Deeper Crimson

A quick update on my See Reptilicus and Die mission — a mission almost as old as Hitchcock Year and likely to run and run. I’m trying to view every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a prodigiously visual tome that haunted my childhood like a big green flapping bat. So how am I doing?

As you can see hereherehere and here, the titles previously listed as unseen are gradually changing to blood red, indicating that I’ve tracked them down and watched them. Since I haven’t written about every single film I’ve seen, a quick update might be in order, dealing with the more interesting cases.

THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is directed by EA Dupont, which is just bloody tragic. The auteur of VARIETY must have fallen not on hard times, but straight through them and into some monochromatic pit of hell where cineastes shovel shit while lashed by demons, huckster producers, and their consciences. The sabre-tooth tiger that isn’t anything of the kind is quite funny (Dupont boldly cuts from a real tiger in long-shot to a fanged glove puppet/stuffed toy close-up), and it was surprising to discover that this may have been the first movie monster to not only abduct a screaming starlet, but actually do the nasty with her, caveman style (all discretely off-camera). Even Beverly Garland, as cavebait, can’t save this cro-magnon crud.

THE MAGIC SWORD — Gifford has this Bert I Gordon sword and sorcery romp listed as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES which, given the presence of a Sir George and seven curses in the plot, suggests to me that this was the original intended title, although I can’t find any evidence it was released as such. Wikipedia offers ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON and THE SEVEN CURSES OF LODAC as alternatives. This was pretty enjoyable! It has Estelle Winwood (she of the widely-spaced eyes that allow her to look you in the eye and see the back of your head at the same time) and Basil Rathbone, who isn’t yet having trouble with his lines (see QUEEN OF BLOOD for evidence of what time did to poor old Sherlock) and thus is great fun. Gary 2001 Lockwood makes a spirited, if very American, hero, and Maila Nurmi (Vampira!) pads out the cast as a hag (“Vamp — I mean, Maila, wanna be in a film?” “Hmm, what’s the role?” “Hag!” “I’ll do it!”). Apart from oddly adult stuff like the damsel’s vacuum-packed bosom and the blood pouring from the injured cyclops, this was inventive and crammed with fancy special effects, all of which were decently special, if cheap. No stop-motion creatures, but the dragon puppet breathed real fire, and the humans were endearing.

VOODOO MAN is a very silly Monogram horror with Lugosi, Zucco and Carradine. The triple-headed threat ought to make the film impressively busy and bursting with fun, but instead it rather illuminates just how very affordable those actors had become. However, the thing is daft as a brush and basically played for laughs, although I’m not sure anyone told Bela. By this point in his life, Bela seems permanently typecast as widowers, perhaps to explain his hangdog appearance. George Zucco runs a garage where he steers women to their dooms, and Carradine plays a simple-minded, simple-bodied (he looks like a stick drawing) henchman. The hero is a screenwriter who tries to pass his adventure off as a movie script in the last scene. Good luck with that, fella.

Boris models the new-look string beard.

THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES is one of Boris Karloff’s many many mad scientist parts, which seem to have been made from a kind of knitting pattern in the early forties — Boris invents something wonderfully beneficial to mankind, mankind (personified by some well-meaning dopes) screws things up and somebody gets killed, Boris gets embittered and crazy and uses his powers for evil. Nick Grinde directed at least three of these with exactly the same plot, and I watched them all. Now this one and THE MAN THE COULD NOT HANG and BEFORE I HANG have all merged into one super-mad scientist movie, which might be called THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES THEY COULD NOT HANG BEFORE. All three are engaging, sympathetic, nicely photographed, and boast committed, only slightly campy performances from the tireless star.

DR RENAULT’S SECRET is far better than I’d expected, with a lovely monster played by J Carroll Naish, product of Dr Moreau-like experiments in accelerated evolution (THE NEANDERTHAL MAN uses the same plot device in reveree, winding back the genetic clock on domestic cats and domestic help). And it’s based on the same Gaston Leroux tale as BALAOO THE DEMON BABOON, another Gifford special which I may have to go to Canada to see…

THE MYSTERY OF THE MARIE CELESTE is a British nautical suspenser from the early thirties, when Lugosi was full of vim and good prospects, even when his characters are not. It makes a change to feel sorry for the character rather than the actor. The movie was moderately interesting, partly because the British version of 30s racism is more bluntly-spoken than the Hollywood equivalent — there’s some very nasty language from some purportedly sympathetic characters.

DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, starring future director James GREAT GABBO Cruze, can be seen RIGHT HERE ~

It’s not a great work of art — mainly it’s quite funny, with Hyde looking like an unsavory Dudley Moore — but the filmmakers do a reasonable job of straightening out the story, condensing the action, and inserting a romantic lead, all of which actions would be repeated by subsequent adaptors. Stevenson’s story is an all-male affair, apart from the maid heard crying after Jekyll’s demise, prompting me to wonder if a version where Hyde’s secret life of vice took more of a Dorian Gray path might provide a new wrinkle on the story — something that’s sorely needed after a hundred or so different versions.

17 Responses to “Deeper Crimson”

  1. Playing a hag in THE MAGIC SWORD gave Maila Nurmi a chance to act with her fingernails! Something at which she excelled.

  2. They’re pretty spectacular nails. Bright scarlet in this one. So I guess they just hired her to save buying fake nails.

  3. Christopher Says:

    I saw Magic Sword as a kid at a Matinee in the cinema and was pretty impressed with it..I have a cheap bargain bin copy on dvd..but was noticing ,there seemed to be a nude swimming scene near the beginning with the young leading lady that is cut on my dvd..
    I also watched The Man With Nine Lives not too long ago(picked up a copy for $3.00 at Big Lots here)..pretty claustraphobic..Folks digging under ground in their city clothes..only in 1940!..I like all the Colombia karloffs tho

  4. There’s a whiff of skin in my Magic Sword DVD, but there may have once been more. It’s strange, because it plays like a kids’ film but there’s surprising blood, scary monsters, and sexiness.

    I seem to remember seeing part of it on TV as a kid, but when I saw it this time it was quite different. I remembered something about the dragon’s tongue being a trophy… is that in another film?

    Maybe Man with Nine Lives was my favourite of those because it was the first I ran. They’re all pretty similar.

  5. Christopher Says:

    Trophy tongue..hmmmm..altho I haven’t seen it in AGES..the old george pal Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm had a Dragon sequence in it with Terry Thomas and Buddy Hackett that used to disturb me as a kid..I’d love to see that film again..must have gone back to the Theatre to see that 4 or 5 times….I found some of the things in The Magic Sword,disturbing when I saw it many years the Hag scene..and the little cone head people..

  6. Brothers Grimm is pretty weird — those stories are just peculiar. Buddy Hackett gets reduced to a bone that sings… That may be my favourite dragon in any movie, though.

  7. Fiona here – That singing bone disturbed the hell out of me when I was a kid. That and Sparky’s Magic Piano.

  8. Here’s my own little scripted take on the disillusioned scientist, and my first experience as a writer of a number of people taking quite a ludicrous amount of time and care over something very simple to write down (just three words “giant robot scorpion”. I never thought I’d see it made):

  9. Heh! I like the CGI sheet. Nice sketch, sir. I’d be interested in what else you wrote, they have some very funny stuff on that show.

    It’s definitely an “Indians take the fort” kind of line, that “giant robot scorpion.”

  10. Oh thank you. Well there’s the complete works up on myspace, because of course I’m 16.
    The scorpion was actually designed by the show’s director himself, I was blown away when I saw the sketch, and especially by the fact that he’d managed to keep it a PERIOD-SPECIFIC giant robot scorpion. His name’s Ben Fuller and I think he’s a little extraordinary. You write a sketch that’s probably prohibitively expensive and then he goes out and hires staff cars and brass bands that you never even asked for. Here’s maybe my favourite, with four extras and a Union ably standing in for Victorian society:

    Hm, I’ll post another about God under the Veidt intertitle.

  11. Hee hee! Surprise casting, I’d have imagined Mitchell as Queen Vic, but it totally works this way.

  12. Yes that was how I’d imagined it actually, just because of looks (I’ve been to think of a sketch casting him as Virginia Woolf as well, unsuccessfully). The rant is very him though, and Rob’s waddle, again unscripted, was a great blessing.

  13. THE MAGIC SWORD was indeed originally intended to be released as ST GEORGE & THE SEVEN CURSES, as all of us young – oh, so young – readers of Famous Monsters magazine can confirm. The movie was promoted under that title, and in the pages of – or was it on the back cover of? – FM there was, I remember, a full page promo still of Anne Helm surrounded by Lodac’s nasty slave-demon-beasties. Then the movie popped up as MAGIC SWORD. Maybe an easier sell to the kiddies? I don’t think there was a sequence, however brief, of Ms Helm skinny dipping, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t filmed. And no, no dragon’s tongue trophy in this one. Not at all. I must say, with my admiration for your work intact but with bemusement nonetheless, that I am surprised how many of Gifford’s films you had/have yet to see. REPTILICUS I saw when I was 15. In the old fleapit – genuine fleapit – Mascot Cinema in Southend. The Mascot eventually burned to the ground (the movie showing at the time was URSUS IN THE LAND OF FIRE [1963]). REPTILICUS, like BRIDES OF DRACULA, STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY, GORGO and KONGA, was novelized by Western pulp writer Dean Owen, who threw huge dollops of lurid sex into his novelizations, ignoring magnificently the demure female characterizations in the movies themselves (in BRIDES he has Van Helsing lustily banging away at one of the Count’s comatose victims, as if a good bonking will double nicely for holy water and a bracing shaft of sunlight. Ahem.) MAN WITHOUT A BODY (1957), starring George Coulouris (prepping for his even more demanding role in 1958’s WOMAN EATER) screened at the equally glorious fleapit (also in Southend), the Essoldo Cinema, the shabby genteel crown jewel of the High Street before it became a ghastly pedestrian whatsit. But MWAB was an ‘X’ film, and I was 7 in 1957 . Still, when there was an ‘A’ Certificate involved, my Dad would happily take me to the Essoldo where he and I watched, with great joy, MYSTERIOUS INVADER (aka THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER), VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT (Roger Corman, really getting into his stride with this one), AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, Bert I Gordon;s EARTH Vs THE SPIDER, THE BRAIN EATERS, oh I could go on all night.
    Denis Gifford, eh? I once accosted him in St Martins Lane as I was wandering towards the Salisbury with my (then) boyfriend and started energetically engaging him on the subject of his book. The same one you are using as a road-map to Z-Movie territory. I persuaded Gifford to come and have a pint at the less-hubbuby Blue Posts. He obligingly did. He didn’t get much of a word in; I was a speedy little chap in those days ;-)
    So you are Glaswegian, eh? I was there just last month, working at the Merchant City Festival. I’ve worked a lot in Scotland in the last 20 years (well, look at my surname). Have done a lot of shows at the Traverse. And a few at the Tron. Commuting from where the hubby and I now live, in Hollywood; been here 18 years. In the heart of it. Off Gower Street, a kiss away from Sunset Gower Studios. If you’ve a mind too, let me know when you’re in town, we can have a cuppa or something.

  14. Ach, you just missed my LA trip!

    I’m an Edinburgher rather than a Glaswegian, too.

    My guess is I missed a lot of these movies by just a few years. And as a kid without a local cinema in walking distance I didn’t see all that many double bills during the last years of the rep circuit. Am now at the point where the only really exciting unwatched Gifford movie is Reptilicus itself — a few others remain out of reach, so I’m thinking of concluding my quest…

  15. REPTILICUS actually repays repeat viewings (in which, thru the years, I have engaged). The mantra it first engendered in me all those years ago has simply acquired more question marks over the decades: WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?????

    I trust you have seen plenty else from Ib Melchior’s extensive canon, many co-created with the deliciously named Sid Pink? Including – well, here’s a para from his Wikipedia entry (which confirms, btw, that he is 95 years old and was indeed a distinguished war hero) –

    “As a filmmaker, Melchior wrote and directed The Angry Red Planet (1959) and The Time Travelers (1964). His most high profile credit was as co-screenwriter (along with John C. Higgins) of Byron Haskin’s critically acclaimed Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). He cowrote the screenplays for two U.S.-Danish coproductions, Reptilicus (1961) and Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), and provided the English language script for Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965).””

    I revere ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (available in a lovely Criterion edition). Partly because I fell for Paul Mantee. And I remember a review of TIME TRAVELERS c.1965, in Films & Filming, which sent me on a years-long hunt for this obscure treasure. It is a cut above, certainly. And shows up occasionally on TCM. But PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is not, I think, as good as Bava fans would like to believe. Although I’m a Bava fan, so what do I know?

    JOURNEY TO THE 7th PLANET was, legend has it, so titled because JOURNEY TO URANUS simply wouldn’t fly. Understandably in the UK’s case – my US friends can’t understand why a good fart joke to this day will have me rolling on the floor. I saw it with my Mum in Cliftonville in 1962. We were on the bus from St Peter’s, in Thanet, to Margate, and as was our occasional habit alighted at the stop by the old Cliftonville cinema (this is sounding a bit Alan Bennett, isn’t it?), the name of which escapes me now but at the time I thought was a model for THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH with, in fact, a Margaret Rutherford lookalike at the B.O. That was until I saw a revival of LES DIABOLIQUES in 1970, in Cambridge, at a joint actually called the Kinema, in which robust movie palace the rows of seats had a habit of collapsing into each other domino-fashion. Interactive Horror, as it were.

  16. I love Ib’s NAME. Yet oddly have only seen Planet of the Vampires, which I agree is lovely looking but not quite compelling as a story/experience. RC on Mars has escaped me several times, and still sits in my to-watch heap.

    Love the idea of the whole audience for Les Diaboliques toppling over in rows as Horror Rises from the Tub.

  17. […] being impressed by the same director’s THE SCARF (1951), I’ve kind of wanted to see THE NEANDERTHAL MAN again. EA Dupont couldn’t have regressed that far in two years, could he? You bet he could […]

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