Horror on the Lens: How To Make A Monster (dir by Herbert L. Strock)


You’ve seen I Was A Teenage Werewolf….

You’ve watched I Was A Teenage Frankenstein….

Now, it’s time to watch How To Make A Monster!

Released in 1958, How To Make A Monster is a clever little horror satire from American International Pictures in which the stars of Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein are hypnotized into believing that they actually are the monsters that they played!  The main culprit is a movie makeup artist (Robert H. Harris) who has been deemed obsolete by the new bosses at AIP.

Be sure to watch for the finale, which features cameo appearances from several other AIP monsters!  And read my full review of the film by clicking here!

Horror On The Lens: I Was A Teenage Werewolf (dir by Gene Fowler, Jr.)


1957’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf combines two genres that were very popular in the late 50s.

On the one hand, it’s a film about a teenage rebel.  Tony Rivers (Michael Landon) is a teenager that means well but he keeps losing his temper.  If he can’t learn to control his anger, he could very well be looking at a life behind bars.

On the other hand, it’s also a horror film.  When Tony visits a hypnotist (Whit Bissell), the end result is Tony turning into a werewolf and going on a rampage, all while still wearing his letterman jacket.

All in all, this is a pretty fun little movie.  You can check out my review of it by clicking here.

And you can watch the movie below!

 

A Movie A Day #185: Emperor of the North Pole (1973, directed by Robert Aldrich)


Emperor of the North Pole is the story of depression-era hobos and one man who is determined to kill them.

The year is 1933 and Shack (Ernest Borgnine) is one of the toughest conductors around.  At a time when destitute and desperate men are riding the rails in search of work and food, Shack has declared that no one will ride his train for free.  When Shack is first introduced, the sadistic conductor is seen shoving a hobo off of his train and onto the tracks.  Shack smiles with satisfaction when the man is chopped in half under the train’s wheels.

A-No.1 (Lee Marvin) is a legend, the unofficial king of the hobos.  A grizzled veteran, A-No. 1 has been riding the rails for most of his life.  (The title comes from the hobo saying that great hobos, like A-No. 1, are like the Emperor of the North Pole, the ruler of a vast wasteland).  A-No. 1 is determined to do what no hobo has ever done, successfully hitch a ride on Shack’s train.  He even tags a water tower, announcing to everyone that he intends to take Shack’s train all the way to Portland.

If A-No. 1 did not have enough to worry about with Shack determined to get him, he is also being tailed by Cigaret (Keith Carradine), a young and cocky hobo who is determined to become as big a legend as A-No. 1.  Cigaret and A. No. 1 may work together but they never trust each other.

Like many of Robert Aldrich’s later films, Emperor of the North Pole is too long and the rambling narrative often promises more than it can deliver.  Like almost all movies that were released at the time, Emperor of North Pole attempts to turn its story into a contemporary allegory, with Shack standing in for the establishment, A-No. 1 representing the liberal anti-establishment, and, most problematically, Cigaret serving as a symbol for the callow counter culture, eager to take credit for A-No. 1’s accomplishments but not willing to put in any hard work himself.

As an allegory, Emperor of the North Pole is too heavy-handed but, as a gritty adventure film, it works wonderfully.  Lee Marvin is perfectly cast as the wise, no-nonsense A-No. 1.  This was the sixth film in which Marvin and Borgnine co-starred and the two old pros both go at each other with gusto.  Carradine does the best he can with an underwritten part but this is Borgnine and Marvin’s film all the way.  Marvin’s trademark underacting meshes perfectly with Borgnine’s trademark overacting, with the movie making perfect use of both men’s distinctive screen personas.  As staged by Aldrich, the final fight between Shack and A-No. 1 is a classic.

Even at a time when almost every anti-establishment film of the early 70s is being rediscovered, Emperor of the North Pole remains unjustly obscure.  When it was first released, it struggled at the box office.  Unsure of how to sell a movie about hobos and worrying that audiences were staying away because they thought it might be a Christmas film, 20th Century Fox pulled the movie from circulation and then rereleased it under a slightly altered name: Emperor of the North.  As far as titles go, Emperor of the North makes even less sense than Emperor of the North Pole.  Even with the title change, Emperor of the North Pole flopped at the box office but, fortunately for him, Aldrich was already working on what would become his biggest hit: The Longest Yard.

Keep an eye out for Lance Henriksen, in one of his earliest roles.  Supposedly, he plays a railroad worker.  If you spot him, let me know because I have watched Emperor of the North Pole three times and I still can’t find him.

 

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.3 “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”


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On tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone, Al Denton (Dan Duryea) used to be a notorious old west gunfighter. Now, haunted as the result of killing a teenage boy, Mr. Denton is just the town drunk. However, a salesman subtly named Henry J. Fate (Malcolm Atterbury) comes into town and gives Denton the chance to once again be great. Of course, it all comes with a price and a lesson.


Originally aired on October 16th, 1959, Mr. Denton on Doomsday is one of the earlier episodes of The Twilight Zone. Today, it’s perhaps most interesting for its message of anti-violence. Myself,I just like it because I went to college in Denton, Texas.


Shattered Politics #17: Advise & Consent (dir by Otto Preminger)


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In case you hadn’t heard, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has recently announced that she’s retiring in 2016.  For the first time in decades, there’s going to be an open senate seat in California.  There’s been a lot of speculation about who might run for the seat and, for the most part, it’s all been the usual political suspects.  The state’s attorney general is running.  A few congresspeople might run.  Token billionaire Tom Steyer is thinking of getting into the race.

What disappoints me is that, as of right now, it doesn’t look like any celebrities are planning on running.  You know what would have made the Golden Globes perfect?  If George Clooney had announced his candidacy while accepting his Cecil B. DeMille award.  (At the very least, it might have given Amal something to smile about, as opposed to just sitting there with a condescending smirk on her face.  Seriously, what’s up with that?)  But even beyond George Clooney, there’s all sorts of celebrities who could run.  Charlie Sheen lives in California, after all.  Jeff Bridges might not be able to run in Montana but what about California?

I was discussing this with a friend of mine who suggested that Betty White should run because who could vote against Betty White?  Speaking for myself, I could easily vote against Betty White but I do think there would be something appropriate about Betty White serving in the U.S. Senate.  After all, in 1962, she played a senator in Otto Preminger’s political epic, Advice & Consent.

White played Sen. Bessie Adams of Kansas and was only given a few minutes of screen time.  She’s one of many performers to show up in Advise & Consent‘s version of the U.S. Senate.

For instance, Walter Pidgeon plays Sen. Bob Munson, who is the Senate majority leader and, as a result, the closest thing that this sprawling film has to a central character.  His job is to make sure the President’s agenda is pushed through Congress.

And then there’s Peter Lawford, as Sen. Lafe Smith, who always has a different girl leaving his hotel room.  When Advise & Consent was made, Lawford was President Kennedy’s brother-in-law.  Interestingly enough, one of Kennedy’s former girlfriends — actress Gene Tierney — shows up in the film as well, playing Bob Munson’s lover.

George Grizzard plays Sen. Fred Van Ackerman, who is about as evil as you would expect someone named Fred Van Ackerman to be.  Grizzard gives one of the better performances in the film, which just goes to prove that it’s more fun to play an evil character than a good one.

Don Murray is Sen. Brigham Anderson, a senator who is being blackmailed by Van Ackerman’s lackeys.  Despite being happily married to Mabel (Inga Swenson), Anderson is leading a secret life as a gay man.  The scene where Anderson steps into a gay bar may seem incredibly tame today but it was reportedly very controversial back in 1962.

And finally, there’s Sen. Seabright Cooley.  You may be able to guess, just from his overly prosaic name, that Cooley is meant to be a southerner.  That, of course, means that he wears a white suit, is constantly fanning himself, and speaks in lengthy metaphors.  Sen. Cooley is played by Charles Laughton, who overacts to such a degree that I’m surprised that there was any oxygen left over for anyone else.

All of these senators have been tasked with deciding whether or not Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) will be the next secretary of state.  Fonda, not surprisingly, is the epitome of urbane liberalness in the role of Leffingwell.  However, Leffingwell has a secret.  Back in the 1930s, Leffingwell was a communist.  When Sen. Cooley introduces a witness (Burgess Meredith) who can confirm this fact, Leffingwell offers to withdraw as the nominee.  However, the President (Franchot Tone) refuses to allow Leffingwell to do so.  Instead, with the help of Van Ackerman, he tries to pressure Anderson into supporting Leffingwell’s nomination.

This, of course, leads to melodrama and tragedy.

As far as literary adaptations directed by Otto Preminger are concerned, Advise & Consent is better than Hurry Sundown while being nowhere to close to being as good as Anatomy of a Murder.  It’s a film that is occasionally entertaining, often draggy, and, if just because of all the different acting styles to be found in the cast, always interesting to watch.

And, for what it’s worth, Betty White makes for a convincing senator.  So, perhaps the people of California should watch Advise & Consent before voting for Tom Steyer…

Netflix Noir #3: Crime of Passion (dir by Gerd Oswald)


CrimepassionPosterThe third Netflix Noir that I watched was 1957’s Crime of Passion.

In Crime of Passion, Barbara Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, a San Francisco-based advice columnist.  She is approached by two homicide detectives who request her help tracking down a fugitive who they think might read her column.  Charlie (Royal Dano) is aggressive and outspoken.  When he first meets Kathy, he tells her, “You’re work should be raising a family and having dinner ready when your husband comes home from work.”  His far more passive partner is Detective Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden).

Kathy writes a column that convinces the fugitive to turn herself in.  (The power of Kathy’s column is shown in an amusing montage where woman after woman is seen reading the column aloud.  Significantly, no men are seen to ever read anything that Kathy has written.)  The resulting fame leads to Kathy getting a job offer in New York.

However, before Kathy can leave, she gets a phone call from Bill.  He asks her out on a date and, one scene later, they’re getting married in the shabby office of a justice of the peace.  Kathy sacrifices her career to be a suburban housewife.

From the minute that Kathy first looks at the small and anonymous house and the boring neighborhood that she’ll be sharing with Bill, it’s obvious that things are not going to work out well.  Even though Kathy even tells Bill, “I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours darning them,” the life of domestic servitude is not for her.

Every day, she stays home while Bill goes to work.  At night, she reluctantly plays hostess to the constant gatherings of Bill’s colleagues and their wives.  The women stay in one room while the man gather in another.  Kathy is quickly bored with the inane chattering of the other wives but whenever she tries to go into the other room, she finds herself treated like an unwanted intruder.

And worst of all is the fact that Bill has absolutely no ambition of his own.  He’s got his house.  He’s got his wife.  He’s got his friends.  And he doesn’t feel that he needs anything else.

Kathy takes it into her own hands to advance Bill’s career, first by having an affair with Bill’s boss (Raymond Burr) and finally by trying to find a spectacular crime that Bill can solve.  And, as the suburbs continue to drive her mad, Kathy is not above creating a few crimes on her own…

In many ways, Crime of Passion reminds of another 50s film, Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life.  Both films use the conventions of melodrama to present a surprisingly subversive look at the horrors of suburban conformity.  Unfortunately, Crime of Passion never quite reaches the heights of Bigger Than Life, largely because Sterling Hayden gives such a dull performance as Bill that you never believe that Kathy would have married him in the first place.  (The film would have been far more impressive if Bill had started out as an apparently dynamic character whose dullness was then revealed after Kathy married him.)  However, Barbara Stanwyck is well-cast as Kathy and Raymond Burr plays up his character’s ambiguous morality.  If nothing else, Crime of Passion is one of those film to show anyone who is convinced that nothing subversive was produced in the 1950s.

Back to School #5: High School Big Shot (dir by Joel Rapp)


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We continue our trip back to school with the 1959 teenage heist film, High School Big Shot!

Oh my God, this movie is so dark.  Rebel Without A Cause and Blackboard Jungle weren’t exactly optimistic portraits of the youth of America but none of them could ever hope to be as cynical and bleak as High School Big Shot.  This film, which I guess could best be described as being a high school noir, tells the story of poor, socially awkward high school student Marv (Tom Pittman).  Marv is a genius and, while he’s not popular at school, he does seem to have a wonderful future ahead of him.  He’s recently applied for a scholarship and his English teacher has agreed to write him a letter of recommendation because, as he puts it, Marv is “different from all the others.”

And Marv needs that scholarship because his father is an alcoholic who can’t hold down a job.  Marv’s relationship with his father is perhaps best epitomized by an early scene where he asks Marv to loan him some money because he has a date.  Marv has a date too but he still loans his dad the money.  Cut to the next scene and Marv is telling his date that he can’t really afford to take her anywhere but he can get her a Coke if she wants one.

Seriously — dark.

Marv’s life starts to look up when Betty (Virginia Aldridge) suddenly takes an interest in him and even agrees to go out with him.  However, as Betty explains to her loutish boyfriend Vince, the only reason that she’s going out with Marv is so she can trick him into writing her English term paper for her.  Marv, of course, agrees to do just that and then asks Betty if she wants to get married after they graduate from high school.

Again, dark.  Dark and awkward.

When the English teacher figures out that Marv wrote Betty’s term paper, Marv loses his scholarship and it looks like he’s now destined to spend the rest of his life working down at the docks.  However, Marv discovers that his seedy boss has recently received a million dollars in drug money.  Looking to both buy Betty’s love and help out his suicidal father, Marv comes up with an elaborate scheme to steal the money.  However, Betty and Vince have plans of their own…

Needless to say, it all leads to a violent climax that leaves nearly every character in the film dead.

And all because poor Marv wanted to impress Betty.

Like I said, dark.

And yet, the film itself is so dark that it becomes oddly fascinating.  You watch because you’re genuinely curious about how much darker Marv’s life can get.  It also helps that Tom Pittman gives a sympathetic performance as Marv (even if he does appear to be a bit too old to be playing a high school student) and Virginia Aldridge makes for a great femme fatale.  If this film were made today, it would probably be directed by David Fincher and it would star Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence.

And it would be great!

But until that happens, you can watch the original below!