-like through the Amazon jungle with a bunch of CGI monkeys, or engage in a sword duel with Cate Blanchett's villain (a leather-jacketed American teenager with an attitude knows proper fencing techniques??). I personally think that bringing Karen Allen back was just a form of fan service. 

The action sequences in CRYSTAL SKULL are well done--you certainly wouldn't expect anything less in a Spielberg/Lucas collaboration. But they all have the 21st Century cinema mentality of lasting just a bit too long, and constantly trying to top themselves. A case in point is the opening sequence, which lasts 20 minutes, and is topped off by the now infamous nuclear blast, which as we all know features Indy's use of a certain kitchen appliance. How in the heck do you follow up a nuclear bomb going off? 

One thing I noticed during my re-watch was how many blatant 1950s references are in CRYSTAL SKULL, especially during the early part of the film. The other Indy movies were set in the 1930s, but they never tried to overwhelm you with it. CRYSTAL SKULL drops so many Fifties culture points that I'm surprised Lucy Ricardo didn't show up. The only thing I can think of is that the filmmakers were afraid that the audience wouldn't pick up on the fact that the story is set in 1957, so they made darn sure that they would know. The whole Red Scare subplot feels uncomfortable here--I don't think a franchise like Indiana Jones should be getting into the political weeds. (Unfortunately I've got a feeling the new Indy film will be doing plenty of that.) 

At the time a big deal was made about Cate Blanchett being the main villain in CRYSTAL SKULL, but her Russian agent feels underdeveloped (a plot device about her character supposedly having special ESP abilities goes nowhere). The same can also be said for the roles played by Ray Winstone and John Hurt. It makes one wonder whether Lucasfilm was more worried about getting more notable names than usual in an Indy film instead of creating more interesting characters. (John Rhys-Davies as Sallah is sorely missed here--and besides, wouldn't have Sallah been at Indy's wedding no matter what??) 

Did I really enjoy anything about CRYSTAL SKULL? Well, despite the fact that Harrison Ford hadn't played the character in a feature film for 19 years, he fits back in the role perfectly. And when Indy is talking to Mutt about an encounter with Pancho Villa, he's actually referencing an episode of THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES. 

In a way CRYSTAL SKULL is a lot like THE PHANTOM MENACE. Both films had incredibly high expectations, and they were never going to live up to them. 

Remember how earlier in this post I mentioned how George Lucas wanted CRYSTAL SKULL to be like a 1950s B science-fiction movie? Consider this for a moment. If the script for CRYSTAL SKULL had been cut down to about 80 minutes, and the Marion-Mutt subplot had been eliminated, and if it had been made in black & white, and with a lot lower budget....I honestly believed it would have worked. Because when it comes right down to it, CRYSTAL SKULL is essentially a goofy 1950s sci fi movie. 

Now I'm sure there are those who are reading this that are thinking, "You're crazy! There's no way an entry for a major franchise like Indiana Jones would be made on the cheap and in black & white!!" You're right of course. Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford would have never agreed to participate in such an idea (although I think Spielberg might have taken it on as a challenge). My point is, when you take something that is a low budget sci fi idea and blow it up to gargantuan proportions, the weaknesses in it are going to be more noticeable. In the end CRYSTAL SKULL is just a mediocre Indiana Jones entry. 

Later this month I'll be examining the YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES TV series. 

Monday, June 12, 2023



This is a really obscure film, made in 1933 by Majestic Pictures. It's a mystery story with a theatrical setting, and it has one of the strangest solutions to a murder one will ever see. 

Wylie Thornton (Paul Cavanagh) is a popular leading man on the stage, and a notorious Lothario off of it. He's constantly going to one woman or another, and he's even charmed the mischievous female chimpanzee who is kept backstage. One lady who is not under his spell is Lola (Dorothy Mackaill), an actress determined to keep her young sister away from the much older actor. Lola's sister commits suicide over Thornton's philandering, while the actor's wife (Natalie Moorhead) is dead set on ruining his life. A birthday party is held for Thornton one night backstage, and all the lights are turned off as a cake with lighted candles is brought out. As Thornton blows out the candles, he's shot and killed. The suspects are numerous...and among them is the clever chimp, who knows how to use a gun. 

The real star of CURTAIN AT EIGHT (other than the chimpanzee) is legendary character actor C. Aubrey Smith. Smith is now remembered as the classic Hollywood epitome of the British Empire, but here he plays an elderly American detective named Jim Hanvey. One would expect this to be major miscasting, but Aubrey goes against the grain and gives a fine performance as a folksy, slow-moving fellow who everyone else takes for granted. Smith's Hanvey is a 1930s cross between Barnaby Jones and Matlock. (While doing internet research for this post I discovered that the Hanvey character was the title role in a later film, and he was played by Guy Kibbee.) 

Dorothy Mackaill was one of the loveliest leading ladies of the Pre-Code era, but here she's relegated to a rather minor role--the chimp has far more screen time than she does. It's a shame that someone who has such a screen presence gets a small part in a very low-budget independent feature. Mackaill wouldn't be in too many more movies after this. 

Sam Hardy plays a detective who is competing with Jim Hanvey in solving the case, and he's overbearing and annoying. (He constantly says "It's in the bag!" after arresting another suspect, but he never really accomplishes anything.) Russell Hopton is the typically noisy reporter on the case, and Natalie Moorhead makes the most of her major scene as Wylie Thornton's shrewish wife. 

CURTAIN AT EIGHT has a few risque dialogue exchanges, but what makes it a true Pre-Code entry is the bizarre climax. The ending appears to give an "official" reveal of the murderer while at the same time letting the actual murderer get away. I say "appears" because it depends on how the individual viewer interprets it. If you buy the "official" version of who the murderer is, you have to admit it's a ridiculous concept--although in a movie like this it probably makes sense. 

This movie was directed by E. Mason Hopper, and the screenplay was by Edward T. Lowe (a name familiar to movie buffs). The story is enlivened by several unique scene transitions, and the staging of Thornton's murder in the dark is a nice touch, but for most of the short running time the film lives down to its low budget origins. CURTAIN AT EIGHT is weird enough to be notable, but don't expect to see much of Dorothy Mackaill. 

Sunday, June 11, 2023



My last entry in this blog concerned a low-budget 1932 mystery-comedy called THE THIRTEENTH GUEST. Now I'll be discussing A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT (1933), which is something of a follow-up to THE THIRTEENTH GUEST. Both movies have the same director (Albert Ray), the same screenwriter (Francis Hyland), and the same leading couple (Ginger Rogers and Lyle Talbot). 

In my opinion A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT is the better film. It starts out with a literal shriek in the night, and then a shot of a body falling to street level from a great height. The body is of a man called Harker, who has fallen from the top of an apartment building that bears his name. Rival reporters Pat Morgan (Ginger Rogers) and Ted Rand (Lyle Talbot) try to get to the bottom of things, while bodies continue to pop up in the Harker building. 

The main reason why A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT is better: Ginger Rogers gets far more screen time. She's the typical pesky girl reporter, but it's fun watching her. Lyle Talbot does the "I'm going to annoy the leading lady as much as possible so she can fall for me" bit, but he's not on screen as much as Ginger, so he's not too annoying. 

There isn't much mystery to the film--the murderer and his methods are shown during the story, it's the motive that's the main question. The movie's pace is also lacking at times--a more snappy rhythm would have helped matters considerably. There's plenty of comic relief, with two different fraidy-cat maids (Louise Beavers and Lillian Harmer), a crochety newspaper editor (Clarence Wilson), and a timid police assistant (Arthur Hoyt) who winds up having a major impact on the story's climax. 

Said climax also features the most atmospheric setting in the film--the apartment building janitor's quarters in the dark and foreboding basement, which is also the location of a incinerator that gets put into use. (Almost the entire film is set inside the apartment building, obviously due to the low budget.) 

Ginger Rogers in trouble during A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT

Needless to say, Ginger Rogers wouldn't have to worry about being in poverty row thrillers after A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT. You could already tell she was much better than her surroundings in this movie and in THE THIRTEENTH GUEST. 

Monday, June 5, 2023



THE THIRTEENTH GUEST, a 1932 mystery story from Monogram, has long been a public domain fixture on the internet and home video. It's been available in so many ways and forms that I'm sort of embarrassed to say that it wasn't until recently that I actually saw it for the first time. 

The title refers to a gathering held by the head of the Morgan family 13 years ago--a gathering in which Mr. Morgan died. Since then, the Morgan house has been shut up, but with Marie Morgan's (Ginger Rogers) 21st birthday approaching, dead bodies start appearing at the abandoned residence. Of course there's a will involved, along with such elements as plastic surgery, mistaken identity, a rigged phone, dopey cops, and a cloaked and hooded killer who uses electricity to bump off his victims. 

Ginger Rogers gets top billing for THE THIRTEENTH GUEST, but in all honesty she doesn't have as much screen time as one might think. She does get a few chances to show the onscreen charisma that would soon make her a big star, but too much time is spent on the goofy activities of those investigating the murders, including police captain J. Farrell MacDonald and Paul Hurst as one of the dumbest cops in movie mystery history. 

Perennial B movie veteran Lyle Talbot plays P.I. Phil Winston, who is called in on the case. Talbot's Winston is a bit of a playboy, and he eventually gets to romance Ginger. The other guests of the long-ago gathering that started all the trouble provide plenty of suspects, but they're a tiresome group. 

The mystery's solution isn't as convoluted as one would expect--in fact, some might even consider it a cop-out. What helps is that the movie is only 68 minutes long, and there's enough story material to keep it diverting. 

The director of this film, Albert Ray, and the screenwriter, Francis Hyland, would reunite with Ginger Rogers and Lyle Talbot the very next year for another movie murder mystery called A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT. (I still need to see that one as well.) The major reason to watch THE THIRTEENTH GUEST is to see a very young Ginger Rogers--but she doesn't get to sing or dance.