Hillbillys In a Haunted House (1967) … Country Music Week Day 2

Try viewing this as a mixture of a rejected script from the Beach Party films crossed with an East Side Kids version of Ghosts on the Loose. Then throw in some country music singers and you wind up with this ultra low budget Bernard Woolner production. That’s the same Bernard Woolner who gave us Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. Even then you may doubt this film actually exists.

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Country Music star Ferlin Husky takes the lead role opposite knockout Joi Lansing and the not so funny comedy relief of Don Bowman. They are on the road to Nashville to play on a big jamboree show when they find themselves stranded in a town where the local gas station attendant suggests they find refuge from an incoming storm in an abandoned mansion. Haunted of course.

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Once they get settled on the main floor and clear a few cobwebs Ferlin gets the chance to sing the haunting “Living in a Trance.” Not one of his better known hits. When Sonny James turns up to join in on a couple of songs he warns the trio that the mansion is actually haunted and makes a quick exit when a not so scary skeleton makes an appearance.

Time for the real reason for checking out this odd ball effort from director Jean Yarbrough. The decaying mansion is a refuge for spies who have rigged the house with bats and ghosts to keep people away. Basil Rathbone, John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. are working for Linda Ho at stealing a formula for the evil Dr. Fu. If they can just evade the agents of M.O.T.H.E.R. there mission should prove successful.

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Time for some more music when Lansing gives us a tune and on the portable TV we even get legendary Merle Haggard belting out a number.

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Chaney is leaning into his famed Lenny role at times as he was known to do while Basil and John do a fine job mugging for the camera. Basil is actually quite spirited here though at 75 he was in the final year of his life. Like any low budget haunted house picture we get the customary chain rattling, ghosts on strings and the guy in a gorilla suit that Lon’s character befriends while Carradine is constantly threatening to kill the beast.

In true King Kong fashion our large primate grabs hold of Miss Lansing (and who can blame him) spurring Ferlin and not so funny Don Bowman to search the haunted house and foil the plans of our famed trio of slumming stars.

Then it’s time to get back on the road to Nashville where Ferlin can emcee the jamboree featuring a couple singers I wasn’t familiar with but thankfully Merle Haggard turns up once more to sing one of his early hits, Swinging Doors. Joi gets in on the singing and our star of the show Ferlin brings down the curtain with That’s the One Bridge I Have Never Crossed. Like many others the one song I associate with Husky is On The Wings of a Snow White Dove.

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Click here to see the full press kit over at Zombo’s Closet.

Sad as this production may seem there are three groups of people who may want to check this out. Merle Haggard fans. Merle is after all one of Country Music’s most legendary performers and this is a time capsule to his early years. Fans of our trio of stars will want to add this to their shelves if they want a complete library. Then there are those that just enjoy inept low budget features that cause chuckles for many of the wrong reasons though this effort isn’t to be taken all too seriously. Especially with Carradine and Basil pulling faces for the camera. Make that 4 groups, we mustn’t forget the Joi Lansing factor.

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Our famed trio had careers that constantly came into contact with each other. Carradine had been in Basil’s first entry in the lengthy Holmes series back in 1939’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Chaney had Carradine appear with him in one of the Kharis titles, The Mummy’s Ghost back in 1944. All three got together previously in the 1956 creeper The Black Sleep.

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This title was released years ago by VCI if you need to take a peek at this musical – comedy horror film oddity.

 

A Gunfight (1971) … Country Music Week Day 1

Bearded, dirty and dressed in black comes a lone rider into frame. It’s Country Music’s legendary Man In Black, Johnny Cash.

Cash stars here as a weary gunfighter known throughout the west. He’s down on his luck and when he rides into a frontier town he meets another aging gunslinger that is longing for the glory days. Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas.

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Initially the town expects fireworks but the two gunmen have no reason to face each other in the street. Kirk is raising a family and just scraping by performing gun tricks in Dana Elcar’s saloon where Cash is to meet his love interest, Karen Black. Cash on the other hand has just lost his horse to a snake bite and isn’t cut out for any type of work pushing a broom. When Cash makes an off handed remark about selling tickets to a gunfight the plot is set into motion.

Douglas needles him into a winner take all event (the loser won’t need any money) in a bullring where tickets are sold to see one man live and the other die despite their actually liking each other. It plays out like a modern day sporting event where the two hang out at the bar as if they were holding a press conference. Even newspapers have descended upon the town to write of the event. The local promoter is played by Raf Vallone who just may have a rooting interest in the outcome.

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Each actor will have his moments of self doubt and explaining to his love interest that no one was ever better with a gun and there is nothing to worry about. Thus bolstering their own confidence. An amazingly young Keith Carradine even turns up as a hotshot gunslinger who wants in on the action and faces off with one of our veterans in the street in the hopes of cashing in on the box office. No go.

As the film comes to a head the two gladiators enter the bull ring and face each other down. When the dust settles and one is left standing after a swift and sudden explosion of gunfire there are no joyous cries and heaving the winner on any shoulders. It’s all rather sobering. It becomes obvious that even the winner has no future and is sure to only come face to face with someone a little quicker on the draw.

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As two aging gunmen in the later days of the west what strikes me is how each man finds meaning to his life once again after committing to the showdown. Both men have struggled to maintain their dignity as once respected gunfighters. Both at one time or another have been reduced to the sideshow spectacles appearing with the likes of a “midget and a tattooed freak” as Cash points out.

There’s also an interesting epilogue where the winner pauses to imagine what the other would do had he won. The result is the same. No future and nowhere to go.

This film played far better than I had recalled and while no classic fits into the aging gunmen genre nicely. The days of gunmen are fast closing much like the western was at the time of this film’s production. Douglas was of course a regular in western cinema but Cash fits in against the terrain nicely as well. He at no time embarrasses himself as he moves from music into his first major film feature.

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Special mention has to go to Jane Alexander as Kirk’s wife. She’ solid here as a long suffering frontier woman whose husband has rarely been home to help raise their son and when he agrees to face off against Cash she slowly comes apart to the point of attempting to ambush Cash late at night.

For western fans there is a nice bit of trivia in here when Cash and Douglas are discussing their past glories. Cash says to Douglas, “They say you killed Ringo.” Now any self respecting western fan should know that when Kirk played Doc Holiday and attended the gunfight at the O.K. Corral he shot down John Ireland’s Johnny Ringo.

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It should come as no surprise that Cash is credited with writing and singing a western flavored song over the opening credits of this Lamont Johnson directed western. It was actually produced by the Jicarilla Apache Tribe of American Indians. Turning up in the background is long time western actor Robert J. Wilke and appearing as Kirk’s son in the film is his real life son, Eric Douglas.

A worthwhile look to see a slightly different view on the dying years of the gunslinger and two towering figures of the entertainment industry.

The “Don’t Mess With Me” Poster Gallery

There are some actors that just convey the attitude that says “don’t mess with me.” They excelled at playing characters that are best left alone. But there is always a protagonist of some sort that “pokes the bear” and awakens our slumbering tough guys who are not above issuing there own brand of vigilant justice.

Here are a few favorites and some suitable art work via the movie poster.

When it comes to putting fear into the villain Palance is sure to deliver.

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A very Noir styled poster with a shadowy Mitchum and Ken.

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“I get 50 bucks an hour… plus expenses.” Richard Roundtree

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“You say he didn’t have a chance. He went for his gun first. When he does that, he uses up all his chances.” Burt Lancaster

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“If the police don’t defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.” The vigilante is born. Charles Bronson

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“Yeah, well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard that’s my policy. ” Clint Eastwood

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The heading on this poster says it all. John Wayne

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Love On The Run (1936)

When MGM loaned out Clark Gable to Columbia and so called tyrant Harry Cohn as some sort of punishment, Gable got the last laugh and a little statuette to go with it. The film was It Happened One Night and it proved to not only be successful but the formula was easily recycled. So why shouldn’t MGM rewrite the central idea and cast a couple of their own contract stars. As a matter of fact, why not just put Gable back into what one could argue is the same role.

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Gable stars here as a fast talking newspaper reporter who is continually at odds with Franchot Tone in getting the scoop on the latest topic that is worthy of the front page. At the four minute mark of this W.S. Van Dyke production our plot is set in motion. Joan Crawford has left her man at the altar and bumps into Gable who instinctively goes into action. He whisks her away on a plane disguised as a Baron and Baroness. Did I mention Clark has no idea how to operate a plane? No worries. This is the Clark Gable we’re talking about and he’ll learn “on the fly.”

Naturally Gable hasn’t told Joan that he is a reporter and wiring his news stories back to editor William Demarest for the evening editions. Joan can’t stand nosy reporters and when Tone catches up Gable has to stay one step ahead of the not so wise competition. The plot will take a turn towards espionage when it turns out that the identities and plane they stole actually belong to spies with secret plans now in Gable’s hands.

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Along the way there will be time for some comedy and romance between our legendary stars from MGM’s stable. While touring France on the run they wind up in an amusing bit in an ancient castle/museum where the nightly caretaker played by Donald Meek takes them for ghostly figures. They in turn don’t know what to make of Meek and his ghostly dog.

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Like all romantic screwball comedies the two will have to break up and Joan will want her pound of flesh for his being a reporter the whole time. She feels used and betrayed while Clark just feels like a heel. Perhaps the spies can catch up and somehow Gable and Tone can come out heroes. Is there really any doubt how this one will end at the final curtain?

At the time of this film’s release Joan was actually married to third string Franchot Tone but when watching the film it’s so easy to see where her on screen chemistry lay. No wonder her and Gable made so many films together throughout the thirties.

Along with Demarest and Meek rounding out the cast is Reginald Owen and Mona Barrie as our spies trailing the lovely couple across the continent. I could also swear that mixed in with some on lookers at the museum “bit” is Marjorie Main. She has no lines and isn’t billed by the IMDB site either. So perhaps you’ve heard it here first. According to the data base she has no credits in 1935 or 36 so maybe I’m correct. If you have a copy have a look at the lady standing with a hat on as the group of tourists look in on a sleeping Gable.

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Due to the fact that It Happened One Night exists this film is probably looked at as nothing more than a weak knock off. A fair assessment with much of the comedy strained but with two of cinema’s legendary stars involved it’s hard to pass up.

Country Music at The Movies Week. Beginning April 20th

Every now and then I’ll mention my love of classic country music and it’s time to feature five films associated with the genre. Country music stars have proven to be interesting topics for films. As recently as Johnny Cash being portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line which garnered Reese Witherspoon an Oscar for playing June Carter Cash. Years ago George Hamilton took a shot at playing Hank Williams with Hank Jr. singing on the soundtrack.

Speaking of an Oscar, let’s not forget that Sissy Spacek won one for her performance as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Jessica Lange did a great job as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams.

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Both Robert Duvall and Jeff Bridges won Academy Awards for playing fictional country singers in Tender Mercies and Crazy Heart. Clint Eastwood went through what I call his country music period in the late seventies featuring many hit makers on his soundtracks. Singers like Charlie Rich, Mel Tillis and Merle Haggard appeared in his Philo Beddoe films.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to someday see films produced on the lives of Haggard or Jones. Perhaps one on the Willie and Waylon outlaw movement. A Dolly Parton film though that may need some CGI “enhancement.”

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So on April 20th I am going to do a five day run featuring films that in some way are connected to the music that I grew up listening to and still pick on the guitar when the band reunites. Maybe someday me and the boys will find ourselves on a “mission from God” and turn into musical outlaws on the run from crazed Nazi’s and a gun toting ex-girlfriend.

“Tune” in for everything from a western featuring both a country legend and a Hollywood icon to a musical horror film from the sixties.

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Y’all come back now you here.

 

Elephant Walk (1954)

Before long time studio director William Dieterle returned back home to Germany in the sixties working mainly in television, his Hollywood output had slowed down substantially. One of his final assignments was this love triangle taking place on a tea plantation in exotic Ceylon. The elegance of Ceylon (filmed in Sri Lanka) can’t hold a candle to the stunning beauty of our leading lady Elizabeth Taylor at this point in her career.

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When Peter Finch travels to London on a bride finding mission he comes up aces with Elizabeth Taylor. Incredible! Two weeks later he’s taking his new bride back to the tea plantation he farms and overseas as it’s Lord and Master. Thankfully Edith Head was on hand to ensure Liz has plenty of costumes and dresses to flaunt on the natives and the drunken lot that Finch numbers as his friends.

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Liz quickly realizes that her new home is nothing like her previous one in London where she worked in a local library. The chief servant of the house isn’t fond of the new Mistress and Finch turns into the stern taskmaster now that he is back running a farming operation. He’ll also have to contend with the wild herds of Elephants that continually attempt to cross the front yard of his estate. Essentially Liz becomes extremely bored with her new life as she is the only white woman for over a hundred miles. She’s strictly a trophy wife. Ahhhhhh but what a trophy.

It seems that Peter’s father has cast a long shadow and Finch is trying to live up to it. His father built the estate and is still revered by the natives like a God. Liz can see that her dead father-in-law has more pull around the home then she does. Thankfully another man is about to enter her life in the form of Dana Andrews. Andrews is the chief foreman who oversees operations when Finch is either out of the country or laid up with a broken leg. Liz and Dana are getting serious and make plans to leave Peter and the elephants behind.

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A cholera epidemic quickly changes all traveling plans when a quarantine is blanketed across the land. The wells are running dry and the elephants are rampaging as the wilds of Ceylon converge on our love triangle for a rousing climax with a crescendo of music from Franz Waxman.

This is one big melodramatic affair that plays well with the beauty of Liz and the acting of Dana. I suspect if it were watched with a crowd of people today there would be plenty of unintentional laughs.  Dana Andrews is such a natural on camera which is in stark contrast to the ham job Finch dishes out and the always “on” Elizabeth Taylor. I totally understand Liz’s place in film history  but to me she was always acting and never underplayed roles to seem more natural. But then she was a “star” and hers shone more brightly then either of her costars.

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Neither here nor there. I’ll tune into a classic era Dana Andrews flick over most Liz films any day of the week.

Silent Fall (1994)

Richard Dreyfuss stars in this murder mystery/thriller that also marked the film debut of the always attractive Liv Tyler (In my eyes anyway). Bruce Beresford served as the films director. His subject material this time out is a long way from the days of Driving Miss Daisy.

Sheriff J.T. Walsh looks up retired child psychologist Dreyfuss to help at a murder scene where two adults have been butchered by a knife. Also in the home is a young autistic boy who is bloodied and holding the murder weapon. The victims are the child’s parents. While conducting a thorough search of the home the police also find a young woman unconscious in a closet who has been beaten and sustained cuts as well. It’s the boys older sister Liv Tyler.

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Dreyfuss is still a practicing analyst but hasn’t actively treated children for years due to a suicide long ago. This plot ploy is added to give his character some personal demons I guess that come to a head with his wife and the little used in a thankless role here, Linda Hamilton. With Walsh pushing and sham doctor John Lithgow the only alternative Dreyfuss attempts to unlock the secrets of the young boys mind piecing the mystery together.

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The finger of justice is going to be pointed around the cast at various times in this glossy looking film. It’s hard not to think that our sham doctor John Lithgow just might be the lunatic with the knife but that’s more from the actor’s reputation at playing one heck of an on screen psycho. Alas like Hamilton he’s rather underused and serves only as a doctor of differing opinions in treating the child.

As we round the corner to the finale there’s a very creepy scene involving Dreyfuss and our killer played out on a frozen lake that adds some thrills and quite literally “chills” as the mystery unfolds.

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Yes I pegged the killer early on but despite that there are answers that need to come to the surface in order to understand the reasoning for the two brutally slain victims. When we get to the summation it’s not a very likable topic.

Aside from Walsh and our little boy played by Ben Faulkner the remaining cast members are all fairly well known. At the time Walsh seemed to be showing up in everything and was surely known as one of those faces people knew yet couldn’t name. His life was cut short at 54 as the result of a heart attack denying us of a lengthy career ahead.

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Tyler gets plenty of screen time but the film revolves around Dreyfuss and his struggles to put the pieces of the little boys mind together to solve the puzzle. For me Richard Dreyfuss has always been watchable yet I can’t say I’ve ever watched a film strictly because he’s in it unlike many other actors that I’ll catch in anything that they may appear. Maybe it’s that laugh or even when in  a murder mystery like this he still mugs occasionally for the camera.

For a glossy thriller with a few twists though just a little too cute at times one could do worse then tuning into this nineties style mystery.