House of the Black Death (1965)

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Witchcraft and covens fill this ultra low budget effort that employs John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. as warring brothers of a warlock nature.

It’s all a bunch of hocus pocus that I have a feeling would make for an entertaining viewing with a crowd of enthusiastic fans of bad cinema.

Andrea King and Jerome Thor arrive in the far forests dominated by Lon Chaney’s coven of worshipers that mainly involve scantily clad females dancing up a not so sexy storm that appears to be mainly for Lon’s pleasure.

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Our out of place couple take up with Lon’s brother John Carradine. Carradine is the good warlock, Lon the bad. They are in a continual struggle for power to control the coven and at the same time world domination. No fooling!

The biggest “shock” of the film occurs when Lon removes his hooded robe to reveal two horns coming from his forehead. He’s definitely working with the forces of evil.

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Let’s not forget that Carradine tells the story of the family curse and that Lycanthropy runs in the genes as well. Before the films 74 minute running time is up, we’re treated to a rather embarrassing example of just that. Thankfully it doesn’t involve Lon. I’d hate to see him tarnish the legend of Lawrence Talbot. Having said that, let’s just pretend Face of The Screaming Werewolf doesn’t exist.

Any film where I can see Carradine in his Shakespearean tone emote lines like …….

Distant place where I would be, Make a proper place for me. Time and space will I command, given by the devil’s hand.

with his eyes blazing is a clip I take pleasure in.

Time to cue in another dancer for Lon’s pleasure. I can’t help myself here……the horny devil!

When Lon kidnaps one of Carradines clan it’s time for John to draw upon forces far greater than Lon can handle and…….I’m not spoiling anything here.

This film is part of VCI’s Jerry Warren collection and according to the back cover was released in 1965. The opening credits claim it was a 1966 release while the closing credits state 1964 if I remember my Roman numerals.

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Of note way down the list of crew members doing 2nd unit work is Reginald Le Borg. Back during Lon’s prolific years, Reggie directed some of Lon’s Inner Sanctum series as well as The Mummy’s Ghost and The Black Sleep. The latter two had both Lon and John as well.

Enjoy this one for all the bad moments and forgive John and Lon. Remember they were just a couple of working actors.

 

 

The Sharkfighters (1956)

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Growing up in the shadow of Jaws naturally creates an interest in the sea and anything to do with sharks. That includes hoping to some day see a film starring he man Victor Mature in this awesomely titled film with an even better film poster.

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Alas, that’s really all there is to recommend this filmed in Cuba tale of big Vic taking command of a group of navy scientists trying to perfect a shark repellant that will protect down fighter pilots from the perils of the deep. Mature is the perfect officer for the job. He’s already lost one ship with the majority of his crew dying in shark infested waters while awaiting rescue. He’s driven and has a hatred for the big fish.

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When asked, “What do you know about sharks commander?” He replies, “They’ve got lousy table manners.”

Kind of sounds like Robert Shaw’s Quint to me.

Much to the dismay of Vic’s wife Karen Steele the big guy plans on using himself as a test pilot in the middle of a pack of hungry tigers. Just like in the film poster, he’s got a knife firmly in hand. On topside keeping an eye on the proceedings is James Olson making his film debut and the always dependable Claude Akins taking a break from playing a heavy to portraying a navy cameraman this time out.

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There’s nothing actually wrong with this film from director Jerry Hopper other than it’s not all that exciting considering the marketing campaign. At 74 minutes in length there isn’t much going on except tests and the bickering between Vic and his second in command about whether or not they have actually made a discovery to help the war effort and save lives.

I never spoil the end of films here but you just have to scratch your head on this title and wonder if the producers forget a few pages of script or perhaps ran out of budget dollars.

If you’re like me and look to see all things Victor Mature then you will want to check this out, otherwise you may find Shark Week much more to your liking on Discovery.

Desire Under the Elms (1958)

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“There’s something dark in the corners of this house prowling.”

So says Burl Ives.

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Burl plays a stern taskmaster here with little room in his heart for his three sons. Pernell Roberts and Frank Overton are full brothers while Anthony Perkins is their half brother. It’s Perkins that the story centers around and his rights to claim what is his. It was Perkin’s mother who owned the farm that Burl now runs and claims is rightly his. He’ll live to be 100 and has no intention of turning it over to the sorry lot of sons born to him.

In order to secure the farm, Perkins buys off his brothers rights while Burl has gone to fetch a third wife. When Burl arrives with a far younger woman in tow the tug of war over the land and who will inherit it really begins.

The much younger woman is Sophia Loren. At first she represents another obstacle to Perkins and they do nothing but spew venom at each other. It isn’t long however until the bickering turns to romance behind Burl’s back. Once they commit to love, Sophia lights up the screen like no other actress has ever been capable of.

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By no means are the dramatics over here in this Irwin Shaw script adapted from a Eugene O’Neill play with Delbert Mann directing. When Sophia gives birth and Ives claims the son as his own, the tension only increases about what belongs to whom. Whether it’s the land or the newborn.

This is a pretty heavy handed script that is by no means meant to offer us a happy time at the movies. Ives is one mean S.O.B. here who is impossible to like. As for Burl? The man who gave us the story of Rudolph, he plays it through to the finale. 1958 would prove to be a career year for Burl. He would star as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and bring home an Oscar for The Big Country.

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Anthony Perkins is of course Norman Bates from 1960 onward. To see him prior to that career altering role comes the realization that he could play some roles that were not necessarily of the nervous type.

Sophia Loren can practically do no wrong in my world. When she smiles on screen she brightens my day and when she cries, I’m almost moved to tears. Her presence in films for me has always been that powerful.

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While this film may not be one of the more remembered films of the leads it is worth a look. The unhappy nature of the film’s plot probably didn’t lend itself to being a popular date film back during it’s theatrical run. It is fairly easy to get a copy between TCM and it’s DVD release from Paramount if you feel the need to see this for the first time or perhaps revisit it.

 

King Kong Escapes (1968)

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The magic of Toho Studios during their glory years will always hold a special place for those of us film lovers who grew up in the seventies and eighties when these movies with model landscapes were regularly featured on Sunday afternoon matinees.

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This Kong feature was one of those titles that I would see numerous times as a kid enjoying the carnage and destruction that Kong and his lookalike robot version would unleash on Tokyo where they held their battle to the death.

Toho Studio regulars Inshiro Honda directed with Eiji Tsuburaya delivering the model tanks and other special effects for this Kong extravaganza.

King fights a reptile on his island home while rescuing his newest love Linda Miller before being kidnapped by the forces of Dr. Who. Yes you heard right. Our Dr. Who is like a Japanese version of Dr. Pretorius without the humor.

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It seems that his robotic Kong can’t mine the mineral ore known as Element X fast enough. The ore will lead it’s owner to world domination through nuclear power.

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Getting in on the fun is Rhodes Reason and studio leading man Akira Takarada leading the U.N. forces as they race to stop the evil plot of Dr. Who has teamed with sexy Mie Hama in the struggle for power.

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When Linda Miller is grabbed along with our male leads, Kong breaks out of slavery to once again rescue our damsel and lead the charge against his tin can lookalike.

Surprisingly this was produced by Rankin and Bass. The men who brought us the perennial Christmas favorite on television Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It’s all apparently based on a King Kong cartoon show I have no recollection of from the sixties.

The one thing you have to realize while watching this is that it is by no means the American version of King Kong. It can’t compare with the Willis O’Brien version. The Kong of this is strictly of the man in a monkey suit variety. It’s just a papier mache head and a bad one at that. Look at it from a Toho perspective and it’ll sit better overall in the digestive system.

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The recently released blu ray from Universal of this offers a nice print of the film for those like me who like this kind of thing.

Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

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Where Yul Brynner leaves off, George Kennedy takes over as the head gunslinger Chris in the third of four films released under the series banner.

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The original is an acknowledged classic while the 3 sequels are minor entries in the western genre. Having said that, this film is a vast improvement on the disappointing Return of the Seven. Where that film had very little plot, this one is coherent and Kennedy adds a strong presence to the men on a mission genre. Coming off an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke allowed him to take leading roles instead of playing bad guys who get theirs when tangling with the likes of the Duke.

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Enlisted to free revolutionist Fernando Rey from a south of the border prison run by sadistic Michael Ansara,  Kennedy rides along with Monte Markam, James Whitmore, Joe Don Baker, Bernie Casey, Scott Thomas and Reni Santoni. The all new Seven.

It’s a by the numbers formula as Kennedy goes about drafting a new seven. Markham is saved from a hanging, Casey is the Jim Brown of the group that was surely inspired by Brown’s role in The Dirty Dozen. Next up is our new knife man James Whitmore subbing for James Coburn. In an early role is Joe Don Baker as a one armed sharpshooter with demons of his own reminding one of Robert Vaughn in the original. Thomas is on life support as a gun hand with TB and Santoni is a Mexican freedom fighter who steps in for Horst Buchholz.

Now that we have our seven recruits, cue Elmer Bernstein’s rousing soundtrack held over from the original film.

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The sadism is up a notch this time with Ansara dishing out torture as he sees fit. With Rey not talking, more will be sure to die by the time Kennedy and company arrive. Once they do, it’s just a matter of time before actions speak louder than words and the fencing between Kennedy and Ansara escalates to gunfire.

The plot points here are very reminiscent of other westerns of the era. Villa Rides and The Wild Bunch spring to mind. I prefer Villa Rides to this film but neither can compete with Peckinpah’s classic. One thing these films do offer us are decent casts. Kennedy turned up in a number of my favorites so having him step in for Yul isn’t so bad and anytime James Whitmore shows up in a film is a pleasure. The same can be said of Baker and Casey.

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And yes, Reni Santoni is indeed Poppi of Seinfeld fame.

The next film in the series run would replace Kennedy with spaghetti specialist Lee Van Cleef for the series swansong in 1972. Of the three sequels I would say this is the best of the lot. That may not be saying much in light of the original but it can make for a decent rainy day viewing.

 

Dangerous When Wet (1953)

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For this technicolor Esther Williams musical we get our swimming star fending off the advances of the cocky, loud and boisterous Jack Carson only to settle into the arms of Latin lover type Fernando Lamas.

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Williams plays a farm girl this time out living a peaceful life in the country. Her father played by William Demarest is a health nut and leads his family in daily exercise and swims at the local swimming hole. Into their life comes the bigger than life promoter Jack Carson. He represents the drink/medicine Liquapep and after seeing Williams is inspired to enter her into a contest to swim the English channel.

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Once the family arrives overseas Carson tries his best to win over Esther and go about his Don King style of promoting her. Little does he know that Lamas has entered the scene and our singing swimmer has lost her heart to him.

Near the midway point we are treated to cartoon favorites Tom and Jerry turning up here frolicking underwater with Esther while doing a song and dance routine.

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There’s also a fun scene of Lamas buying Esther a rather scandalous bathing suit that plays out to a good laugh for the viewer although Esther pulls the shade on us.

The best musical bit in this Charles Walters directed film would have to be the song and dance number “Ain’t Nature Grand.” What’s nice about musicals from yesteryear is how even the supporting roles get to join in the fun. I had no idea that William Demarest would be joining in song as well as trying his best at being a hoofer. Same goes for Carson. In the studio days, everyone pitched in when called upon.

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Charles Walters specialized in light comedy musical features and would go on to work with Frank, Bing and Grace on High Society as well as the Debbie Reynolds hit The Unsinkable Molly Brown. This is the second feature I have watched from the TCM collection Volume 1 on Esther. The other being Neptune’s Daughter. They both make for an enjoyable viewing with talented performers surrounding Miss Williams.

Of note is the fact that 16 years later our two leads, Williams and Lamas would be married in real life and remain so until Lamas passed in 1982.

Never a Dull Moment (1968)

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never a dull moment

Anytime I have the opportunity to see Henry Silva, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens under the direction of Edward G. Robinson tormenting Dick Van Dyke is what I like to call “time well spent”.

That’s just what we get in this release through the Disney organization.

Dick stars here as a bit part actor usually relegated to gangster roles who winds up being mistaken for the real thing. A cold blooded killer that Eddie G. and company have sent for sight unseen. Realizing he’s in over his head, Dick plays along looking for a chance to make a quick exit.

It doesn’t get easy when he meets the gang. Henry Silva would like nothing better than to take over from Van Dyke as the number one killer in the syndicate. Cowboy actor Pickens is “The fastest tommy gun in the west”.

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We also get familiar faces Richard Bakalyan, Tony Bill and the always lovable Mickey Shaughnessy rounding out Robinson’s gang of art thieves.

Silva plays these roles so perfectly and it’s a delight to see him acting tough conveying  a real threat while Dick is doing his best to keep the cold blooded act up when facing off against Henry.

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To see Eddie planning an art heist is fitting for a man who was one of the art world’s great supporters and collectors during his lifetime. There’s a wonderful scene where he reminisces about the early days in the thirties of being a gangster in his prime. The part has most assuredly been designed around his film career and interest in art.

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Complicating things for Dick is the presence of Dorothy Provine, an innocent bystander who becomes aware of the gang’s plot. She is subsequently marked for death. Top that off with the arrival of the real killer that Dick has been mistaken for. None other than Mr. Jack Elam.

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Actor – Director Jerry Paris is the man behind the camera here who puts long time pal Dick through the paces of trying to stay healthy while Silva, Pickens and Elam all take their best shot at our funny man. Paris worked on Van Dyke’s popular sitcom both as actor and director while also doing other series television shows like The Odd Couple.

For fans of the character actors involved here this is an easy film to like. Eddie G. and Dick Van Dyke are an added bonus. Even gangland favorite Anthony Caruso turns up for a fun intro at the films very Batman like credit sequence. I am referring to the Adam West series of the sixties.

Robinson is of course the legendary tough guy here and even in his old age it’s a pleasure to see him snarl at Tony Bill with the line”Keep your hands to yourself or I’ll take ‘em away from yah.”

 

 

Can You Remember the Drive In Experience?

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Looking back I realize that the drive in craze was pretty much coming to an end during my childhood days and I am hard pressed to recall very many trips to the outdoor theaters with the swing sets in front of the giant sized screens.

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I recall my parents talking about sitting in a crazy line up of cars to see a Planet of the Apes sequel with me in tow but I have no recollection of being there for that outing. I can only assume I was sound asleep in a car seat.

The funny thing is we lived close to a local drive in. I can remember driving by it on a regular basis. Now it’s location has been converted to a strip mall with a Toys R Us store. There was another local drive in operation that ran up until about 1990. The only one left in my area today is about an hours drive from my home. I have been to it once as an adult. I took my kids to see the atrocious Rocky and Bullwinkle flick there a few years back.

I believe my earliest memory of actually going to a drive in was to see a double bill. Outlaw Blues and Killer Force. A double Peter Fonda bill. I was of course dragged along by an older crowd of teens. They were probably told they had to take me along. The best thing of the whole night was the fact that I knew the one actor in Killer Force was none other than Dracula himself. Christopher Lee.

During my youth, Jaws hit the screens and I remember driving my parents crazy to see Grizzly. The latest nature flick to feature a hungry animal hunting down us lowly humans on the food chain. I still love this flick.

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And how about sneaking in to the drive in cramped under a bed in the back of an old van with two other under aged kids. Yup, I did that too. The double bill was Death Wish 2 and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. No way we were gonna miss the latest Bronson feature. Me and the other two boys cajoled a good natured hockey coach of ours into driving us down in his old van. We had a great time watching Charlie cut down the latest cast of criminals as well as the famed Zombie vs. shark scene in the Fulci bloodfest.

I also recall wishing I could drive and go more often as they would host all night horror features that included re released Hammer films and other horrors that I wouldn’t see till they finally turned up on VHS at the nearest outlets.

Writing this I do know I went to see Murphy’s Law as I was old enough to borrow Dad’s car and take a lucky girl with me to see the latest Bronson offering. If I remember correctly it played with Tough Guys. That’s a double feature worth paying for!

My favorite drive in story has to do with collecting film posters. When the one local drive in shut down, I pretty much cleaned them out of posters that had been sitting around for the last 20 years. The Godfather, Death Wish, Outlaw Josie Wales, Taxi Driver and so on. That was a good day.

So how about you? Any drive in memories to share?

Fingers at the Window (1942)

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If one joined this movie just after the opening credits came to a close you would probably get the feeling that you were watching a Universal Studios thriller in the vein of the 1941 old dark house film The Black Cat. Perhaps even more so when you realize the star of that film, Basil Rathbone is one of our featured players here as well.

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Surprisingly this nifty little thriller is an MGM production. The studio that has more stars than there are in the heavens. It’s a fast moving black and white thriller that reminded me of The Stranger on the Third Floor.

Lew Ayres is an out of work actor who happens upon Laraine Day late at night as she is returning home. Out of the shadows he sees a man wielding an axe. Not a good sign as there has been an overwhelming number of separate axe murders recently that number 5 in total. Each one has revealed a different killer.

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Ayres takes it upon himself to become Miss Day’s personal bodyguard when a second attacker with an axe is spotted in her hotel. This sets in motion the theory that these are not random killings and Ayres sets out to prove it and win the hand of the fair damsel. After all as Ayres points out “She hasn’t got the brains of a pancake.” So she certainly is going to need him around.

Basil Rathbone takes time off here from his Sherlockian alter ego to play the type of role he first achieved a level of success with. The villain. He has the perfect voice to fit that of an evil hypnotist using poor souls to do his bidding and removing those who know of his past life. It’s up to Ayres to uncover the truth and bring justice to the proceedings.

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Lew Ayres has fun with this role as the actor without a job who uses his various stage roles to go about solving the crime. Had the script been tweaked a bit, this might have made for a successful series back in the cinematic days of The Saint and The Falcon. Ayres was of course already attached to the run of Dr. Kildare films with his leading lady from this title Miss Day.

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It’s always a pleasure to see Laraine Day on screen even if it’s in a modestly budgeted “B” picture.  She was about to graduate from the Dr. Kildare films with Ayres and on to a couple of larger scale films opposite Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.

Rathbone is one of those gifted actors that commands the screen and easily takes your eyes off our young couple when he’s on camera. By the time of this film’s release he was in the middle of his iconic run playing the great Holmes on screen but would still turn up in other titles like this along the way.

Catch this one if you can as it’s what a “B” mystery should be. Fast paced, slick and professionally done with a cast of performers who know how to make the whole viewing experience fun and entertaining.

 

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