Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saturday, February 12, 1972: Gog (1954) / The Lady and the Monster (1944)

Synopsis: In a top-secret laboratory complex, researchers are working to make practical the age-old dream of manned spaceflight.  In one experiment, a monkey is given an injection and then placed in a cold chamber.  The temperature drops to over 100 degrees below zero; the monkey is quickly frozen solid but when it is thawed out it's as good as new. In a similar manner, we are told, astronauts will one day hibernate during long space journeys.

Later Dr. Huburtus (Michael Fox) is working inside the chamber alone when the door slams shut behind him.  The controls begin to turn on by themselves, plunging the temperature inside the chamber to -100 degrees.  Huburtus freezes to death, as does his assistant (Marian Richman)  when she tries to go inside the chamber to rescue him.

The two mysterious deaths cause station director Dr. Van Ness (Herbert Marshall) to call in the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI), a sort of brainy FBI.  Soon Dr. David Sheppard (Richard Egan) arrives at the facility, which is located in the desert southwest. Sheppard is brought in via helicopter, as the base is inaccessible by road.  As the helicopter approaches the base, the controls begin to move by themselves,  and the pilot lets go of them. He explains to Sheppard that the last part of the voyage is controlled by the installation's computer, NOVAC.  This, he says, is in order to keep the exact location of the base a secret.

Dr. Sheppard is introduced to Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling), who is tasked with giving Sheppard a tour of the facility.  However, we soon find that Joanna and Sheppard have been lovers, a fact they keep hidden from the rest of the personnel at the base.

Sheppard is shown the various experiments going on in the lab.  We see a chamber where gravity can be artificially reduced, and a man and a woman do acrobatic feats in a near-weightless environment.  In another part of the facility, a centrifuge whirls prospective astronauts around at dangerous speeds.

Dr. Van Ness shows Sheppard a scale model of a planned orbital satellite.  America, Van Ness says, must be the first to launch such a satellite.  If the enemy gets into space first, it could be the end of the United States.  To prove this dubious claim, he shows Sheppard a parabolic mirror that will be mounted on the satellite.  The mirror is designed to focus sunlight into a mercury-filled chamber, creating steam and powering the space station.  However, he warns, such a mirror could be used for more sinister purposes.  He uses the same kind of focusing mirror to direct sunlight on a scale model of a "an industrial city on the shores of Lake Erie".  The model city bursts into flames as soon as the focused sunlight touches it.

Later, Sheppard meets Dr. Zeitman, a suspicious-looking German expatriate who designed NOVAC and spent five years assembling it in Switzerland. Zeitman is clearly a genius, and he demonstrates two innovations he believes are even greater than NOVAC itself: the robot Gog, and its twin Magog....

Comments: In the first edition of his book Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Bill Warren notes that while Gog had originally been shot in color, no color prints are extant. I found this interesting because I don't recall ever seeing a black-and-white print of the film.  It's possible that a color print was unearthed at some point after 1982, the year the book was first published; or it could be that Warren's memory was faulty.  Warren's first edition, after all, was published before this title was available on home video, and it might have been years since he'd last been able to see it.  In fact Gog was filmed in 3-D, scope and color, which was unusual for the time, especially for a low-budget sci-fi picture.  While it's available in Technicolor prints today, it hasn't been seen in scope or 3-D since its initial release.

Well, no matter. Regardless of the format, Gog falls victim to the worst sin a feature film can commit: it's painfully, dreadfully dull.  We're clearly meant to be dazzled by the technological wizardry on display (and in fact both the concept and the on-screen realization of most of the gadgets is moderately interesting, thanks to the help of Honeywell and its authentic scientific instruments)  but for the most part the science is bad, the special effects aren't that special, and the characterizations are paper-thin.  

Let's be honest: for a science fiction movie that pants so heavily over the science, Gog gets an awful lot wrong.  The anti-gravity chamber is a perfect example of this. No such chamber exists or could exist, and even if such anti-gravity rooms were possible, Tors completely bungles how this one is  depicted.  A pair of gymnasts jumping and tumbling around does not look anything like weightlessness, even as it was understood 60 years ago (though to be fair, science fiction films of the era rarely got it right; even the meticulously accurate Destination Moon barely made an effort to show a zero-G environment inside the Luna).  

Likewise, the fear of the Soviets burning whole cities to the ground with an orbiting mirror is nothing more than Cold War hysteria. Like Destination Moon and  Riders to the Stars there's a weird certainty that America would instantly fall to the Soviets if they beat us into space (inexplicably, we didn't surrender the day Sputnik was launched).

I've commented previously that Gog was surprisingly prescient in its depiction of computer technology. The idea that the Soviets could hack into the NOVAC mainframe, use it to monitor the personnel at the secret base, and control the devices that NOVAC controls, including the anti-gravity chamber, the centrifuge and the freezing-chamber, is actually quite credible. 

But there's no real reason for NOVAC to be put in control of every switch and dial at the base in the first place, except that it is convenient to the plot that it do so. It allows the Soviet agents who have gained control of NOVAC the ability to carry out a program of sabotage on the American base. But in Cold War terms, this is amazingly short-sighted. The real currency during the Cold War was intelligence.  A direct line into NOVAC would have provided the Russians with eyes and ears in a top-secret American research station, yielding a treasure trove of data.  Why would they call attention to the hack by monkeying with the dials and switches throughout the station?

There are two answers for this, of course.  First, it wouldn't be much of a movie if they didn't (this, by the way, also explains why Dr. Van Ness doesn't simply order NOVAC disconnected from the base controls so that the instruments can be run manually); and second, Cold War paranoia made it easy to believe that the Russians were lurking behind every tree, gleefully causing mischief wherever they could.

Early on we're led to believe this is a whodunit, but it isn't; we're presented with an obvious red herring in Dr. Zeitman but there are essentially no other suspects.  When the Russians and their high-altitude spy plane are outed as the culprits in the final real, we're not terribly surprised (the level of paranoia in the secret facility is so great it's a wonder anyone gets any work done at all) 

In fact the suffocating level of paranoia is probably the only thing that really works in Gog. We're presented with a near-dystopian society where everything has become so secret that even the people who work in the lab don't fully know its location.  Meanwhile the Soviets, who are the reason behind all the secrecy, know everything about the place. Whether the producers thought it was near-dystopian, however, is another matter.

The Lady and the Monster

Synopsis: Dr. Patrick Cory (Richard Arlen) is a scientist working for Professor Franz Mueller (Erich Von Stroheim) at Mueller's residence / laboratory, a fortress-like place called The Castle.  The two are doing experiments on keeping brain tissue alive separate from the body.  So far they have only worked with animal test subjects, and while the results have been encouraging things are progressing a little slowly for Dr. Mueller.  Like many scientists in these sort of movies, he's obsessed with vindicating his line of research, and he isn't above some ethical monkeyshines to get things moving. More than anything, he wants to test his procedure on a human brain, though the chances of his getting an opportunity to do so seem remote.

Cory and Mueller's assistant Janice Farrell (Vera Ralston)  have fallen in love, but unbeknownst to them, Mueller has a yen for Janice himself.  Janice and Cory talk of leaving the Castle and running off together, but Mueller excels at manipulating others, and he manages to keep them both on hand and under his control.

One evening a private plane crashes nearby and Mueller transports a critically injured man back to the Castle.  He calls Cory back from his date in town with Janice and bullies both of them into assisting him.

The patient dies, and Mueller sees his chance.  He removes the man's brain and puts it in a solution of brine; soon, he and Cory are able to verify that the brain is still alive independent of its body.

Mueller and Cory learn that the man who died in the crash was a powerful industrialist named W. H. Donovan. When the coroner comes to the house Mueller tells him that Donovan had suffered a severe head injury and that he and Cory had operated in hopes of saving his life.  However, the absence of a brain in the man's head is difficult to conceal and even more difficult to explain, and Mueller employs a little sleight-of-hand to get the death certificate signed and the body taken away.

As the brain marinates Mueller predicts that this is the dawn of a new age; human minds might be able to be indefinitely preserved after death.  The knowledge and wisdom of the ages might be able to be stored and accessed at will.  Meanwhile, Cory begins to have strange dreams; he can hear a voice repeating the name "W. H. Donovan" over and over again.  Mueller speculates that the brain, freed from the body and floating in an electrolytic solution, has become more powerful and has made a psychic connection to Cory.

Janice becomes increasingly alarmed by Cory's behavior.  With greater and greater frequency, Cory falls into a fugue-like state, acting like another person entirely.  Soon she and Dr. Mueller realize that Cory's body is being possessed by Donovan's brain, that he is being forced to act according to Donovan's will.  Cory begins traveling into town, withdrawing large sums of cash from various banks under dummy accounts and spending large amounts of money in efforts to get a convicted murderer sprung from prison.  But what is Donovan's connection with the man?  And -- what will Donovan's brain do in order to keep Cory's body under its control?

Comments: While The Lady and the Monster was the first film adaptation of Donovan's Brain,  the CBS radio anthology program Suspense was the first to translate Curt Siodmak's novel to another medium.  Orson Welles played Patrick Cory in this two-part audio drama, which retained Siodmak's narrative gimmick of a diary penned by the ill-fated scientist.  A  number of plot elements were jettisoned for this 60-minute work, including the shady financial transactions that Cory, possessed by the mind of Donovan, enters into during Cory's frequent fugue states.  The ending is also streamlined, and it differs significantly from that of the novel.  Nevertheless, the Suspense adaptation is quite taut and -- well, suspenseful.

As the program begins Welles plays Patrick Corey as something of a carefree dilettante, like Lamont Cranston in Welles' radio series The Shadow.  It's clearly a reflection of the way Welles saw Corey: a man who lives in a world of his own ideas, with little interest in what goes on outside. Corey becomes more agitated and serious as he begins to realize the true import of what he has done.  The counterpoint to Corey is Donovan -- Welles supplies him with a low, gutteral growl.  The Donovan catchphrase -- "Sure, sure, sure" -- is gravelly and menacing, and Donovan -- who invades Cory's dreams with images of bloody and ruthless conquests -- is more than enough of an antagonist to carry the drama forward to its conclusion.

As I mentioned in my previous write-up of this title, The Lady and the Monster strays farther from the source material than any of the other adaptations, for reasons that aren't entirely clear.  Eric Von Stroheim's Dr. Mueller becomes the ambitious surgeon, and Cory takes a back seat as his assistant, though we still identify with him as the protagonist.  The wife that Cory had in the novel is changed to his girlfriend, and a rather weak love triangle is added (Mueller, we gather, is in love with Janice, though she evidently has no interest in him). 

I've speculated that the Mueller character was inserted to a) make Cory seem more sympathetic to the audience; and b) provide an antagonist that's more recognizable to the audience than a mean guy's brain in a jar.  Having seen this one a second time I'm still convinced that this is the right explanation.  My guess is that screenwriters Dane Lussier and Frederick Kohner had very little confidence in the story they were given, and felt they had to insert some more conventional screen elements in order to "fix" it.  To say these guys were ill-suited to the task is an understatement. Kohner had never touched a genre screenplay in his life (he seemed to specialize in lightweight comedies) and went on to write the novel Gidget, as well as a number of scripts based on it, both for movies and TV.  Lussier specialized in low-budget programmers like Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946) and The Falcon's Alibi (1946).  Lussier was, to put it bluntly, a hack, unable to deviate from the clumsy templates he used to grind out poverty-row scripts. Director George Sherman was also out of his element.  He usually directed cheap westerns designed to run at the bottom of a double bill.

So its really in spite of these guys, not because of them, that the film works at all. The addition of Mueller's character makes Cory more sympathetic, but it also badly weakens him -- he is blameless for Mueller's crimes only because he got bullied into helping Mueller to carry them out. But the movie nevertheless picks up steam when Donovan begins to work on the hapless Cory's mind, forcing him to go into town, slowly assuming Cory's walk and manner. 

The cast is competent enough, though no one has the sort of arresting presence that Orson Welles brought to the radio drama (it would have been very interesting, by the way, to see Welles direct a screen adaptation of this story).  Richard Arlen is thoroughly forgettable as Cory, and while I usually like Eric Von Stroheim as an actor, his glowering and muttering seems less effective than usual here. 

No write-up of this movie is complete without a mention of Vera Hruba Ralston as Janice.  The figure skater's reputation as an actress was so poor that leading men of the time were known to back out of projects rather than star opposite her. The lead roles kept coming to her, though, because her husband was the head of the studio.  As a result, she became something of a laughingstock in the industry, which is really too bad.  She wasn't the worst actress to garner top billing on a movie poster (Aquanetta? Pia Zadora? Persis Khambatta? Come on!)  In any case, I can't blame her for taking the starring roles that were offered to her.  She was pretty, and surrounded by people who told her she had something special. And while she wasn't great, she really wasn't that bad.  Had I not heard repeatedly how bad she was, I probably wouldn't have noticed her performance at all.  Her reputation sort of magnified her shortcomings as an actress, and everyone gleefully piled on.  But she is more forgettable than anything else.  In that department she's pretty well suited to the leading man in this one.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saturday, February 5, 1972: The Beast With 5 Fingers (1947) / The Human Monster (1940)

Synopsis: Bruce Conrad (Robert Alda) is an American living in a small Italian village.  He makes a living partly by fleecing American tourists with "antique" stones, and partly by ingratiating himself to Francis Ingraham, a wealthy musician who owns a mansion in the village.

Ingraham is in poor health, confined to a wheelchair, and he only has the use of one hand.  As a concert pianist this is immensely frustrating for him.  But Conrad, himself a musician, has composed for him a number of pieces that can be played with one hand, something which gives Ingraham some measure of comfort.

One evening Ingraham asks his nurse Julie, his long-time secretary Hilary (Peter Lorre), his attorney Dupreix and Conrad to join him over dinner.  He asks each of them if they consider him to be of sound mind, and they all agree that he is. He then asks them to sign a document naming them witnesses to a new will that he has written.

It is clear that Ingraham is in love with Julie.  So is Conrad; and he tries to convince Julie to come away with him, even though he knows that he has no money and no prospects. Ingraham, he admits ruefully, is the meal ticket for all those around him.  Conrad lives off his largesse; Julie is on his payroll, as is Hilary; and there's no doubt that Dupreix depends on Ingraham for much of his business.

But Hilary has overheard Conrad's conversation with Julie, and he immediately goes and tells Ingraham about it.  Ingraham, thinking that Hilary is trying to turn him against Julie, seizes Hilary's throat, choking him.  Hilary manages to escape, but is left with ugly marks on his neck.  Ingraham tells him to get out of the house.

Late that night there is a tremendous thunderstorm, and Ingraham, calling in vain for Julie, brings his chair too close to the top of the stairs.  The wheelchair tips and Ingraham takes a fatal fall down the long staircase.

The discovery of the body is a great shock to the community, and soon Ingraham's only living relatives show up --  Mr. Arlington (Charles Dingle) and his son Donald (John Alvin). The two immediately start taking an inventory of the house's contents, clearly with the idea of liquidating them. This angers Hilary, who claims all the books in the library belong to him, that they were gifts from Ingraham.

But when the will is read everyone is shocked to discover that Julie has been named as the sole heir.  The Arlingtons are furious, and vow to contest the will.  Dupreix secretly meets with the Arlingtons and agrees to support their claim in exchange for a cut of the estate.


Soon weird things start to happen. There's a light coming from the crypt where Ingraham is buried.  Dupreix opens his door to discover a hand -- bearing Ingraham's ring -- reaching for his throat; he is later found strangled. The piano downstairs is heard to play one of Ingraham's one-handed compositions, but when people go to investigate no one is there.  Later, Hilary swears he saw Ingraham's disembodied hand moving of its own accord.  Arlington is nearly strangled by a hand that seemed to come from nowhere.  And when  police commisario Castanio leads the others to the crypt they discover that Ingraham's hand has been cut off from his body, and a window in the crypt has been smashed -- a window just large enough to allow a human hand to escape....

Comments: You could count on one hand (ha ha, get it?) the number of horror films Warner made in the 1940s, and even in those films the studio's embarrassment at the genre is obvious.  The first thing you need to know about The Beast With 5 Fingers is that it does everything to convince you that it isn't really a horror movie at all. It's character-driven!  There's a romance!  There's a cynical, self-deprecating lead character!  The horror elements are explained away in the last reel!

The embarrassment is evident from the first moments of the film, when a title card is inserted to reassure us that we shouldn't take any of this crawling-hand stuff seriously:

It's likely that Warner was envious (as many other studios were at the time)  of the films of Val Lewton, whose horror outings at RKO were high-brow and respectable, keeping the audience guessing as to whether the events they were seeing were supernatural or psychological in origin (Lewton's films made money, too, which never hurts).  In any case, The Beast With 5 Fingers had clearly been put into production with the idea of being something of a hybrid, carefully designed to please both horror fans and general audiences.  Predictably, it is the movie's fatal flaw.

That you could specifically tailor a genre film to appeal to the sensibilities of the masses is an idea that's nearly impossible to kill, kind of like a crawling, disembodied hand.  Studios invariably try it, and they invariably fail.  They forget that if nothing else, movies must be true to themselves. 

The movie fails with horror fans because the promise of a crawling hand isn't kept, and the ending comes across as something of a cheat.  it fails with mainstream audiences because -- well, because there's a hand crawling around killing people.  Why didn't the film just go the full monty and give us a straight-no-chaser horror film? 

After all, the best genre films have no trouble appealing to mainstream audiences: there was no calculation or compromise that made The Magnificent Seven a mainstream hit. It was simply a great movie and audiences responded to that. The fact that it happened to be a western didn't matter.  Similarly, Star Wars appealed to many moviegoers who wouldn't be caught dead buying a ticket to a science fiction movie.  The Great Escape brought in audiences who weren't necessarily interested in war movies, and Lewton's Cat People was such a stylish and superior movie that audience flocked to it with nary a qualm about going to see -- you know -- a horror film.

For all its flaws, this one is well-cast, with Robert Alda making a solid leading man.  As I've mentioned before, J. Carrol Naish is one of my favorite actors from this era, and he does a fine job as the skeptical police commisario. Andrea King gives a winning performance as Julie.  Victor Francen is also quite convincing as the embittered Francis Ingraham, and Peter Lorre is appropriately nutty in what was his last film for Warner Brothers.

The Human Monster

Synopsis: At Scotland Yard, a group of Detectives Inspector are being chewed out by their superior.  Five bodies have been pulled from the Thames in recent months, and while they are clearly meant to look like suicides, no one doubts they are murders.  The Yard is no closer to an arrest than it was at the beginning, and the press is having a field day playing up the ineptitude of the police.  Detective Inspector Larry Holt (Hugh Williams) is told to redouble his efforts to solve the crimes - or else.  He is instructed to take charge of a prisoner who being returned to London from the United States, a career criminal named Fred Grogan (Alexander Field). Grogan is being accompanied by a Chicago police detective named O'Reilly (Edmon Ryan).   Holt's captain tells him that the Americans want O'Reilly to shadow a British detective in order to learn the methods of the Yard.  "I'll have him shadow you," the captain tells Holt contemptuously.  "That way he won't learn anything."

Meanwhile, insurance agent and London philanthropist Dr. Feodor Orloff (Bela Lugosi) makes a loan to Henry Stuart (Gerald Pring), a formerly wealthy man who has had a run of bad luck. Orloff suggests that Stuart sign over his life insurance policy to him as collateral, and Stuart agrees. Orloff talks about his charity work at a house for the blind, and he tells Stuart to visit the house the following evening. As he talks to Stuart, he types out a short note on a Braille typewriter, wraps the note around a coin, and throws it out onto the street, where a blind street violinist picks it up and carries it away.

Later , Holt meets O'Reilly and his prisoner at the railway station, and they head back to Scotland Yard.  Once Grogan is taken away to a holding cell, O'Reilly pulls out a blackjack and recommends the Chicago way of getting information from a suspect: a good old-fashioned beat down.  But Holt has other plans. A drunk is put in to the cell with Grogan, and Grogan takes a great interest in the newspaper the drunk has in his coat pocket.  Later we learn that the drunk was an undercover policeman placed by Holt.  Grogan found a classified ad in the newspaper that had been meant for him alone -- an ad written in a simple code that directed him to Orloff.

The next evening, Stuart turns up at the home for the blind. As he enters, a furtive resident pushes a Braille note into his hand.  Confused, Stuart puts the note into his pocket.   He is greeted by Orloff, who seems shocked when Stuart mentions he has a daughter --  Orloff thought he had no living relations. Stuart's tour ends abruptly when Orloff leads him to a room where Jake, a Rondo Hatton-esque grotesque, is waiting for him.

Before long Stuart's body is fished out of the river. On a hunch Holt has the water in the man's lungs tested; it turns out that Stuart was drowned in tap water, not the muddy water of the Thames. And the Braille note in Stuart's pocket reads simply "MURDER".  Based on this, Holt begins to suspect that Dr. Orloff and the home for the blind are involved, somehow, with the crimes....

Comments: One way I manage to bore people is to jabber away on the subject of curated content.  It's kind of an old-fashioned idea, really. The freedom we have today to  pick and choose what we want to watch, when we want to watch it, is pretty awesome. Sitting here at my dining room table I could opt to view -- at the push of a button --  nearly any movie or TV show I wanted to see.

But that freedom comes with a price. Your Netflix queue can't surprise you; it can't start playing a movie on its own that you might fall in love with, one that you might remember fondly, or one that you might want to learn more about. Serendipity has become a rare thing. It used to happen all the time on broadcast television. And one really good thing about working on the Horror Incorporated Project is seeing movies that I probably would never have gotten around to seeing, if I'd been left to my own devices. 

In a way, I really am like a viewer of the show, ca. 1972.  I've made the same bargain that the original Horror Incorporated audience made: show up Saturday night at midnight, and they'll show you a movie.  It might be a clunker, but then again, it might be great.  Why not tune in and see?

Now to me, that's a bargain I can live with. And that bargain pays off handsomely with movies like The Human Monster.  I can't imagine going out of my way to see another of Lugosi's starring turns in a Monogram production.  But whaddya know, this one actually delivers the goods.

Credit should probably go to the source material. This is an adaptation of the Edgar Wallace thriller The Dark Eyes Of London and it contains the usual improbable plot twists and mildly eccentric characterizations of Wallace's popular crime novels.

Structurally, the movie is a funny mix.  It's essentially a horror movie with a police procedural and a light buddy cop flick dropped in the middle. O'Reilly, the American detective, serves as the sidekick to Detective Inspector Holt, and as in many Wallace stories his main function is comic relief (there's a running gag where Holt introduces O'Reilly as "Lieutenant O'Reilly" -- using the American pronunciation of "lieutenant", --  and O'Reilly corrects him by using the British pronunciation). The American detective also marvels at the presence of female police officers, though he is disappointed to learn that they are on hand to enforce "laws pertaining to morality".  O'Reilly and the audience are clearly meant to be impressed by the modern methods employed by Scotland Yard, and we see more forensic work than we normally do in a film of this era.

The Scotland Yard scenes don't really mesh with Orloff's scenes with potential victims, or with the scenes at the decidedly gothic home for the blind; those are more closely aligned with the conventional horror tropes of the time, right down to the less-than-convincing motivations of the villain (for example, why would Orloff go ahead with his plan to kill Stuart, even after he knows a) that Stuart has a daughter who is coming to town, and b) Holt is nosing around his company's books, having figured out that the insurance payouts for Thames drowning victims suspiciously route back to him?)

All the same it's moderately entertaining stuff, and has a plot twist -- involving a dual role for Lugosi --  that works quite well but which I won't give away here. For the most part Lugosi turns in what I would call a standard performance, somewhat lacking in subtlety.  He tries to be scary by pitching his voice to a lower register and tilting his head forward.  He seems to resort to this when he's unsure of what the material demands, and it makes me think that Lugosi would have been more effective if he'd worked with better directors.  Nevertheless, he is a more threatening presence than most actors of his day and he has more to do in this film than he did in most of his roles from this era. His scenes with Hugh Williams are pretty good and the Hughes / Ryan buddy cop interplay is fun to watch as well.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saturday, January 26, 1972: The Ape (1940) / The Woman Who Came Back (1945)

Synopsis: Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) is widely disliked by his small town neighbors. The locals have few rational reasons for their hostility. Dr. Adrian keeps to himself, but when dealing with his neighbors he is civil enough. Nevertheless there is a general feeling that doesn't belong, and the distinctly vague complaint that he "experiments too much".

The one person in town who adores Dr. Adrian is Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon), a young woman stricken with polio. Dr. Adrian dotes on her like his own daughter, and this causes resentment from Frances' jealous jerk of a boyfriend Danny (Gene O'Donnell).

Dr. Adrian has been experimenting with the spinal fluid of animals, and he believes he is getting closer to perfecting a serum that will cure those who've been stricken with polio. At about the same time, a circus comes to town, and Dr. Adrian encourages Danny to take Frances to see it. Late the same night, an ape badly injures its trainer and escapes from the circus. The trainer is brought to Dr. Adrian's surgery, but it is clear that the man has little chance of survival.

Soon Dr. Adrian has created a human serum and he begins to treat Frances with it. The serum causes great pain to her legs, which alarms Danny, but Dr. Adrian sees this as an encouraging sign, since the paralysis had left her without any feeling in her legs whatsoever. Meanwhile, the ape, which is still on the loose, kills another man, and Dr. Adrian must sign the death certificate.

Frances' reaction to the spinal fluid treatment is encouraging. While the pain in her legs is growing worse, she is able to move her foot a little -- a clear sign that Dr. Adrian's treatment is working.

Late one night the ape breaks into Dr. Adrian's lab. Dr. Adrian is able to kill it but not before it smashes his vials of serum. He decides to keep the ape's death a secret.

Soon the county coroner comes to visit Adrian. It seems the two victims of the ape were both found to have puncture wounds in the spine -- as though Dr. Adrian had injected something into the men -- or extracted something.

Before long, Dr. Adrian is topping up his spinal fluid supply by wearing the ape's skin and murdering those who mocked his work....

Comments: While watching The Ape for the second time I found myself thinking not about the relative merits of this Monogram cheapie (which aren't significant) but about how many movies like this that were made circa 1940.  For the sake of convenience let's call this horror sub-genre "mad scientist pictures"*. They follow a fairly rigid formula: a scientist is conducting unorthodox research that requires breaking one or more societal taboos (this might involve grave-robbing or otherwise desecrating the dead, or experimenting on unsuspecting innocents). How he reaches this decision varies.  He might be overly ambitious.  He might simply be a sociopath.  Or he might be a moral man turned bad by a tragedy or a perceived injustice.  In any case, the scientist justifies his actions by imagining that his bid to expand the frontiers of knowledge is worth the moral crimes he is committing. In the end the scientist receives a terrible comeuppance for these transgressions. Karloff alone did a slew of them for Columbia: The Man With Nine Lives (1940), The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), Before I Hang (1940),  Black Friday (1940) , and The Devil Commands (1941). Lugosi did a number as well for the poverty-row studios: The Devil Bat (1940),  The Ape Man, (1943) The Return of the Ape Man (1945), Voodoo Man (1944) . And there were many others ground out with other actors in the lead role, such as Face of Marble (1946)  and The Lady and the Monster (1944).
*I'm sure film historians have written more extensively about this sub-genre, and probably have a snappier name for it, but I have yet to read about it in any detail.

These days we tend to think of medical research as a team effort: a broad network of academic, foundation and corporate sponsors combine to fund research that is open, collaborative and peer-reviewed.  But in these movies science is depicted as something that occurs behind closed doors. The scientists in these films work alone, in drafty castles or dank basements or makeshift labs, without remuneration.  They jealously guard their privacy. They don't seek incremental discoveries that others can build upon.  Rather, they are looking for the big score: a cure for a disease, or for death itself. 

Frankenstein is the obvious precursor to these films, and some relatively big-budget productions of the 1930s toyed with the theme as well (e.g. The Invisible Ray). Then suddenly, for a few years starting around 1939, there was a torrent of mad scientist pictures.  

I'm not sure why. There don't seem to be any real breakout hits among these movies, and none of them can be said to have been  particularly influential.  Rather, the movies seem to rely on the lead actor's star power to draw audiences. They are quite low-budget, which helps ensure profitability; and they are very formulaic, which allows the scribblers at Monogram and PRC to grind them out quickly without making too much of a hash of things.

The Ape is a textbook example of this subgenre. Curt Siodmak co-wrote the script (he's credited as "Kurt Siodmak" here), and unsurprisingly this movie prominently features spinal fluid, one of Siodmak's pet obsessions. It has the generally dingy look we expect from Monogram, as well as its share of Monogram idiocies: we discover that Dr. Adrian is wearing the "skin" of the dead ape, but in fact it looks like a full-blown ape costume -- which is of course exactly what it was from the beginning. The ape's behavior is, moreover, entirely un-ape-like.  The movie does correctly point out that apes are frugivorous, but someone should have told Siodmak that apes are not nocturnal, not particularly aggressive, and do not have a tendency to break into people's houses and smash things.

The Woman Who Came Back

Synopsis: Lorna Webster (Nancy Kelly)  is returning to her New England hometown of Eben Rock, Massachusetts after spending several years away.  The bus she is riding on stops along the road to pick up an elderly woman (Elspeth Dudgeon) who has flagged the driver down.  It is late at night and the driver is reluctant to take the woman on, and refuses outright to take the woman's dog.  The old woman agrees to leave the dog on the side of the road and boards the bus.

The woman sits by Lorna, and seems to know her by name.  She says that Lorna is the descendent of Elijah Webster, a judge who 300 years ago sentenced a number of witches in the town to be burned at the stake.  She tells Lorna that she herself is Jezebel Trister, a 300 year old witch who had been condemned by Judge Webster, which greatly startles and alarms Lorna. Almost immediately, the bus plunges off a steep embankment into a lake.

In  the town, Lorna stumbles into the local tavern, and it's clear that no one in the place had expected her to arrive, including her ex-fiancee, local doctor Matt Adams (John Loder).  When Lorna tells of the bus accident, the authorities go out to the lake.  They pull a number of bodies from the water; but Lorna is the only survivor.  Moreover, none of the bodies matches the description of the old woman Lorna describes.

As the local physician, Matt nurses Lorna back to health.  He is pleased to see her, even though she had stood him up at the altar years before.  The other townspeople are not so forgiving, particularly Ruth Gibson (Ruth Ford) and Rev. Stevens (Otto Kruger).  They resent what she had done to Matt, and remember that bad luck always seemed to follow Lorna, that everything she touched seemed cursed.  The bus accident is only the latest proof of this: how is it possible that she walked away without a scratch, when everyone else was killed?  

Matt gives Lorna a black shawl that she'd had with her after the accident.  Lorna is alarmed -- she knows it isn't hers, but Jezebel Trister's.  Matt says that can't be possible.  Lorna, he says, must have imagined meeting Jezebel Trister, since no old woman was found among the bus accident casualties.  Uncertain, Lorna tries on the shawl after Matt leaves, but when she looks in the mirror, she sees the face of Jezebel Trister appear over her own.

Lorna tries to resume a normal life, but she finds it difficult.  She is staying at Ruth's tavern, and Ruth reveals to her that she herself has been carrying a torch for Matt, and this seems to be fueling at least some of Ruth's resentment.  When Lorna feeds the fish belonging to Ruth's daughter, the fish almost immediately die.  She learns that she fed them rat poison by mistake.  And she finds herself being followed by a sinister-looking dog, the same dog that had accompanied Jezebel Trister....

Comments: We were just talking about one horror sub-genre (mad scientist pictures) and here comes another one: the Val Lewton knockoff, which flourished briefly in the mid 1940s.  We've seen a number of them on Horror Incorporated, including Soul of a Monster, The Beast With 5 Fingers and She-Wolf of London.  Lewton knockoffs try to emulate the moody and ethereal films that Val Lewton produced for RKO.  Lewton's films were understated, keeping the horror elements in the background, and part of the mystery was often whether the supernatural events were real, or merely psychological.  The mystery was heightened by the dreamlike narrative and the slightly surreal camera work.  And these kind of movies are relatively cheap to make, as they require very little in the way of special effects.

Unfortunately, while it was fairly easy to imitate Lewton's films, it was nearly impossible to equal them.  There's a subtlety and sophistication about them that was impossible to copy.
That's exactly the case with The Woman Who Came Back.  It just can't stack up to the movies Val Lewton made; but the good news is, it doesn't have to.  Taken on its own terms, The Woman Who Came Back is a perfectly decent little thriller. 

The movie gets out of the gate quickly, with the old woman on the bus freaking Lorna out moments before the accident that kills nearly everyone on board.  Because he is a doctor, Matt becomes the default 20th-century man of reason, telling Lorna that witchcraft and the supernatural were simply the products of ignorance and superstition.  And yet ignorance and superstition persist in Eben Rock; and Matt must question whether his defense of Lorna is due to his steadfast belief in science and reason, or his rekindled interest in Lorna.

Like The Ape, this is a movie in which small-town people are seen as an almost medieval assemblage of churlish busybodies.   The difference here is that the deck isn't stacked quite as aggressively against them.  We don't really know what Lorna's intentions are, and we are not convinced that she isn't in fact carrying a curse that threatens everyone in Eben Rock. Similarly, in spite of his kindly demeanor, we suspect that Otto Kruger's Rev. Stevens might be up to something sneaky himself.

Nancy Kelly does a fine job as Lorna Webster. Kelly is best known as the mother of the evil child in The Bad Seed.  Three other actors familiar to Horror Incorporated viewers also share the screen here: John Loder (The Brighton Strangler) Otto Kruger (Dracula's Daughter) and Ruth Ford (The Man Who Returned To Life).  Loder is perfectly cast, and he has a very authentic, easygoing way about him that quickly gets us on his side. I've talked about Ruth Ford before, and I'm quite taken with her here.  She effortlessly conveys a tightly-wound woman with a somewhat conflicted agenda. Kruger plays quite a different fellow here than he did in Dracula's Daughter (where he portrayed the psychologist torn between the affections of the title character and Marguerite Churchill's fetching girl Friday).  He proves to be quite a versatile actor, and while I was sure I'd seen him somewhere before it took me a while to place him.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday, January 22, 1972: The Black Sleep (1956) / The Brute Man (1945)

Synopsis: Dr. Gordon Angus Ramsey (Herbert Rusley) has been convicted of murder. On the eve of his hanging, he is visited by one of his old medical school professors, Sir Joel Cadman.  Ramsey swears to Cadman that he didn't commit the crime, and Cadman seems sympathetic. He gives Ramsey a vial of powder and instructs him to mix the powder with water and drink before dawn on the morning of his hanging.  This, Cadman promises, will put him in a such a state of torpor that he will not be aware of the hanging at all. He also assures Ramsey that his body won't be turned over to the medical college for dissection, as is normally done with convicts' bodies; instead, the body will be turned over to Dr. Cadman himself.

When the guards come for Ramsey the next morning they find his dead body lying in the cell.  The body is transferred to Dr. Cadman, who once back at his lab gives it an injection.  At once the body goes into convulsions; minutes later, Dr. Ramsey has come back to life.

This, Dr. Cadman tells an astonished Ramsey, is the work of an ancient drug known as the Black Sleep; it perfectly simulates death; and as long as the antidote is given within 24 hours, the patient can be revived. A grateful Ramsey agrees to assist Dr. Cadman with his brain research.

While at the Cadman estate, Ramsey witnesses young Laurie (Patricia Blair) being attacked by a wild-eyed patient, Mungo (Lon Chaney, Jr). Mungo seems deranged and is apparently carries a visceral hatred for Laurie.  Ramsey tells Cadman that Mungo reminds him of someone he once knew, Professor Monroe, who was one of his instructors in college.  Cadman tells him that Mungo is indeed Professor Monroe; moreover, Laurie is his daughter.

Dr. Ramsey assists in experimenting with the brain of a cadaver when he notices cerebral fluid running down the surface of the brain.  How can this happen on a cadaver? he asks Cadman.  It isn't a cadaver, Dr. Cadman replies.  The man they are experimenting on is alive, kept in a state of suspended animation by the Black Sleep.

When Dr Ramsey protests, Cadman tells him that this is the only way to conduct the research that will benefit all mankind.  He reminds him that Dr. Monroe will benefit when he is able to unlock the mysteries of the human brain; so will Dr. Cadman's wife, who has been in a trance-like state since a brain injury.

But little does Dr. Ramsey know that Cadman was the one who arranged for him to be tried and convicted of murder, in order to recruit him as an assistant in his ghoulish experiments....

Comments: This is the second showing of The Black Sleep on Horror Incorporated. I'm not really sure why I dislike this indie production as much as I do; maybe it's because I suspect that it isn't so much paying homage to Universal's old horror stars as it is exploiting them for its own purposes. The movie is decidedly exploitative to start with, and seeing Lugosi and Chaney muddling through their non-speaking roles is painful. Neither actor was capable of memorizing much dialogue by this point in their careers (that is to say, the end of their careers), but I suspect the real reason they don't speak is that there wasn't enough money in the budget to allow it.

  It may be that all the actors involved were happy just to pick up a paycheck under any circumstances, but at the same time it must have been humiliating, and I don't like seeing people humilated. To the movie's credit, it does offer perfectly respectable production values (though not as good as those at Hammer, which really knew how to make a penny scream) , and boasts two very good actors in key roles: Basil Rathbone as Joel Cadman, and Akim Tamaroff as the gypsy. 

The problem with this movie (as with most bad movies)  is rooted in the script. The Black Sleep is dreary, derivative, and unforgivably talky.  Joel Cadman's motivation for experimenting on innocent people -- including his own colleagues --  is silly and impractical, and even worse, it's entirely unoriginal.   Cadman is willing to engage in any sort of unethical medical practices needed in order to get what he wants, and his tactics are so extreme that they become risible.   His throwaway motivation has more in common with the ramshackle productions of Monogram and PRC than the horror films of Universal, a studio that could at least provide character motivations that held up for the length of a feature film. 

The aforementioned Basil Rathbone and Akim Tamiroff do very well in their roles, but the other actors in the ensemble are surprisingly bland and forgettable. Herbert Rusley and Patricia Blair turn in workmanlike performances but they serve as a reminder of how brilliant Hammer was at casting. Hammer always had a keen eye for talent and could reel in young up-and-comers and build them over time into a surprisingly solid repertory company.  And they knew too how to get the most from established talents as well, something that seems to have eluded the producers of The Black Sleep.

 The Brute Man

Synopsis: The city is being terrorized by a spine-snapping brute called The Creeper (Rondo Hatton), a grotesque character who prowls the streets at night and seemingly kills at random. The police are under enormous pressure to capture him, but so far they don't have a name, or even a clear description.

One night the killer strikes again, and this time his victims are a professor at Hampton college and a woman named Joan Bemis, whom the Creeper seems to know.

The police manage to corner their suspect in an apartment house; in order to escape, the Creeper enters the apartment of a young woman named Helen (Jane Adams). Because Helen is blind, she isn't repelled by his appearance. He asks for her help, and she agrees, saying that she has a gift of sensing a person's true nature.  When the police knock on her door, she tells them that she hasn't seen anyone suspicious in the area.

Helen knows only that she's met a man who is in some sort of trouble, and she is certain that he is innocent of whatever he's been accused of.  For his part the Creeper is glad to know someone who doesn't scream and run away when he enters the room, and a rather unlikely friendship ensues.

Soon enough the Creeper has murdered a delivery boy who brought groceries to the waterfront storage shed he's been living in.  Here the police discover an old newspaper clipping of three college chums, circa 1930: Clifford Scott, Virginia Rogers and Hal Moffat. 

When the police look for Clifford Scott and Virginia Rogers they discover the two are now married; and that the third person in the photo, Hal Moffat, was Clifford's college roommate as well as a rival for Virginia's affections. The late Joan Bemis was also a close friend of the trio. A star athlete, Hal's face was hideously disfigured in a lab accident.  The accident seems also to have affected his "glands and nerves", not to mention his mind; because all these years later Hal has decided to get revenge on all those who spurned him in college.

Meanwhile, learning that Helen needs $3,000 to pay for an operation to cure her blindness, Hal decides to get her the money -- even though he knows that she will be repelled by him if she's able to see him.  Nevertheless, he goes to Clifford and Virginia and demands money.  Clifford gives him a box of expensive jewelry, but manages to put a couple of .38 slugs into him before he's murdered himself.

Wounded, Hal delivers the jewelry to Helen, determined that she go ahead with the operation. But when the police find her and tell her who she's befriended, she agrees to help them find their quarry. Angered at her public betrayal, he decides that Helen too must die....

Comments: The Brute Man marked a sad end to Universal's lengthy dominance of the horror genre.  The studio hadn't been eclipsed by a rival  (rival studios in Hollywood never did more than dabble in the genre anyway, and the embryonic Hammer wasn't doing horror films yet); rather, Universal's  increasingly cheap and crass products seemed exhausted, and more importantly didn't yield the financial returns they once did. As a result the studio made a conscious decision to hang it up.  The Brute Man  suffered the ignominy of being sold off to PRC shortly after Universal's merger with International Pictures.  William Goetz, the newly-minted head of production at the newly-minted Universal - International had resolved to clean up the studio's act and get it to behave like a respectable outfit. That meant the trips to the boneyard were, for the time being, over and done with.

It's easy to see why UI decided to sell off the property.  The Brute Man would have been an embarrassment to any major studio's release schedule.  It suffers from a general seediness typical of the poverty-row cheapies, and Rondo Hatton, whose Creeper character had lurked in the background of three previous Universal outings, was now pushed into the forefront of the picture.  Hatton was the least-talented actor to appear on a Universal one-sheet since Acquanetta, and the script is particularly unsavory stuff.  Hal Moffat kills with little provocation and even less remorse; yet we, like Helen, are supposed to feel sorry for him, and imagine that he is in some sense a good but misunderstood man. But even with the Creeper's improbable origin story, he isn't even close to the tragic monster that Frankenstein and the Wolf Man were.

Ben Pivar produced this opus, as he had the previous Creeper vehicle House of Horrors, the Inner Sanctum series of programmers starring Lon Chaney, Jr. and the mummy films of the 1940s.  His indifference to quality suited the film-factory mentality of the times, but he might have been a bit too indifferent with The Brute Man.  Pivar's busy career was pretty much at an end. He would only produce a few more movies over the next decade, collaborating once again with the workmanlike Jean Yarborough on a Bulldog Drummond programmer and a thriller called The Creeper (1948). But the titular Creeper here bore no resemblance to Rondo Hatton.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Interlude: Piecing It All Together

Faithful reader Bill (who watched Horror Incorporated from Apple Valley back in the day, and currently resides in Elk River) wrote to let us know that he used to record the show on his cassette recorder as a kid.  And as if this weren't awesome enough:

I found a few of the tapes in my garage. I see you are at 1972 currently on your blog and these may be from that year. I would have been 9! As you can see, there are tapes from Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, King Kong, Deadly Mantis, Giant Claw and Dracula. Now I need to locate my cassette player!

Isn't Bill great? He promises to forward whatever audio he recovers from the tapes.  This is particularly exciting for me, because with enough uninterrupted audio, we can piece together the original clock, and locate some of the ads that were broadcast with the show.  With luck, we'll be able to reconstruct an entire episode of the show from beginning to end. I promise to post that on the site if and when that happens.

In the meantime, if you have any material from the show -- audio, video, printed material -- send it my way and I'll post it here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Saturday, January 15, 1972: Night Creatures (1962) / Bury Me Dead (1947)

Synopsis: In 18th-century Dover, the British navy is trying to shut down a  smuggling ring that is illegally importing and distributing French wine. Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) believes the ring is centered in the small seaside village of Dymchurch.  His search of the town turns up nothing, but he begins to suspect that the local vicar, the Reverend Doctor Blyss (Peter Cushing), knows more than he is letting on. One reason he suspects this is that despite Blyss' assurances of cooperation, every villager claims they have no room to accomodate Collier's men. Furthermore, Blyss had arranged for a Christian burial for the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, who died while imprisoned in Dymchurch; Collier doesn't believe Clegg deserved any sort of burial, but Blyss says that Clegg had confessed his sins on his deathbed and therefore was awarded a proper burial.

One of Collier's men had once been a member of Clegg's pirate crew. He had attacked Clegg's wife and paid a terrible penalty: his tongue was cut out, his ears were cut off, and he was tied to a tree on an island, left to die.  This crewman is now something of a dogsbody / mascot to Collier's crew, but he has a tendency to get drunk and attack people.  Upon seeing Dr. Blyss, he leaps upon him and tries to kill him.

 Stories abound in the village of the "Marsh Phantoms" -- ghostly horses and spectral riders who look like scarecrows, who sometimes kill people who wander too far into the marshes.  One of Collier's men is killed, allegedly by the phantoms. Collier, who doesn't believe such nonsense, is determined to find out just who or what is lurking out in the marshes.

Meanwhile, it becomes clear that the smuggling ring is indeed centered in the town of Dymchurch, and that virtually everyone in town is part of it; Dr. Blyss is the mastermind behind the entire organization, the local coffin-maker keeps the liquor hidden and arranges transport, and the squires' son Harry Cobtree (Oliver Reed) is Blyss' right hand man.  Cobtree is engaged to young Imogene (Yvonne Romain) who doesn't know that she is the daughter of the late Captain Clegg. We also learn that Blyss, wearing scarecrow garb, is the leader of the Marsh Phantoms. But when one of Blyss' men is captured by Collier he is forced, under threat of torture, to take Collier and his men to the secret hideout hidden in the marshes....

Comments: Hammer is best remembered, obviously, for its horror output but it actually toiled in a number of genres over the years and produced several ripping pirate yarns. Night Creatures was one of them.  Its British title was Captain Clegg, and it was based on the popular Russell Thorndike swashbuckler Dr. Syn: A Tale of Romney Marsh

So why was it called Night Creatures in the U.S.?  This was the title chosen for Hammer's planned adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend.  When that film was scrapped, American theaters (having already been promised a Hammer film with that title) got this one instead.

Being an American, I can't really talk about this movie without bringing up The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, which premiered (in serial format) on the anthology program Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1964.  That adaptation of Thorndike's novel starred Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Syn, pious vicar by day and leader of a band of masked outlaws by night.  I remember being enthralled with the serial as a kid (Disney brought it back to TV regularly) though as an adult I was surprised to find I had misunderstood the entire story.  No doubt due to the numerous tricorn hats in evidence, I'd assumed that Dr. Syn led a band of rebels against the British in the American Colonies.  In fact, while the British navy is the antagonist, all the action takes place on the southern coast of England.

The whole production has that sumptuous look that Hammer  pulled off so effortlessly in spite of modest budgets, and we have some familiar actors from the Hammer repertory company on hand.  Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen, Michael Ripper, Yvonne Romain and Oliver Reed were all veterans of the studio's horror yarns and they do quite well here, and Cushing in particular is splendid as the Scarlet Pimpernel-esque character, peering out from behind his spectacles as the fussy, querulous vicar, then pivoting as the film progresses to Concerned Father, Reformed Crook, Steely-Eyed Action Man and even Fantastically Persuasive Extemporaneous Speaker. It's great fun. 

Bury Me Dead

Synopsis: A funeral is being held for Barbara Carlin (June Lockhart), a woman killed in a stable fire on her family's estate.  But almost as soon as this fact is established, we learn that Barbara isn't dead at all.  She attends the funeral hiding behind a black veil, musing that her husband Rod Carlin (Mark Daniels) doesn't seem very broken up about her death.  When the graveside service has concluded, Barbara approaches the family attorney, Michael Dunn (Hugh Beaumont) and reveals to him that she's still alive.  She tells him that she believes someone started the fire in an attempt to kill her, but got the wrong person; the body recovered from the horse barn was burned beyond recognition and identified only by a diamond necklace that belonged to Barbara.

Barbara is particularly troubled  by the question of who was actually killed in the fire, because she thinks it might be her younger sister Rusty (Cathy O'Donnell).  Rusty has a history of mental illness and often disappears for extended lengths of time. But she finds Rusty safe and sound, though still embittered that she was cut out of her father's will because she was adopted. With Rusty eliminated as a possible victim, she goes to confront Rod, who claims to be delighted that Barbara is still alive -- even though he has been carrying on with goodtime girl Helen Lawrence (Sonia Darren), who had previously told Rod that she'd like to be the next Mrs. Carling. 

Barbara had had a dalliance of her own with dim-witted palooka George (Greg McClure), who'd previously been seen around with Helen. Rusty still harbors a grudge against Barbara for stealing the big lug away from her, but it might be that Barbara was trying to save Rusty from a bad situation. 

Barbara finds there are plenty of people who might have wanted her dead. But not only does she not know who committed the murder, she still doesn't know who the victim was....

Comments: Bury Me Dead is a a remarkably threadbare effort from PRC, a studio that routinely produced threadbare efforts.  This one looks worse than a Monogram programmer, and that's saying something.  This film is so dreadfully chintzy that when the Carling family butler opens the front door it nearly bumps into the grand staircase. Barbara's funeral scene is unintentionally humorous because the number of mourners was apparently limited to the principal members of the cast; there was clearly no money in the budget for extras. This greatly undercuts Barbara's impish desire to see her own funeral.  Considering the turnout, it probably would have been better for her to have stayed home.

But of course Barbara has to attend her own funeral, because this is the man-bites-dog gimmick upon which the whole movie is based. It is, quite frankly, all downhill from here, because once the gimmick is deployed, a story has to be built around it, and one plot contrivance is piled atop another.

Bury Me Dead is usually categorized as a noir, but it clearly isn't one; apart from the post-war release date and the fact that it's a story about murder it really doesn't have any trappings of the genre.  It also has an odd, uneven sense of humor, at times making us think it's veering toward farce.  But it keeps moving grimly back to the task at hand, with pointless flashback scenes padding out its (68 minute) running time.

This movie probably wouldn't have been released on DVD at all were it not for the fact that its two leads, June Lockhart  and Hugh Beaumont, are both remembered for their television careers.  Both do just fine here -- Lockhart was 22 years old when she made this picture and she carries the movie as gracefully as the script will allow.  Beaumont is quite convincing as the sober attorney and family friend. The rest of the cast is pretty solid: Cathy O'Donnell is actually quite good as the tormented sister Rusty, and I found myself liking Sonia Darrin's performance as Helen Lawrence as well.  

This release came on a two-movie disc from VCI Entertainment (the other film being The Chase). It's an interesting disc because rather than a bare-bones release, this one comes with a commentary track for each film by Jay Fenton (credited as a "film restoration consultant"), as well as bios, image galleries and even a Superman cartoon! A nice job all around, and clearly a labor of love.