Red Zone Cuba (1966, directed by Coleman Francis)


An escaped convict named Griffin (Coleman Francis) meets up with two other men (Anthony Cardoza and Harold Samuels) and, for some reason, all three of the fly down to Cuba where they join up with the mercenaries who are planning on overthrowing Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion.  That doesn’t work out so, after escaping from a Cuban POW camp, they decide to fly back to America so that they can rob a mine.  Along the way, they shoot several people and they run into John Carradine who gives them a ride on a train and also sings the film’s theme song, Night Train to Mondo Fine.  “He ran all the way to Hell,” Carradine says about Griffin, even though Griffin spends most of the film either flying or moving at an ambling gait.

Red Zone Cuba is best known for being one of three Coleman Francis films to be showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Watching this film with Mike and the Bots commenting on the action is a lot of fun.  Trying to watch it without Mike the and the Bots is a different experience all together.  I always assumed that the plot seemed incoherent because I was distracted by Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow talking through the film but it turns out that the plot is incoherent regardless of how you watch the film.  Coleman Francis tried to make a tough and gritty desert noir but the only part he got right was the desert.  There’s a lot of desert in this movie.

Red Zone Cuba is a painfully slow movie but at least John Carradine’s in it for a few minutes.  A reporter shows up to interview him about the three men who rode his train all the way to Hell and Carradine answers his questions with the type of grim determination that briefly fools you into thinking Red Zone Cuba is going to be better than its reputation.  Carradine exits the film quickly, though.  He got his paycheck and then headed off to his next role, leaving Coleman Francis to carry the weight of the film.

Red Zone Cuba is a slow mess of a film that’s not even entertainingly bad but I do have to wonder: was this the first narrative film to use the Bay of Pigs as a plot point?  Hats off to Coleman Francis if it was.

 

Film Review: The Ten Commandments (dir by Cecil B. DeMille)


Though you may not know it if you’ve only seen the film during one of its annual showings on television, the 1956 religious epic, The Ten Commandments, originally opened with director Cecil B. DeMille standing on a stage.  Speaking directly to the audience, DeMille explains that, though the film they’re about to see me take some dramatic license with the story of Moses, it still based on not just the Bible but also the accounts of Philo, Josephus and Eusebius.  He also tells us that The Ten Commandments is more than just an adaptation of the Book of Exodus.  Instead, it’s a film about every man’s desire to be free.

Demille concludes with: “The story will take 3 hours and 29 minutes to unfold.  There will be an intermission. Thank you for your attention.”

To be honest, it’s kind of a sweet moment.  Cecil B. DeMille is a name that is so associated with (occasionally overblown) epic filmmaking that it’s easy to forget that DeMille was one of the most important names in the artistic development of American cinema.  He was there from the beginning and, unlike a lot of other filmmakers, he was equally successful in both the silent and the sound era.  Say what you will about his films, DeMille was a showman and he handles the introduction like a pro.  At the same time, there’s a real sincerity to DeMille’s tone.  After you listen to him, you’d almost feel guilty if you didn’t sit through all 3 hours and 29 minutes of his film.

That sincerity extends throughout the entire film.  Yes, The Ten Commandments is a big, long epic and some members of its all-star cast are more convincing in their roles than others.  And yes, the film can seem a bit campy to modern viewers.  (In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it seemed a bit campy to viewers in 1956 as well.)  Yes, The Ten Commandments does feature Anne Baxter saying, “Oh Moses!  You sweet adorable fool!”  But it doesn’t matter.  Even the most ludicrous of dialogue just seem right.  The film is just so sincere that it’s difficult not to enjoy it.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses is described as having a speech impediment and even tries to use it as an excuse to get out of going to Egypt.  That’s actually one of the reasons why Moses brought Aaron with him to Egypt, so that Aaron could speak for him.  In the movie, Moses is played by Charlton Heston, who comes across as if he’s never felt a moment of insecurity over the course of his entire life.  But no matter.  Heston may not by the Moses of Exodus but he’s the perfect Moses for the DeMille version.  When Heston says that Egypt will be visited by plagues until his adopted brother Ramses (Yul Brynner) agrees to allow the Jews to leave Egypt, you believe every word.  (Aaron, incidentally, is played by the legendary John Carradine.  He doesn’t get too much other than respectfully stand a few feet behind Charlton Heston but still: John Carradine!)

And really, anyone who dismisses The Ten Commandments out-of-hand should go back and, at the very least, watch the scene where the Angel of Death descends upon Egypt.  The scene where Moses and his family shelter in place while the screams of distraught mothers echo throughout the city is chilling.  Ramses may spend most of the film as a petulant villain but you almost feel sorry for him when you see him mourning over his dead son.  When he sets off after Moses, it’s not just because he’s doing what villains do.  He’s seeking vengeance for the loss of his first born.  For that brief moment, Ramses goes form being a melodramatic bad guy to being someone with whom the viewer can empathize.  Brynner, with his burning intensity, gives a great performance as Ramses.

As I said before, this film has what, in 1956, would have been considered an all-star cast.  Watching the names as they show up during the opening credits — Cedrick Hardwicke!  Yvonne DeCarlo!  Woody Strode!  Debra Paget! — is like stepping into a TCM fever dream.  Some of the performers give better performance than others.  And yet, even the worst performer feels as if they just naturally belong in the world that DeMille has created.  John Derek may seem rather smarmy as Joshua but his callowness provides a good contrast to the upright sincerity of Heston’s performance as Moses.  Edward G. Robinson’s cries of, “Where is your God now!?” may have provided endless fodder for impersonators but just try to imagine the film without him.  Even Vincent Price is in this thing!  He doesn’t have his famous mustache but, as soon as you hear his voice and see that famous glare, you know that it’s him.

Of course, when you’re growing up and The Ten Commandments is on TV every year, you mostly just want to see the scene where Moses parts the Red Sea.  The Ten Commandments was nominated for seven Oscars but it only won one, for its special effects.  (The prize for Best Picture went to another epic, Around The World In 80 Days.)  Today, the film’s special effects may no longer amaze viewers but there’s still something rather charming about the Red Sea parting and then crashing in on the Egyptian army.  The scene where the Earth opens up and swallows those who worshiped the Golden Calf remains impressive, if just because all of the extras really look terrified that they might die.  And while the Pillar of Fire may look a bit cartoonish to modern eyes, that’s a huge part of the film’s appeal.

The Ten Commandments is a big, long, sometimes silly, sometimes effective, and always entertaining epic.  It’s a grand spectacle and one that I usually watch every year when it shows up on television.  I missed this year’s showing but, fortunately, I own it on DVD.  It’s a sincere epic and a difficult one not to like.

 

Horror on the Lens: Crowhaven Farm (dir by John McGreevey)


Sure, inheriting an old New England farm might sound like a fun idea but what are you going to do if it turns out that the farm is haunted by the spirits of a coven of witches?

That’s the question that Hope Lange and Paul Burke have to find an answer for in this enjoyably spooky 1970 made-for-TV horror film!  Lange and Burke both give good performances, generating a lot of sympathy for their unhappily married couple while director John McGreevey does a commendable job of creating and maintaining a nicely ominous atmosphere.

And, of course, John Carradine’s in it!  It’s simply not a rural horror film from the 70s without John Carradine!

Enjoy!

Man of the People: John Ford’s THE LAST HURRAH (Columbia 1958)


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This post has been preempted as many times as tonight’s State of the Union Address! 


John Ford’s penchant for nostalgic looks back at “the good old days” resulted in some of his finest works. The sentimental Irishman created some beautiful tone poems in his 1930’s films with Will Rogers, and movies like HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE QUIET MAN convey Ford’s sense of loss and wistful longing for simpler times. The director’s THE LAST HURRAH continues this theme in a character study about an Irish-American politician’s final run for mayor, running headfirst into a new era of politics dominated by television coverage and media hype instead of old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground handshaking and baby-kissing. It’s not only a good film, but a movie buff’s Nirvana, featuring some great older stars and character actors out for their own Last Hurrah with the Old Master.

Based on Edwin O’Connor’s 1956 novel, the…

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30 Days Of Noir #18: C-Man (dir by Joseph Lerner)


At the center of the 1949 film, C-Man, is a man named Cliff Holden (Dean Jagger).  When we first see Cliff, he’s cheerfully walking down the street in New York City, looking pretty happy underneath his new fedora.

And really, why shouldn’t Cliff be happy?  He’s a U.S. Customs agent!  He investigates crimes and tracks down smugglers and, perhaps most importantly, his best friend is a customs agent as well!  Who wouldn’t want to work with their best friend, right?  Anyway, Cliff eventually reaches his office and he discovers that nobody else appears to share his good mood.  For that matter, Cliff’s step losing its cheerful spring when he finds out that his best friend has been …. MURDERED!

His friend was investigating the theft of a very valuable necklace.  The Treasury Department has reason to believe that an international criminal named Matt Royal (Rene Paul) will be smuggling that necklace into the United States.  Looking to not only avenge his friend but also protect the reputation of the United States, Cliff takes over the case.  Using the name William Hannah, he flies out to Europe so that he can then board the same plane that Royal will be taking to the States.

While Cliff/William is waiting at the airport, he meets a Swiss woman, named Kathe van Bourne (Lottie Elwin), who is flying to New York so that she can be reunited with her fiancée, Joe.  However, after they board the plane, Kathe is suddenly taken ill.  Luckily, there’s a doctor on the plane, a courtly gentleman named Doc Spencer (John Carradine).  Spencer takes Kathe to the back of the plane to examine her and, while no one’s looking, he hides the necklace underneath a bandage that he wraps around her head.

Back in New York, Royal is pulled off the plane and thoroughly searched.  When it’s discovered that he doesn’t have the necklace, Cliff realizes what has happened.  However, Kathe has already been taken off in an ambulance and, when Cliff goes to Joe’s apartment, he discovers that Joe has been murdered….

C-Man is a film that kind of sneaks up and takes you by surprise.  That it was an extremely low-budget production is obvious from the minute the movie starts.  The black-and-white images are grainy.  The sets are small and sparsely furnished.  The whole film has a rather cheap and ragged feel, as if it might burst into flame and dissolve at any moment.  And yet, that low-budget feel works perfectly for the story that C-Man is telling.  Despite the oddly cheery narration that’s provided by Dean Jagger, this is a sordid tale about people on the fringes of society.  Watching C-Man feels like taking a trip to all of the places that most tourists would never want to visit during their trip to New York City.  For instance, when Cliff searches for the alcoholic Doc Spenser, his search leads him from one liquor store to another and it’s obvious that some of the desperate souls that Cliff passes on the streets weren’t actors.

Gail Kubick’s pounding and relentless score adds to the film’s overall dreamlike feel and Joseph Lerner’s direction is just quirky enough to keep things interesting.  (When one character is bludgeoned to death, the film suddenly starts to spin as if the viewer has become trapped in the killer’s madness.)  Dean Jagger seems a bit miscast as a the tough customs agent but the actors playing the criminals are all properly menacing.  Harry Landers, as the most violent of the jewel thieves, makes a particularly threatening impression.

All in all, C-Man is a surprisingly effective poverty row noir.

Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF DRACULA (Universal 1945)


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Since I’ve already reviewed HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN back in 2015,  we now turn our attention to HOUSE OF DRACULA, the last “official” entry in the series (though the Universal Monsters would ‘Meet Abbott & Costello’ three years later). The film tries to put a new slant on things, using science to conquer the supernatural, but winds up being just a hodgepodge of familiar horror tropes without much cohesion. HOUSE OF DRACUA does have its fans, but I’m not one of them.

John Carradine  returns as Count Dracula, introducing himself as Baron Latos to Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens ) and seeking a cure for his vampirism. Edlemann discovers a “peculiar parasite” in Dracula’s blood, and believes he can cure him through a series of transfusions. But the Count, that sneaky devil, has his fangs set for Edlemann’s pretty nurse Militza (Martha O’Driscoll),  whom he hypnotizes with those hypnotic eyes of his…

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Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S GHOST (Universal 1944)


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THE MUMMY’S GHOST, Kharis the killer mummy’s third time around, finds the plot wearing a bit thin in this rehash, as once again the High Priests of Arkham… wait, what? Arkham? What happened to Karnak? Did the High Priests suddenly change religions? Just another example of continuity shot to hell in this series, though we do get an upgrade in the High Priest department with John Carradine boiling the tanna leaves instead of Turhan Bey .

At least George Zucco as Andoheb is still around to brief Yousef Bey (Carradine) on the plot up til now, dispatching him to Mapleton to fetch back Princess Ananka and Kharis to the temple, though the usual tanna leave spiel is upped from three to nine. There are no more Bannings in Mapleton, but still plenty of victims for Kharis to kill. Frank Reicher is back too, as Professor Norman, giving a lecture on…

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Halloween Havoc!: THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (Universal 1944)


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Jon Hall is back as The Invisible Man, but not the same one he played in INVISIBLE AGENT . Like all the Invisible Man movies, THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE features a new protagonist, as Hall plays Robert Griffin, an escaped mental hospital patient who comes to London seeking his share of a diamond mine after being left for dead in the African jungle by partners Sir Jasper and Irene Herrick. Griffin has returned to get what’s coming to him, and he does… Irene dopes him, and the couple throw the rascal out. Disoriented, Griffin stumbles into a nearby river, where he’s saved from drowning by shady Cockney Herbert Higgins.

Higgins and his disreputable attorney pal try to shake down Jasper, but are confronted by the local chief constable. Griffin’s left to fend for himself, when he stumbles upon the home of Dr. Drury, a scientist experimenting with invisibility on animals…

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Horror On The Lens: Silent Night, Bloody Night (dir by Theodore Gershuny)


The 1974 film Silent Night, Bloody Night is an oddity.

On the one hand, it’s pretty much a standard slasher film, complete with a menacing mansion, a horrible secret, a twist ending, and John Carradine playing a mute newspaper editor.

On the other hand, director Ted Gershuny directs like he’s making an underground art film and several of the supporting roles are played by actors who were best known for their association with Andy Warhol.

Personally, I like Silent Night, Bloody Night.  It has a terrible reputation and the film’s star, Mary Woronov, has gone on record calling it a “terrible movie” but I like the surreal touches the Gershuny brought to the material and the sepia-toned flashbacks have a nightmarish intensity to them.  The film makes no logical sense, which actually makes it all the more appealing to me.  As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

Watch and decide for yourself!

Halloween Havoc!: CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Universal 1943)


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Universal decided the time was ripe for a new monster, and 1943’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN introduced the world to Paula Dupree, aka The Ape Woman! What’s that you say? You’ve never HEARD of her? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – The Ape Woman is the most obscure of the Universal Monsters despite the fact she was featured in three films, with various degrees of quality. The first is the best of the bunch, a fun little ‘B’ lifted by the presence of John Carradine in the first of his patented mad scientist roles.

Animal trainer Fred Mason returns from Africa with a shipload of lions, tigers, and a powerful female gorilla named Cheela. He’s greeted at the docks by his sweetie Beth Colman, who tells Fred that her sister Dorothy has “some kind of glandular problem” and is being treated at Crestview Sanitarium by endocrinology expert Dr. Sigmund Walters. Walters…

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