30 More Days of Noir: The Killer Is Loose (dir by Budd Boetticher)


Film noir comes to the suburbs!

The Killer is Loose opens with the robbery of a savings and loan.  At first, it seems like meek bank teller Leon Poole (Wendell Corey) behaved heroically and kept the robbery from being far worse than it could have been.  How meek is Leon Poole?  He’s so meek that his nickname has always been Foggy.  People have always made fun of him because of his glasses and his bad eyesight.  Everyone assumes that Poole is just one of those quiet people who is destined to spend his entire life in obscurity.

However, the police soon discover that Leon Poole is not the hero that everyone thinks that he is.  Instead, he was involved in the robbery!  When Detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten) leads a group of cops over to Poole’s house to arrest the bank teller, Poole’s wife is accidentally shot and killed.  At the subsequent trial, Poole swears that he’ll get vengeance.  And then he’s promptly sent off to prison.

Jump forward three years.  Leon Poole is still in prison.  He’s still deceptively meek.  He still wears glasses.  Everyone still assumes that he’s harmless.  Of course, that’s what Poole wants them to believe.  He’s still obsessed with getting his vengeance.  Meanwhile, Detective Wagner and his wife, Lila (Rhonda Fleming), are living in the suburbs and have a somewhat strained marriage.  Lila wants Wagner to find a less dangerous and less stressful job.  Wagner wants to keep busting crooks.

When Poole see a chance to escape from prison, he does so.  That’s not really a shock because even the quietest of people are probably going to take advantage of the chance to escape from prison.  What is a shock is that Poole ruthlessly murders a guard while making his escape.  He then kills a truck driver and steal the vehicle.  He then tracks down his old army sergeant and guns him down while the man’s wife watches.  Always watch out for the quiet ones, as they say.

Now, Poole has just one more target.  He wants to finish his revenge by killing Lila Wagner.

The Killer is Loose is a tough and, considering the time that it was made, brutal film noir.  (Seriously, the scene where Poole kills his former sergeant really took me by surprise.)  While both Rhonda Fleming and Joseph Cotten give good performances in their roles, it’s Wendell Corey who really steals the film.  Corey plays Poole not as an outright villain but instead as a man who has been driven mad by years and years of taunts.  After spend his entire life being told that he was a loser, Poole finally decided to do something for himself and, as a result, his wife ended up getting killed by the police.  Now that Poole’s managed to escape from prison, he’s willing to do anything just as long as he can get his final revenge.  Corey plays Poole with a smoldering resentment and the performance feels very real.  (If the film were made today, it’s easy to imagine that Poole would be an anonymous twitter troll, going through life with a smile on his face while unleashing his anger online.)  It brings a very real spark and feeling of danger to a film that would otherwise just be a standard crime film.

The Killer Is Loose also makes good use of its suburban setting, suggesting that both Fleming and Cotten have allowed themselves to get complacent with their life away from the obvious dangers of the big city.  You can buy a new house, the film seems to be saying, but you can’t escape the past.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Giant Spider Invasion (dir by Bill Rebane)


Welcome to rural Wisconsin, where everyone’s running around in their underwear and getting attacked by giant spiders!

That’s not meant to be a dig at the 1975 film, The Giant Spider Invasion, either.  I mean, let’s be honest.  If you’re going to be running around the trailer park in your underwear, the last thing that you want to do is walk straight into a giant spider web.  That happens a few times in The Giant Spider Invasion and I cringed every time because …. AGCK!  I mean, it’s a scary thought and The Giant Spider Invasion understands that.  Years ago, I was riding a horse and I rode head first into a spider web and oh my God!  I lost track of how many hours I spent washing my hair afterwards.  Of course, fortunately, I wasn’t in my underwear when I rode into that spider web.  So, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Anyway, The Giant Spider Invasion opens with a meteorite crashing down to Earth.  As I previously mentioned, it lands in Wisconsin.  I can’t help but think that the alien spiders were a bit disappointed when they emerged out of their meteorite and discovered that they were in Wisconsin.  One would imagine that they were probably aiming for Washington D.C. and maybe they got off track.  Still, it works to the spiders’ advantage in that they’ve managed to land in a place so filthy and messy that no one is going to notice a few extra tarantulas crawling around.  Or, at least, they don’t notice until the tarantulas are gigantic and wandering through the fields.

(Go ask Alice …. when she’s ten feet tall…..)

We follow as various people deal with the giant spider invasion.  What we quickly discover is that, in 1975, America just wasn’t ready to make contact with alien spiders.  While Dr. Langer (Barbara Hale) and Dr. Vance (Steven Brodie) investigate the meteorite crash, the rest of the town is too busy with their own personal dramas to be of much help.  The Sheriff (Alan Hale, Jr.) is a buffoon who tries to coordinate a response from the safety of his office.  Dan (Robert Easton) and Ev (Leslie Parrish) obsess on whether or not the meteorites contain diamonds as well as spiders.  Dan has an affair with barmaid Helga (Christine Schmidtmer) while Ev’s younger sister, Terry (Dianne Lee Hart) dates Dave (Kevin Brodie), the son of the local newspaper editor.  Every 15 minutes or so, a crazed-looking preacher pops up and starts ranting about how the world’s going to end because of the sins of people like Dan, Eve, and Helga and, to be honest, the preacher seems to be the only person in town who understands just how much trouble they’re all in.

It’s all kind of silly but, because this is a Bill Rebane film, it all plays out with a certain unbridled enthusiasm that’s impossible to resist.  Rebane was never one to let a low-budget get in the way of his ambitions and the special effects in The Giant Spider Invasion may be cheap but they still have a charm all their own.  I mean, let’s face it.  Spiders are scary and any scene that features a giant one sneaking up on someone is going to be at least somewhat effective.  (I’ll even go on to say that a shot of a “giant” spider super-imposed over a field was actually rather effective and creepy.)  Add to that, The Giant Spider Invasion has only an 84-mintue running time so it doesn’t waste any time getting to the spiders.  This is a fun movie and a perfect one to watch in October.

All for One, Fun for All: AT SWORD’S POINT (RKO 1952)


cracked rear viewer

France in 1648 is in upheaval: Cardinal Richelieu has passed away, the Queen is ill, and evil Duc de Lavelle is plotting to usurp the crown by forcing a marriage to Princess Henriette and murder young Prince Louis. The Queen summons the only persons that can help: her trusted Musketeers! But the quartet have either grown old or died, and in their stead come their equal-to-the-task children, Cornel Wilde (D’Artagnon Jr.), Dan O’Herlihy (Aramis Jr.), Alan Hale Jr (Porthos Jr.), and – Maureen O’Hara , daughter of Athos!!

AT SWORD’S PONT isn’t a great movie, but it is a fairly entertaining one, with lots of flashing swordplay, leaping about, cliffhanging perils, and narrow escapes. It kind of plays like a Saturday matinee serial, and there’s a lot of fun to be had, with Cornel Wilde a dashing D’Artagnon Jr, O’Herlihy a competent second fiddle, and Hale doing his usual good-natured…

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The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Terror Night, aka Bloody Movie (dir by Nick Marino)


 

Okay, so this is kind of a weird one.

The movie known as Bloody Movie was originally filmed in 1987, under the title Terror Night.  However, it was never released.  There are plenty of rumors about why it wasn’t released.  Some people say that it was because the film was produced with Mafia money.  Some people say it was because it used a lot of footage that was lifted from other movies and the producers apparently didn’t bother to clear the rights.  Of course, it’s also totally possible that the film wasn’t released because it wasn’t very good.  I mean, that does happen.

Regardless of why, the film apparently sat on the shelf for 20 years.  It was finally released by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia and retitled Bloody Movie.  That said, the DVD that I own (and watched for this review) was released by Legacy Entertainment and still had the Terror Night title.  The transfer on the Legacy DVD was notably bad.  From what I’ve been told, the Retromedia release looks a lot better.

Now, there’s a lot bad things that can be said about Terror Night.  It’s low-budget, which is one of those things that can be overcome by a clever director but, in this case, it just results in Terror Night looking cheap.  It’s poorly written, full of one-dimensional characters who were shallow even by the standards of a late 80s slasher.  This is also one of those movies where formerly respectable actors pop up for five minutes cameos.  Whenever one of those actors shows up, all the action stops so that they can earn their paycheck.  Aldo Ray is homeless and doomed.  Cameron Mitchell is a cynical cop and doomed.  Alan Hale, Jr. is an affable security guard and apparently not doomed.  There’s no real reason for any of them to be there but there they are!  There’s also a biker couple who show up for no particular reason, along with the typical collection of teenage victims.

But yet, there are moments when Terror Night goes from being bland to being almost transcendently odd..  There are moments of comedy mixed in with some surprisingly mean-spirited death scenes.  Necks are snapped.  Heads are chopped off.  Bodies are split in half.  It all gets rather messy and the presence of all those old time actors makes the sudden gore scenes feel all the more strange.

However, the main thing that distinguishes Terror Night from the other slashers of the era is the identity of the killer.  (And, before anyone yells at me, this is not a spoiler.  There is never any mystery about who the killer is.)  Lance Hayward is not a zombie like Jason Voorhees or a silent symbol of evil like Michael Myers.  He’s not seeking vengeance for some crime in the past.  Instead, he’s a former silent screen star.  (It seems like Hayward would have been close to 90 years old at the time of Terror Night.  He’s still surprisingly spry.)  Hayward commits his murders while wearing costumes from his old movies.  Adding to the strangeness of the whole scenario is that actual silent footage is spliced into the murder scenes.  Most of the footage comes from movies like The Thief of Baghdad, The Black Pirate, and the Gaucho.  You have to wonder if Douglas Fairbanks cheated the director’s father or something.

(Since Hayward spends most of the movie in costume, I’m assuming that he was mostly played by stuntmen.  When Hayward actually shows his face, he’s played by one-time Oscar nominee, John Ireland.  At the height of his career, Ireland co-starred in films like All The King’s Men.)

As to why a silent scream star would be murdering teenagers … well, your guess is as good as mine.  It’s a strange film, a mix of gore and nostalgia.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but I still always appreciate anything this strange.

Christmas Surprise: IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (Allied Artists 1947)


cracked rear viewer

ithap1

I’d never heard of IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE until it’s recent broadcast on TCM. This unsung little holiday gem was a TV staple for decades before being pulled from viewing in 1990, only resurfacing in 2009 when a small but dedicated band of classic film fans put the pressure on to see it aired once again. And I’m glad they did, for this charming, unpretensious comedy boasts a marvelous cast, an Oscar-nominated screenplay, and a Frank Capra-esque feel without a lot of the Capra-corn.

Capra himself was scheduled to direct it back in 1945, but instead he chose to make another Christmas film you may have heard of, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Veteran Roy Del Ruth obtained the rights, and IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE became the first release of Allied Artists, the larger budgeted, more prestigious arm of Monogram Pictures (and you know how much I love Monogram movies!)…

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Film Review: There Was a Crooked Man… (1970, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Crooked_manI first saw There Was A Crooked Man as a part of TCM’s tribute to the great actor Warren Oates.  Warren Oates was rarely cast in the lead but, as a character actor, he appeared in supporting roles in several great films.  Unfortunately, There Was A Crooked Man is not one of them.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and written by the screenwriting team of Robert Benton and David Newman (best known for writing Bonnie and Clyde), There Was A Crooked Man is meant to be a comedic western.  Outlaw Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is arrested while visiting a bordello.  Paris is sent to an Arizona prison, where everyone tries to get him to reveal where he has hidden the stash from a $500,000 robbery.  Pittman uses everyone’s greed to manipulate them into helping him attempt to escape.  Standing in Pittman’s way is the new warden, a liberal reformer played by Henry Fonda.

There Was A Crooked Man is a long movie that features a lot of familiar faces.  Burgess Meredith plays The Missouri Kid, who has been in prison for so long that he is now an old man.  Hume Cronyn and John Randolph play a bickering gay couple who eventually become a part of Pittman’s scheme to escape.  Even Alan Hale, the skipper from Gilligan’s Island, shows up as a guard named Tobaccy!  There Was A Crooked Man is a big movie but it’s also not a very good one.  It’s not serious enough to be a good drama but it’s not funny enough to be a good comedy either.

At least the movie has Warren Oates going for it.  Oates plays Harry Moon, a prisoner who is drafted into Pittman’s escape plot.  It is a typical Warren Oates supporting role but he steals every scene that he appears in.  Even in the smallest of roles, Warren Oates was worth watching and he’s the best thing about There Was A Crooked Man.

Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Kirk Douglas, Michael Blodgett, and John Randolph in There Was A Crooked Man

Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Kirk Douglas, Michael Blodgett, and John Randolph in There Was A Crooked Man