Monster Con: Vincent Price in THE BARON OF ARIZONA (Lippert 1950)


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We all know and love Vincent Price for his creepy performances in horror films, from his demented Henry Jarrod in HOUSE OF WAX, to all those AIP/Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe shockers, to his turn as The Inventor in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. But the actor was more than just a screen fiend, playing in many a filmnoir, comedies, costume swashbucklers, and even the Western genre. Our Man Vinnie got top billing in a strange little oater titled THE BARON OF ARIZONA, and as a bonus for film fans the director is a young tyro by the name of Samuel Fuller!

In this bloodless but gripping outing, Price plays James Addison Revis, a swindler, con man, and forger who  concocts an elaborate, grandiose scheme to gain control over the Arizona Territory in 1882. He begins his con game ten years earlier by grooming an orphaned waif named Sofia to later be…

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Film Noir Review: Highway Dragnet (dir by Nathan Juran)


Nifty is not really a word that I ever use, mostly because I’m not 80 years old and I’m not totally sure what the word means.  I’ve always assumed that nifty is way of saying that something is good without being too good and, if that’s true, then I have to say that the low-budget 1954 film noir, Highway Dragnet, certainly is a nifty film.

Highway Dragnet opens with Jim Henry (Richard Conte, who decades later would play the evil Barzini in The Godfather) in Las Vegas.  Jim’s just gotten out of the army and he’s visiting his friend, Paul (Frank Jenks).  Paul is a secret agent who is often unexpectedly called away.  Unfortunately, this means that Paul is not around when Jim is accused of murdering another man.  Since Jim was previously seen hitting on the dead man’s girlfriend, the police naturally assume that Jim’s the murderer.  When Jim says that Paul can provide an alibi whenever he gets back from doing his super secret spy stuff, the cops assume that Paul doesn’t actually exist.

Under the direction of the stern Lt. White Eagle (Reed Hadley), the cops are doing a lot of assuming!  Now, if Jim was smart, he would say, “Hey, White Eagle, you know what?  When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me!”  But Jim’s not smart so he decides to fire a gun at the cops and then go on the run!

Hey, Jim …. none of that makes you look innocent!

Anyway, while making his way across the desert, Jim comes across two women who are having car trouble.  Mrs. Cummings (Joan Bennett, who went from nearly getting cast as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind to becoming a low-budget noir mainstay) is a fashion photographer and Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix) is her model.  Jim fixes their car and then asks them for a ride.  They agree, little knowing that they’re heading straight into a …. HIGHWAY DRAGNET!

Of course, it turns out that Jim’s new friends have a connection to the crime of which he’s been accused.  The plot of Highway Dragnet hinges on a totally implausible coincidence.  This is perhaps not surprising when you consider that the script for Highway Dragnet was written by the legendary Roger Corman.  In fact, it was the first script that he ever sold and, though the film was directed by Nathan Juran, Highway Dragnet feels very much like a Corman quickie.  The plot is whatever it needs to be to get the story from the beginning to the end in 71 minutes.  Whether it all makes sense or not doesn’t appear to be all that much of a concern.

So, here’s what does work about Highway Dragnet.  First off, director Nathan Juran (who was also an award-winning art designer) manages to capture some memorable images of the Nevada desert and the film ends with a wonderfully over-the-top and atmospheric confrontation in a flooded house.  Secondly, Joan Bennett is as passive-aggressively menacing in Highway Dragnet as she would later be in Dario Argento’s Suspiria.  I also liked the performance of Reed Hadley, playing the unstoppable and incorruptible Lt. White Eagle.

Last Saturday, I watched Highway Dragnet with my friends in the Late Night Movie Gang and we enjoyed it.  It’s undoubtedly a minor film noir but it’s still entertaining when taken on its own terms.  If nothing else, the box office success of this low-budget production (which was shot over ten days) reportedly inspired Roger Corman to get serious about pursuing his own career in the film industry and, for that, movie lovers will always be thankful.

Happy Birthday Lucille Ball: THE DARK CORNER (20th Century Fox 1946)


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Having grown up on endless reruns of I LOVE LUCY (and her subsequent variations on the Lucy Ricardo character), I’m not used to watching Lucille Ball in a dramatic role. In fact, I think the 1985 TV movie STONE PILLOW is the only time I’ve seen her play it straight until I recently watched THE DARK CORNER on TCM, a minor but enjoyable noir with Lucy headlining a good cast in a story about a private eye framed for murder. And since today marks the 105th anniversary of the redhead’s birth, now’s as good a time as any to look back on this unheralded hardboiled tale.

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Lucy, looking mighty sexy at age 35, plays Kathleen Stewart, secretary to PI Bradford Galt, recently relocated to The Big Apple. He’s got a secret past that’s dogging him, and a shady man in a white suit following him. Galt confronts the tail, who claims to be…

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The Fabulous Forties #21: Shock (dir by Alfred L. Werker)


The 20th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe.  Since I had already watched and reviewed Meet John Doe for last year’s Shattered Politics series of reviews, I decided to skip forward to the next film.

That film turned out to be the 1946 psychological thriller, Shock (not to be confused with Mario Bava’s masterpiece of the same name).

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Shock opens with a young housewife named Jane Stewart (Anabel Shaw) waking from a dream, getting out of bed, looking out a window, and seeing something rather serious happening in the house next door.  A man and a woman are arguing.  Though Jane doesn’t recognize the man, horror fans will immediately realize that he’s Vincent Price, without a mustache.  As Jane watches, the man beats the woman to death.  When Jane’s husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore), returns home, he discovers that Jane is in a catatonic state.

Paul calls the local cranky physician, Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge), to the house.  Dr. Harvey takes one look at Jane and announces, “She’s in shock!”  (YAY!  WE HAVE A TITLE!)  Paul looks confused so Dr. Harvey goes on to explain, “She’s had a great shock.”  Unfortunately, Dr. Harvey is not trained to deal with shock but he knows someone who is.  That man’s name is Dr. Richard Cross.

Soon Dr. Cross shows up and — OH MY GOD, IT’S VINCENT PRICE!  That’s right — Dr. Cross not only caused Jane’s shock but now he’s going to treat it!  Or is he?  Though Dr. Cross claims to be wracked with guilt over the murder, his nurse, Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari), is less concerned about it.  In fact, since Elaine is also his mistress, she’s rather happy that Dr. Cross has murdered his wife.  Now, she just has to convince him to murder Jane before she recovers from her shock.

(Interestingly enough, Dr. Cross’s plan involves treating Jane with insulin shock therapy, which would seem to indicate that Dr. Cross has seen Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case too many times.)

I had high hopes for Shock, largely because of the presence of Vincent Price.  From what I’ve read, the box office success of Shock changed the course of Price’s career.  Before Shock, Price was a character actor who occasionally got a good supporting role.  After Shock, he was transformed into the horror icon who we all know and love today.  Shock was the first time that Price was cast in the type of mad scientist role that would later become his trademark.  For that reason, Shock has an important place in the history of cinematic terror.

But, unfortunately, Shock itself is kind of forgettable.  It’s pretty much your standard thriller, one that makes the mistake of revealing Price’s villainy from the start.  (It would have been far more effective if the film tried to shock us with the realization that Price is the bad guy.)  It’s always fun to watch Vincent Price in a movie but he actually gives a rather subdued performance here and, as a result, he’s not as much fun as he would be in his later films.  In other words, Shock is no House On Haunted Hill.

That said, Shock is definitely a piece of film history and, as such, it’s worth watching.  And here it is: