30 More Days of Noir #10: Death in Small Doses (dir by Joseph M. Newman)

Ah, speed.

I have to admit that I always find films about amphetamines to be fascinating because I take them for my ADD.  I’ve been taking Dexedrine since I was in middle school and it has always amused me how people who don’t have ADD seem to think that the meds will give you super powers.  For instance, every season of Big Brother, there’s people online who get outraged over certain houseguests taking Adderall.  “She had an unfair advantage!” someone will say, “Because she’s taking Adderall!”  What can I say?  People who don’t have ADD just don’t get it.  Yes, if you have ADD, the meds can help you focus but it’s not like they’re going to give you any sort of special power that’s not available to any other person.

(I will admit that there is a slight difference between me on my meds and me off my meds.  Actually, my family says that there’s a huge difference but I think they’re exaggerating.  It is true that I’m a lot more focused when I take my Dexedrine.  My mind wanders a bit less than usual and I’m also usually in better control of my frustrations.  When I take my meds, I can finish any project.  When I don’t take them, I can talk about finishing any project.)

Dexedrine focuses me but apparently, it does the opposite for those who don’t have ADD.  The 1957 film, Death in Small Doses, features a truck driver named Mink Reynolds who, despite not having ADD, pops too many capsules and ends up playing really loud music and trying to force a waitress to dance with him.  He also hallucinates seeing a car and then grabs a knife and tries to kill another truck driver.  To be honest, that seems a bit extreme to me.  In fact, I’d almost argue that Mink’s behavior would indicate that the filmmakers really didn’t know much about amphetamines.  Making things even stranger is that Mink is played by Chuck Connors, who was a remarkably inexpressive actor.  Watching Connors, with his stone face, trying to dance and jump around is an interesting experience.  Mink is supposed to be a jazz-crazed, speed-abusing hepcat but instead, he comes across like an animatronic mannequin.  You can almost hear the gears shifting whenever he has to move across the screen.

Mink’s fellow truck driver is Tom Kaylor (Peter Graves), a seemingly upright man who is usually seen wearing a tie and who looks like he would be more comfortable working behind a desk than driving a truck.  Of course, that’s because Tom is actually an FBI agent!  He’s working undercover, pretending to be a truck driver so that he can smash a ring of drug dealers!  Of course, the problem here is that everything about Peter Graves’s screen presence shouts out, “Narc!”  With his square jaw and his perfect haircut and his stiff but authoritative delivery of his dialogue, he seems like he was created in a lab that specifically set out to develop the most stereotypical FBI agent imaginable.  There’s not a single rough edge to him and it’s hard to buy that the other truck drivers wouldn’t see straight through him.

While Tom tries to bust the ring, he also finds time to possibly fall in love with two different women, both of whom seem as if they might know more than they’re letting on.  Amy (Merry Anders) is the waitress who has developed a drug habit of her own.  Val (Mala Powers) owns the boarding house when Tom and Mink live.  Can Tom trust either one of them?  And will Tom not only undercover the identity of the head of the drug ring but also survive long enough to bring the dealers to justice?

So, here’s the thing.  During its worst moments — i.e., whenever Chuck Connors is jumping all over the place and talking about how much he loves his friend “benny” — this is a campy and rather silly film that makes Reefer Madness look subtle by comparison.  However, during its best moments, this is a tough and entertaining noir that features good performances from Merry Anders and Mala Powers.  Both Anders and Powers manage to transcend the film’s sillier moments and they actually bring a charge of reality to the story.  And while director Joseph M. Newman may not have known much about drugs, he did know how to shoot a fight scene.  Making good use of its desolate locations (the truck drivers spend a lot of time driving through the desert) and setting many of the film’s best moments at night, Newman overcomes some of the script’s weaker moments.  In the end, it makes for a rather uneven but entertaining viewing experience.  Despite the film’s cluelessness about drugs and the miscasting of both Graves and Connors, this lesser-known noir is worth tracking down.

18 Days of Paranoia #1: The Flight That Disappeared (dir by Reginald Le Borg)

Way back in the early days of the site, I did a series of reviews called 31 Days of Paranoia, in which I reviewed films about mysteries, cover-ups, and conspiracies.  Unfortunately, because I wasn’t all that disciplined about posting during the early days of the Shattered Lens, my 31 Days of Paranoia ended up being something like 24 days.  Still, it was a lot of fun and, historically, it was important because it was the very first “themed” series of reviews that I had ever done.  Shattered Politics, Embracing the Melodrama, Back to School, Sprin Breakdown, and all the rest started with 31 Days of Paranoia.

So, with this being the 10-year anniversary of the Shattered Lens’s founding and Spring Breakdown wrapping itself up tomorrow, I figured why not return to where it all started.  From now til April, please enjoy …. 18 Days of Paranoia!

We begin with:

The 1961 film, The Flight That Disappeared, deals with an airplane that …. wait for it …. disappears!

What’s happened to Trans-Coast Airways Flight 60?  When it first took off from Los Angeles, everything seemed fine.  It was carrying a small but well-behaved group of middle-aged people to Washington D.C.  The pilots all seemed like good professionals.  The two flight attendants were busy serving people coffee and having conversations about whether or not one of them would ever get married.  She had every right to be concerned, of course, seeing as how she was in her 20s and still unmarried and childless, despite the fact that this film was made in 1961.

It doesn’t take too long for something strange to happen.  The plane suddenly starts to climb upward, eventually going up over 10 miles high in the sky.  The pilots can’t do anything to get the plane to come back down.  Due to the lack of oxygen, some of the passengers start to pass out.  One passenger panics and opens a door, out of which he promptly falls.  Oddly, this doesn’t create the whole vacuum effects that we always see in other movies where a window or a door is opened while a plane is in the air.  Stranger still, no one thinks to close the door afterwards.  Was this intentional or was it just crappy filmmaking?  It’s hard to say.

Why is the plane being lifted up into the air?  Could it have something to do with the three atomic scientists who are all on the plane?  One of them, Dr. Morris (Dayton Lummis), is wearing glasses and has a van dyke beard so you know he’s smart!  It turns out that Dr. Morris has been working on the Beta Bomb, which is apparently the most powerful atomic bomb ever built.  I kept waiting for someone to ask Dr. Morris why it was called the Beta Bomb and not the Alpha Bomb or the Omega Bomb or the Big Scary Bomb or the …. well, seriously, anything would be better than Beta Bomb!  Everyone in the movie says, “Beta Bomb,” in a tone that’s meant to communicate reverence but it just sounds too much like “Beta Male” for me to really take it seriously.

But, again, who is responsible for the flight climbing?  Is it the Russians?  Is it aliens?  Is it some enemy of the American way?  While everyone else on the plane is passed out, the three scientists find themselves awake.  Their watches are no longer running and, despite the fact that they appear to be alive, their hearts are no longer beating.  Are they dead?  Or have they been transported to the future where they will now be put on trial for the crime of developing the Beta Bomb?

Of course, the thing with being put on trial in the future is that it provides the perfect defense for making weapons in the present.  “Hey,” a smart defense attorney would say, “you’re still alive in the future and you’ve got time travel technology so what are you bitching about?”  But the jurors explain that they’re actually the ghosts of the people who would have been born in the future if not for the Beta Bomb which …. what?  So, is the plane in the future or is it in the afterlife?  The film itself doesn’t seem to be sure.

I’m probably making it sound like this is a more intriguing film than it actually is.  This movie is about 72 minutes long and all the stuff with the people in the future takes place during the final 10 minutes.  That means that the film is essentially just 60 minutes of people saying, “We’re still climbing.”  From a historical point of view, it’s an interesting example of people being paranoid about the arms race.  (If the film were made today, the future the ghostly jurors would be the souls of people who were not born in the future due to climate change.)  From an entertainment point of view, it’s a forgettable dud.

Horror on the Lens: Not of this Earth (dir by Roger Corman)

Today’s horror on the lens is the 1957 Roger Corman-directed, sci-fi “epic,” Not of this Earth.

Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) may seems like a strange character, with his stilted way of speaking and his sunglasses and his overdramatic reaction to any and all loud noises.  Paul could us be an eccentric.  Or, he could be …. NOT OF THIS EARTH!  Actually, his habit of draining people of their blood and sending weird, umbrella-like creatures out to attack his enemies would seem to suggest that the latter is probably true.

Listen, it’s not easy being a blood-sucking alien.  I mean, sure, there’s always seems to be people stupid enough to show up at your mansion so that you can drain their bodies.  Paul is lucky that he doesn’t exactly seem to be surrounded by brain surgeons.  But sometimes, things happen.  For instance, someone might show up from your home planet and demand an immediate transfusion!  What is an alien to do?

Watch this low-budget but undeniably entertaining film to find out!  And be sure to especially keep an eye out for the great Dick Miller, who reportedly improvised his role as a vacuum cleaner salesman.  (Before going into acting, Miller actually did sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door.)


Horror on TV: The Veil Episode 7 “Destination Nightmare” (dir by Paul Landres)

On tonight’s episode of The Veil….

Peter Wade, Jr. (Ron Hagerthy) is a rather timid man who would rather design planes than fly them.  However, his father, Peter Wade, Sr. (Boris Karloff, who also hosted the episode), is a World War I veteran who has gone from being an aviation hero to owning his own aviation company.  Peter, Sr. demands that his son become a pilot.  And yet, every time that Peter, Jr. is flying, he’s haunted by ghostly face that 1) puts him in a trance and 2) tries to get him to crash his plane!  Could it have something to do with a secret from his father’s past?

This episode is effectively creepy, as any show featuring a possessed pilot and a potential aviation disaster should be.  As with some of the past episodes of The Veil, the main attraction here is really the chance to see Boris Karloff doing what he did best.  Karloff was one of the great actors and it’s always fun to see him get a good character role.