Horror on the Lens: The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (dir by Edward L. Cahn)

It’s the voodoo!

Today’s horror on the lens in 1959’s The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.  It’s a film about a family, a zombie, decapitation, and a family curse.  Someone is murdering all of the descendants of the legendary Captain Drake.  Can Jonathan Drake be saved or is he destined to become just another skull?

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is an atmospheric little movie, one that treats its potentially campy plot with the utmost seriousness.


The Fabulous Forties #36: Dishonored Lady (dir by Robert Stevenson)


15 to go!

That’s what I find myself thinking as I begin this review of the 35th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  I’ve only got 15 more of these reviews to go and then I will be finished with the Fabulous Forties.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Over the past two months, I’ve seen some very good movies from the 1940s — The Black Book, The Last Chance, Trapped, and a few others.  However, I have also had to sit through things like Jungle Man, Freckles Comes Home, and Lil Abner.  The Fabulous Forties has been an uneven collection, even by the standards of Mill Creek.  However, the important thing is that I’m getting to discover films that I probably would otherwise have never known about.  I love watching movies, even ones that don’t quite work.

Fortunately, the 35th film in the Fabulous Forties does work.


The 1947 film Dishonored Lady stars the beautiful Hedy Lamarr as Madeline Damien.  Madeline would appear to have it all.  She’s wealthy, she’s socially well-connected, she lives in Manhattan, and she has a glamorous job as the fashion editor of a slick magazine called Boulevard.

So, if Madeline’s life is so perfect, why does she end up crashing her car outside of the house of psychiatrist Richard Caleb (Morris Carnovsky)?  Madeline says it was just an accident but Dr. Caleb immediately understands that she wrecked her car as part of a suicide attempt.  He takes Madeline as a patient and we quickly learn that Madeline is actually on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  When she’s not working, she’s usually drinking.  When she’s not drinking or working, she’s having sex with almost every man she meets.

(Or, as the film primly insists, “making love” to every man she meets.)

And what’s remarkable is that, for a 1947 film, Dishonored Lady is rather sympathetic to Madeline.  While it portrays her lifestyle as being self-destructive, it doesn’t condemn her.  It doesn’t attempt to argue that her problems are a fitting punishment for her decisions, as opposed to so many other 1940s films.  Even when Dr. Caleb’s counseling leads to Madeline quitting her job, the film refrains from criticizing Madeline for wanting to have a career.  Instead, it simply suggests that Boulevard is a toxic environment, almost entirely because of the sleazy men that Madeline has to deal with on a daily basis.

Madeline ends up renting a small apartment and rediscovering her love for painting.  Speaking of love, she also falls in love with her neighbor, Dr. David Cousins (Dennis O’Keefe).  At first, she doesn’t tell David anything about her past but, when she’s falsely accused of murder, she has no choice but to tell him everything.  Will David stand by her or will he prove to be yet another disappointment?  And will Madeline be able to prove her innocence even while her past in put on trial?

I really liked Dishonored Lady.  It’s a surprisingly intelligent film and Hedy Lamarr gives a great performance in the role of Madeline.  Dishonored Lady proved to be a pleasant surprise and you can watch it below!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #20: Magnificent Obsession (dir by Douglas Sirk)

Magnificent_obsessionThere’s a scene early on in the 1954 melodrama Magnificent Obsession in which formerly carefree millionaire Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) meets with an artist named Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger).  We know that Randolph’s brilliant because he speaks in a deep voice, tends to be unnecessarily verbose, and often stares off in the distance after speaking.  Bob wants to know about a dead doctor who was a friend of Randolph’s.  Randolph explains the late doctor’s philosophy of doing anonymous good works.  Bob’s mind is blown.  (Hudson, who was never the most expressive of actors, conveys having his mind blown by grinning.)

“This is dangerous stuff,” Randolph warns him, “One of the first men who used it went to the cross at the age of 33…”

And a heavenly chorus is heard in the background…

And that one line pretty much tells you exactly what type of film Magnificent Obsession is.  It’s a film that not only embraces the melodrama but which also holds on tight to make sure that the melodrama can never escape.  There’s not a single minute in this film that is not hilarious overwritten.  It’s not just Randolph who tends to be portentous in his pronouncements.  No — everyone in the film speaks that way!

The dead doctor is dead specifically because of Bob.  Apparently, the doctor had a heart attack but the local hospital’s only resuscitator was being used to save the life of Bob who, while the doctor was dying, was busy recklessly driving a boat.

Helen (Jane Wyman), the doctor’s widow is, at first, bitter towards Bob and when Bob offers to donate $250,000 to the hospital, Helen refuses to accept his check.  This leads to Bob doing a lot of soul-searching and eventually having his life-changing conversation with Randolph.  Excited at the prospect of doing anonymous good works for the rest of his life, Bob tracks down Helen and tries to tell her that he’s a changed man.  Helen, however, wants nothing to do with Bob and ends up getting hit by a car while running away from him.  Helen survives but now, she’s blind!

Now, at this point, you might think that Bob has done enough to ruin Helen’s life.  At least, that’s the way that Helen’s family views it and when Bob attempts to visit her in the hospital, they order him to go away.

Eventually, Helen comes home from the hospital and starts to adjust to a life without eyesight.  One day, she meets a man on the beach and they start up a tentative romance.  What she doesn’t realize, at first, is that the man is Bob!  By the time she does realize who the man is, Helen has fallen in love with him.  However, she feels that it wouldn’t be fair to Bob to pursue a relationship with him and she leaves him.

So, of course, Bob’s response is to go to medical school and become a neurosurgeon.  Many years later, Helen has a brain tumor and needs an operation to survive.

Can you guess who her surgeon turns out to be?

Magnificent Obsession is almost a prototypical 1950s melodrama.  It’s big, it’s glossy, it’s self-important, and undeniably (and occasionally unintentionally) funny.  Even the total lack of chemistry between Hudson and Wyman somehow adds to the film’s strange charm.  It’s hard not to admire a film that starts out over-the-top and just grows more excessive from there.

Watching Magnificent Obsession is a bit like taking a trip into a parallel, technicolor dimension.  It’s strange, fascinating, and far more watchable than it should be.