Horror on the Lens: Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir by Edward D. Wood, Jr.)


Watching Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space is something of an October tradition here at the Shattered Lens!  And you know how much I love tradition!

Some people say that this film has a reputation for being the worst film ever made.  Personally, I don’t think that it deserves that reputation.  Is it bad?  By traditional standards of quality, I guess it can be argued that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad movie.  But it’s also a lot of fun and how can you not smile when you hear Criswell’s opening and closing statements?

Enjoy and be sure to read Gary’s review!

(And also be sure to read Jedadiah Leland’s tribute to Criswell!)

(On another note: Watch this as quickly as you can because, over the least year or so, it seems like all the films of Ed Wood get yanked off YouTube as soon as they are posted.  Copyright violations, they say.  Personally, I think that’s shameful.  First off, Ed Wood is no longer alive.  Wood had no children and his widow died in 2006, having never remarried.  Whatever money is being made off of his films is not going to support his family.  Wherever he is, I think Ed would be more concerned that people see his films than some faceless corporation make money off of them.)

(It seems like, every year, someone threatens to either remake Plan 9 or produce a sequel.  Again, the original is all that is needed.)

30 Days of Noir #27: Parole, Inc. (dir by Alfred Zeisler)


The 1948 film noir, Parole, Inc., begins with a lengthy opening crawl, informing the viewer that this film — though fictional — deals with a real-world problem.

Apparently, too many people are getting out of prison!

That’s right!  The opening crawl informs us that half of all crimes are committed by people who have already served time in prison.  Apparently, there would be less crime if we just never released people from prison but, unfortunately, state parole boards are way too quick to let some criminals out early.  Is it because the members of the board truly believe that these offenders have been rehabilitated in prison?  Or is it because they’ve been bribed?

That’s what FBI Agent Richard Hendricks (Michael O’Shea) is going to find out!

Now, we already kind of know what he’s going to discover and what’s going to happen to him as a result because, for some reason, the film opens with Hendricks in a hospital bed, dictating the events of his latest case.  The rest of the film is largely an extended flashback, occasionally interrupted by a shot of Hendricks recovering from his injuries.  I’m not sure why the filmmakers decided that this would be a good format to go with.  It basically robs the story of any suspense.  Whenever a gangster says that he’s going to kill Hendricks, the declaration doesn’t carry any weight because we know that Hendricks is alive and that he managed to solve the case.

Anyway, in the flashback, Richard is working directly for the governor of California.  The governor is worried that the state parole board is accepting bribes so Richard goes undercover as an ex-con who wants to buy a parole for a friend of his who is still in jail.  As a part of his assignment, Richard befriends a recently paroled criminal named Harry Palmer (Charles Bradstreet).  It turns out that, for a criminal, Harry isn’t that bad of a guy.  He may still have underworld connections but, for the most part, Harry seems like he could easily go straight.  Of course, that doesn’t make much difference to the nefarious crows that Harry runs around with and Harry ends up getting gunned down about halfway through the film.  Richard seems to be more annoyed over the inconvenience of Harry dying than anything else.  Now, he’s going to have to do all sorts of extra work!

Though Michael O’Shea has just enough screen presence to be an acceptable hero, the main reason to see the film is for Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers.  Bey plays the crooked attorney who is in charge of the parole buying ring.  Evelyn Ankers play the wonderfully named JoJo Dumont, who owns the bar out of which the gangsters operate.  These two actors both throw themselves into their roles, bringing just the right amount of B-movie grit to their characters.  Horror fans may recognize Evelyn Ankers from her performance as Lon Chaney Jr.’s girlfriend in The Wolf Man.  Ankers appeared in several classic Universal horror films and was menaced by everyone from Dracula to Frankenstein’s Monster to the Invisible Man.  Turhan Bey also appeared in his share of horror films, even co-starring with Evelyn Ankers in The Mad Ghoul.

Parole, Inc is a largely forgettable movie but worth seeing if you’re a fan of Universal horror and you’re interested in seeing Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers in a change-of-pace film.

Horror on the Lens: Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir by Ed Wood, Jr.)


Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Watching Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space is something of an October tradition here at the Shattered Lens!  And you know how much I love tradition!

Some people say that this film has a reputation for being the worst film ever made.  Personally, I don’t think that it deserves that reputation.  Is it bad?  By traditional standards of quality, I guess it can be argued that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad movie.  But it’s also a lot of fun and how can you not smile when you hear Criswell’s opening and closing statements?

Enjoy and be sure to read Gary’s review!

(And also be sure to read Jedadiah Leland’s tribute to Criswell!)

(On another note: Watch this as quickly as you can because, over the least year or so, it seems like all the films of Ed Wood get yanked off YouTube as soon as they are posted.  Copyright violations, they say.  Personally, I think that’s shameful.  First off, Ed Wood is no longer alive.  Wood had no children and his widow died in 2006, having never remarried.  Whatever money is being made off of his films is not going to support his family.  Wherever he is, I think Ed would be more concerned that people see his films than some faceless corporation make money off of them.)

(It seems like, every year, someone threatens to either remake Plan 9 or produce a sequel.  Again, the original is all that is needed.)

Film Review: Tobor The Great (dir by Lee Sholem)


Last week, along with my friends and fellow members of the Late Night Movie Gang, I watched the 1954 sci-fi film, Tobor The Great.

As you can probably tell by looking at the top of this review, Tobor came with a really great poster.  It’s a poster that promises all sorts of sci-fi thrills and chills.  It screams, “B-movie masterpiece!”  You look at that poster and you think to yourself, This film is probably extremely silly but I absolutely have to watch it!

Of course, if you know anything about the B-movie aesthetic of the 50s and 60s, you won’t be shocked to learn that the poster has next to nothing to do with the actual film.  True, there is a robot is featured in the film.  The poster is honest about that.  And Tobor actually looks just as good in the movie as he does on the poster.  And there is a subplot about space travel but, at no point, do we see Tobor walking across the surface of Neptune or Jupiter or wherever it is that Tobor is supposed to be in this poster.  Maybe he’s on one of the moons of Saturn.  Who knows?

Also, at no point, does Tobor carry around a woman.  In fact, Tobor is pretty much a film for kids.  The main character, other than Tobor, is an 11 year-old boy named Gadge (Billy Chapin).  I can only imagine how audiences reacted when they went into the film expecting to see the scene in the poster and instead, they were confronted with a movie about a little boy and his robot.

Tobor is one of those films that opens with several minutes of stock footage.  Rockets take off.  The stars shine in the sky.  Scientists and engineers do stuff.  It all looks pretty impressive but, of course, none of it was actually shot for this film.  In fact, the use of all that stock footage mostly serves to highlight how cheap the rest of the movie looks.

As for the film’s plot, it has apparently been determined that it’s too dangerous to send humans into space.  So, Professor Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes) and Dr. Harrison (Charles Drake) build a robot that is specifically designed to fly an interstellar craft.  They name their creation Tobor, because that’s robot spelled backwards.  (Tobor even points out that his name is robot spelled backwards.)  In order to help Tobor explore the universe, they design him to be able to simulate human emotions.  In fact, they’re so successful at it that Tobor ends up befriending Nordstrom’s grandson, the aforementioned Gadge.

The press and the military are all very impressed with Tobor.  Unfortunately, it’s the 1950s and that means that the communists are impressed by Tobor as well!  Can the scientists and their families keep Tobor from getting abducted by a bunch of Russian agents!?  Let’s hope so because there’s a lot of space that needs to be explored….

Anyway, Tobor The Great is silly but kind of fun.  It has its slow spots but it also has a really cool robot and it’s always fun to watch the commies get thwarted.  It’s a real time capsule film, one that not only reflects the decade in which it was made but which also has a somewhat charming innocence to it.  If nothing else, it’s nice to think that, in the days before CGI, the filmmakers actually had to make a Tobor of their own.  Apparently, Tobor is currently in a private collection and I hope whoever has him is treating him well.

Horror On The Lens: Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir by Edward D. Wood, Jr.)


Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Watching Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space is something of an October tradition here at the Shattered Lens!  And you know how much I love tradition!  (Add to that, with everyone currently so excited over the Last Jedi trailer, today seems like a good time to share the greatest sci-fi film of all time.)

Some people say that this film has a reputation for being the worst film ever made.  Personally, I don’t think that it deserves that reputation.  Is it bad?  By traditional standards of quality, I guess it can be argued that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad movie.  But it’s also a lot of fun and how can you not smile when you hear Criswell’s opening and closing statements?

Enjoy and be sure to read Gary’s review!

(And also be sure to read Jedadiah Leland’s tribute to Criswell!)

(On another note: Watch this as quickly as you can because, over the least year or so, it seems like all the films of Ed Wood get yanked off YouTube as soon as they are posted.  Copyright violations, they say.  Personally, I think that’s shameful.  First off, Ed Wood is no longer alive.  Wood had no children and his widow died in 2006, having never remarried.  Whatever money is being made off of his films is not going to support his family.  Wherever he is, I think Ed would be more concerned that people see his films than some faceless corporation make money off of them.)

(It seems like, every year, someone threatens to either remake Plan 9 or produce a sequel.  Again, the original is all that is needed.)

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (dir by Michael Curtiz)


(I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR.  I recorded the 1932 film, 20,000 Years In Sing Sing, off of TCM on January 31st.)

I was somewhat surprised to discover that I had this 1930s prison film on my DVR.  I’m not sure what led to me deciding to record it though, if I had to guess, I’d say that it was probably the title.  I probably assumed it was about a prisoner who served a 20,000 year sentence.  I mean, that sounds interesting, right?

It turns out I was wrong though.  The film starts with a shot of a line of prisoners walking into a prison, with their sentence superimposed over their heads.  One guy is in for 7 years.  Someone else has a 50 year sentence.  Another person has a 33 year sentence.  I’m guessing that if you added all of the sentence up, you would end up with 20,000 years.

That’s a lot of angry men, all trapped in one location.  Fortunately, Sing Sing Prison has a compassionate warden.  Paul Long (Arthur Byron) is a good man, a criminal justice reformer who believe that prison should be about more than punishment.  He is tough but fair and he runs his prison on the honor system.  Break the rules and you’ll be tossed into solitary.  Respect the rules and the Warden might even let you leave the prison for a day or two.  The press and the bureaucrats may think that Warden Long is naive but prison guards love him.  “We’re behind you,” the head guard says when it appears that Long might be about to lose his job.  And the prisoners respect him, even if few of them are willing to admit it.

Tommy Connors (Spencer Tracy) is the newest prisoner.  He’s been sentenced to 5 to 30 years for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.  Tommy’s a tough guy, the type who speaks in the rat-a-tat manner that will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a 30s gangster film.  He’s a tough guy so he ends every sentence with “see?,” as in, “No prison is going to break me, see?” Tommy’s the type of guy who brags that, even if they send him to solitary, he can do his time standing on his head.  When he gets called into the Warden’s office, he tosses a lit cigarette on the floor.  Can the Warden reform even as rough a customer as Tommy Connors!?

It doesn’t help, of course, that Tommy has a friend named Joe Finn (Louis Calhern) and, even though Joe is on the outside, he’s constantly encouraging Tommy to break the rules.  Joe has an ulterior motive for wanting to keep Tommy in prison for as long as possible.  That motive is his desire for Fay (Bette Davis), Tommy’s loyal girlfriend.  When Fay is injured in an accident, the Warden agrees to let Tommy visit her on the condition that Tommy return in 24 hours.  However, when Tommy’s visit leads to murder, the Warden is blamed.  It gets even worse when the Warden announces that he is sure that, despite the charges against him, Tommy will honor his word and return to the prison.

Will Tommy do the right thing?  Or will he flee and destroy the Warden’s career?

20,000 Years in Sing Sing was produced by Warner Bros and it features the studio’s typical pre-code combination of a B-movie action and progressive politics.  Seen today, it’s a watchable but minor film, one that often seems dated in its view of criminal behavior.  (Even I, a huge believer in the need for criminal justice reform, thought the warden was being incredibly naive when he put the convicts on the honor system.)  That said, it’s always interesting to see Bette Davis in the days before she became the Bette Davis and was just another ingenue trying to make an impression while surviving the studio system.  As well, since Spencer Tracy eventually became best known for portraying wise, plainspoken men, it’s interesting to see him playing the cocky and disrespectful Tommy.

Still, I think there is a place for a movie about someone spending 20,000 Years in Sing Sing.

(I imagine that, after the first 10,000 years, it gets easier.)

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: 42nd Street (dir by Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley)


forty-second-street-1933

If you’re a regular reader of this site, it will not take you by surprise to learn that the 1933 Best Picture Nominee, 42nd Street, is one of my favorite films of all time.

I mean, how couldn’t it be?  Not only is it a pre-Code film (and we all know that pre-Code films were the best) and one the features both Ginger Rogers and Dick Powell in early roles but it’s also a film that depicts the backstage world of a stage musical with such a combination of love and snark that it will be familiar to everyone from community theater nerds to Broadway veterans.  42nd Street is a classic musical, though I have to admit that I think the majority of the songs are a bit overrated.  Even more importantly, 42nd Street is the ultimate dance film.  The film’s big production number, choreographed and filmed in the brilliant and flamboyant Busby Berkeley style, is such an iconic moment that it’s still being imitated and lovingly parodied to this day.

Every dance movie owes a debt to 42nd Street but few have come close to matching it.  Remember how much we all hated Smash?  There were a lot of reasons to hate Smash but the main reason was because it tried to be 42nd Street and it failed.  There can only be one 42nd Street.

It’s hard to estimate the number of show business clichés that currently exist as a result of 42nd Street.  Then again, it can be argued that they were clichés before they showed up in 42nd Street but 42nd Street handled them in such an expert fashion that they were transformed from being urban legends to immortal mythology.

42nd Street takes place in the backstage world, following the production of a Broadway musical through casting to rehearsals to opening night.  It’s an ensemble piece, one populated by all the usual suspects.  Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) is the down-on-his-luck producer who desperately needs a hit.  Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is the celebrated star who is dating a rich, older man (Guy Kibbee, who made quite the career out playing rich, older men) while secretly seeing her ex, a down-on-his-luck Vaudevillian (George Brent).  From the minute that we first see Dorothy, we know that she’s eventually going to end up with a boken ankle.  It’s just a question of which chorus girl will be promoted to take her place.  Will it be “Anytime” Annie (Ginger Rogers) or will it be the naive and wholesome Peggy (Ruby Keeler)?  You already know the answer but it’s still fun to watch.

If you had any doubts that this was a pre-code film, the fact that Ginger Rogers is playing a character named “Anytime” Annie should answer them.  42nd Street is often described as being a light-hearted camp spectacle but there’s a cynicism to the film, a cynicism that could only be expressed during the pre-code era.  The dialogue is full of lines that, just a few years later, would never have gotten past the censors.

(This is the film where it’s said that Anytime Annie “only said no once and then she didn’t hear the question!”  This is also the film where Guy Kibbee cheerfully tells Annie that what he does for her will depend on what she does for him.  Just try to get away with openly acknowleding the casting couch in 1936!)

The menacing shadow of the Great Depression looms over every glossy production number.  Julian needs a hit because he lost all of his money when the Stock Market crashed and if the show is not a hit, everyone involved in the production will be out on the streets.  The chorus isn’t just dancing because it’s their job.  They’re dancing because it’s an escape from the grim reality of the Great Depression and, for the audience watching, the production numbers provided a similar escape.  42nd Street said, “Yes, life is tough.  But sometimes life is fun.  Sometimes life is sexy.  Sometimes, life is worth the trouble.”  Someday, 42nd Street promises, all the misery will be worth it.

Ultimately, 42nd Street is all about that iconic, 20-minute production number:

42nd Street was nominated for best picture but it lost to the nearly forgotten Cavalcade.