Forgotten Film: Arsene Lupin (1932) 

Two Barrymores star in this 1930s film about the gentleman thief.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 178th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It was a tough choice this week selecting a Forgotten Film. On one hand, I had more of TCM’s giant creature movies on the DVR and I watched The Deadly Mantis in preparation for the review. But doing two similar films in a row was not how I really wanted to go. So, I glanced through the DVR and ran across Arsene Lupin, a mystery/thriller from 1932. I love older mysteries and the character of Arsene Lupin, so this film won out.

The character of Arsene Lupin, gentleman thief, was first introduced by Maurice Le Blanc in a series of short stories in 1905. By the time this film was made, Lupin had appeared in at least ten films and several plays as well as a number of short stories and novels. Wikipedia shows 19 volumes before the release of this film.

Aside from the subject matter, the film is also notable for being a team-up of John and Lionel Barrymore, two massive stars of the silver screen.  John gets the role of Arsene Lupin and the Duke of Charmerace, a broke aristocrat who runs a robbery ring as the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin. The film opens with a trussed up servant of Gourney-Martin knocking a telephone off the table and calling the police. He says the house is being robbed by someone approximately six feet tall with a limp. The call goes to the dispatch, where it is identified as possibly being by Arsene Lupin. The call is given to Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) who is one of the best in the Paris police.

As the police approach the house, the thief flees, but Guerchard follows. When they find the fleeing vehicle, it is abandoned except for a bound, well-dressed figure. The captive identifies himself as the Duke of Charmerace (John Barrymore). Guerchard says that’s a lie. The banter between the mysterious man and the officer continues back and forth continues until Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) arrives from the opera and identifies Charmerace to the police. Guerchard believes that Charmerac is still Lupin and was after Gourney-Martin’s famous emerald necklace and other jewels.  Gourney-Martin explains to Guerchard that Lupin would have been disappointed because the jewels are in the Gourney-Martin villa in the countryside. Charmerace hears this at the same time.

Gourney-Martin plans to head out to the countryside to make sure the jewels are OK. Charmerace has a party to host the next evening for his birthday. Guerchard is planning on having men at the party to keep an eye on him. At the party, Charmerace finds a naked woman in his bed. Her name is Countess Sonia (Karen Morley), and the strap on her gown has broken and is being repaired by some of the servants in the next room. Banter and innuendo ensues between the two.

Also at the party are collectors looking for more than a half million francs, which Charmerace promises to pay on the morrow. When the lights are turned out, women’s jewelry goes missing. The police search everyone, but the jewels are not found.

Gourneey-Martin has been at the party and asks Charmerace to come with him to the villa. He agrees and decides to bring Sonia along with him.  Guerchard is interested in this development, as Sonia notifies him about the trip, since she is working for the police.

Gourney-Martin shows Charmerace his safe which has no keyhole or combination. He asks Charmerace to open the door, but when he grasps the handle, he is shocked by the electric current which paralyzes his grip and he cannot let go of the door. Gourney-Martin laughs at the situation until Charmerace uses his free hand to grab Gourney-Martin who also is shocked. Gourney-Martin uses his free hand to flip the switch that turns off the current. He tells Charmerace about the jewels and bonds in the box. The bonds were obtained in a less than legal manner.

The rest of the film deals with Lupin taunting Guerchard and threatening to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on the following day, in front of the police and Guerchard.

It is a pretty decent film. The two Barrymores show why they were among the most noted actors of their time. Many have played Lupin over the years and John Barrymore was among the best. So, if you have the chance, it is worth spending the 84 minutes with this one. A classic film featuring classic actors in classic roles.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The Giant Claw (1957)

The Giant Claw

If only the creature in The Giant Claw was the one advertised on the poster.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 177th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

The other day on Facebook someone put up a picture that brought back interesting memories. The picture was a still from The Giant Claw.

I remember the events leading up to my seeing this film. I don’t remember the exact year. I know it was the summer of 1964 or 1965. My family was vacationing at the military park on Lake Texoma. We were visiting with my uncle Johnny and his family in the evenings and spending the day swimming at the lake. I am not a great swimmer and this may have been a reason why.

About ten in the morning, we were wading around in the water when my sister screamed bloody murder. She had stepped on a broken beer bottle and gashed open the sole of her foot. My mom grabbed a towel and wrapped up the foot. We got our stuff together and made the drive over to Perrin Field and the hospital. About an hour and a couple of stitches later, she was better.

We went back to the lake and had our lunch. In the afternoon, we went back into the lake (except my sister, who had a bandage on her foot). About 2 p.m. my brother stepped on a broken beer bottle and sliced open the bottom of his foot. Again, we grabbed up our stuff and headed back to town. I got dropped off at my uncle’s house, as sitting in the emergency room for the second time that day did not appeal to me. My cousin Ronnie was there. We were about the same age but of totally different temperaments.

While the family was at the hospital, Ronnie and I watched The Giant Claw. The family came back for me after about an hour and a half later and asked if I wanted to go back to the lake. I looked at my pale, flat and unscarred feet and said I thought I would stay at the house and finish the movie.

If you’ve ever seen The Giant Claw, you know what a hard choice that was.

Aeronautic Engineer Mitch McAfee (Jeff Morrow) is performing some tests in a jet when he witnesses a large shape coming toward his jet. He cannot make out the details but it is big and moving very rapidly. He narrowly avoids a collision and returns to the ground. Here, as he recounts his encounter, he is greeted with skepticism as the ground radar has not reported anything else in the sky. The military officer in charge threatens him over his prank. Even Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday), his girlfriend/mathematician, does not believe him.

Major Bergen (Clark Howat) is about to fight him when a call comes in about another sighting of a UFO and a missing commercial plane. Again, nothing else was seen on the radar, and the pilot had called in the sighting. Suddenly, Mitch and Sally are on their way to Washington. On their flight, the plane is attacked by the UFO and they end up in the area of the U.S./French Canadian border, where they are rescued by Pierre (Louis Merrill). When the authorities arrive, Pierre is outside and screams. He has seen la Carcagne, a French Canadian mythic creature, part woman, part giant bird.

In New York, the pair meet up with Generals Considine and Buslirk (Morris Ankrum and last week’s star of The Neanderthal Man, Robert Shayne). Mitch has found a pattern in the bird’s attacks, based on a giant spiral. More attacks are happening and they fit the pattern.

Up to this point, the The Giant Claw is a decent little B film. Then, we get to see the bird. Oh, my Lord! According to IMDB, Jeff Morrow stated that, up until the premier, no one in the cast had seen the creature. Morrow saw the film in his hometown and when the crowd started laughing, he got up and left, rather than be recognized for being in the film.

The producer ran out of money and contracted with a special effects group in Mexico. Their monster is one of the great laughing stocks in B movie history. The giant bird is a puppet with a deformed face. You can see the strings in a few scenes. It is unconvincing and horrid-looking and ruined what might have been a decent film.

Humanity wins against this extra-terrestrial being with an anti-matter screen which is bent on destruction. The method doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but by then, you don’t care. It’s a sad finish to a ruined film that had potential.

It had been more than 50 years since I saw The Giant Claw the first time. I had hoped my memories were incorrect or hazy. They were but not in a good way. It will be at least that long before I attempt it again. Unless I have to show it to someone as a lesson.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The Neanderthal Man (1953) 

The poster should clue you in that The Neanderthal Man is standard B-movie fare.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 176th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Sometime over the last year, I DVR’d a bunch of old movies I had never seen. I do this frequently. Sometimes I watch the films, other times I decide that my initial interest has faded and pass them up.

This last week, I was skinning through the recorded shows and I saw the title The Neanderthal Man and thought, “Why the heck not?”

It begins with Professor Clifford Groves (Robert Shayne, mistakenly credited as Robert Shane) living in the mountains of California, where he conducts experiments and formulates theories about Man’s ascent up the evolutionary ladder. He is working at home when he hears a loud noise and a crash. Something has happened in his laboratory.

Local hunter Wheeler is out looking for game and he runs across a saber toothed tiger, which he calls a “big cat,” even though it’s three times the size of a mountain lion and has tusks. Even though he is armed, Wheeler elects not to take a shot. Instead he goes down to Webb’s café and tells his story. No one believes him. Nola the waitress (Beverly Garland) is sympathetic but that doesn’t help. The local game warden George Oakes (Robert Long) decides to investigate and finds the spoor of something big. He makes a plaster cast of it. He takes the cast to Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane), the zoologist at the local university. Harkness thinks it is a manufactured piece, rather than something authentic.

Professor Groves’ evolutionary chart shows Cro-Magnon man prior to Neanderthal and has the hoaxed Piltdown Man on the list. No wonder the local scientists group at the Naturalist’s Club thinks he is loony. And a mad scientist in the California woods is not to be fooled with.

Harkness is aware of some of Groves’ theories, having disputed with them in the past. He has a confrontation with him at Groves’ house when he brings the Professor’s fiancé, Ruth Marshall (Doris Merrick), up from the café where her car has broken down. Harkness is looking for Oakes, who parks his car at the Professor’s house since the roads end there. Groves throws Harkness and Oakes out when he confronts them. The two go out looking for the saber toothed tiger and find it. They kill the beast and go to get Groves so they can have another person verify the kill. They have to wait for Groves to emerge from his lab and when they take him to the spot, the dead body has disappeared. The Professor loses his temper over the wasted time and throws them out again.

Ruth notices changes between the man she fell in love with and the current Professor. And, no wonder! The Professor has run out of test subjects other than a small cat which he injects with an experimental fluid. We can now guess where the tiger has come from.

With his big cat dead, the Professor does what any sane man would do. He injects the serum into his own body. Within minutes he has grown lots of hair and bad teeth. He runs out into the woods and attacks Nola who is posing for photos with her boyfriend. The boyfriend dies in the scuffle.

I don’t think I need to tell you much more of the plot. You know the drill.

The Neanderthal Man is standard B picture fare, nothing startling, nothing revelatory. The acting is OK to poor. The special effects budget was somewhere between $5 and $20. The saber toothed tiger looks amazingly like a real tiger (occasionally on a not-unseen leash) though the tusks are only seen in close up shots. In other words, the saber toothed tiger walking looks like a tiger walking without the saber teeth. The Neanderthal make-up looks like it’s from a bad werewolf movie, replete with the time lapse fur-growing scenes.

But for 1953 drive-in fare, the movie is palatable. Robert Shayne overacts the mad scientist part quite well and slings erudite insults at his Naturalist Club members with ease. And, Beverly Garland is a young Beverly Garland and well worth the attention.

This is not a film to make great effort to see, but if you have 78 minutes with nothing better to do, you could do worse.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Reaper, Episode 1 (2005)

Reaper is a short-lived CW series you may have missed.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 175th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

During Spring Break and late March, my friends Ed and Sam came out to Alpine to visit.  During the four days (unlike dead fish, they did not stink after three) they were here, we watched a large number of films and TV shows.

Fortunately, I had lots of things they had not seen. In one of the periods when a full-length movie was too much, I pulled the first season of Reaper off the shelf and said, “I’ll bet you’ve never seen anything quite like this.” Forty-five minutes later, they agreed. It was odd and irreverent and wonderful.

Reaper’s pilot episode concerns Sam Oliver (Brett Oliver), who’s about to turn 21. He still lives at home with his folks (Andrew Airlie and Allison Hossack) with his younger brother Kyle (Kyle Switzer). Younger brother is an overachiever while Sam is not. He works at a Home depot clone and dropped out of college after two weeks. The dictionary definition of “Loser” has his picture.

On his birthday, his parents are acting weird. His mother starts to cry; his father hugs him. Odd behavior. His best friend Bert “Sock” Wysocki (Tyler Labine) comes over for breakfast as he does every day. Sock is one of those for whom the position of Loser is a monumental promotion. Burnt-out slacker with no plans for anything past tonight’s activities. He also works at the hardware store, where his goal is to make it through his shift without actually doing anything.

On the way to work, vicious dogs seem to want to attack Sam’s car. At work, he is attracted to Andi (Missy Peregrym) a college student who works alongside him. During the day, a pile of air conditioners starts to fall toward her and Sam is, somehow, able to deflect them away. But Sam says he never touched them.

Suddenly evil dogs appear in the store, along with a mysterious white-haired man (the amazing Ray Wise). The man introduced himself as Satan. Confused, Sam goes home, where he learns that as a young couple his father had been really ill. To the point that his parents made a deal with the Devil. In exchange for a cure, the Olivers had to promise that Satan could have their first son on his 21st birthday.

No problem. They had no kids, and Mr. Oliver got a vasectomy. But then Mom showed up pregnant. Seems the doctor had some gambling debts he needed gone, so the Devil asked for one ineffective surgery.

Here’s the twist in Sam’s dilemma: the Devil doesn’t want his soul. He’s got plenty of those. What he needs is someone to help capture the souls that have escaped Hell. It’s a simple deal. Sam is shown the soul in its current manifestation. He is given a specialized tool to capture the soul, which he then has to deliver to a portal that is literally Hell on Earth. For this mission, the soul collector is a dust buster hand vac. And the portal is the local DMV, where a minion is disguised as a clerk, though she does have tiny horns hidden under her bangs.

Oh, and the soul is an arsonist working as a local firefighter who looks like a MMA champion who could smash Sam with this eyelashes. Needless to say, the first mission does not go well. Sam and Sock go after the firefighter and miss, expending the energy in the dust buster.

They need to find a way to recharge their special tool and a plan to figure out where the soul will be.

They eventually succeed and the deal is done. Or so Sam thinks. Satan has other ideas. There are more souls to be captured. And the deal isn’t done until he says it is.

The ensemble works well together and the fun is clearly present. Life at the hardware store is certainly Hell and Sam and Sock still have to try and survive there. Ray Wise is so well cast as Satan, debonair and not be fooled with.

Reaper survived for two seasons on the CW. I missed it when it was on. The amazing Kimm Antell introduced me to the show later and I loved it. Just as K. D, Wentworth had introduced me to Wonderfalls and Point Pleasant, I have to try to pass the love on. Give it a try. The episodes vary in quality. The pilot was directed by Kevin Smith of Clerks and Comic Book Men fame, who knows quirky humor.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The Night of the Lepus aka Rabbits! (1972)

The original poster of Night of the Lepus actually makes it look scary.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 174th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Hey, let’s try for two weeks in a row on the Forgotten Film. What a concept!

And speaking of concepts, this week’s film has one. Well, maybe half a concept: Ecology tampered with by man runs a little wild in the Southwest.

Since we just finished Easter, I thought Night of the Lepus might be a suitable tie-in film.

I remember when Night of the Lepus came out. I was a very broke college student who could do an occasional film and I thought about this one. For about two days anyway, which was when I got the report back from friends. As one put it, “This dog won’t hunt.” It was bad. For a horror film, it was not scary — a kiss of death.

And, until this weekend, I had kept that nearly 45 year streak alive.

So the plot involves rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) whose property is being overrun with rabbits. He loses one of his best horses when it steps into a rabbit hole and breaks a leg while he is riding it. He wants the varmints gone, but he did not like previous pest control efforts which utilized poisons.

Hillman contacts the president of the local university, Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), for assistance. Since Hillman is a big-time contributor to the university, Clark wants to help. So he contacts Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) who have been working with bats but respect Hillman’s request not to use poisons. They have an experimental serum which they hope will disrupt the animals’ hormones and mating habits. They also have a precocious daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton), who has become attached to the rabbit given the injection. She secretly switches it out with another rabbit. Then, being precocious, she takes this infected rabbit to Hillman’s ranch, where it escapes and joins the rabbit population. Bunny breeding and mutations occur with astounding rapidity. Giant mutant rabbits begin attacking the animals and local population.

The film had good stars — some of my favorites. Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley and Paul Fix all had major roles, along with a million or so rabbits. But the human actors seem to have seen how the film was going to turn out. Their hearts must not have been in it, because their acting is marginal at best.

The screenplay, based on the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon, a 1964 comic horror novel set in Australia, was written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney. Kearney did some TV work and was nominated for an Emmy. Holliday appears to have this one credit and nothing else. The dialogue for the film is dreadful. But it’s better than the special effects. Being 1972, we have no CGI or computer assists. So we see lots of regular-size bunnies running rampant over miniature sets while costumed actors got the job of trying to appear to be giant mutant rabbits killing regular folk.

I had trouble staying with the film. I got distracted by solitaire games or pretty much anything. So, sorry for this one. Maybe I will have a better film next week. I know some people like this one for a camp effect or some such reason. I’m not going to be one of them.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Paul (2011)

Don’t expect Paul to match The Day the Earth Stood Still, but do expect fun.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 173rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It is about time I got back to watching films and inflicting my opinion of them on you. It’s been nine months and I have gone through a new job, a relocation, and the wonderfulness that is packing up a large library for months, having it transported and then trying to get it back in some semblance of normality.

Fortunately, I have learned to live with serendipity as my filing system. This simply means that if I want to watch a film, the film I am meant to see will present itself. If I want to see something else, it will hide until I have seen the other film.

I recently had some friends in to visit for four days. One of the fun things that happens in these events is that I try to show them films they should have seen but, for one reason or another, may have missed. During this time we watched The Rutles, Ex Machina, The Night Watch, Hellboy, the pilot for Reaper, several episodes of Troll Hunters… and Paul.

I had seen Paul on its original release and had enjoyed it so I picked up the DVD used when the opportunity presented itself. I had intended to watch Cold in July, the wonderful film based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, but it hid from me and Paul stuck out.

Paul is a science fiction film wherein Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, respectively. They are science fiction nerds. Graeme is an illustrator and Clive is a Nebulon Award-winning author. They are in San Diego to attend Comic Con and to meet Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), a major science fiction writer and one of their idols. Shadowchild is a dick to people at the convention but they ignore his bad behavior. Graeme and Clive are planning on touring the western U.S. visiting UFO sites. They have a rented fifth wheel. Along the way they offend some shotgun-carrying rednecks by denting their truck. In their escape, they run into Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an ET trying to escape experimentation at Area 51. He has cool powers like turning invisible, transferring all of his knowledge to you and other things. And, being voiced by Seth Rogen, he’s remarkably crude and vulgar.

The government is chasing Paul, using a variety of agents including Special Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and rookies Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) who all report to “the Big Guy” (a surprise guest not mentioned here because it might be considered a spoiler). There are adventures along the way, including encounters with Tara Walton (Blythe Danner) and Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig). Wiig is particularly fun, as she evolves from a fundamentalist young woman with one eye blind into a swearing, drinking, wild woman who acquires Paul’s knowledge of the universe.

Now, Paul is not quality sf along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still or Forbidden Planet. What it is is a film that takes nothing seriously. The hunt for Paul is a blast. The discussions about Life, the Universe, and Everything between Graeme, Clive and Paul are interesting. And, overall, the film itself is fun.

I am not a Seth Rogen fan. But, his irreverence and overall demeanor worked well for an alien about to be dissected. His outlook powers the film.

The final half hour should have lots of resonance with fans of classic sf movies. It did for me, but I am easily amused and all my taste is in my mouth.

I still say “Check it out!”

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The bizarre sets of the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari make for a skewed viewing experience.

The bizarre sets of the silent film Cabinet of Dr. Caligari make for a skewed viewing experience.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 172nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is hardly an unknown film to this crowd, but it was to me. I know that I saw it, but it must have been in the 70’s and much of that time is lost to my fuzzy memory. And, no, it wasn’t drugs. It’s been a long fun road since then and plenty of memories.

I picked up a nice DVD of the film at least 15 years ago but never got around to watching it. Always too many other, newer things to see. But today, I needed to watch and review something since my move is upcoming and I will be missing some weeks. I had watched a Marvel animated thing called Hulk Vs. which featured the Hulk in fights with Wolverine and Thor. But it was awful and I couldn’t justify writing about it other than to say “don’t bother with it.” Pretty mindless stuff there with passable animation but no real plot.

And, since I have been away from home for a couple of months and my selection of films is limited to DVDs only. (Even though I have some wonderful Blu-Ray films with me, I don’t have a useable Blu-Ray player. I have one, just not a TV to connect it to.)

I looked through the stack of films (about 30 or so) and Caligari called out to me, so here we are.

The film is a short, silent German expressionistic horror film, told primarily in flashbacks. Young Francis (Frederick Feher) is speaking to an old man when a young woman named Jane (Lili Dagover) walks by in a trance. He explains that she is his fiancé and that they have been involved in an odd ordeal.

In the town of Holstenwall, Francis and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowsky) are rivals for Jane’s hand. Alan suggests that they all go to the fair. At the fair, Dr. Caligari (Werner Kraus) is setting up a somnambulist show. When he applies for a permit, he is insulted by the town clerk. The clerk is mysteriously murdered that night. When Alan and Francis visit the show, Francis asks the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), how long he will live. He is told that he will die at dawn.

That night Cesare visits Alan and kills him in his bed. Suddenly the town has two violent unsolved murders. Francis fears that it is Caligari and Cesare, so he brings his suspicions to the police. As they are investigating, an old woman is attacked by a man and he is arrested for the three murders. He confesses to the one attempt but says that he hoped his killing would be lumped with the other two.

There is further investigation and Jane is abducted at night by Cesare and a crowd follows the monster. Jane is rescued Cesare escapes, only to die out on his own.

The police were watching Caligari and it is reported that no one left. But when they investigate the cabinet where Cesare is housed, they find a dummy with a wig. Francis investigates a mad house looking for a patient named Caligari and does not find one, but sees that the head of the institution has that name. He finds a ledger which details a mad 11th century mountebank who tried to use a somnambulist to commit murders. The flashback shows the doctor succumbing to the idea of using the sleep walker as an experiment to see if it would commit crimes that he might not otherwise do. But these are delusions in Francis’ mind and he is the insane one.

The main thing you notice in watching this are the sets and images. The sets have few right angles or perpendicular walls. Even the windows are skewed. The images are wonderful and bizarre. The actors are have heavily mascara’d eyes, almost modern Goths before their time. The camera work is frequently less than full scene and often not in a rectangular format. Shots are done is circles and zoom in and out.

It was wonderfully odd and wild and I really enjoyed seeing it for the second time. I had totally forgotten everything since my last likely experience. If you too have not seen it in quite a while, I recommend watching it again. Being silent, you will have to read the film to enjoy it.

Of course, your mileage may vary. For a film 96 years old, it holds up well for me.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

 

 

Forgotten Films: Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)

Lloyd Nolan's Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he's one of the best things about the film.

Lloyd Nolan’s Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he’s one of the best things about the film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 171st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome back to Forgotten Films. This week I decided to go a little further back and pick a B movie that many people have not seen. Michael Shayne, Private Detective was the first of the Mike Shayne stories to go onto celluloid and it has both good and bad points.

The first good point is Lloyd Nolan who played Shayne in seven films for Twentieth Century Fox. He makes an interesting Shayne, tough and no nonsense but one who has a whimsical side too.

The film begins at the race track where Phyllis Brighton (Marjorie Weaver) is losing badly. Her father Hiram Brighton (Clarence Kolb) refuses to give her money to place a bet on a 15-1 long shot. She finds a bookie and attempts to pawn off an expensive brooch to cover a $200 bet. Shayne is nearby and spoils her deal by telling the bookie the jewelry is paste. Phyllis does not know Shayne, but Shayne knows her and her father. Imagine her rage when the horse wins unexpectedly and she does not get her $3,000 reward.

Phyllis complains to her father about Shayne and dear old dad decides that Mike is exactly the person he needs to keep his wayward daughter on the straight and narrow. Since times are a little tight (the furniture company is repossessing his office when Brighton calls), Mike takes the job.

The first stop is a local casino where Phyllis is hanging with Harry Grange (George Meeker), the guy who had given her the tip on the horserace. She is playing roulette and not having any luck. She hits Grange up for a loan and as he is giving it to her, Shayne interrupts. There is discussion and Phyllis takes the money anyway.

Shayne goes to talk to the owner Gordon (Douglas Dumbrille), who is arguing with his daughter Marsha (Joan Valerie) about Grange. Shayne convinces Gordon to give Phyllis back the money she lost. There is a conference with Grange, Phyllis, Gordon and Shayne. It ends with Shayne punching out Grange and taking Phyllis to her home.

Here he meets Aunt Olivia (Elizabeth Patterson) who has always wanted to meet a real detective. She loves solving murder mysteries and regales Shayne with the stories of those she loved. Phyllis has been locked in her room, but she has a spare key and promptly returns to the casino and Grange.

Shayne, of course, follows but lets her alone. Instead, he drugs Grange and takes him away in Phyllis’ car, where he applies catsup to the front of his shirt. He then goes back to the casino and picks up Phyllis and is driving her home since she cannot find her car. He also calls his comic foil Chief Painter (Douglas McBride) of the homicide division to put the fear of god in her.

Driving her home, they spot Phyllis’ car and the slumped form of Grange. Phyllis recognizes the catsup and tries to shake Grange awake. That’s when she sees the gunshot to his forehead. They also find Mike’s gun nearby. It’s been fired.

Mike sends Phyllis home and throws the gun away and awaits the arrival of the police. Things get tough when the police (tipped off by Gordon) find out about the altercation between Grange and Mike.

The film swings between comedic spots and a real mystery. Shayne wisecracks through the whole film. Soon there is murder, kidnapping, horse race fixing and other drama to keep the story moving. Aunt Olivia steals the show whenever she is on stage. And Phyllis begins to think that having Shayne around might not be too bad.

As I said, Nolan is a good thing about the film. But he’s also a bad thing. He is not really the Mike Shayne form the novels (though by the time the film came out, only two had been published). The Shayne of the novels was Irish, red headed and married. Nolan’s not any of these. But, that said, I liked him.

Nolan delivers up something that is a combination of the hardboiled Shayne and the comedic Thin Man type. It must have succeeded because Fox did six more films with Nolan and then the series shifted to PRC where Hugh Beaumont (of Leave it to Beaver fame) did five more. Shayne also went on to appear on radio in several series and on TV. Brett Halliday (a pseudonym used by Davis Dresser) wrote at least 50 Mike Shayne novels (and others wrote 27 more as Halliday, bringing the total to 77). Some of my favorites were written by Robert Terrell, who also did some nice hardboiled work under his own name and Robert Kyle.

Overall I like the film. You should check it out. This first one is available on YouTube or in the Michael Shayne Mysteries collection, which has the first four Nolan Shayne offerings.

As always, my taste is in my mouth. You may hate these things. Hope not, but it’s your life.

I will probably miss the next couple of weeks as I am in the process of moving and it looks like it will be happening imminently. If I do miss my movie reviews, check out Todd Mason’s blog and see what some of the other folks who do the Forgotten Films have to offer up.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Film: Quatermass and the Pit (1958)

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

This is the 170th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As I mentioned last week, Quatermass and the Pit was one of the new films I recently picked up. This is the six episode serial that ran on the BBC from December 1958 to January 1959. Each episode was 35 minutes, making the DVD roughly 210 minutes. The 1967 film version, released as Five Million Years to Earth in the United States, ran 97 minutes, less than half the running time of the original production.

As usual, I do have a story about this film. As a freshman at the University of Texas I was attracted to an interesting grad student who studied Anthropology and worked with the monkeys at UT. We hit it off well and were an item for a fairly long time. I kept in touch with her even after she transferred out to University of Georgia and worked with the monkeys there on her way to a doctorate in psychology.

One night we were talking and she was telling me about the worst film she had ever seen in her life. (You see where this is going.) It was Five Million Years to Earth. 

The film features a rocket buried in a Knightsbridge neighborhood. Digging for a new development unearths some unusual skulls and scientists are brought in, including Dr. Matthew Roney (Cec Linder). Roney is pressured to wrap up his investigation fast, but he is not having it. He appeals to his friend Prof. Bernard Quatermass (Andre Morell) who has been working with the British rocketry group. He has just gotten a military co-commander Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) who is a no-nonsense, military, anything-we-can-do-to-win sort of guy. Roney is assisted by a female scientist Barbara Judd (Christine Finn).

Breen and Quatermass go to the worksite to see if the object might be an unexploded bomb. Soon weird things happen and the investigators learn of odd reports from the neighborhood going back 30 years or so. The dig further and discover that the weird things go back centuries.

The rocket is made of an odd material that resists analysis. Roney suggests that the unearthed skulls represent an ape-like man with a developed brain who may be up to five million years old (hence the film title).

Insect-like creatures are found inside the ship and these are suspected of being perhaps Martian in origin. Colonel Breen is having none of this, even though he has been affected by something from the ship. He is convinced it is a leftover German propaganda stunt from WWII. Needless to say, he is proven very wrong.

The film has lots of ins and outs and conflicts between the scientists and the military, which result in multiple deaths of soldiers and civilians. One worker even has symptoms of demonic possession.

At two and a half hours, there is room to expound on a lot of these subjects. In the 97 minute film version, much gets glossed over, hence my former girlfriend’s distaste for the film. She hated the ending, which I enjoyed in both versions. The film is done in color while the BBC show is presented in a stirring black and white. And being 1958, the special effects are less than stellar. The BBC has never been noted for its effects budgets and certainly not in the period four-plus years before Dr. Who.

Now, prior to Dr. Who, screenwriter Nigel Kneale was Britain’s premier science fiction TV writer. Prior to Quatermass and the Pit he had done a version of 1984 and two earlier Quatermass teleplays – The Quatermass Experiment with Reginald Tate in the Quatermass role (also filmed under that title and The Creeping Unknown with Brian Donlevy) and Quatermass II with John Robinson in the title role, since Tate had unfortunately died. Quatermass II was later filmed as Enemy From Space with Brian Donlevy repeating the role. Five Million Years to Earth featured Andrew Keir in the role. Later John Mills would take the role in Quatermass.

The tale gets pretty wacky by the end but I loved it. My former girlfriend Jen hated it. Everyone’s got their own opinion. Go for the longer version. Things are a little clearer in their motivation and explanations. As usual, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Films: American Pop (1981)

American Pop focuses on four generations of Americans striving to make it in the music business.

American Pop focuses on four generations of Americans striving to make it in the music business.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 169th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Recently, I purchased some DVD’s of films I had been wanting for some time. They included Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (reviewed a couple of weeks ago), Quatermass and the Pit (soon to be on the list) and this week’s pick, American Pop.

I first encountered Ralph Bakshi’s work on the Saturday morning Spider-Man cartoon of the late 1960’s. It didn’t really do much for me then, but I watched because … Spider-Man. I had a strong emotional attachment to that nerdy character at the time. Fritz the Cat came out a few years later, but it would be a while before I finally saw that film. X rated animated features were not high on my list at that time.

Then came Wizards. That one resonated! Wow! Rotoscoping genius. I had earlier seen rotoscoping in some of the Fleischers’ work — the Popeyes (particularly the Sinbad one) and Gulliver’s Travels. In Wizards, animation was making a new old leap forward. Then The Lord of the Rings! Yep, Frodo and Gandalf were on the big screen in a way I never expected to see them. Rotoscoping allowed for some realism in the content, but it had its problems too. Unfortunately, Bakshi’s LOTR was not complete and the second half never did arrive in theaters. Several stories emerged as to why it did not, especially since the first film did well at the box office. There was later a Rankin-Bass adaptation of The Return of the King which supposedly completed the film. I own a copy but have never watched it. I am not a fan of Rankin-Bass.

Anyway, American Pop was Bakshi’s next project, and it was near and dear to my heart. It presents a guide to American popular music for the first eight decades of the 20th Century. It tells the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish family who immigrated to the New York City area during the pogroms of the Czarist era. Zalmie Belinski (voiced by Jeffrey Lippa) begins working in the vaudeville halls prior to World War I, passing out chorus lists to patrons so they can sing along with the performers. His mother works in a garment-district sweatshop and is killed in one of the deadly fires that happened during that period.

Zalmie continues in vaudeville, hoping to be a singer. He meets a young stripper, Bella (voiced by Lisa Jane Persky), and soon finds himself with a son on the way and urged by the local mob to marry Bella. He joins a vaudeville tour of the war zone as the back half of a dancing horse act and, in a freak accident, is shot in the throat. He will now never be a singer. Bella, however, has some success.

Zalmie’s mentor, Louie, is working for Mr. Palumbo, the mobster, and Zalmie finds himself working for him too. It is the time of speakeasies and Prohibition and mob wars. Palumbo needs a husband for his daughter and Zalmie’s son, Bennie (Richard Singer), an aspiring jazz pianist, is recruited. When WWII breaks out, Bennie enlists even though he has a child on the way. In a poignant scene, Bennie finds a piano in a bombed out village. He puts his gun down and starts playing. A wounded German soldier is nearby and approaches Bennie. Bennie plays Lili Marleen for the soldier who is obviously reminiscing about better days. When Bennie finishes, the soldier kills him.

Bennie’s son Tommy (Ron Thompson) grows up in the late 50’s and early 60’s, joining the Beat scene. There is a wonderful performance of the first part of Ginsberg’s Howl in one of the clubs. Tommy splits, steals a car, and makes it to Kansas, where he has a one night stand with a waitress. He soon arrives in California during the birth of the Summer of Love, where he meets Frankie Love (Marya Small) and her band, modeled off several Bay Area bands but most notably Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

This is where the film really works for me because this is my music. The Golden age for Rock and Roll is 15. The music you liked at 15 is the stuff that stays with you. For me, 15 was the Summer of Love. The Airplane, the Electric Prunes, the Doors, Hendrix, Cream — they were the magic for me.

Bakshi takes the film up to the punk scene and the re-emergence of Bob Seger. I was not much of a fan of that final stage of the story because the story focuses heavily on drug dealing, but I still liked the music.

Overall, I had fun with this again. I had seen it in 1981 but not since. I loved the music. The animation was OK. As I said, rotoscoping has some drawbacks, but overall it worked. Give it a try. It has some wonderful mixed-media influences, including the use of archival footage that was not animated.

As always (and particularly where music is involved), your mileage can vary significantly from mine. If you hate rock and roll, the last half hour will not be your cup of tea. For me, though, it was oolong.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.