Forgotten Films: Cold in July (2014)

By Scott A. Cupp

The last 20 minutes of Joe Lansdale’s Cold in July will keep anyone riveted.

This is the 190th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I have been wanting to write about the thriller Cold in July for a while but somewhere in my move last year, the Blu-Ray disappeared. But I saw Joe Lansdale the other day at ArmadilloCon and got another copy from him.

The film is based on the novel of the same name, which came out in 1989. I knew Joe long before then and was anxiously awaiting this novel when it was released. I was in Abilene on the release day and looked for it in the book store. No copies were available. I checked the release date again. I had the correct day, but the store did not have the book. I asked about it and it took another week and a half to come in. I read it that night. It was a powerful book and it blew my socks off.

So, when I heard it was being filmed, I had my doubts. Joe has had many films under option, but not many have made it to the screen. Before this, we had the amazing Bubba Ho-Tep which everyone should see. And a couple of his short stories had been filmed, like Incidents On and Off a Mountain Road for Showtime’s Masters of Horror and Drive In Date, done by Cahill Productions. And, of course, there is Christmas With the Dead, which got no distribution.

Cold in July got a pretty good treatment for an indie film production. First, there was the script by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. These two would later produce the first season of Hap and Leonard. Nick Damici also got a role in the film as Ray Price, a police lieutenant. It’s a short but important role, which he handled well. Mickle also got to direct. He had a few films earlier, but this was a showpiece.

So, we had a novel, a good script and a good director. They needed a cast. And, boy howdy, did we get a cast. The protagonist of the film, Richard Dane is played by Michael C. Hall. He would normally be the greatest thing in an indie film, but this one managed to lasso Sam Shepard as former convict Ben Russell. And he would normally have been the greatest thing in an indie film. But they also brought in Don Johnson as Private Eye Jim Bob Luke. All three chew up the scenery and make this a great viewing.

The story is a tough one. Richard Dane (Hall) is a family man, married with one child. He works as a picture framer. Life is decent until the night his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) hears a noise. He gets out of bed and gets his gun from the closet and loads it. He then confronts a burglar in his living room. The sudden chiming of the clock results in a twitch of his finger and one dead burglar. The police arrive and take statements. Even though the burglar was unarmed, Dane is not held responsible. He and Ann begin the task of cleanup. The sofa has to go; there are brains and blood on the wall, which needs cleaning.

The next day, people continually ask about the incident and praise his action. But Dane is upset. Someone is dead at his hand. The dead man is identified as Freddy Russell, a loser. His only relative is a father (Shepard), recently released from the prison in Huntsville. Dane is still shaken by the events and buys bars for the windows. His temper with his son grows short.

Dane watches the funeral from a distance. Sharp-eyed viewers can see Joe Lansdale in the distance for about one second as the minister handling the service. At the service Dan is approached by Ben Russell, Freddy’s dad. Ben understands the situation but still, Freddy is his son. He makes a threat that indicates that he knows Dane’s son.

That night, when the family returns home, their new locks are broken. They call the police, but nothing is found. Russell continues terrorizing the family until he’s finally chased away. But now the film takes a strange twist. Dane is at the police station and sees a wanted poster for Freddy Russell — and it does not match the man he killed.

Soon, Lieutenant Ray Price (Damici) tells Dane that Russell has been captured going into Mexico and will soon be put away. Dane has not been able to sleep well and as he goes out one night, he sees Price and some other officer load Ben Russell into a police car, handcuffed. The police knock him out, douse him with liquor and put him on the train tracks just about a minute before the late night train is due.

Dane sees all this and cannot let Russell die. He rescues the man and takes him to his family cabin nearby. Dane locks him up there for the night, returning later to try and explain everything. This ends up with the two exhuming the body in the grave and verifying it is not Freddy Russell.

Russell wants to find Freddy and calls in his old Army buddy Jim Bob (Johnson). Things take several wicked turns after this, and no one who has not read the book could ever guess where it was going to end up. The final 20 minutes or so are incredibly intense and not for the weak of stomach.

This one is well worth seeing. Sandi and I saw it on the big screen in its very limited theatrical release. It was stunning. The late night crowd was riveted and stunned by the ending. If you are a follower of Hap and Leonard on TV, you need to see this film. If you haven’t seen either one, start now. And of you have not seen Bubba Ho-Tep, we can’t be friends until you change that. Just saying.

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

Forgotten Films: The Unholy Three (1925)

In The Unholy Three, Tod Browning directs Lon Chaney in a dark crime film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 189th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

Sometimes, I have previously seen the films that I decide to review. Others, I see them for the first time with the idea of writing about them. This week is one of the latter. I became aware of Long Chaney’s work when I saw the film Man of a Thousand Faces with James Cagney, which was a fascinating biographical film. And I initially saw the work of his son, Lon Chaney Jr. in a wonderful series of Universal horror films.

In college, I got to see my first Lon Chaney film, The Phantom of the Opera. What a thrill! I witnessed the wonderful acting, the various stylized movements that he used, the pathos and the horror.

But I never saw any of his others. I recorded several but erased them when I began to run out of space. Silent films take a dedication from the viewer. Watching a talking film allows you to multitask. You can listen to the dialogue while checking email and not necessarily miss much. But silent films require your full attention. You never know when a card is going to appear explaining something essential. And you cannot be assured you’ll catch all the action when there are no loud explosions or screeching tires to draw your attention to the screen.

All that said, I sat back on a Sunday afternoon to watch a classic Chaney film, The Unholy Three. I knew it was one of his big roles so I was ready. At 84 minutes, I could give it all of my attention and still not require the entire afternoon to watch and digest.

Ventriloquist Professor Echo (Chaney) works at a sideshow with several memorable characters. There are the Fat Lady, the Tattooed Lady, Hercules (Victor McLaglen), the diminutive Tweedledee (Harry Earles) and others. Sweet Rosie O’Grady (Mae Busch) works the crowds as a pickpocket. Their lives all get unsettled when Tweedledee gets into a fight with an unruly spectator kid. The ensuing riot ends with them leaving the sideshow.

Echo suggests an alliance between himself, Hercules, and Tweedledee. “We will make millions!” he tells them. They laugh together and Tweedledee proposes the name the Unholy Three.

The next scene shows Rosie entering O’Grady’s Bird Shop, where she greets clerk Hector McDonald (Matt Moore) who sells parrots at the store. Rosie flirts with him. They are interrupted by her grandmother and the infant Little Willie. But things are not as they appear. Grandmother O’Grady is Chaney and Little Willie is Tweedledee. They have a scheme going. Hector sells talking parrots but they really talk for Mrs. O’Grady.

When the birds are delivered, they don’t really talk in the homes of their owners. Mrs. O’Grady goes to visit the homes and case the joints. She brings the pram with the baby inside and he helps in the casing.

One such visit takes place on Christmas Eve at the Arlington home. Grandmother and baby see a wonderful ruby necklace which they prepare to steal that evening. As they make their plans, Rosie comes to visit, but she runs into Hector carrying a tree and ornaments to set up for Little Willie. Grandmother is jealous of Hector and Rosie (since Rosie is his girl). With Echo trapped, Hercules and Tweedledee go on without him to carry out the robbery. Things do not go well and Mr. Arlington is murdered.

Police begin to suspect the grandmother, so Echo sets up Hector to be the fall guy. But Rosie has fallen in love. And the unholy trio has some dissention in their ranks. Thoughts that the loot might be better split by two, or not even split at all, run through their minds.

Bad things happen, some at the hands of a killer ape! My type of film!

I liked this Tod Browning-directed piece quite a lot, though TCM had a film score appended that intruded more often than not. In fact, I just hated the music. It’s a pretty dark film and the ending lacks some believability. But, despite those quibbles, I would watch it again in a heartbeat. Chaney is remarkable. Harry Earles tries to steal every scene, and I had to admire his effort, even though I hated his character.

If you can read your films (and many folks I know can’t. I’m looking at my wife as I type this. She’s one of them!), this is one you should see.

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

Forgotten Films: Seven Days in May (1964)

Seven Days in May is tightly wound thriller.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 188th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

OK, hopefully, we are back on schedule.

As I work on this, I am preparing to go to Austin for ArmadilloCon. This will be the 39th ArmadilloCon, and I have been to them all. Not many can say that. I will be on a couple of panels, including one with my buddy Joe Lansdale, and I will be reading my Western Mythos-type story “Giant Scorpions From Hell!” sometime Saturday.

This means I am doing this column four days early. So I had to watch a movie earlier than normal. Oh, the horror! Fortunately TCM (the greatest cable channel ever conceived!) provided me with several options last weekend. I watched The Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart, Henry Fonda and one of my favorites, Shirley Jones. I also took in Twelve O’Clock High with Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger, Gary Merrill and many more. Those were both fun films, and I would have prefaced a review of the Shirley Jones movie with the story of Sandi and I going to see her at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas in 1981. We should not have done it. We were broke at the time. We had enough money for the tickets and dinner, but none left to pay for hotel parking after the show. The kind lady there let us slide, and we had a great evening. We lowered the average age of the audience by about ten years, but I loved it. And Sandi loved me so she went along. And that was one of many reasons I love her!

But I’m not going to tell that story.

I grew up in a very small town in Texas. One that makes Alpine, where I currently live, and its 6,000 residents appear large. As I entered the combined high school and junior high, I was amazed by the size of the library. I had been on military bases before so school libraries were small and wanting. (This may account for my own obsessive hoarding of books.) There were not many things to do in town so I read. A lot. One of the books I read was a political thriller, Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. As part of a military family, I found the story gripping.

When the film came out, I wanted to see it. But, out of the family, I was the only one. So I did not get to watch it in the theater. The nearest screen was more than 10 miles away and I was a preteen so it was not in the cards. I did eventually see it on the TV some years later and I loved it.

The cast is superb on all levels. President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March in one of his last roles) is facing a crisis in popularity. He has made a disarmament deal with the Russians many disagree with, particularly the military. Among his toughest critics is General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Scott’s aide, Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas), agrees with him.

It is early May, and a major drill is planned for the upcoming weekend with the President and the Joint Chiefs going to Mount Thunder to observe how the alert is handled. The President has even agreed to keep the media in the dark so none are on hand during the alert.

Strange things unfold. A young communications officer tells Casey about a Preakness betting pool that involves most of the joint chiefs. An old friend mentions that he is the exec at a military installation Casey is unaware of. The General lies to him about some visitors. People get upset about the betting pool. Senators know things they should not.

Casey has stumbled onto something nefarious. The drill is set for Sunday. And by Wednesday he is convinced that a potential coup may be in the offing. But it is well planned and every angle seems to be covered. There is nothing concrete anywhere.

I really like this film. I watched it with Sandi, who normally does not like this type of film but was riveted by this one. All the way to the end, you are unsure how things will turn out.

And the supporting cast includes Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Andrew Duggan (a favorite of mine), John Houseman, Martin Balsam, Whit Bissell and Hugh Marlowe. Wow! All of them do a great job keeping the tension going. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.

And, did I mention that Rod Serling did the screenplay? Go forth and watch.

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

Forgotten Films: Adventures of Superman: Superman on Earth (1952) 

The pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman stands as one of the great episodes of ’50s TV.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 187th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

It has been an interesting week, again! I had a nightmare and fell out of bed, striking my forehead against a night stand and opening a cut up. It bled badly and was still oozing two hours later. So, I took myself to the Emergency Room where I got my cut superglued shut and a tetanus shot. I already had a headache and some aching muscles from the fall. And an embarrassed feeling in having to explain what happened. The only good takeaway is that I now have a miniature Harry Potter lightning bolt scar just above my right eyebrow.

Oh, and two of my friends got not-good health reports this week. Another peripheral acquaintance recently lost her mother, her one true love and her business. She took her life this last weekend.

So I needed something to make me feel better. Staying at home to rest my head and back, I decided to watch the premiere episode of The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. “Superman on Earth” is one of my favorite episodes of ‘50s TV.

The 28-minute episode is also one of the best TV superhero origin stories that stays true to its source materials. It begins on Krypton where the weather has been odd. The high council has asked young scientist Jor-El (Robert Robinson, best known as Mr. Boynton on Our Miss Brooks). He says Krypton is being drawn into the sun and will soon explode, but the council laughs him out of the chambers. At his home, he fuels his experimental rocket and discusses his experience with his wife Lara (Aline Towne, who made some memorable appearances in Republic serials). The planet’s weather anomalies begin to intensify, and Jor-El feels that it will soon explode. His rocket can carry one and he offers the seat to her. Instead, she elects to stay with him and send off their small son.

The planet explodes, the rocket speeds away, finding its way to Earth where it crashes in a field near Eben and Sarah Kent (Tom Fadden and Frances Morris). I love how they used the original names associated with the Clark Kent story and the Superman novel I reviewed some time ago.

The story unfolds normally, with Clark Kent growing up, Eben dying and Clark going off to join the Daily Planet. Here we meet the cast that the Adventures of Superman made famous. George Reeves as Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton as Perry White are all there in their glory. We also get a glimpse of the slight innuendo and wordplay between Lois and Clark that would characterize all Superman stories for the next 65 years.

Following this episode, I was much more calm and relaxed and decided to watch the Superman vs. The Mole Men movie made the year before. Suddenly, I was six again and living in Richmond, Virginia, watching Superman on an old black-and-white TV. The feeling of nostalgia and all around goodness made the day pass by.

Life was … better. It still wasn’t good. Just better.

I finished the morning watching the end of The Cat People, coming in near the swimming pool scene. It was gloriously noir.

All in all, it was a mixed bag of a day. I need to go read something uplifting too.

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

Forgotten Films: Children of the Damned (1964)

Creepy kids are up to no good in Children of the Damned.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 186th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

When I was 8 or 9 I saw George Sanders and Barbara Shelley in the classic horror film Village of the Damned, which was based on the remarkable John Wyndham novel The Midwich Cuckoos. It was a very effective film with the trope of evil children pitted against a secluded town. In it, one day in the town of Midwich, every person mysteriously falls asleep. Soon, every woman capable of bearing children is found to be pregnant. They all give birth to blond children with golden eyes and a bad attitude.

The film as very successful financially, so naturally it was time for a sequel: Children of the Damned.

But the kids in the first film had been destroyed, so what to do? Following the oldest Hollywood rule regarding sequels, they decided to remake the first film with slight differences.

In this new movie, British psychologist Tom Lewellin (Ian Hendry) and geneticist David Neville (Alan Badel) are working for UNESCO looking into child development. One of their exercises takes them to young Paul Looran (Clive Powell). When given a large 3D puzzle, he completes it in about a minute while the other students being tested are still picking up pieces.

They are amazed and go to check on his parents. They meet Diana (Sheila Allen) who exudes the phrase “lower class” – undressed, unkempt and uneducated. They try to find out about his father. There is no father present. Diana obviously is scared of the boy and hates him. She agrees to let the scientists examine at him.

Meanwhile, other scientists have encountered five more children of the same age and abilities. They all are children of single mothers with no fathers present. And, like Paul, they are super smart and creepy. They can make people do anything. Paul, for example, has set Diana off to rendezvous with the front bumper a speeding truck in a dark tunnel.

The new batch of kids all solve the big puzzle in the same amount of time as Paul, down to the second. They’re brought to London through their various embassies and it’s soon discovered all six are in telepathic communication — instant communication.

But there are politics in motion. The embassies want the kids for themselves and intelligence services get involved, but the kids will have none of that. They have decided Paul’s aunt Susan (Barbara Ferris) will be there spokesperson, against her will.

They hole up in an abandoned church. Bad things befall anyone who tries to remove them. A large church pipe organ turns into a weapon. Soldiers kill each other unwillingly.

This was an OK film, not nearly as effective as the original but better than the 1995 Village remake with Christopher Reeve. I thought the political aspect was pretty shallow and the military involvement might have come from a Republic serial. There seemed to be no real thought to what the soldiers were doing or what might happen to the attackers or the civilian populace.

So, it was not bad, just not particularly good or creepy, until the events surrounding the Indian boy Rashid’s (Mahdu Mathen) killing are resolved. The final resolution of the film was weak to me. Overall, I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t watch it again without one of the creepy kids compelling me to do so.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But watch at your own risk.

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

Forgotten Films: The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps works as a thriller and a comedy.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

This week, I’m sticking to the early stages of cinema with a film that I saw some 40 + years ago: Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.

About a month ago, Sandi and I went to the Theater of the Big Bend for a performance. The theater department at Sul Ross State University is well known and for good reason. They produce an abundance of plays each year. I believe it was five or six this year. We saw Cabaret in April and it was fabulous. In June, they did The 39 Steps with a cast of four people, and it too was great! (We saw The Fantasticks last weekend. And, once again, we were thrilled to superb performances!)

Since I enjoyed the play of The 39 Steps, I decided to watch the Hitchcock film again. Of course, since I moved a year ago, things are still in chaos. I have looked several times for my Hitchcock collection that includes this film and it has not yet reared its head. But, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and their Hitchcock celebration this month, I was able to DVR the film and watch it again.

The 39 Steps is based loosely on a classic mystery novel of the same name by John Buchan. It follows the fantastic adventures of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian visiting in London. As the film opens, Hannay is taking in a vaudeville show. He watches a song and dance team who lead into the wonders of Mister Memory (Wylie Watson). Mister Memory commits 50 new facts to his fabulous mind every single day and can call them up to order. During the performance a pistol is fired and Hannay, with the rest of the audience, rushes to leave the show. In the rush, a young woman (Lucie Mannheim) attaches herself to him and asks to come to his home. The woman acts oddly, avoiding windows and shadows. She identifies herself as Annabella Smith and says she is an “agent” (read “spy”) but gives no affiliation. But she does reveal she’s tracking some stolen military air secrets and something called The 39 Steps. She is going to Scotland to meet someone. She also mentions her nemesis, a man of many names who cannot hide the fact that he is missing the upper joint on one of his pinky fingers.

Hannay allows her to use his bed while he sleeps on the sofa. His guest wakes him up with a knife in her back and promptly dies with a map of Scotland in her hand. Not sure what to do, Hannay looks outside and sees men who are obviously waiting for him. He escapes with the map via a funny ruse with the milkman and takes the train. Soon the maid discovers the body and the hunt is on. The newspapers are soon running stories about the murder and a police hunt. At one point, Hannay crashes into a room occupied by a young woman. He kisses her to escape the police, but she will have none of it. She outs him and he has to leap from the train.

Soon he is wandering Scotland and escaping police, spies, and the cold. He meets the woman from the train again and finds himself handcuffed to her. Pretending the pipe in his pocket is a gun, he persuades Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) to assist him and to help foil the spies.

The 39 Steps is a rare blend of comedy and suspense thriller. There are visual jokes, double entendre and more. The scene of the pair sleeping in a hotel bed while handcuffed, wet and hungry is a classic. One scene I loved was a throwaway: as the police and a detective follow Hannay through the train, they all tumble through a doorway like people falling out of the stateroom in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

This is the film that helped usher in an amazingly productive period of Hitchcock films and brought him into prominence. Everybody always mentions Psycho and Vertigo when talking about the great director. I would gladly throw this film into that mix as well. It is absurd at times and relies heavily on coincidence and the stupidity of some characters, but I still like a railroad ride into a Cornell Woolrich novel. I’m glad I got to revisit The 39 Steps and I hope you do also.

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

Forgotten Films: Bulldog Drummond (1929)

The 1929 version of Bulldog Drummond stars the dashing Ronald Colman.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 184th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week, I am still hanging out in the early stages of cinema with the first talkie version of Bulldog Drummond. (There had been two silent films prior to this one.)

If you are not familiar with Bulldog Drummond, you should correct that fault. Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond is one of the singular British heroes of the period between the World Wars. He is the creation of “Sapper” (otherwise known as H. C. McNeile. Sapper did ten novels featuring Drummond prior to his death in 1937 from throat cancer. The series of was continued by Gerald Fairley (seven novels until 1954) then Henry Reymond (two novels in the late ’60s). While not a first-tier character like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, or Superman, he was a fairly well-known and popular character during his time. His popularity was on a par with Fu Manchu. Wikipedia lists 23 films featuring Drummond from 1922 to 1969, including the two silent versions with 12 different actors taking on the role. Alan Moore even inserted him into the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen history, while Philip Jose Farmer includes him in his Wold-Newton Universe of various heroes and villains.

The 1929 version of Bulldog Drummond has several distinctions going for it. First, it was a talking picture. Second, the star was a well-known silent film star trying to make the jump to the talkies. Ronald Colman was dashing and heroic. He had appeared in more than 25 films prior to the talking revolution, per IMDB. Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a splash with Colman’s debut in the sound era, and he decided Bulldog Drummond would be the vehicle. As Singing in the Rain showed us, many silent stars had trouble making the transition. Colman was not one of them. This was the perfect choice. In fact, he got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor as a result.

But, on to the film. As it opens, “Bulldog” Drummond is sitting at his club one night. He is amazingly bored. The most exciting thing happening is that someone has dropped a spoon. He is too rich to work and totally bored. So, he posts an ad in a London newspaper. He states that he is bored and looking for adventure. It gives a post box for replies. Almost immediately he receives one.

A woman asks if he is serious. If he is, she requests that he meet her at an inn where she has reserved a room for “John Smith.” She asks to meet him at midnight. He arrives and meets Phyllis Benton (Joan Bennett). But his good friend Algy (Claud Allister) is suspicious of the whole matter and drags along Drummond’s valet, Danny (Wilson Benge).

Phyllis tells Drummond a strange story involving her uncle; John Travers (Charles Sellon), whom she suspects has been kidnapped into a hospital and is held against his will. He is rich, so money is the obvious motive. The hospital is run by Dr. Lakington (Lawrence Grant), who is aided by Carl Peterson (Montagu Love) and the slinky Irma (Lilyan Tashman). Drummond soon determines that Phyllis is correct and he sets out to rescue Travers.

Algy and Danny provide some comic relief amid all the posturing, testosterone and action. There are twists and turns in the overall process, but Drummond finally succeeds.

Bulldog Drummond is fun film and it kept my interest. There was some horrendous overacting by Joan Bennett, who took a little longer to make the successful transition to sound pictures. The film music was sparse, as was true early on. So there are some long silences in the film.

I’ve seen several of the later Bulldog Drummond films with Tom Conway, Walter Pigeon and John Howard, who played Drummond seven times. Ronald Coleman recreated the role in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back. They are passable B films of the times.

Of course, your mileage on the first Drummond talkie may vary, particularly during the comic bits. But I recommend this one.

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




Forgotten Film: The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)

The Case of the Curious Bride is an early Perry Mason mystery.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 183rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

This has been a week! Normally, depending on other commitments, I try to watch a film during the week, then I write up my thoughts on Sunday. This go-round, I was going to have to both watch the film and do the write-up on Sunday.

I had thought to do The 39 Steps, the early Hitchcock version since I had recently seen a dramatization of it, but I could not locate my copy of the film. I had recorded Man Hunt, but when I went to watch it, the recording was of a 1933 film starring Junior Durkind, not the Walter Pigeon and George Sanders suspense thriller. I thought I would watch the Durkin one, but after 10 minutes I turned off the recording and deleted the film from the DVR. I made it 5 minutes further than Sandi did. So, I dipped back into the DVR.

I pulled up The Lost Continent, a Hammer thriller from 1968 with Hildegaard Neff, Eric Porter and Suzanna Leigh. But the quality of the recording was iffy at best. Several times I got a message that the recording had been interrupted. Normally, these interruptions were for a few seconds and I was able to follow the film. But at one key point, the gap was substantial with a total change of scene and characters. I gave up on it also.

Back to the DVR. Hopefully the third time was going to be the charm. I had an early Perry Mason film recorded. I had seen several of the Warren William Masons, so I knew it would be fun. Up popped The Case of the Curious Bride, Williams’ second outing as Mason. The film went smoothly, so here we go.

Perry Mason has just completed a successful defense and is celebrating with his friends and associates. He has picked out some crabs and has gone to Luigi’s to make some fancy Italian dish. Afterward, he plans to leave for a long delayed vacation to China. While preparing the meal, though, he is interrupted by Rhoda Montaine (Margaret Lindsay), who wants to ask him about a problem one of her girlfriends has. The girl had previously been married and husband died four year earlier. She’s since fallen in love and wants to get re-married. But the first husband may be alive. Mason asks the girl’s name and address and Rhoda provides information, which proves false.

Mason is called away and when he returns Rhoda is gone. He has his meal and goes home. The next day, he finds that Rhoda was speaking of herself and that her supposedly dead first husband, Gerald Moxley (Errol Flynn in his second credited Hollywood role) has been killed. Rhoda is fleeing the city and is the obvious suspect. Her new husband, Carl, is suspicious of her behavior and her relation with Dr. Millbeck. Her new father-in-law, C. Phillip Montaine of Pasadena, wants the marriage broken up and offers Mason a lot of money to lose the defense. What’s more, the DA is out for blood.

Williams does pretty well as Mason, but Claire Dodds is wasted as Della Street who does not do much in The Case of the Curious Bride. Allen Jenkins returns as “Spudsy” Drake, Mason’s gopher and right hand worker. He provides a lot of comic relief to these tales, which I do not recall in the novels. (Come to think of it, it has been more than 40 years since I read a Perry Mason so maybe that could be a Forgotten Book column soon.) Olin Howard reprises his role as the coroner Wilbur Strong, who partakes of the gourmet meal with gusto and has a wonderful revelation when exhuming a body early on. And Wini Shaw has a fun song and dance number at the Midnight Burlesque doing a piece called “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Sorry, no Snoopy sitting on his dog house.

These films will never replace the Raymond Burr TV appearances, but they are an interesting representation of the time. I found The Case of the Curious Bride worth a viewing. Perhaps you will too. But, as always with a film this old, 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: The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939)

The Amazing Mr. Williams is fun clone of The Thin Man.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 181sth in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Police and detective films of the ’30s and ’40s can be a wonderful thing. Recently, while scrolling through the guide on my television, I saw one listed that I had never heard of. Billed as a “breezy Thin Man clone,” The Amazing Mr. Williams starred Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell, two stalwarts of this period. I gave it a chance.

Lieutenant Kenny Williams (Douglas) is a homicide detective who has amazing insights in solving cases. Maxine Carroll (Blondell) is the mayor’s secretary and Kenny’s fiancé. But Maxine does not like that Kenny works a job with hours beyond 9 to 5. Their dates are frequently interrupted by murder. Maxine hates that Kenny is a policeman and threatens regularly to leave him unless he quits.

In the opening moments of the film, Kenny is late in arriving to a date and Maxine is furious. He gets there in time to drink her Old Fashioned and apologize. Before he can order, he is dragged away for a locked-room murder involving a woman, midgets and a snake. (And it did not involve the Harry Stephen Keeler solution of a midget hanging from a rope from a helicopter).

Kenny tries to apologize to Maxine and solemnly swears to be there for her. His boss, Captain McGovern (Clarence Kolb), overhears the plans and decides to send Kenny to take convicted murderer Texas Buck Moseby (Edward Brophy) to prison for 40 years. Rather than explain the situation to Maxine (who does not want to hear any more excuses), Kenny takes Buck in tow as he takes Maxine to the Beach Casino for an evening of dinner and dancing. Maxine does not believe that Buck is an old college friend and blows the whistle on Kenny, getting him suspended for 60 days without pay.

Except of course there is another job that needs to be done. The Phantom Slugger has been preying on women on the streets, hitting them with a baseball bat. Seven women have died. Kenny has the idea of sending one of the male cops out in drag to attract the Slugger. But, because of the screw-up with Moseby, Kenny is told he will be the decoy. Maxine fed the idea to the mayor to make Kenny get fed up and resign, but it never works out the way she wants.

In another episode, Kenny resigns but is drug back into service by McGovern, leaving Maxine waiting at the altar. And a final incident which involves an innocent man captured by Kenny who is convicted of murder. While taking him to prison, Kenny realizes that a mistake has been made and that he must remove the man from the train and prove him innocent before the police capture Kenny and send him away for 10 years.

It is light hearted and breezy and episodic. The supporting cast with favorite Donald MacBride as Lieutenant Bixler and Ruth Donnelly and Effie Perkins, Maxine’s roommate and work assistant, is also quite good.

A lot happens in The Amazing Mr. Williams’ 80 minutes, and there are no real dull sections. I really like both Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell. They made three films together in 1938 and 1939, as well as one in 1964. This was the second of the three.

Melvyn Douglas also starred in Fast Company, a bibliomystery I reviewed last year which I really enjoyed. He was one of three actors to play book dealer/sleuth Joel Sloan. All three of those films also qualify as The Thin Man clones and are worth watching.

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

Forgotten Films: Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing Movie

Great comic, great poster… um… not so great movie.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 180th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

One of the things that I enjoy in my life is comic books. I got my first in 1959. I collected comics for several years and in 1962, the family moved from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Texas. My comic books at the time included early Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Thor, Hulk and Fantastic Four issues.

The comics were shipped in the family station wagon to Seattle, where we met up with it and discovered two items missing. One was a fire extinguisher; the second my stack of comics. I was devastated. We were about to embark upon a family trip, driving from Seattle to Dallas over a two-and-a-half-week period. We went to the Seattle World’s Fair, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and more. We got to see some military bases, including a naval station and a nuclear sub! Wow!

But two and half weeks in a station wagon with my parents, smoking two packs a day each, without comics was going to be hell, so pretty much every time we stopped I picked up more. This started a comic collection that lasted until 1968. My parents said they were not moving the comics anymore and that I had to rid myself of the collection, which I did a two cents apiece. I was crushed again.

But, soon, in college, I found my niche and friends who loved the illustrated page as much as I did. Among the titles starting to come out was Swamp Thing. (Hey, you knew the story was going somewhere.) Swamp Thing was a DC comic written by Len Wein and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. It became a favorite comic because it was intelligently written and impeccably illustrated. The team worked together for only ten issues before they went in different directions. But Swamp Thing remained a classic.

So, you can guess my reaction in 1982 when this film (as you should remember, this column is about films) was announced and released. The track record of comic films at that time was not very good (except for Superman 1 and 2). And I was not familiar with the director at the time. His name was Wes Craven. Somehow I had missed his earlier directing stints, including The Hills Have Eyes.

So, I went to the theater and sat through the film. It was a mess. The story of Dr. Alec Holland and his botanic research in the swamp was there. The vicious attack by thugs and the horrific death suffered by Holland and his wife was there. The villain Arcane was there. Beyond that, things were muddled.

Dr. Alec Holland (played by the inimitable Ray Wise) has a shop in the swamp with his wife Linda (Nannette Brown). One of his security people has left and is replaced by Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau). As Cable arrives, some of the security network starts to malfunction and Alec and Alice investigate to find that wiring has been cut. When they return to the lab, some serendipity happens and the formula he’s creating starts to work in a fantastic manner.

Then the bad guys of Arcane (Louis Jordan) begin to arrive. Notebooks full of Alec’s research are taken, Linda is shot and Alec is doused in his formula and lit on fire. He runs screaming into the swamp, where he dies. Cable is hiding during some of this and has found the final notebook with the truly relevant information.

Now, the film falls off the rails. We get lots of shots of inept mercenaries trying to find Cable and we get the first appearance of the title character. Hollywood actor/stuntman Dick Durock wears the rubber suit and tries to make something out of the mess. Somehow he learns to speak, which the Swamp Thing in the comics did not regularly do.

There is some comic relief with a young black man running a gas station who is there when Alice runs in trying to escape Arcane. Reggie Batts plays Jude and is only in the film a few minutes. Soon, the film turns into a rubber-suit monster fight with broadswords in the swamp. Then it mercifully ends. But, like the seven year itch, the character returned in 1989 in The Return of the Swamp Thing.

As I watched this the other day, I cannot believe I watched both films back when they were released and had fairly decent memories of them. All I can say is, “I was young! So very young!” And I was starved for good comics-related films.

Pretty sure I will not be re-watching this one or the sequel any time soon. Or ever again. However, 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.