Frontier Uprising (1961, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

In the 1840s, frontier scout Jim Stockton (Jim Davis) is hired to lead a wagon train down the Oregon Trail.  Accompanying him and the settlers are a group of calvarymen, commanded by Lt. Kilkpatrick (Don Kelly).  When the wagon train is attacked by a group of Native Americans who have been given rifles by Mexican soldiers, Stockton can’t figure out why,  When he suggests that the settlers take an alternative route through California (which was then controlled by Mexico), Kilkpatrick explains that such a detour would be considered an act of war and that he and his men cannot be a part of it.  What Stockton and Kilkpatrick don’t know (but soon find out) is that Mexico has already declared war on the United States.  Complicating matters even further is that both men have fallen for a Mexican woman named Consuela (Nancy Hadley) and her loyalties are now in question.

A 68-mintue B-western, Frontier Uprising is mostly interesting because of the amount of stock footage that was used to try to make this low-budget film seem like an epic.  For instance, when the rifle-bearing Natives attacked the settlers, I recognized a lot of footage from a lot of other movies.  One particular shot, of a wounded Native falling off of his horse, was used in so many films of the period that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it.  Much of the stock footage features Monument Valley prominently in the background, which suggests that Stockton was not doing a very good job of leading the settlers to Oregon.

Frontier Uprising is one of the 11 (!) films to be directed by Edward L. Cahn in 1961.  Cahn is credited with directing 127 films over the course of 30 years.  Some of them were good.  Most, like Frontier Uprising, were competent but forgettable.

Experiment Alcatraz (1950, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

Dr. Ross Williams (John Howard) has a theory that injecting patients with a radioactive isotope can be used to treat a serious blood disease.  However, he needs people on which to test his theory and, since it involves radiation, volunteers aren’t exactly lining up.  Finally, five prisoners at Alcatraz agree to be used as test subjects in return for early parole.  The prisoners are whisked off to a military where Williams and nurse Joan McKenna (Joan Dixon) oversee the experiment.  Joan has her own reasons for hoping that Williams’s treatment is a success.  Her own brother is currently dying of the disease.

Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong when one of the convicts, Barry Morgan (Robert Shayne), grabs a pair of scissors and stabs another prisoner to death.  Morgan claims that he was driven mad by the treatment and, as a result, the experiments are canceled.  Both Joan and Dr. Williams are convinced that Morgan had another reason for killing the prisoner.  With Morgan and his cronies now free, Williams launches his own investigation into what happened.

Experiment Alcatraz starts out with an intriguing premise but then settles into being a typical B-crime film.  Robert Shayne does a good job playing the viscous criminal but Morgan’s motives for committing the murder turn out to be fairly predictable and the story’s conclusion won’t take anyone by surprise.  Howard and Dixon are competent leads but both are playing dull characters and too much of the film’s story depends on getting the audience to believe that a potentially revolutionary medical treatment would be tested in a thoroughly haphazard manner.  Worst of all, despite the title, there’s very little Alcatraz to be found in Experiment Alcatraz.  The prisoner leaves the prison early and never look back.

Experiment Alcatraz is one of the many films to be directed by the incredibly prolific and fast-working Edward L. Cahn.  Between 1931 and 1962, Cahn is credited as having directed 127 movies.  In 1961 alone, he directed 11 feature films!  1950 was actually a slow year for Cahn.  Including Experiment Alcatraz, he only directed 5 films that year.  As you can guess with that many movies, Cahn’s output was uneven.  For every Experiment Alcatraz, there was an It!  The Terror From Beyond Space.  Despite a promising premise, Experiment Alcatraz is one of Cahn’s more forgettable films.

30 More Days of Noir #9: The Walking Target (dir by Edward L. Cahn)

In this 1960 noir, Nick Harbin (Ronald Foster) is a walking target!

That’s because he’s just been released from prison.  As the only survivor of a gang that pulled off a daring payroll robbery, Nick has done his time and he’s ready to get on with his life.  He even got himself an education while he was behind bars.  He’s decided to reform and no longer be the angry criminal that he once was.

But first, there’s a little matter of some money.

Only Nick knows where he buried the loot from the robbery.  Everyone wants it.  The press wants to know because it’ll make a great story.  A nosy detective wants to know because he’s convinced that Nick hasn’t changed his ways.  Susan (Merry Anders), who used to be involved with one of Nick’s criminal associates, wants to know because she’s only in it for the cash.  Susan’s current boyfriend, Dave (Robert Christopher) wants to know because …. well, again, it all comes down to greed.  Greed is also what’s motivating a local gangster to provide backing for Susan and Dave in their quest to find the money.  Dave is even willing to send Susan to seduce Nick.

However, all Nick wants to do is find the money and then split it with Gail (Joan Evans).  Gail is the widow of one of the robbers and Nick wants to do the right thing for her.  Of course, Nick is himself kind of in love with Gail.  Can Nick get the money, find love with Gail, and avoid slipping back into his criminal ways?  It won’t be easy.  Life is never easy when you’re….


Okay, that was a little bit melodramatic on my part but then again, it’s a melodramatic film.  Everyone is constantly plotting and double-crossing.  Appropriately, it all leads to a battle in the desert as modern-day outlaws prove themselves to be no more trustworthy than their vintage ancestors.

The Walking Target is a low-budget noir, one that clocks in at only 70 minutes and which, as a result, doesn’t waste much time when it comes to jumping into its story.  That’s one good thing about these B-movies.  They had neither the budget nor the time for red herrings.  As a result, you pretty much know what you’re going to get before the movies even begins.  The Walking Target features all of the usual tough dialogue and morally ambiguous characters that you would expect to see in a noir.  Merry Anders is an adequate femme fatale, though I do wish that Susan had been a smarter character.  (Nick sees through her way too easily.)  The film opens with the prison’s warden telling Nick that, even though he’s done his time, he’ll always be a no-good crook and that’s the perfect way for a noir to open.  Unfortunately, the film’s cinematography doesn’t really have the right noir look.  There aren’t enough shadows and the film often looks like it could just be an episode of an old TV show.  I guess that’d due to the budget but it really does keep the film from making the transition from being good to being great.

The Walking Target is a diverting-enough film.  I liked Ronald Foster’s uneasy performance as Nick and it was enjoyable to watch everyone plotting and scheming.  The Walking Target is currently available on Prime and I recommend it to anyone looking for a good, if lesser-known, B-noir.

Horror On The Lens: Invasion of the Saucer Men (dir by Edward Cahn)

Invasion of The Saucer Men

The poster above pretty much epitomizes everything that I love about old B-movies.  Between the aliens and the poster’s promise that we’re being given the chance to “SEE (the) night the world nearly ended…!,” it’s hard to resist the temptation to give Invasion of the Saucer Men a chance.

First released in 1957, Invasion of the Saucer Men is, in many ways, a standard alien invasion film.  Aliens land in a small town and cause a lot of inconvenience for a bunch of all-American teenagers who are just looking for a place to make out.  What sets Invasion of the Saucer Men apart is that it’s meant to intentionally humorous and the aliens totally kick ass.

So, here is today’s edition of Horror On The Lens: Invasion of the Saucer Men!

Five Guns To Tombstone (1960, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

Outlaw Matt Wade (Robert Karnes) escapes from prison and rejoins his old gang.  They ride out to Tombstone, Arizona, stopping off at the ranch of Matt’s brother, Billy Wade (James Brown).  Billy used to be an outlaw but eventually he hung up his guns, settled down, got married, and now he’s raising Matt’s teenage son, Ted (John Wilder).  Ted, who thinks that his father has just been paroled, is excited to see Matt but Billy doesn’t want Ted being led into a life of crime.  When Matt and the gang rob a bank, they frame Billy for the crime.  With the townspeople looking to lynch him and Ted drifting towards the wrong path in life, Billy has no choice but to pretend to be a part of the gang until he can dig up the evidence to clear his name.

If this sounds familiar, thank you for reading yesterday’s review of Gun Belt.  Released seven years after Gun Belt, Five Guns To Tombstone tells the exact same story as Gun Belt and, in many case, it features the exact same dialogue.  The only difference is that some of the names have been slightly changed.  The gang leader in Gun Belt was named Ike Clinton.  In this Five Guns To Tombstone, his name is Ike Garvey.  Billy Ringo becomes Billy Wade and Wyatt Earp because Marshal Sam Jennings.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much the exact same film.

Which one is the better film, Gun Belt or Five Guns To Tombstone?  Both films have plenty of two-fisted, gun-slinging action and a good cast of western character actors but I’d probably have to give the edge to Five Guns To Tombstone because John Wilder is more convincing in the role of the outlaw’s son than Tab Hunter was in Gun Belt.  Tab Hunter was young and callow and annoying but John Wilder is the type of confused kid that anyone could relate to.

Five Guns To Tombstone was one of the 9 films that Edward L. Cahn directed in 1960.  As with most of Cahn’s films, the action seems rushed but that’s appropriate for the story that Five Guns To Tombstone is telling.  (It’s also understandable.  When you’re directing 9 films a year, you don’t have the luxury of taking your time.)  Like Gun Belt, this is hardly a classic but western fans should enjoy it.

Gun Street (1961, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

During the closing days of the Old West (people ride horses and form posses but they also use hand-crank telephones), a notorious bank robber (played by Warren J. Kemmerling) escapes from prison.  Everyone fears that the outlaw is heading for his home town, where he’s sworn that he’s going to get revenge on all of the people who he blames for his imprisonment.  It’s up to Sheriff Chuck Morton (James Brown, not that James Brown) and Deputy Sam Freed (John Clarke) to alert all of the outlaw’s potential victims and to put together a posse to ride into the desert and hopefully end his reign of terror once and for all.  Complicating matters (though only slighly) is that the sheriff and the outlaw grew up together and used to be friends.

Yet another B-feature from the very active director Edward L. Cahn (he was credited with having directed 127 films, 11 in 1961 alone!), Gun Street plays out like a lesser episode of Gunsmoke.  Imagine High Noon, just without the red scare subtext and no Gary Cooper.  James Brown and John Clarke are both believable as western lawman and they have a good rapport.  Sandra Stone plays the outlaw’s sister, who now owns the local “dance hall” and, in her scenes with Brown, I thought it seemed as if the film was suggesting that she and the sheriff were once more than just friends.  Unfortunately, that’s one of many potentially intriguing subplots that the film suggests without bothering to explore.  Obviously made to be a second feature on a double bill, Gun Street is barely over an hour long, which doesn’t leave much time for anyone else in the film to make much of an impression.  The short running time also means that the film moves so quickly that certain plot points go unexplained.  Probably the most disappointing thing about Gun Street is that, after all of the build-up about how tough and dangerous this outlaw is, the film ends not with a bang but with an anti-climatic whimper.  Did they run out of money during filming?  Did Edward L. Cahn have to leave so he could go direct another film?  We may never know.

If you’re looking for a good western about one town awaiting the arrival of an outlaw, rewatch High Noon.

Pier 5, Havana (1959, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

Shortly after the Cuban Revolution, Steve Daggett (Cameron Mitchell) comes to Havana.  He’s searching for his friend, Hank Miller (Logan Field).  An alcoholic, Hank has been missing for several days.  When Steve arrives, he discovers that the local police are less than helpful.  He is also reunited with his former girlfriend, Monica Gray (Allison Hayes), who also happens to be Hank’s estranged wife.  Since separating from Hank, Monica has taken up with Fernando Ricardo (Eduardo Noriega), a wealthy land owner who, so far, has been spared from Castro’s revolution.

It doesn’t take long for Steve to discover that no one wants him to stay in Havana.  When he goes to meet an informant on a pier, he’s instead assaulted by two men who order him to be on the next plane to Miami.  When Steve refuses to leave, both his life and Monica’s are put in danger.  Steve’s investigation eventually leads him to a plot to overthrow Fidel Castro and return Batista to power.

Pier 5, Havana is a low-budget, B-noir that is mostly interesting due to its historical context.  The movie went into production a month after Castro took over Cuba and certain scenes were actually shot on location in Havana.  Because it was a quick shoot meant to capitalize on current events, the movie was rushed into theaters before Castro officially allied his country with the Soviet Union.  As a result, Pier 5, Havana is one of America’s few pro-Castro films.  While the film doesn’t fully embrace Castro, it does present his new government as being preferable to return of Batista’s dictatorship.

As for the film itself, it’s a fairly standard mystery.  Edward L. Cahn, who also directed Flesh and the Spur and Jet Attack, was a director who shot fast and in a workmanlike style.  (Pier 5 Havana was one of seven films that he directed in 1959 alone.)  Cameron Mitchell is surprisingly but effectively subdued as the two-fisted hero and he provides the hard-boiled narration as well.  As always, Allison Hayes is an effective femme fatale.

Pier 5, Havana is a fast-paced B-movie with some good performances and some interesting footage of Havana right after the revolution.

Jet Attack (1958, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

At the height of the Korean War, American scientist Dean Olmstead (Joseph Hamilton) is flying being enemy lines when he’s shot down over North Korea.  Because Olmstead had just created a new type of radar technology and he didn’t bother to leave behind any notes to explain to anyone else how the technology works, it’s imperative that he be rescued from a North Korean POW camp before the Russians brainwash him and take the technology for themselves.

Captain Tom Arnett (John Agar!), Lt. Bill Claiborn (Gregory Walcott, star of Plan 9 From Outer Space!!), and unconvincing beatnik Chick Lane (Nicky Balir) parachute behind enemy lines.  They meet up with both the local rebels and Tanya Nikova (Audrey Totter), a Russian nurse who is secretly a double agent and an anticommunist.  She’s also Arnett’s former lover and helped him escape the last time that he was being held prisoner by the communists.  (Arnett was also in charge of the flying escort that was supposed to keep Olmstead from getting shot down so, given his past history of failing and getting captured, Arnett may not be very good at his job.)  Working with Tanya and Capt. Chon (Victor Sen Young), Arnett ad Claiborn set out to rescue Olmstead from the KGB’s Col. Kuban (Robert Carricart).

Jet Attack is a z-grade war film that features a ton stock footage that you’ll probably recognize from other 50s war films.  As a result, the look of the jets often change from shot to shot and one North Korean airplane has “California Air National Guard” prominently written on its tail.  I know that some right-wingers like to refer to California as being “Commiefornia” but accusing the state of siding with the enemy during the Korean War is taking things too far.  The only thing that looks cheaper than the stock footage is the footage that was actually shot for the movie.  (The stock footage at least includes some pretty cool explosions.)

John Agar started his career co-starring with John Wayne and marrying Shirley Temple but, by the time Jet Attack was made, his star had dimmed considerably.  Whether he was appearing in a major production or a cheap film like Jet Attack, Agar was always reliably dull.  Here, he’s regularly outshined by co-star Gregory Walcott who, despite being best-known for appearing in films like Plan 9 From Outer Space, could actually act and show a hint of emotion on screen.  Probably the best thing about this film is Audrey Totter, who, despite an unfortunately attempt at a Russian accent, plays her role with more conviction than the script really deserves.  As Chick Lane, Nicky Blair also deserves some credit for telling the North Koreans that their attempts to torture him are “squaresville.”

The most surprising thing about Jet Attack is that it wasn’t produced by Howard Hughes.  With its emphasis on planes and evil commies, it feels like a Hughes film.  It’s a dull and workmanlike film but bad movie buffs will want to see it just to witness John Agar getting acted off the screen by Gregory Walcott and Audrey Totter.

Horror On The Lens: Invasion of the Saucer Men (dir by Edward Cahn)

Invasion of The Saucer Men

The poster above pretty much epitomizes everything that I love about old B-movies.  Between the aliens and the poster’s promise that we’re being given the chance to “SEE (the) night the world nearly ended…!,” it’s hard to resist the temptation to give Invasion of the Saucer Men a chance.

First released in 1957, Invasion of the Saucer Men is, in many ways, a standard alien invasion film.  Aliens land in a small town and cause a lot of inconvenience for a bunch of all-American teenagers who are just looking for a place to make out.  What sets Invasion of the Saucer Men apart is that it’s meant to intentionally humorous and the aliens totally kick ass.

So, here is today’s edition of Horror On The Lens: Invasion of the Saucer Men!