‘B’-ware, My Love: HOUSE OF SECRETS (Chesterfield 1936)


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Do you like movies with gloomy old mansions, secret passageways, clutching hands behind curtains, bloodcurdling screams, and the like? How about we throw in some Chicago gangsters and a hidden pirate treasure? Then you may like HOUSE OF SECRETS, a ‘B’ mystery originally sold to audiences as a horror thriller. It’s no classic, to be sure, but it is an enjoyable little low-budget film produced by tiny independent Chesterfield Pictures, who specialized in this sort of thing, and featuring a better than average cast of Familiar Faces.

Aboard a ship bound for London, a young American woman is accosted by a cad who swears he saw her leaving a drug palace in Paris. Globetrotting but near penniless Barry Wilding defends her honor, but the mysterious blonde won’t reveal her name. Barry runs into his old friend Tom while in Jolly Olde England, a detective on the trail of a murderer…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.3 “The Premature Burial” (dir by Dougles Heyes)


In tonight’s episode of Thriller, Boris Karloff not only hosts but also stars!

An adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, this episode is about a man (Sidney Blackmer) who has very good reason to fear that he might end up being buried alive!  Karloff appears as his loyal physician, who might be Blackmer’s only hope to avoid being murdered by his wife and her lover.

Enjoy!

The Fabulous Forties #30: Cheers for Miss Bishop (dir by Tay Garnett)


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The 30th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set is the 1941 melodrama, Cheers For Miss Bishop.  Cheers For Miss Bishop is a bit like an Americanized version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  The story of Cheers For Miss Bishop, largely told via flashback, deals with a retired teacher who never quite got what she wanted out of life but still had a profound impact on all of her students.

The film opens with elderly Miss Bishop (played by Martha Scott) alone in her house.  The time is the 1930s and Miss Bishop is nearing retirement and somewhat bitter over ending her years having never married.  Prominent businessman Sam Peters (William Gargan) comes to the house and they start to recollect.  We flashback to the 1880s, when Miss Bishop was preparing to go to college and Sam was just the local grocery boy.  Sam was in love with Miss Bishop and, it’s suggested, that she loved him as well.  But she was determined to go to college whereas Sam was determined to go straight into business.

With the support of the kindly Prof. Corcoran (Edmund Gwenn, giving a performance that pretty much epitomizes what we mean when we call someone a kindly professor), Miss Bishop got a job teaching English at Midwestern College.  She was a popular teacher, one who not only inspired her students but who was also willing to stand up for them.  Eventually she met and became engaged to a local lawyer, Delbert Thompson (Don Douglas).  However, her heart was broken when Delbert ran off with another woman.  Years later, she fell in love with another professor (Sidney Blackmer), with the only problem being that he happened to be married.

But that’s not all that Miss Bishop had to deal with.  She also ended up adopting and raising Hope (Marsha Hunt) after Hope’s mother died in childbirth.  As she got older, she became frustrated when the younger college administrators demanded that she adapt with the times.  Miss Bishop also had to deal with her frequent romantic rival and cousin, the impulsive Amy (Mary Anderson).

Amy, I should mention, was my favorite character in Cheers For Miss Bishop, even though I don’t think that was the film’s intention.  Some of that is because Mary Anderson totally embraced the melodramatic potential of her character, often going totally over-the-top in a way that still seemed perfectly natural.  But there’s also the fact that Amy, as opposed to the often painfully inhibited Miss Bishop, had no boundaries.  She knew what she wanted and she went for it, without apology.  Amy may not have been a big role but she still dominated every scene that she appeared in.  Amy demanded attention and good for her!

That said, the title of the film is Cheers For Miss Bishop and not Cheers For Amy.  Ultimately, it’s a tribute to Miss Bishop and to teachers everywhere.  It’s an extremely predictable and sentimental film but it does what it does fairly well.  Occasionally, I got frustrated with Miss Bishop as a character (she was always so prim, proper, and respectable!  Plus, there’s a scene where she gives a student from North Carolina some trouble about his accent, saying that he needs to take her English class and, if you know how I feel about actors from up north trying too hard to sound like they’re from the South, you can imagine how I felt about that scene) but Martha Scott gave a good performance.  In the end, it’s a sweet little movie.  And you can watch it below!

Horror Film Review: Rosemary’s Baby (dir by Roman Polanski)


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“This is no dream!  This is really happening!”

— Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Yes, Rosemary, it is.

The classic 1968 horror movie Rosemary’s Baby is probably best remembered for a lengthy and wonderfully surreal “dream” sequence in which naive newlywed Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) is raped by the Devil while a bunch of naked old people stand around her and chant.  At one point, she sees her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), saying that she’s awake and that she knows what’s going on.  Their neighbor, Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon), tells him that Rosemary can’t hear anything and that it’s like she’s dead and then snaps at him, “Now, sing!”  It’s a great sequence, one of the greatest of Roman Polanski’s career, a perfect blending of horror and dark comedy.

For me, the most interesting part of that dream sequence comes at the start.  Rosemary envisions herself naked on a boat and, as she tries to cover herself, who is sitting next to her?  None other than John F. Kennedy!  Suddenly, Rosemary is wearing a bikini and she’s relaxing out on the deck with a glamorous group of people who I assume were meant to be Kennedy relatives.  As the boat leaves the dock, Rosemary sees that her friend and protector, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is standing on the dock.

“Isn’t Hutch coming with us?” Rosemary asks.

“Catholics only,” John F. Kennedy hisses in that famous accent, “I’m afraid we are bound by these prejudices.”

“I understand,” a dazed Rosemary replies.

And it’s a wonderful little moment, though I have to wonder if I’d react as strong if my own background wasn’t Irish Catholic.  But still, there’s something so wonderfully subversive about a bunch of elderly Satanists pretending to be the Kennedys.

And really, Rosemary’s Baby is a wonderfully subversive film.  I imagine it was even more subversive when it was first released back in 1968.  It’s been ripped off and imitated so many times that it has undoubtedly lost some of its impact.  (That’s one reason why I wish I had a time machine, so I could go back in the past and see it was truly like to see a classic film for the first time.)  But still, 47 years after it was initially released, Rosemary’s Baby is still a surprisingly effective horror film.

The film opens with newlyweds Rosemary and Guy moving into the Bramford, an exclusive New York apartment building.  Guy is an actor who, despite having appeared in two off-Broadway shows (one of which was entitled Nobody Likes An Albatross and really, that is so true) and a few motorcycle commercials, is still waiting for his big break.  There are hints that, before she married Guy, Rosemary had a very active and interesting life (when we briefly meet her old friends, they all seem to be a lot more exciting than boring old Guy) but, when we meet her, Rosemary appears to have happily settled into a life of domesticity.

Life at the Bramford is strange.  For one thing, Guy and Rosemary appear to be the only young people living in the entire building.  (There is a young woman named Terry but she ends up jumping out of a window.)  The Woodhouses befriend elderly Minnie Castevet and her husband, Roman (Sidney Blackmer.)  Roman claims to have traveled all over the world and embarrasses the Catholic Rosemary by criticizing the Pope.  Minnie, meanwhile, is the noisiest person in the world.  Guy makes fun of both of them and, yet, he still decides to spend his free time with Roman.

One day, Guy gets a role that he had previously lost.  Why?  Because another actor is struck by a sudden case of blindness.  Shortly afterward, Rosemary has her “dream.”  She wakes up and discovers that her body is covered with red scratches.  Guy claims that he had sex with her while she was asleep and promises to cut his fingernails.

Soon, Rosemary is pregnant but the Castevets insist that she use their doctor, the firm and sinister Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy, who just 8 year earlier had played FDR in Sunrise at Campobello).  Rosemary knows that something is wrong with the baby but she can’t get anyone to listen to her.  It all leads to one of the best and most iconic endings in the history of horror cinema.

Rosemary’s Baby is a classic of fear and paranoia and it holds up surprisingly well.  See it this October, whether you’re Catholic or not.

(However, do not see the needless 2014 remake.  Seriously, what the Hell was up with that?)

(By the way, is anyone else amazed that I made it through this entire review without making a single joke about either Ronan Farrow or Mia’s lame Sharknado live tweet?  I am shocked.)