Archive for Beverly Garland

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.

Deeper Crimson

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by dcairns

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.

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