A Blast From The Past: John Wayne For The American Cancer Society

Screen icon John Wayne was born 115 years ago, on this date, in Winterest, Iowa.  

Best-known for his appearances in western films, Wayne spent the last decade of his life battling cancer and serving as a spokesman for The American Cancer Society.  He made his final film appearance in 1976, starring in The Shootist as a veteran gunslinger who was, just like Wayne, facing his own mortality.  The film not only provided a capstone to Wayne’s film career but the footage of Jimmy Stewart (as a doctor) informing Wayne that he didn’t have long to live was used in one of the commercials that Wayne did for The American Cancer Society.

Of course, in the commercial, the footage was followed by Wayne encouraging viewers to get tested and also threatening to “take you apart” if they didn’t.  Three years after the release of The Shootist and this commercial, Wayne would succumb to cancer but his efforts would lead to more people getting tested and more cancers being detected early.

Here, from 1976….

A Blast From The Past: One Step Beyond 3.15 “The Last Round” (dir by John Newland)

In honor of what would have been Charles Bronson’s 100th birthday, today’s blast from the past is an episode of the old 1960s anthology series, One Step Beyond. The gimmick with this show was that every story was said to be based on fact, no matter how outlandish or improbable the story may be.

In this episode from 1961, Charles Bronson stars as Yank Dawson, an aging boxer who finds himself in haunted auditorium in England during World War II. Bronson was 39 years old when he starred as Yank Dawson and he gives a good performance. The role makes good use of both Bronson’s imposing physicality and also the smoldering anger that would eventually make Bronson a star in both Europe and, later, the United States.

The episode below first aired on January 10th, 1961.

A Blast From The Past: Swing You Sinners (dir by Dave Fleischer)

The much-missed Gary Loggins loved Halloween and he loved the old, frequently cartoons from the 1930s.  He was a particular fan of the Fleischer Brothers so it only seems right that today, on Halloween, we should share one of those cartoons.  Here is 1930’s Swing You Sinners.

In this bizarre cartoon, a dog named Bimbo attempts to steal a chicken.  After the police chase him into a cemetery, Bimbo is confronted by ghosts, demons, and apparently death.  Shockingly, there is no escape offered in this film.  Abandon all hope!

I guess chicken theft was a really huge problem in 1930.

A Blast From The Past: Halloween Safety (dir by Herk Harvey)

Director Herk Harvey

Tomorrow, we will be sharing the classic film Carnival of Souls. That means that today, it’s for us to show our last Herk Harvey short film of the 2021 Horrorthon. And appropriately enough, it’s all about Halloween!

This short film was made in 1977, long after the release of Carnival of Souls. In it, safety tips are offered up to make sure that all the kids have a safe Halloween. Make sure you can see clearly, even if you’re wearing a mask. Don’t wear dark clothing. Grab a flashlight. Don’t trick or treat alone! Hey, it’s all good advice. And Herk Harvey seems like someone who knew a little something about having a good Halloween!

From 1977, here’s some lessons on Halloween Safety!

A Blast From The Past: Shake Hands With Danger (dir by Herk Harvey)

Director Herk Harvey

Since I’m going to be sharing Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls on Saturday, I’ve been preparing by showing some of the short films that Harvey directed before and after making his only feature. 1980’s Shake Hands With Danger was actually one of Harvey’s final films and, needless to say, it came out long after Carnival of Souls.

This short film is all about being safe while working with heavy machinery. If Candace Hilligoss had shown more caution, she wouldn’t have had to shake hands with danger in Carnival of Souls. See, it’s all connected! Welcome to the Herkiverse.

Here’s the film. Watch and learn:

A Blast From The Past: None For The Road (dir by Herk Harvey)

Director Herk Harvey

For today’s Herk Harvey-directed Blast From The Past, we have the 1957 short film, None For The Road. Produced by Centron, this was a film that was meant to make motorists aware of the dangers involved in drinking and driving. It’s a good message and, for once, the judgmental tone of the film is deserved. This isn’t about telling people not to have fun in school. This is about teaching people not to kill people through their own drunken stupidity! It may not be quite as effective as some of the Australian anti-drinking and driving commercials that I’ve seen but still, it’s a worthwhile message.

It’s also about a scientist who gets rats drunk so he can test their balance. That’s kind of weird and seems unnecessary but I guess maybe people were less aware of the dangers of excessive drinking in the 50s.

On another note, even though some of the college students in this film drink too much, I do appreciate their attempts to dress up before going out. They’re making an effort to get used to wearing a tie voluntarily before being forced to wear one at the office and I respect both their initiative and their understanding that the course of their life is already so predestined that they might as well be supporting characters in a Paul Schrader movie.

Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that, in its portrait of the road as being a path that can lead to either happiness or death, this short film shares a theme with Herk Harvey’s one feature film, Carnival of Souls. The drunken college kids in this film could be the same people we see harassing Candace Hilligoss at the start of Carnival of Souls. We’ll be sharing Carnival of Souls on Saturday.

A Blast From The Past: The Procrastinator (dir by Herk Havey)

Goddammit, Jean let everyone down again!

Jean is at the center of The Procrastinator, a short educational film from 1952.  Jean has a history of putting stuff off and letting down her friends, her parents, her peers, and probably the entire state of Kansas as well.  Still, despite the fact that Jean has repeatedly shown that she can’t be trusted with any responsibility, her fellow students decide to give her some responsibility.  When Jean continues to procrastinate, they all get mad at her but you know what?  Is it really Jean’s fault that they gave her a job that she obviously couldn’t handle?

What I’m saying is stop being so judgmental!  Everyone has their own way.  Some people get things done early.  Some people wait until the last minute.  And then there are people like me who make plans to do everything early but who still end up waiting until the last second regardless.  For example, my original plan for this year was to write all of my Horrorthon reviews in May and June and then spend October in a state of blissful relaxation.  Needless to say, that didn’t happen.  But, to be honest, I kind of enjoy the pressure of having to get things done at the last minute.  I do my best work under pressure, I think.

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m sharing this video in October, it’s because this film was directed by Herk Harvey.  Harvey made a career out of directing short educational films but, to horror audiences, he’s best known for directing a classic horror film called Carnival of Souls.  Carnival of Souls is a film that I’ll be sharing in a few days.  On the surface, The Procrastinator may not appear to have much in common with Carnival of Souls.  However, I think you can compare Jean’s refusal to do things in a timely fashion to Candace Hilligoss’s refusal to accept the reason for why she keeps seeing ghosts following her everywhere she goes.  So, in way, both of these films take place in the same universe.  Call it the Herkiverse.

Watch and decide for yourself!

A Blast From The Past: The Mercury Theatre Presents Heart of Darkness

Before he revolutionized cinema, Orson Welles revolutionized both theater and radio. As the host and mastermind behind the Mercury Theatre On The Air, Welles was heard on a weekly basis as the show broadcast adaptations of literary classics into American homes. In 1938, both Welles and Mercury Theatre On The Air achieved a certain immortality with their broadcast of War of the Worlds. What is often forgotten is that, one week after terrifying America, the Mercury Theatre presented an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, one which featured Welles in the role of Kurtz and his future Citizen Kane co-star, Ray Collins, as Marlow.

This broadcast was significant in that, when Welles first went to Hollywood, it was with an eye towards turning Heart of Darkness into a film. Welles planned to shoot the film strictly from the point-of-view of Marlow, with the camera serving as Marlow’s eyes. Welles not only planned to play Kurtz in the film but he also intended to provide the voice of Marlow. Unfortunately, the film was never made. With the outbreak of war in Europe, it was felt that the audience most likely to embrace Welles’s experiment would no longer be going to the movies. Welles would instead make his cinematic debut with Citizen Kane, a film that fully embodies Welles’s artistic vision regardless of what Mank tried to sell everyone last year. As for Heart of Darkness, it would later be adapted for television, appearing in greatly altered form as an episode of Playhouse 90 in 1958. Boris Karloff played Kurtz and Roddy McDowall played Marlow and someone decided that it would be a good idea to add a subplot in which Kurtz is revealed to by Marlow’s long lost father. There would be many attempts to turn Conrad’s novella into a feature film but it was not until 1979, with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, that Conrad’s story would appear on the big screen, albeit in massively altered form. Nicolas Roeg would later direct his own version of Heart of Darkness, one that featured Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz. (I haven’t seen it but that just sounds like perfect casting.)

Today, in honor of the 106th anniversary of the birth of Orson Welles, here is the Mercury Theatre On The Air’s production of Heart of Darkness. This broadcast also features an adaptation of the play, Life With Father. The casts are as follows:

Heart of Darkness: Orson Welles (Author, Ernest Kurtz), Ray Collins (Marlow), Alfred Shirley (Accountant), George Coulouris (Assistant Manager), Edgar Barrier (Second Manager), William Alland (Agent), Virginia Welles (Kurtz’s Intended Bride), Frank Readick (Tchiatosov)

(For those keeping track, Welles, Collins, Coulouris, and Alland would all have key roles in Citizen Kane. Alland played the reporter who is assigned to discover the meaning of Rosebud. Ray Collins played Boss Jim Gettys, the political boss who prevents Kane from being elected governor. Coulouris played Kane’s guardian, Walter Parkes Thatcher. And Welles, of course, was Charles Foster Kane, American. )

Life With Father: Orson Welles (Father), Mildred Natwick (Mother), Mary Wickes (Employment Office Manager), Alice Frost (Margaret), Arthur Anderson (young Clarence Day).

This program was originally aired on November 6th, 1938. Welles was 22 years old at the time of this broadcast. So, sit back and enjoy Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre.