From 1938: Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater Present Dracula!


Did you know that in 1938, the same year that they horrified America with their production of The War Of The Worlds, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater did a radio version of Dracula?

Check out this amazing cast list:

Orson Welles – Dracula/Dr. Arthur Seward
George Coulouris- Jonathan Harker
Ray Collins – Russian Captain
Karl Swenson – The Mate
Elizabeth Fuller – Lucy Westenra
Martin Gabel – Professor Van Helsing
Agnes Moorehead – Mina Harker

Coulouris, Collins, and Moorehead would, of course, all go one to appear with Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.

And now, we are proud to present, for your listening pleasure …. DRACULA!

30 Days of Noir #24: Fourteen Hours (dir by Henry Hathaway)


As a genre, film noir has always been associated with crime: murder, brutish gangsters, seductive femme fatales, and occasionally a cynical private detective doing the right thing almost despite himself.  However, not all film noirs are about criminals.  Some are just about desperate characters who have found themselves on the fringes, living in a shadow-filled world that appears to be monstrously indifferent to all human suffering.

That’s certainly the case with the 1951 noir, 14 Hours.  The film centers around Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart, who previously played a murderer in another classic noir, He Walked By Night).  Robert isn’t a gangster.  He’s not a private detective.  He doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t provide any sort of hard-boiled narration.  In fact, for the majority of the film, Robert is defined by less who he is and more by what he’s doing.  Robert Cosick, having earlier checked into a room on the 15th floor of a New York hotel, has climbed out of a window and is now standing on a ledge.  Robert says that he’s going to jump.

What has driven Robert Cosik to consider such an extreme action?  The film never settles on any one reason, though it gives us several clues.  When his father (Robert Keith) and his mother (Agnes Moorehead) show up at the scene, they immediately start bickering about old family dramas.  When Robert’s ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) begs him to step in from the ledge, he listens a bit more to her than he did to his parents but he still refuses to come in from the ledge.

But perhaps the real reason that Robert Cosick is out on that ledge can be found in the film’s shadowy visuals.  Directed in a semi-documentary fashion by Henry Hathaway and featuring harsh, black-and-white cinematography that’s credited to Joe MacDonald, Fourteen Hours emphasizes the indifference of the city.  From the menacing landscape of concrete buildings to the crowds gathering below the ledge to see if Robert lives or dies,  New York City is as much as a character in this film as Robert, his family, or the cop (played by Paul Douglas) who finds himself trying to talk Robert into reentering his hotel room.  When night falls, the city may light up but it does nothing to alleviate the shadows that seem to be wrapping themselves around Robert.  For the fourteen hours that Robert is on that ledge, he may be the center of the world but the film leaves little doubt that New York City will continue to exist in all of its glory and its horror regardless of how Robert’s drama plays out.  Whether he lives or dies, Robert appears to be destined to be forgotten.

When the film isn’t concentrating on the cops trying to talk Robert into getting back in the hotel room, it shows us the reactions of the people who see him standing out on that ledge.  (If this film were made today, everyone would be holding up their phones and uploading Robert’s plight to social media.)  Some people are moved by Robert’s struggle.  For instance, a young woman played by Grace Kelly (in her film debut) reaches a decision on whether or not to get a divorce based on what she sees happening on the ledge.  Two office workers (played by Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) even strike up a romance as they wait to see what will happen.  Some people view Robert as being a madman.  Others see him as being a victim.  And then there’s the many others who view him as being either a minor distraction or a piece of entertainment.  For them, it’s less important why Robert’s on the ledge or even who Robert is.  What’s important to them is how the story is going to end.

It’s not a particularly happy film but it’s made watchable by Hathaway’s intelligent direction and the performances of Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart.  With its theme of instant fame and hollow indifference, it’s a film that remains as relevant today as when it was initially released.

Horror on TV: Thriller 1.8 “The Watcher” (dir by John Brahm)


For tonight’s televised horror, we have another episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series, Thriller!

In this episode, a religious fanatic in a named Freitag (Martin Gabel) lives in a resort community and targets young people who he believes have failed to live up to his standards.  His latest targets are played by Olive Sturgess and Richard Chamberlain.  This is actually a rather grisly little episode.  With its theme of religious hypocrisy, I can only imagine how people reacted when it was first aired on November 1st, 1960.

Enjoy!

Back To School Part II #3: Lord Love A Duck (dir by George Axelrod)


Lordloveaduck

For my third Back to School review, I watched the 1966 satire, Lord Love A Duck!

Hey hey hey!

I have to admit that, because I’m writing this review in a hurry and because the D and the F key are located right next to each other, I keep accidentally calling this film Lord Love A Fuck.  Somehow, that seems appropriate because Lord Love A Duck is a very odd and subversive little movie that deals with people who are largely motivated by lust and I’m pretty sure that, at one point, Roddy McDowall is seen saying, “Fuck off!” but, of course, we don’t actually hear him say it.  But seriously, Lord Love A Duck is a weird movie.

Hey hey hey!

Roddy McDowall plays Alan Musgrave, a student at a “progressive” high school in California.  Roddy was about 37 years old when he played a high school senior and he doesn’t look like a teenager at all but somehow, it’s appropriate.  After all, Alan is no ordinary teenager!  He’s smarter than everyone else.  He’s wittier than everyone else.  He’s more clever than everyone else.  He’s also totally obsessive and willing to do just about anything to get what he wants.  And you can be sure of one thing: whenever Alan does something borderline insane, you’ll hear a group of singers harmonizing, “Hey hey hey!” in the background.

Hey hey hey!

See, it’s happening already.  It doesn’t matter what Alan’s doing.  He could be kicking a skateboard in the way of a romantic rival.  He could be interrupting the graduation ceremony with a tractor.  He could be going to prison for life.  No matter what it is, it will always be accompanied by:

Hey hey hey!

Anyway, Alan is in love with the innocent, sweet, and constantly flirtatious Barbara Anne Greene (Tuesday Weld).  In fact, almost everyone in the film is in love with (or, at the very least, turned on by) Barbara.  The only person who doesn’t seem to be in love with Barbara is her mother (Lola Albright), a former-beauty-turned-cocktail-waitress whose world-weary cynicism seems to offer a depressing hint of what’s in store for Barbara once she gets older.

Hey hey hey!

But everyone else loves Barbara.  Especially Alan!  In fact, Alan is so in love with her that he swears that he’s going to make sure that she gets everything that she wants.  When she needs 12 cashmere sweaters so that she can join an exclusive girl’s club, Alan helps her to convince her father (Max Showalter) to pay for them.  When Barbara needs a job after dropping out of school, Alan helps her get one as a secretary for the high school’s progressive principal (Harvey Korman).  When Barbara decides she wants to marry the boring but respectable Christian youth leader, Bob (Martin West), Alan keeps Bob’s mother (Ruth Gordon) so drunk that she doesn’t get a chance to reprimand her son for falling in love with a girl from a divorced family.  (As Bob’s mother explains it, she doesn’t believe in divorce.  “We don’t leave our husbands.  We bury them.”)  Eventually, a movie producer decides that he wants Barbara to star in his beach films but Bob says no.  No wife of his is going to be a movie star!  So, of course, Alan decides to murder Bob so that Barbara can again have what she wants…

Hey hey hey!

Lord Love A Duck is a manic comedy that satirizes everything that mainstream audiences in 1966 would have held sacred.  Teenagers, conservatives, liberals, love, hate, murder, justice, marriage, divorce, morality, sex, religion, television, movies — it’s all thoroughly ridiculed in this film.  (It’s not surprising that the film’s director also wrote the script for The Manchurian Candidate, a satire disguised as a thriller.)  To be honest, it’s probably a little bit too manic for its own good.  At times, the film run the risk of becoming exhausting.  But then there’s even more times when the film is absolutely brilliant.

Hey hey hey!

Speaking of absolutely brilliant, Lord Love A Duck makes brilliant use of Roddy McDowall’s eccentric screen presence but, even better, it features one of Tuesday Weld’s best performances.  Weld was a talented actress whose performances often revealed that a fragile soul is often the price that is payed for great beauty.  (There’s no greater insecurity than wondering whether people are responding to who you are or to how you look.  Would you still care if I was ugly is not a question we’re supposed to ask but it’s one that we’ve all wondered.)  It would have been far too easy to make Barbara either totally innocent or totally manipulative.  Wisely, the film does neither.  Barbara may occasionally be manipulative but she always means well.  It’s not her fault that everyone around her is either idiotic or insane.

Hey hey hey!

Though Lord Love A Duck is obviously a time capsule of the culture of mid-60s, it’s also a film that remains relevant even today.  Culturally, we’re still obsessed with fame, youth, and beauty.  In many ways, the satire of Lord Love A Duck still feels more extreme that anything that any contemporary filmmaker would dare to attempt.  I can only imagine what audiences in 1966 thought as they watched this subversive teen film.

Hey hey hey!