Holiday Film Review: Beyond Tomorrow (dir by A. Edward Sutherland)

I’m standing at the edge of tomorrow
And its all up to me how far I go
I’m standing at the edge of tomorrow

I’ve never seen such a view before
A new world before my eyes
So much for me to explore
It’s where my future lies

Today I’m standing at the edge of tomorrow
From here the future looks bright for me
And it’s all up to me how far I go
It’s my time to break away
I’m standing at the edge of tomorrow

Beyond Tomorrow is a strange film from 1940.  Technically, it is a holiday film.  It takes place during the Christmas season and there’s a lot of very peppy scenes featuring people celebrating the holidays.  I watched the movie with my friends in the Late Night Movie Gang.  We’re a pretty sentimental group but even we felt that some of the characters went a bit overboard with the holiday cheer.  The film is also comedy and a romance and a musical and a ghost story and a melodrama and finally an oddly sincere meditation on life and death.  That’s a lot of weight for one film to carry and there were more than a few times that Beyond Tomorrow seemed like it might collapse in a heap of Christmas ambition.  Fortunately, the film always righted itself and, in the end, it actually managed to be …. well, definitely more interesting than what any of us were expecting!

The film opens with three businessmen (Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, and Charles Winninger) living in a mansion with their Russian housekeeper (played by Maria Ouspenskaya, who was also the old gypsy lady in The Wolf Man).  As almost something of a lark, the three men arrange for James (Richard Carlson) to meet Jean (Jean Parker).  Jean is a teacher.  James is a singing cowboy from Texas.  Together, with the encouragement of the three businessmen, Jean and James get together.  Awwwww!

Unfortunately, the three businessmen are then all killed in a plane crash.  However, their ghosts remain on Earth and watch over the growing love between James and Jean.  Unfortunately, James become a singing sensation on the radio and soon, he’s being tempted to cheat.  Meanwhile, Jean’s ex-husband is running around with murder in his heart and a gun in his hand!  This romantic comedy has suddenly taken a very dark turn!

While the three ghosts look after James and Jean, they consider why they’re still on Earth and not in the afterlife.  One ghost is eventually greeted by his son, who died during the Great War.  Another one of the businessmen is haunted by vaguely defined sins and, even in death, he refuses to repent because he feels that he doesn’t deserve to go to Heaven.  Instead, he continually walks off into the darkness.  The last businessman continually tries to push James and Jean on the right path but it turns out that it’s not easy for the dead to talk sense to the living.

You can probably give yourself whiplash trying to keep up with the film’s tonal changes.  It starts out with romance and comedy and then suddenly, it’s turns into an existential rumination of love, forgiveness, and guilt.  Once the three businessmen die, it becomes a totally different story.  Suddenly, soldiers are returning from the dead and the gates of Hell are beckoning.  And, on top of that, James keeps breaking out into song every few minutes!

It’s a very strange film.  Unfortunately, from the start, the pacing feels off.  By today’s standards, Beyond Tomorrow gets bogged down in all of the songs and the scenes of holiday mirth-making.  That may not have been as much of a problem for audiences in 1940 but I have to say that, speaking as someone trying to watch this film in 2020, Beyond Tomorrow made my ADD go crazy.  If not for my friends and their patient willingness to inform me what was going on in the film, I probably wouldn’t have been able to follow the film’s storyline.

That said, the film was fairly well-acted and the final scenes, with the heavenly gates in the sky, are undeniably effective.  Speaking as a history nerd, I found it interesting to see how the shadow of World War I still hung over a film that was made 21 years after that war ended.  As the scenes in which one of the ghosts is a reunited with son showed, America was still dealing with trauma and horror of the first modern war.  (One year after the release of Beyond Tomorrow, Japan would bomb Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II, a conflict that many hoped to avoid precisely because they remembered the all of the men who didn’t make it home during the previous war in Europe.)  Messy though the film may be, Beyond Tomorrow functions well as both a historical document and a bit of sentimental wish fulfillment.

Compared to holiday classics like the original Miracle on 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life, Beyond Tomorrow is relatively unknown.  Certainly, it’s no classic.  But, for fans of both Christmas and old movies, it’s still an interesting trip into the past.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Tor Johnson vs Richard Carlson in Behind Locked Doors

Since today is Tor Johnson’s birthday, I wanted to share a scene from Plan 9 From Outer Space or Bride of the Monster or even the Beast of Yucca Flats.

Unfortunately, YouTube would not cooperate.  I found a lot of tribute videos that people had done.  I found several videos of Tor playing Lobo with silly music playing in the background.  There were a lot of weird Tor/Bela tribute videos.  (Apparently, there’s a very active community of Lobo/Varnoff shippers, which was not something that I really needed to know.)  Anyway, try as I did, I couldn’t find any decent videos of just Tor walking into a wall or rising from the dead of reaching for the bunny in Beast of Yucca Flats.

However, I did find this clip from a film in which Tor Johnson appeared in 1948.  Apparently, Behind Locked Doors was noir about a detective who goes undercover at a sanitarium.  One of the other patients at the sanitarium?  TOR JOHNSON!

So, enjoy this chance to see Tor Johnson in a scene not directed by Ed Wood or Coleman Francis.  (The scene was directed by Budd Boetticher, who has a far different critical reputation that both Misters Wood and Francis.)

Horror Film Review: The Amazing Mr. X (dir by Bernard Vorhaus)

A woman named Christine (Lyn Bari) walks along the beach when she thinks that she hears the voice of her husband calling out her name.  The only problem is that her husband has been dead for two years.  Christine’s sister, Janet (Cathy O’Donnell), says that Christine is just hearing things and that she needs to move on from mourning.  After all, her boyfriend, Martin (Richard Carlson), is on the verge of asking Christine to marry him….

And yet, Christine can’t escape the feeling that her husband is trying to contact her from beyond the grave.  During another walk along the beach, she runs into a handsome man who introduces himself as being Alexis (Turhan Bey).  Alexis says that he’s a medium and that he has the power to speak to the dead.  Furthermore, he tells Christine that he can speak to her dead husband for her.

Despite the fact that Alexis owns a really impressive crystal ball, Martin is skeptical of his claims.  Martin even goes so far as to hire a private investigator (Harry Mendoza) to investigate Alexis’s past.  Meanwhile, though she has her suspicions, Janet finds herself falling in love with the charming Alexis….

Released in 1948, The Amazing Mr. X is an unjustly obscure little mystery film.  Though I guess it’s open to debate whether it should be considered a horror film or just a noirish thriller, The Amazing Mr. X is full of creepy atmosphere and eerie moments.  Employing expressionistic camera angles and dark lighting, director Bernard Vorhaus turns The Amazing Mr. X into a dream of dark and forbidden things.  Some of the black-and-white shots are simply stunning and the seance sequence is brilliantly done.

The film is also well-acted by a cast of actors who deserve to be better remembered.  Lynn Bari is perfectly fragile and sympathetic as the haunted Christine while Cathy O’Donnell turns the potentially boring Janet into a compelling character.  The film even makes good use of Richard Carlson’s reliable dullness by casting him as the one character who is meant to be a force of stability in Christine’s otherwise neurotic life.

That said, the entire film is stolen by Turhan Bey.  Born in Austria and of Turkish descent, Turhan Bey was nicknamed the “Turkish Delight” during his film career and, watching The Amazing Mr. X, you can see why.  Bey is so charming and so handsome that you can understand why even those who should know better would want to believe that Alexis could talk to the dead.  The Amazing Mr. X was one of the last films that Bey filmed in the United States.  He retired a few years later and returned to his native Austria, where he ran a cafe.  (40 years later, the now elderly Bey did come out of retirement and made a few appearance of television before passing away, at the age of 90, in 2012.)

Like all good mysteries, The Amazing Mr. X has a third act twist that you probably won’t see coming and it ends with the proper combination of tragedy and redemption.  The Amazing Mr. X is currently in the public domain and can be viewed on YouTube so check it out!  You won’t be sorry!

Halloween Havoc!: THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Universal-International 1954)

cracked rear viewer

By the early 1950’s, the type of Gothic horrors Universal was famous for had become passe. It was The Atomic Age, and science fiction ruled the roost, with invaders from outer space and giant bugs unleashed by radiation were the new norm. But the studio now called Universal-International had one more ace up its collective sleeve: THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, last of the iconic Universal Monsters!

Scientist Dr. Maia, exploring “the upper reaches of the Amazon” with his native guides, discovers a fossilized hand that may be the evolutionary “missing link”. Taking his finding to the Institudo de Biologia Martima, he teams with ichthyologist David Reed, David’s pretty assistant/fiancé Kay Lawrence, institute chief Dr. Mark Williams, and fellow scientist Dr. Thompson to form an expedition. They charter the steamer The Rita, skippered by Captain Lucas, and head down the river into the Black Lagoon. Maia’s Indian guides…

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Horror on the Lens: Tormented (dir by Bert I. Gordon)

Halloween is the perfect time for a good ghost story and, with that in mind, here is today’s movie.

Released in 1960 and directed by Bert I. Gordon, Tormented tells the sad story of Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson).  Now, Tom might look like a pretty regular guy but we know that he’s a little bit crazy because he’s a jazz pianist and you know how dangerous those beatnik-types are.  Tom is happily engaged to Meg but one day, his ex-girlfriend Vi shows up.  Vi is obsessed with Tom and swear that she’s going to end his engagement.

So, naturally enough, Tom throws her off of a lighthouse.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite.  Vi may be dead but she’s not out of Tom’s life.  Instead, her disembodied head tends to pop up at random moments and taunt Tom.  Meanwhile, Tom is having to deal with Meg’s suspicious sister and a beatnik (Joe Turkel, who years later played Lloyd the Bartender in The Shining) who is determined to collect the $5 that he claims Vi owes him.

Between the beatniks and the raging ocean and the disembodied head popping up whenever it’s least convenient, Tormented is a lot of fun and the perfect film for some retro Halloween fun.

Halloween Havoc! Extra: When Strikes Tor Johnson!!

cracked rear viewer

Today we celebrate the birthday of everybody’s favorite wrestler-turned-actor named Johnson… no, not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but the hulking Tor Johnson (1902-1971)! Before he starred in all those Ed Wood epics, Tor was a pro wrestler billed as ‘The Super Swedish Angel’ (a bad guy, of course), and performed in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of bouts around the globe. Each year, Cracked Rear Viewer pays tribute to the 6’3″, 400 lb. behemoth, and this year I’ve unearthed a clip from a 1948 Budd Boetticher-directed noir called BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, in which Tor beats the crap out of another horror/sci-fi icon, Richard Carlson . Happy birthday, O Mighty Tor!:

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A Movie A Day #278: The Power (1968, directed by Byron Haskin)

Who is Adam Hart?

That is the mystery that Professors Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) and Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette) have to solve.  Someone is using psychic powers to kill their co-workers in a research laboratory.  The police think that Tanner is guilty but Tanner knows that one of his colleagues is actually a super human named Adam Hart.  Hart is planning on using his super powers to control the world and, because Tanner is the only person who has proof of his existence, Hart is methodically framing Tanner for every murder that he commits.

The Power is underrated by entertaining movie, a mix of mystery and science fiction with a pop art twist.  It was also one of the first attempts to portray telekinesis on film.  Similar films, like Scanners, may be better known but all of them are directly descended from The Power.  George Hamilton may seem like an unlikely research scientist but he and Suzanne Pleshette are a good team and The Power makes good use of Pleshette’s way with a one liner.  Also keep an eye out for familiar faces like Arthur O’Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Rennie, Gary Merrill, Yvonne DeCarlo, Vaughn Taylor, Aldo Ray, and even Forrest J. Ackerman as a hotel clerk.


Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Change of Habit (dir by William A. Graham)

(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  How long is it going to take?  Some would say forever but, here at the Shattered Lens, we’re hoping that she might have it all done by August.  Anyway, she recorded the 1969 film Change of Habit off of Starz on March 20th!)

It’s Elvis vs. God for the heart of Mary Tyler Moore!

(Okay, so that may be a little bit glib on my part but, seriously, that pretty much sums up Change of Habit.)

Change of Habit opens with three nuns walking through New York City.  There’s the forgettable nun, Sister Barbara (Jane Elliott).  There’s the black, streetwise nun, Sister Irene (Barbara McNair).  And then there’s the idealistic and wholesome nun, Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore).  Because they’re nuns, even notoriously rude New Yorkers are nice to them.  They walk across a busy intersection and all of the cars stop for them.  A cop sees them jaywalking and just smiles and nods at them.  In case you were ever wondering why someone would become a nun, it’s because nuns always have the right-of-way and they don’t have to obey arbitrary laws.  It’s a good life.

The sisters are shopping and, as the opening credits roll, the three of them duck into a dressing room and change into contemporary civilian clothing.  Obsessively, the camera keeps zooming in on everyone’s bare legs.  You can literally hear the film’s producers telling all the boys in the audience, “This may be a G-rated Elvis film but that’s not going to stop us from implying nun nudity!”

It’s Sister Michelle’s idea that the nuns should wear contemporary clothing, the better to relate to the Godless youth of the 1960s.  Unfortunately, now that they’re dressed like everyone else, they have to actually obey traffic laws.  When they attempt to cross the street for a second time, cars honk at them and the cop yells at them for jaywalking.

Michelle, Irene, and Barbara get jobs working at a free clinic.  The clinic is run by John Carpenter (Elvis Presley).  Carpenter is looking for aspiring actresses to appear in a movie about a babysitter being stalked by a masked murderer on Halloween and … oh sorry.  Wrong John Carpenter.  This John Carpenter is a no-nonsense doctor who will stop at nothing to bring peace and good health to the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in New York!

That’s right.  It’s an Elvis film with a social conscience!

And that probably sounds like a joke but Change of Habit‘s heart is in the right place.  It’s intentions are good.  At least a few of the people involved in the film were probably trying to make the world a better place.  There’s a subplot involving an autistic child that, when you consider this film was made in 1969, is handled with unusual sensitivity.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the rest of Change of Habit doesn’t feel totally and completely out-of-touch.  The entire film feels so dated that I imagine it probably even felt dated when it was initially released.  This is one of those films where the local black militants give Sister Irene a hard time about being a sell-out, just to eventually admit, during a block party, that maybe white folks aren’t so bad after all.  By the end of the movie, they’re even joking with the cops.  All that was needed was for Elvis to sing a song or two.  To be honest, there are times when Change of Habit feels like the 1969 version of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.

Of course, the majority of the film deals with Elvis falling in love with Mary Tyler Moore.  He doesn’t know that she’s a nun and, as she falls in love with him, she’s forced to make a difficult choice.  Does she follow God or does she follow Elvis?  Actually, the film ends before she officially makes that choice but there’s little doubt as to what she’s going to eventually do.  In his final non-concert film appearance, Elvis is totally miscast as a serious-minded doctor and, it must be said, he looked miserable throughout the entire film.  You get the feeling he’d rather be doing anything than starring in Change of Habit.  (Maybe he was already thinking about how much he wanted a special FBI badge.)  Mary Tyler Moore is a bit more believable as a nun.  Fortunately, both Moore and Elvis were likable performers and their likability makes Change of Habit, as ludicrous as it often is, far more watchable than it has any right to be.

In the end, Elvis may not have saved society but he did get to sing a gospel song or two.

Horror on TV: Thriller 2.26 “Kill My Love” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is Kill My Love, an episode of Thriller that originally aired on March 26th, 1962!

In this episode, Richard Carlson plays Guy Guthrie.  To the outside world, Guy looks like the perfect husband and father.  However, he’s actually a cruel sociopath.  When his mistress threatens to expose him, he murders her.  When his wife realizes what Guy has done, he murders her as well.

But then Guy’s beloved son (David Kent) starts to figure out what his father has done and Guy is forced to decide just how far he’s willing to go to hide his secrets…

This episode, of course, is introduced by the one and only Boris Karloff!


Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: King Solomon’s Mines (dir by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton)


So, this is a weird one.

As we all know, today is Oscar Sunday!  As I wait for the big show to begin, I’ve been watching some of the Oscar-nominated films that I have collected on the DVR over the past month.  For instance, this morning, I watched 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines.

King Solomon’s Mines was nominated for best picture of the year and watching it … well, you really have to wonder why.  It’s an adventure film, one that was shot on location in Africa and it features a lot of footage of wild animals.  It also features several scenes that were shot in actual African villages and a good deal of time is devoted to documenting tribal rituals.  It’s true that the film has a plot but, for the most part, it’s a travelogue.  One gets the feeling that it was mostly sold as a chance for American and European audiences to see a part of the world that, up until that point, they had only read about.  Not only would they get to experience Africa from the safety of the neighborhood movie theater but they’d get to see it in a color as well!

(Seriously, it’s difficult to watch the nature footage in King Solomon’s Mines without imagining a serious voiced narrator saying, “However, one gazelle has strayed too far from its mother.  The lion cubs will eat tonight…”)

As for the plot, King Solomon’s Mines is based on a novel by British adventure enthusiast H. Rider Haggard.  Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is an experienced guide and hunter.  When we first meet him, he’s helping two rich Englishmen hunt an elephant.  It’s a disturbing scene, largely because it’s obvious the footage of the elephant dying is real.  Allan prevents his clients from killing more than one elephant and later talks about how much he hates his job but still, it’s pretty much to impossible to really like him after watching that elephant die.

Anyway, Allan gets hired by Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John (Richard Carlson).  It seems that Elizabeth’s husband disappeared in Africa while searching for a legendary treasure.  Allan tells Elizabeth that her husband is probably dead.  Elizabeth still insists on searching for him…

…and, from that point on, you can pretty much predict everything that is going to happen.  Though the footage of Africa looks great, it’s just not a very interesting film.  Playing the type of role that would probably be played by Gerard Butler if the movie was made today, Stewart Granger comes across as being bored with it all.  For that matter, even the great Deborah Kerr seems as if she’d rather be hanging out with Robert Mitchum.

Still, it is interesting to note that Hugo Haas shows up as a villain.  Who is Hugo Haas?  He was a Hungarian actor who, after playing a bad guy here, went on to direct several idiosyncratic B-movies, like Hold Back Tomorrow, The Girl On The Bridge, Bait, and One Girl’s Confession.  If nothing else, watching King Solomon’s Mines has inspired me to, someday, do a little Hugo Haas film festival here on the Lens.

King Solomon’s Mines seems like an odd best picture nominee.  Its triumphs are largely technical and even those successes no longer seem that special.  It was, however, a big hit at the box office and I imagine that probably has something to do with its nomination.  However, when the Oscars were awarded, best picture went to All About Eve.

Stewart Granger was no match for Bette Davis.