Man in the Attic (1953) Jack Palance Eerie Fest Day 2 of 5

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Jack Palance picks up the knife for this low budget version of The Lodger that had last been played by Laird Cregar in the superior 1944 version.

The Lodger is of course Jack the Ripper.

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The film opens with another Ripper murder in the fog shrouded streets of Whitechapel. While the search for the famed killer is under way our leading man Jack Palance arrives at the door of an older couple looking to rent their extra room. The couple are played by long time character player Rhys Williams and Frances Bavier of Aunt Bee fame from Mayberry.

Palance sells himself to Bavier as a doctor of science who likes his privacy and doesn’t need any paintings of actresses hanging in his room. The faces disturb him.

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Into his world comes the older couple’s niece played by Constance Smith. She’s breathtakingly beautiful and Jack takes notice. She in turn seems to take an interest in Palance’s shy nature and background story meant to give reason for the atrocities he commits. Could he be a possible suitor?

When another murder takes place our intrepid inspector played by Byron Palmer winds up questioning our leading lady about the victim. This in turn leads him to discover the strange Lodger that is staying with the family.

When lovable Aunt Bee begins to suspect something isn’t quite right with Palance’s movements she comes to believe she is harboring the man known as Jack the Ripper. Hubby Williams continually shoots her down with some amusing solutions concerning her suspicions.

When Jack begins to fence with Palmer over police procedures his world will no doubt come crashing down. Especially when Constance Smith shrugs aside his advances for a possible life together as after all she is a lady of the stage.

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It won’t be long before the clues add up and the late night chase is on as Palance attempts to flee the police led by Palmer.

Jack Palance makes for a good on screen Ripper in a role that allowed him to play it low key and restrained where it could have been easy to go over the top.

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With the amount of serial killers we have experienced on screen over the last couple of decades this role from Jack can be looked upon as one of the the screens earlier attempts at digging into the killers reasoning that we hear of all the time in our thrillers of today.

While this is a “B” film, it’s above average but in no way should be held up to the Cregar version. The Lodger story has been filmed a number of times including an early 1927 version from Alfred Hitchcock.

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Beautiful Constance Smith who plays the object of Jack’s desires is a dead ringer for Hedy Lamarr. It’s no wonder she won her trip to stardom because of it. It seems she won a Hedy lookalike contest. Sadly she fell into obscurity in the late fifties and wound up another Hollywood tragedy.

This Palance effort was directed by Hugo Fregonese who in the early fifties worked with a number of name actors including Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck on Blowing Wild before going overseas for the balance of his career.

Man in the Attic is an easy film to locate online or as part of the Midnight Movies collection on DVD from MGM.

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Alone In the Dark (1982) Jack Palance Eerie Fest Day 1 of 5

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When a local institution for the mentally ill suffers a power failure, four psychopathic inmates from the third floor walk out the front door to wreak havoc on a new Doctor’s family and anyone else who happens to get in their way.

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This early production from New Line Cinema gives Jack Palance top billing as the leader of our quartet with murder on their minds. He’s a former military man joined by Martin Landau as a preacher who loves fire and Erland Van Lidth as a behemoth rapist. The fourth man of the group is a mystery figure known as the bleeder.

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Adding to the fun is Donald Pleasence as the quirky Doctor who runs the institution. It’s the A-Team’s Dwight Schultz who is the new psychiatrist who the foursome have marked for death. They believe he is responsible for the death of their former doctor.

As the bodies pile up Schultz and family along with his sister and Phillip Clark find themselves trapped in their secluded house. It reminds me briefly of the set up in the farmhouse for Night of the Living Dead. Pleasence turns up to face down Landau and call out to him the Lord’s commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Landau with the craziest of grins has the perfect response. “Vengeance is mine!”

From here it’s a matter of which actors will survive and which will face a bloody demise.

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Jack Palance lends his strong presence to this horror film from the early days of the slasher film era. While it gets lost in the mix it has an outstanding cast that shouldn’t be overlooked. Jack’s habit of breathing lines rather than just saying them once again gives him a fierce dynamic that is hard to match. While he jumps at the camera occasionally his performance this time out is rather restrained while he let’s Landau do most of the hamming.

Surprisingly this is a much better crafted film than the Halloween’s and Friday the 13th’s of the day but it lacks their drive and sole device of evil. Who’s going to make a series of films with Palance and Landau?

Erland Van Lidth is a mountain of a man who only appeared in four films including his role opposite Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the hilarious Stir Crazy before his early death.

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The movie panders to the exploitation crowd with a customary teen sex scene that doesn’t end well for the young duo but it does allow for one of the film’s biggest marketing devices captured on the film poster.

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Even the film’s trailer goes for the drive in crowd without revealing what the plot of the film is really about. Perhaps they should have played it straight with more details on the direction of the film for the t.v. ads.

This was the directorial debut for Jack Sholder who would go on to do many genre titles including the first Nightmare on Elm Street sequel which was also a New Line Cinema production.

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Totally watchable thriller for it’s time with a freaky unveiling of the fourth killer known as the bleeder. Still I did find myself wishing for more Jack. With all due respect to Pleasence and Landau, Jack is the reason I’m tuning in.

Mister Roberts (1955)

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Mister Roberts is a film that one can either be for or against when comparing it to the actual stage play from whence it came. Unfortunately for Henry Fonda who plays the leading character in both the film and stage productions, most people are for it. Henry and perhaps Broadway producer/director Joshua Logan might be the only two people dead set against it.

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For the Stage to Screen Blogathon hosted by Rachel’s Theatre Reviews and The Rosebud Cinema I went with Mister Roberts. I have always enjoyed this film as it has a knockout cast and it’s mostly directed by the legendary John Ford with Mervyn LeRoy lending a hand as well.

Logan and Tom Heggen who actually wrote the source novel approached Fonda about taking the lead in the play and Henry jumped on board. After working through previews the play debuted on Broadway February 18th, 1948. It proved to be both a critical and box office hit. Both Fonda and the play would receive Tony Awards.

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As is the case with many successful plays it would spawn other versions elsewhere including Tyrone Power performing the role on stage in England. Fonda would do the show on Broadway into October of 1950 before taking it on the road.

In 1951 Henry would move on to another play and even perform The Caine Mutiny on stage. It was Lloyd Nolan who had the meatier role of Captain Queeg that Bogie would enact on film in 1954.

It was time for Henry Fonda to get back on the big screen as 1954 came around. His last film had been John Ford’s Fort Apache in 1948. It was Ford who would helm the big screen adaptation of the play that was so close to Fonda’s heart.

Mister Roberts is the story of the crew aboard the U.S.S. Reluctant. The ship is Captained by James Cagney in a cartoonish role of a stern task master that no one aboard likes or has any respect for.

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Fonda as Mister Roberts is second in command who would like nothing more than to get transferred to a ship that is in on the fighting action of WW2. The Reluctant is nothing more than a cargo ship that only sees action when it comes to nurses. Jack Lemmon appears here in an Oscar winning performance as young Ensign Pulver. It’s a star making turn for Lemmon opposite our iconic leads plus the smooth performance of William Powell as the ship’s doctor. This would in fact be Powell’s swan song from the movies.

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I for one enjoy what’s on the screen here but realize there was plenty going on behind the camera. Admiral John Ford began filming the Robert’s screenplay at Midway in September of 1954. He’d had a long association with Fonda that was about to come crashing down. Despite the fact that Cagney is memorable here, Fonda didn’t like the tone of the character that had been changed from William Harrigan’s stage interpretation and he felt the film wasn’t living up to the play’s standards. According to legend, he confronted Ford with his concerns and Ford decked him. In that one moment a great Hollywood union was sadly broken and following this production, they never worked together again.

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Ford’s drinking which had plagued him over the years but not really onset spiraled this time and he wound up with gall bladder issues forcing him off the picture as it neared completion. Ford stock company regular Ward Bond stepped in to take over some of the director’s chores until another long time vet took over the production, Mervyn LeRoy. Other members of the John Ford stock company appearing here are Ken Curtis. Patrick Wayne and Harry Carey Jr.

Despite Fonda’s overall disappointment about the film it would receive three Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Sound Editing and the win for Jack Lemmon.

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From our view point looking back we have to take the film as it is without comparing it to the stage production as is the case with so many stage to screen adaptations. Whereas Fonda was unhappy with the overall experience the public made the film a box office hit. The acting company do a splendid job on screen and James Cagney does his best to steal every scene he’s in. A hard thing to do with Lemmon in there as well. Perhaps that’s part of the reason Fonda wasn’t happy with the film. Fonda more or less had to play straight man here to a legendary pro and one who could some day be called the same.

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Mister Roberts has been a regular addition to television networks over the years and has found a home on TCM like so many other fine films from yesteryear.

Seek it out and let Fonda, Cagney, Lemmon, Powell, Bond and the crew of the Reluctant touch your heart one more time.

Hammer Fest at the Monster Bash 2014 Part 2

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As day 1 came to a close there was still plenty of fun to be had. Actress Elizabeth Shepherd was appearing following a viewing of The Tomb of Ligeia.

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She was happy to talk about the production and working with Vincent. She felt he was underrated as all of his fans believe. I include myself in that number. She shared the details behind her demise in the Omen II and how the scenes with the bird that does her in were filmed. I was glad to hear she felt William Holden was a joy to work with and that he was so at home on the screen.

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Then it was time to sit in and watch an early Bela Lugosi film from Hammer Productions that was filmed in 1935. The print we were treated to was titled The Phantom Ship. This was the North American title. It was originally released in England under The Mystery of the Mary Celeste. Other than Bela’s silent films this is one of his few talkies I hadn’t seen. Hats off to Bela here. He was very good. It’s too bad the film didn’t have a tighter script and a larger budget. It had it’s moments.

The last interview of the day was with beautiful Veronica Carlson.

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She talked of Lee and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and working with Dear Peter Cushing on two films. The superior Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and years later on The Ghoul. She called him an “old world gentleman.” At one point she was moved to tears while talking of her fond memories of working with him and how he was wonderful with his props not to mention how he handled the “rape” scene they were forced by the studio to film against Terence Fisher’s wishes.

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She pointed out how much he dearly loved his wife Helen and how her death affected him in the years after. Then she went on to talk of working with David Niven and having Roger Moore drop by the Hammer sets.

The night for me ended with some music from the house band. I couldn’t hang in for the late night Mexican horror movie. Eyelids were getting heavy.

On to day 2.

I finally made it into the vendor’s room and got lost in my hobby of collecting all things to do with movies. Dvd’s, film posters, film books and whatever else can be associated to film history. Then back for more things Hammer in the screening room.

The 1964 film The Gorgon with Cushing and Lee. I have always loved this flick and it has the added bonus of a great performance from Barbara Shelley. Once again Hammer uses those wonderful sets giving their films such an expensive look. They knew how to make the best of their small budgets.

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To lighten the mood for those who were interested we were treated to an episode of F Troop starring series regulars Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker. This episode featured the talents of Vincent Price as a supposed vampire in the old west.

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Our next leading lady to take the stage was the energetic Suzanna Leigh. She had plenty to say from her early days and how she approached her Godmother Vivien Leigh telling her of her desire to become an actress. How she chased down Hal Wallis to get a Paramount contract. This led her to co-starring opposite Elvis in Paradise Hawaiian Style of which she shared her amusing story of meeting the King.

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She talked of Thelma Ritter giving her guidance by example while working on Boeing Boeing. Tony Curtis she liked but the less said about co star Jerry Lewis the better. She enjoyed doing The Lost Continent for Hammer and missed her chance to work with Peter Cushing when he was forced to pull out of Lust for a Vampire due to his wife`s passing. And as for dancing, she sure seemed to be ready to party when the house band was cranking out the sixties tunes the night before.

For a lot of fun one should watch The Tingler with a crowd of classic horror fans. Vincent Price in a William Castle film where the Tingler is loose in a movie theater. Scream! Scream for your lives.

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I do believe the highlight of the weekend for me of the events I attended was to sit in on a one hour session with Victoria Price. Through videos and slides she took us through the course of her beloved fathers life and career.

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Apparently she started to do this show in 2011 and I am glad to have taken part in seeing it. Highly recommended for people who love the life and career of the one actor who always seemed to be having fun more than any other. Listening to how he lived his life really makes you want to spread your own wings and do as much as you can in the time we have. Hats off to daughter Victoria for putting this together and at the same time allow us to see both his strengths and faults. She brought a zest and enthusiasm with her that seems to have been channeled through her famous father.

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I ended my weekend here despite more films to attend on Sunday but it was time to get back home to Canada. Glad I went and at the same time wish more people could say the same. It seemed to be a rather small crowd.

The 5 Eerie Days of Jack Palance Week beginning October 20th.

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Tough guy Jack Palance was known to “go over the top” throughout his film career and perhaps best of all in some of the horror films he did. At the same time he could play a low key brooding character and be extremely effective. Next week a bit of both as I feature five of his films throughout the week to celebrate the Halloween month. Hope you like my picks. Not sure if our man of the moment below does.

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Hammer Fest at the Monster Bash 2014 Part 1

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While attending the Monster Bash early this year in Mars Pennsylvania (day 1, day 2) I was delighted to learn they were going to celebrate Hammer Films in the fall. Not only the films but they were bringing in some of the actresses who played the heroines/victims from the cult studio classics.

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This time out I sat in on the opening show titled Monsters We’ve Known and Loved narrated by Joseph Cotten. It’s an episode of Hollywood and the Stars from 1964.

The first film for viewing was The Curse of Frankenstein. Really the film that got Hammer rolling and put Cushing and Lee on the road to stardom.

Next up was sitting in and listening to Martin Stephens talk mainly of his experiences as a child actor and the making of Village of the Damned in 1960 and The Innocents opposite Deborah Kerr.

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While not Hammer films they were produced during England’s glory years of horror and sci-fi cinema. He spoke highly of Barbara Shelley and recalled playing chess on set with George Sanders. As for Deborah Kerr, he seemed overjoyed by her lack of ego and fondly recalled his kissing scene with the beautiful actress.

Then it was time for The Horror of Dracula. To me the greatest of vampire films. It’s compact but the scene of Lee’s entrance fangs dripping still is one of the great scenes in all of horror film history.

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Lee vs. Cushing doesn’t get any better than this. The energy of the film is only heightened by James Bernard’s thrilling score. A classic!

Martine Beswick next took to the stage for an engaging half hour of questions from the crowd and reminiscing. She covered her sixties “babe” years recalling One Million Years B.C. with Raquel Welch and working with Sean Connery on From Russia With Love.

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I couldn’t help but ask her what it was like working with Klaus Kinski on A Bullet For the General. She laughed and said he was “Mad as a hatter.” But that didn’t stop her from loving her time with him as he was plenty of fun to hang out on set with.

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Then came to the stage a lady who I admit is my personal favorite “Hammer beauty”. Caroline Munro. She talked of working in a very family oriented environment with Roger Moore and cast on The Spy Who Loved Me. Having food prepared by master chef Vincent Price while engaged on The Phibes films. She reaffirmed as did all the ladies of what a joy it was to work with the gentlemanly Peter Cushing. Anything you read about Peter points this out and these ladies were at times wiping tears while recalling their time with him. Working on Hammer’s Dracula A.D. with Lee and the underrated Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter was talked about. I was really impressed with the fact that she is a Trustee of the Ray Harryhausen Foundation. She spoke very highly of his genius and working on The Golden Voyage of Sinbad as the leading lady opposite John Phillip Law’s Sinbad.

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I couldn’t help but ask her “I notice you worked on a western with Richard Widmark. How did that come about and what was it like working with one of my favorite actors?” Her reply was endearing. “Are you from Canada? I can tell by the way you say “about”.

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No wonder she was always my favorite of the glamor girls of Hammer. For the record Widmark gave her some pointers and was a total professional for their film A Talent For Loving which came near the start of her career.

Then it was off to get a couple of posters signed by the two leading ladies.

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I had brought along original copies of Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde that starred Beswick and Dracula A.D. which featured Caroline. Both were friendly and took an interest in a fan’s poster collection.

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More on Day 1 and Day 2 to follow.

The Man From Snowy River (1982)

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Old fashioned entertainment that is impossible not to like from the outbacks of Australia.

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Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas has a field day here in a dual role. One the rich land baron who rules with an iron fist over all things in his possession. This includes his strong willed daughter. The other a peg legged old prospector under a heavy beard who just happens to be the black sheep of the family.

The real stars of the film are the beauty of horses, Tom Burlinson as a young man trying to prove himself after the death of his father and Sigrid Thornton as Kirk’s Tom Boy of a daughter. Perhaps most importantly the location filming highlighting the mountains of Australia.

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Burlinson finds himself in the employ of Kirk’s hungry land baron. He’s starting at the bottom. Cleaning the stables and all chores around the ranch house. It isn’t long before he wins the favor of the beautiful Thornton. This won’t sit well with some of the other hands who mean to put the young man in his place. Kirk isn’t fond of the young man either. It seems as if he has a past he’d like to keep secret and Burlinson may be about to unlock it.

In a role that one could actually see Kirk Douglas in we have Jack Thompson as Clancy. An experienced mountain man who knows the terrain and how to work the land. While he’s working for our land baron he champions Burlinson’s young man despite Kirk’s reservations.

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Revolving around the plot is the story of a wild pack of horses and how they will move the plot and unlock the mysteries of the past as peg legged Kirk won’t divulge all he knows either.

Circumstances escalate when father and daughter get into a spat resulting in a vicious slap that only Kirk could deliver. There’s no apology here and it harkens back to Kirk’s angry years in films like Ace in the Hole or The Bad and the Beautiful. Thirty years later he was still capable of grabbing viewers by the throat and shaking them. On the other hand Kirk under the beard of the old peg legged prospector allows Douglas the actor to have fun on screen whether it’s fighting the mountain where his mine is or flirting with a cook in the kitchen. He’s delightful.

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Pieces will begin to fall in place when our two Kirk’s meet and argue over the past and once again our herd of wild horses will figure prominently in the film’s outcome and whether or not our two young lovers will have a future together.

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“It’s a hard county. Makes for hard men.” So says peg legged Kirk in a line near the start of the film that was meant for the cleft chinned star. It could have been used in so many of his films over the years. Douglas actually had played a peg legged character previously in his directorial debut in 1973, Scalawag.

This scenic film was directed by George Miller and it would be followed by a sequel in 1988. Return to Snowy River would once again star Burlinson and Thornton but Kirk Douglas would be replaced by Brian Dennehy.

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This one is a rewarding experience and makes for fine family entertainment.

Top Gun (1955)

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For this black and white oater with Mr. Sterling Hayden, you could pretty much take any hour long television western of the day and stretch it out by an extra twenty minutes and voila! You have the script for Top Gun.

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Hayden is a gunfighter who returns to his hometown to warn them of an incoming attack by a gang of carpetbaggers led by one of those great character actors of the day, John Dehner. The townsfolk know of Hayden’s reputation and want him to quickly move on. William Bishop most of all. Not only is he about to marry Hayden’s former love Karen Booth but he now owns the old family homestead that Hayden grew up on. It seems that our returning outlaw’s Mother sold the place to Bishop the day she was murdered. The killer was of course never found.

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It takes the always low key Hayden about 8 minutes to solve the mystery and swear vengeance on Bishop. But first he’ll have to take care of an up and comer looking to make a reputation for himself. Our young gunslinger is none other than baby faced Rod Taylor. While he hams it up through the film along with our main villain Dehner, Hayden is of course the total opposite and underplays practically every scene as he was known to do in most every role he undertook during his solid career.

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We get a little bit of a High Noon plot mixed in here with town sheriff James Millican trying to get help from the likes of Regis Toomey and Denver Pyle. Still there’s no doubting it’s going to come down to a Hayden vs. Dehner face off. After all Hayden once rode with Dehner and John is not the forgiving type.

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Dehner’s character is basically a variation on the Quantrill’s Raiders gang that has been showcased in a number of westerns including Kansas Raiders where Brian Donlevy played the lead. “B” director Ray Nazarro is behind the camera for this effort released by United Artists. Nazarro had many westerns under his belt by this time including Kansas Pacific which had also starred slow and deliberate Sterling Hayden.

Rod Taylor was just getting started here and would go on to be a popular leading man in the sixties and seventies turning up in some top notch films including The Time Machine and Dark of the Sun.

No Tom Cruise here for this Top Gun but we do get a fun cast of western regulars. This one turns up occasionally on TCM if you are so inclined.

Voodoo Man (1944)

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For this Monogram low budget special we get three well known boogie men showing up for the film’s rapidly paced 60 minutes. One of them a horror film Icon.

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If you are at all familiar with Monogram’s output then the names of producer Sam Katzman and director William “One Shot” Beaudine should be household names in your viewing world. They both had a hand in numerous Bowery Boys films and by extension some of Bela’s films as well through the poverty row studio.

This one starts out like so many modern horror films today that feature a chainsaw. A young lady stops at a gas station for directions only to be given false ones putting her in harms way. George Zucco delivers the false set of directions and John Carradine turns up to grab the young lady. Her destination? Bela’s mansion off the beaten path where he plans on using her in a voodoo ritual. The purpose is some soul swapping scheme to bring life back to his catatonic wife. George Zucco in a truly embarrassing get up leads the chanting.

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The experiments haven’t been working to well as Bela has a whole collection of young girls that are in zombie states. Fortunately for them they have an edgy and disheveled Carradine to stroke their hair and tell them how pretty they are.

When a second woman disappears, Hollywood scriptwriter Tod Andrews begins to solve the disappearances and leads the local sheriff out to Bela’s to do some poking around. This affords Bela the opportunity to get a little cagey to hide his voodoo operation.

When Bela’s recent captive Louise Currie wanders off Andrews pieces the mystery together and we’re treated to one final voodoo display featuring Zucco chanting to Carradine’s wonderful playing of the drum while Bela goes for the soul transfer. It should come as no surprise that things don’t work out as planned.

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Our trio of leads would also appear together in the “classic” Return of the Ape Man which was also released in 1944. While Bela was primarily in poverty row pics by this time, both Zucco and Carradine would still get character parts in “A” budget films from the major studios. Our film’s director would re-team with Mr. Carradine years later for the classic in title only, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.

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For an in joke at the closing of this Beaudine effort we get Andrews handing in a script of the proceedings with the suggestion to his producer, “Why don’t you get that actor Bela Lugosi. It’s right up his alley.”

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