Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 10: Halloween Leftovers


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Halloween has come and gone, though most people have plenty of leftovers on hand, including your Cracked Rear Viewer. Here are some treats (and a few tricks) that didn’t quite make the cut this year:

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ISLE OF THE DEAD (RKO 1945, D: Mark Robson)

Typically atmospheric Val Lewton production stars Boris Karloff as a Greek general trapped on a plague-ridden island along with a young girl (Ellen Drew) who may or may not be a vorvolaka (vampire-like spirit). This film features one of Lewton’s patented tropes, as Drew wanders through the woods alone, with the howling wind and ominous sounds of the creatures of the night. Very creepy, with another excellent Karloff performance and strong support from Lewton regulars Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr, and Skelton Knaggs. Fun Fact: Like BEDLAM , this was inspired by a painting, Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead”.

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THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (Allied Artists 1954, D: Edward…

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Halloween Havoc!: Bela Lugosi Meets The East Side Kids… Twice!


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Ten years after making horror history as DRACULA,   Bela Lugosi signed a contract with Monogram Studios producer Sam Katzman   to star in a series of low-budget shockers. The films have been affectionately dubbed by fans “The Monogram Nine” and for the most part are really terrible, redeemed only by the presence of our favorite Hungarian. Two of the films were with the East Side Kids, SPOOKS RUN WILD and GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE, making them sort of Poverty Row All-Star Productions for wartime audiences.

I won’t go too deeply into all the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys variations here. Suffice it to say original Dead Enders Leo Gorcey   (Muggs), Huntz Hall (Glimpy), and Bobby Jordan (Danny) landed at Monogram after their Warner Brothers contracts expired, much to Jack Warner’s relief. The young actors were a rowdy bunch, and Jack was probably glad to be rid of them! Anyway, the trio were popular with the masses, and…

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The Holy Grail of Bad Cinema: THE PHYNX (Warner Brothers 1970)


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(WARNING: The movie I’m about to review is so bad, I can’t even find a proper poster for it. Beware… )

I was so excited when I  found out TCM was airing THE PHYNX at 4:00am!  I’d heard about how bad it for years now, and couldn’t wait to view it for myself today on my trusty DVR. I wasn’t disappointed, for THE PHYNX is a truly inept movie, so out of touch with its audience… and just what is its audience? We’ve got a Pre-Fab rock band, spy spoof shenanigans, wretched “comedy”, and cameos from movie stars twenty years past their prime. Just who was this movie made for, anyway?

The film defies description, but I’ll give it a whirl because, well because that’s what I do! We begin as a secret agent attempts to crash into Communist Albania in unsuccessful and unfunny ways, then segue into some psychedelic cartoons…

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Happy Birthday Huntz Hall: DON’T KILL YOUR FRIENDS (1943)


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Today marks the birthday of a definitely acquired taste, Huntz Hall. Born Henry Richard Hall in New York on 8/15/1920, he got his nickname because his large proboscis made him look German, according to his Irish neighborhood friends. Huntz entered show biz at a young age, and by 1935 was starring on Broadway in the hit play DEAD END. The six original cast members (Hall, Leo Gorcey, Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsley), collectively known as The Dead End Kids, appeared in the 1937 film version with Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, Claire Trevor, and Humphrey Bogart as the slum kids’ idol, gangster Baby Face Martin. Warner Brothers signed all six boys to contracts and featured them in prestige films like CRIME SCHOOL, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, and THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL with top stars James Cagney, John Garfield, and Ronald Reagan.

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The Kids were a rowdy bunch on-set, wreaking havoc and…

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Film Review: Dead End (dir. by William Wyler)


Originally released in 1937, Dead End is a gangster film with social conscience.  Based on a Broadway play and featuring a screenplay by the iconic progressive writer Lillian Hellman, Dead End is a crime film that’s more interested in the root causes of crime than in crime itself.

Dead End takes place over the course of one day in the slums of New York City.  While tenement children spend their time swimming in the East River and idealizing gangsters, wealthy people live in high-rise apartments and depend on the police and their doorman (played, naturally enough, by Ward Bond) to keep them protected from the poor people living next door.

Among the poor is Drina (Sylvia Sidney), who divides her time between marching on a picket line and trying to keep her younger brother Tommy (Billy Halop) from hanging out with the local street gang, the Dead End Kids (Huntz Hall, Bernard Punsly, Leo Gorcey, and Gabriel Dell).  Drina’s childhood friend is Dave (Joel McCrea), an idealistic architect who is having an affair with a rich man’s mistress (Wendy Barrie).

Complicating things is the arrival of Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart).  Like Dave, Martin grew up in the slums.  However, while Dave is trying to escape by making an honest living, Martin has already escaped by choosing a life of crime.  Now, he’s viewed as a hero by Tommy and his friends and with wariness by Dave and Drina who know that Martin’s presence will eventually lead to the police invading their home.  Martin, however, is more concerned with seeing his mother (Marjorie Main) and his ex-girlfriend (Clare Trevor), who has become a prostitute and is suffering from syphilis.

For a film that was made close to 80 years ago, Dead End holds up pretty well.  Is this because it’s a brilliant film or just because the connection between poverty and crime has remained one of the constants of human history?  It’s probably a combination of both.  Considering that Dead End was filmed on a Hollywood backlot, it’s a surprisingly gritty and realistic film that only occasionally feels a bit stagey.  The film’s entire cast does a good job of bringing this particular dead end to life, though the obvious star of the film is Humphrey Bogart.  As played by Bogart, Baby Face Martin is both sympathetic and despicable, the epitome of the potential that can be found and wasted in any American city.

Dead End was nominated for best picture but lost to The Life of Emile Zola.  The film also received a much deserved nomination for best art design but lost to Lost Horizon while Clare Trevor lost the race for best supporting actress to Alice Brady, who won for In Old Chicago.  Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Humphrey Bogart did not even receive a nomination for his excellent work in Dead End.  Meanwhile, the film’s tough gang of street kids proved to be so popular that they, as a group, were cast in several other films.  Originally credited as the Dead End Kids (and later known as the Bowery Boys), they ended up making a total of 89 films together.  With the possible exception of Angels With Dirty Faces, none of those films are as highly regarded as Dead End.