Archive for The Alligator People

People Who Need People

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by dcairns

Let’s see: we know never to smile at a crocodile, but what must one never do at an alligator?

THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE, directed by poor old Roy Del Ruth, has in many ways the feel of a Corman B-quickie monster farrago, (leading lady Beverly Garland had already made several of these, including the much-admired cheesefests NOT OF THIS EARTH and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD), but it’s actually a 20th Century Fox production with delusions of adequacy.

I had to watch it because it’s part of my See Reptilicus and Die quest to witness every celluloid monstrosity memorialized in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, but curiously enough my strongest association with the film is from another Gifford book, Movie Monsters, a little paperback I owned as a kid. This was a collection of pieces on various celebrated movieland beasts, each illustrated with a snazzy b&w still, into which the alligator people had somehow trespassed — there was a feeling of weary indulgence on Gifford’s part, as if perhaps he had a reptilian quota to fill, or he felt he didn’t have enough US-based fiends, or the 50s were under-represented or something.

The movie starts almost promisingly with some dynamic vehicular second unit and some stylish transitions, lulling you into an illusion that somebody behind the scenes gives a damn. It’s an illusion that disintegrates progressively as the malarkey continues, but it does get us off to a good start. A couple of leaden shrinks jocularly ponder a baffling case, a nurse (la Garland)  who has revealed a peculiar story under the influence of sodium pentathol (Shrink 1 apparently routinely dopes his staff, especially the cute ones).

Enter Beverly, perky. “What’s wrong with her? Is she insane?” asked Fiona, aghast. “No, she’s just Beverly Garland,” I explained, in much the same way I had to account for Victor McLaglan to students (“Who’s he? Why is he grinning like that?”) Beverly has turned her eager-to-please charm up to eleven. She hangs on Shrink 1′s every word, and she’s so pleased to meet Shrink 2 one fears she may blow a gasket, or somehow melt her smiling apparatus. We check the running time: 74 minutes. The exact duration we feel we can bask in the radiance of Beverly Garland without our skins drying out.

SLEEP! Beverly is doped and hynotized in a trice (one look at her and you know she’s going to be a receptive subject) and we’re flashbacking to the sad tale of her disappearing husband and her quest to track him down in the Louisiana bayou.

CAUTION: Radioactive Material. So Bev sits on it.

Here we meet Lon Chaney Jnr, who has a hook for a hand and a grudge against ‘gators. “I’m gonna kill you, alligator man!” He’s exactly like Captain Hook, in other words, only very very drunk. His character name is Manon, but he resists the urge to dance naked among goats. The missing hubby’s mum is Frieda Inescort, an Edinburgh-born actress of great dignity, all things considered. And then there’s gorgeous George MacReady, as a disappointingly non-mad scientist.

Here, we sympathize: the mad scientist stereotype is a pernicious cliche and if you can avoid using it, you probably should. But cliches attain their status by virtue of usefulness, and making THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE’s atomic experimenter a reasonable guy rather wastes MacReady’s talent for hoarse maleficence, and leaves the plot dangling listlessly. Plus, the tragic finale comes not as a “There are some things man was not meant to know” wagging Finger of Doom warning, but as a “shit happens” shrug of the scaly shoulders.

“No, Mr Alligator, I expect you to die!” Seriously DIG how George has set up his atomic laser of healing in what appears to be his living room.

The plum part falls to Richard Crane, Beverly’s absconding spouse, who was repaired after wartime injuries by MacReady’s radiation/alligator based treatment. Unfortunately, the side-effect of said treatment is full-scale mutation into an alligator. Who could possibly have predicted such a thing? Here, we must admit, is some full-blooded Mad Science. Patiently, and for about ten minutes, MacReady explains to Garland that some members of the reptile family have extraordinary powers of healing, and it was his dream to harness this ability for the benefit of mankind. For instance, some lizards, when they lose their tails, can grow new ones.

“Can alligators do that?” asked Fiona.

“No,” I said, thus collapsing the movie’s entire premise into a little white dot, just as if I’d flicked the TV off with the remote.

Baselessly, the film trundles on. Crane gets some decent pathos, and the more seriously regressed patients are as genuinely disturbing as they are ludicrous in their tennis-racket-shaped beekeeper hats. MacReady has a bulging staff of Muscle Marys to keep these “revolting scaly monarchs of the swamps” in line: these male nurses apparently learned healthcare from Joe Louis, and resort to a swift right to the jaw when their patients show excessive crocodilian ebullience.

Crane’s leathery good looks are an early work by makeup supremo Dick Smith (THE EXORCIST), and they’re reasonably effective when he’s in his early stages, despite the fact that there’s practically no way to combine human and lizard characteristics using 1959 makeup effects.

Just when it seems that only a major transfusion of silliness can make this movie worth sitting through, we get it. MacReady figures that a massive does of radiation just might do the trick, but a drunken Chaney attacks the lab for kicks and causes Crane to get the full megaton, transforming him into an upright Wally Gator who brings the film to it’s tragic swampy conclusion amid howls of merriment and rejoicing from the audience of two.

Here’s Wally!

Back to the bookend scenario, where Shrink 1 and Shrink 2 agree that it’s better to leave Beverly as the grinning, amnesiac zomboid we met earlier rather than restore her memory of such horrors. A rather elegant total inversion of normal psychotherapeutic practice.

What happened to Roy Del Ruth? Time, I suppose: that great marching alligator devouring everything in its path. The following year he would helm WHY MUST I DIE? for Howard Hughes, a doomed attempt to prove that Hughes’ girlfriend Terry Moore could pull off a Susan Hayward style death row melodrama. The following year, his career took an upturn when he died of a hear attack.

I am most curious to see 1928′s THE TERROR, a Del Ruth scare flick made when he still had pep. Let me know if you run across a copy.

Win One for the Gifford

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by dcairns

Watched HOUSE, or HAUSU, as the Japanese call it — our friend Kiyo had recommended we obtain it, and then we read a glowing FaceBook recital of its many virtues from regular Shadowplayer and critic Anne Billson. Eaten by a piano? Drowned in cat’s blood? This sounded like a film to give Ozu a run for his money.

What concerns us for the moment, however, is a moment relatively early in the film, which has an unusually long preambular sequence setting up the arrival of seven cheeky Japanese schoolgirls (soon to be dead and possibly naked) at the titular haunted hausu. We’re on a coach, heading into the country. But what’s this extra on the left reading?

“The Gifford!” cried Fiona, startling me worse than anything in the movie would.

What a nice tribute from director Obayashi-san: Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (far left of frame), suggesting a possible clue to his movie’s patchwork style — he’s been inspired by the random collection of images approach taken by Gifford in illustrating his Big Green Tome.

As I’m working my way through all the films illustrated in this book, it was a pleasure indeed to find a fellow fan.

So how am I doing?

Candace Hilligoss, so effective in her goose-like beauty in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, makes her only other appearance in CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (that’s not her above, though), a movie that actually does try hard to be good, and even seems to have a partial, coffee-stained map guiding it in the right general direction. Period flavour has been aimed for, unusual dialogue attempted (“The body is a long insatiable tube!”), and suitable actors engaged (a nubile Roy Scheider, not yet tanned to alligator-hide perfection, is particularly effective). Plus a decent nasty plot premise, in which some insufferable rich folks in period New England are wiped out (perhaps by a departed relative) in the manner of their worst fears. Lest the gimmick and the talking stuff don’t quite carry the day, some gore and some decorous semi-nudity are laid on. It doesn’t quite make it to being memorable or actually, y’know, good, but one can’t fault the intent.

Attempts to obtain THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE have so far defeated me — anyone out there can help?

I have, however, got my sweaty mitts on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, a Japanese kaijin flick using the man-made man, grown to giganticular proportions, as protag. Can’t wait to sample this Ishiro Honda weirdfest.

Also obtained but not yet watched: the 1957 THE VAMPIRE, which for some reason Gifford illustrates twice; THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, in two distinct versions;

Enjoyed two surviving Melies masterworks, THE VANISHING LADY, from which Melies produces three frame enlargements for a before-during-and-after account of M. Melies magic trick, and THE GIGANTIC DEVIL, whose oddly simpering Satan I had long admired in still form. This year I intend to recreate, in my own fashion, the lost movie LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, so I can tick that one off my list also.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by I LOVE A MYSTERY’s Henry Levin, but disappointed on most levels: there IS a werewolf, but it’s played by a large-ish dog, and the transformations are just crummy dissolves. Nina Foch lends low-budget class, but it’s all uphill.

VOODOO MAN amuses pretty thoroughly (especially George Zucco runnign a gas station) and DR RENAULT’S SECRET is genuinely, like, good, with an affecting monster act by J. Carrol Naish. Appallingly, I mainly knew this fine thesp for his swan song, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, a truly tragic affair in which his struggle to keep his false teeth inside his head while mouthing idiotic lines is the sole memorable feature, unless you count a mute Lon Chaney Jnr, who, like his great father, had been robbed of the power of speech in the last months of his life, and thus appears here as a wordless monster.

THE MAGIC SWORD, known to Gifford as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES, making it slightly trickier to track down, is a full-to-bursting confection of sub-Harryhausen fantasy FX. Not half bad by Bert I Gordon’s standards (and he does have standard — though if challenged I’m not sure I could quite explain what they are). The prosthetic hag in Gifford’s still turns out to be Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira, and the hero turns out to be Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood heap on the ham, but the film’s finest thespian delight turns out to be busty nonentity Anne Helm, playing “Princess Helene” in the manner of a concussed cosmetologist. It’s so wrong it’s exactly right.

THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES seems to exist not to honour MGM’s 25th anniversary, as suggested, but merely to prove that even James Cagney’s talents have their limits. The real casting coup is Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg, before Evans made the transition from tanned-yet-pallid toyboy leading man to high-powered, wide collared exec. It’s perfect casting, with what one might politely call Evans’ limitations as an actor (Peter Sellers, on hearing of Evans’ appointment as head of Paramount: “Why, you silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part!”) serving him well in the role of the ultimate empty suit.

In fact, it’s a pity Chaney never played The Invisible Man, robbing us of the sight of two shirt collars, encircling vacuum, nodding in cheerful agreement.

A Thousand Faces, Thirteen Chairs, Two Gorillas and a Blind Bargain

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2009 by dcairns

Where were we? Ah yes, I was enumerating the films I’ve yet to see illustrated in Denis Gifford’s seminal A Pictorial History Of Horror Movies. As a kid I’d pour over these images and despair of ever seeing most of them. Now so many are within my grasp! It would have been nice to have seen more of them when I was tiny enough to be scared by them, though.

Page 56 — THE HANDS OF ORLAC. I’ve seen the classic Hollywood version, MAD LOVE, and I’ve even seen the dishwater-dull re-remake, but I’ve yet to see the Conrad Veidt original. It’s available, so I have been remiss. Must rectify.

lonch

63. A BLIND BARGAIN, with Lon Chaney (Snr) as both mad scientist and ape-man. That pretty well has to be worth seeing. NB: it no doubt is, but it’s a lost film, so I’m going to have to [a] find it, [b] make it, or [c] dream it.

64. Somehow I’ve always managed to miss the Chaney biopic MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES with James Cagney (terrible casting). I guess I’ll see it someday. The fact that I love both Chaney and Cagney explains my reluctance.

66. I’ve never seen THE MONKEY TALKS, which, perversely enough, appears to be a silent film. Never even read about it anywhere else. Gifford does dig up some obscurities.

70. THE MYSTERY OF THE MARIE CELESTE with Bela Lugosi, a very early Hammer film, is available somewhere, I think. Keen to see it, partly as reference for a horror project of my own. (Amazing what you can justify as “research”. It’s kind of like “tax deduction” in that sense.)

75. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT has saved me the trouble of watching it by becoming a lost film, alas. But I have watched the reconstruction put together from production stills (they really documented the hell out of movies in those days. Too bad they didn’t look after the movies as well as they did the stills).

77. Was never very tempted by the Ritz Brothers, so I’ve passed THE GORILLA by, but with Lionel “Pinky” Atwill, Bela Lugosi and Joseph Calleia (Malta’s only move star?) it should be worth a look.

80. THE TERROR, 1928, is directed by Roy Del Ruth, so I’d expect snappiness, but it’s a very early talkie so it might not be quite as zippy as, say, BLESSED EVENT. Does Edward Everett Horton play the Terror? It would almost be a shame to see the film and find this isn’t so.

Opposite page, RETURN OF THE TERROR (ah-hah, it’s an Edgar Wallace adaptation!) has Mary Astor and Frank McHugh and therefore can’t, surely, be bad. Apparently it’s a 1934 remake, not a sequel at all. Same page, THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE represents Del Ruth at the fag-end of his career. I seem to recall hearing that this movie comes with an advisory notice reassuring nervous patrons that alligator blood transfusions can’t really have the horrific effects depicted in the photoplay(basically, turning into a character out of The Banana Splits).

83. THE THIRTEENTH CHAIR. I’m on top of this one. Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi, I’m on it. THE GORILLA — a different gorilla from the Ritz Bros movie. This one is Walter Pigeon. THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL. Titles don’t come much more generic, but the cast features Calleia again, plus Paul Lukas, Onslow Stevens, Ellen Drew, all people I’d be happy to spend an evening with.

84. THE BLOOD DRINKERS. One of the more graphically gory images in the book. I remember showing the book to a younger friend, but having been instructed to “protect” her from the scarier images, I kept these pages sealed. Of course she demanded to see, and pronounced the image, “not that scary”. This Philippino vampire flick seemed impossibly exotic at the time, but it’s now easily available on DVD.

On the opposing page, THE VAMPIRE (1957) is one I still know nothing about.

92. MURDER BY THE CLOCK gets raves on the IMDb, and it’s from the terribly important year of 1931 so I’d love to see it. “You are either a genius or a killer – I find that you are both!!!”

103. Frustratingly, I can’t even remember if I’ve seen THE INVISIBLE AGENT (no puns please). I’ve seen some INVISIBLE MAN pseudo-sequels, but not all. This one’s written by Curt “idiot brother” Siodmak, so I expect hilarity.

More soon!

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