Archive for Ellen Drew

Dr. Crime

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2021 by dcairns

I’m rapidly buying up all John D.MacDonald’s Travis McGee books, and almost as rapidly burning my way through the CRIME DOCTOR series of Columbia B pictures with Warner Baxter. The McDonalds are better, but the Baxters have a comforting cosiness — not noir, though they’re shadowy thrillers all right. Every one of them has a somnolent scene of WB wandering around a dark interior by flashlight or candlelight. But they’re neat and unambiguous.

Michael Gordon, whose career makes no sense, did the first, in which the character’s radio origin story is replayed, and forgotten about thereafter. Like Arnie in TOTAL RECALL he goes from being a bad guy to a good guy by having his memory wiped. Seems like the prisons could save a lot of money by reforming prisoners with a simple blow on the head.

Olin Howland as a rogue phrenologist, COME ON!

The most cinematically important film of the series — which isn’t really important at all, but bear with me — is THE CRIME DOCTOR’S MAN HUNT, directed by William Castle. One can’t imagine that the directors of this series had much script input, but it’s a curious fact that Castle’s later fondness for publicity gimmicks and trick processes went hand-in-hand with a passion for tricksy plots. It’s sensibility that makes sense, unlike Michael Gordon’s (CRIME DOC, CYRANO DE BERGERAC, PILLOW TALK?). It even fits with his rep as a bit of a con artist. Narrative tricks and pranks. Remember also that he produced LADY FROM SHANGHAI and ROSEMARY’S BABY, and imagine how prosaic those movies would look if he’d been allowed to direct them.

Oh, we also watched THE WHISTLER, another radio spin-off directed by Castle and co-written by CRIME DOC scribe Eric Taylor, which borrows the “kill me” plot from Jules Verne’s The Tribulations of a Chinese Man from China, a wild variation on which turns up again in LADY FROM S. Decades later, Marc Behm would sell that plot to the Beatles as basis for their second film, with Ringo as the depressed man who hires a hitman to off himself — but then the team found out Belmondo was filming the same storyline, though Richard Lester didn’t know it was stolen from Verne until I told him…

But back to CD MAN HUNT, which isn’t about a man hunt at all — the titles to these things are pretty random, and a couple don’t even mention the Crime Doc, Robert Ordway, in the title. This one has a story by Taylor but script by Leigh Brackett. It’s no BIG SLEEP but it’s decent. There are signs of haste, like a character’s real name being revealed as Armstrong, seconds before a reference to “strong arm men.” A reference to “the Benway house” which clashes bumpily with the lead character’s name. But it’s a neat story. Major spoilers follow, but are you really going to watch the film? If so, use the embed above.

Ellen Drew appears in an apparent dual role as sisters, one good, one evil, but after that’s revealed (and it’s not too surprising, as Drew uses the same tragic delivery whether she’s wearing the bad sister blonde wig and specs or not), a new wrinkle is added: one sister is dead and the other has developed a split personality in order to replace her. After the mystery has been solved, Warner B. delivers a dollarbook Freud mansplaining that feels very familiar, but the film it’s recalling, PSYCHO, hadn’t been made yet.

It’s really kind of touching that Castle directed a film which seems to provide a template for PSYCHO — did Robert Bloch see the movie, I wonder? — and then later be reduced to copying Hitchcock with HOMICIDAL, which reverses the gender disguise element. And, again, gives us an insight into how prosaic PSYCHO might look if Hitch weren’t directing it.

Having watched about half the CD movies now, I am resigned to running out soon, but Eric Taylor has forty-odd other credits, including (ulp) BIG JIM MCLAIN, SON OF DRACULA, a bunch of Ellery Queen pics, BLACK FRIDAY…

Dick O’Clock

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2021 by dcairns

“Terrible news,” said Billy Wilder. “Bob Rossen made a good picture.”

Frustratingly the anecdote doesn’t tell us which picture Wilder thought was good, but the line is funny enough that it could stand recycling, so maybe Wilder applied it whenever Rossen made something decent — ALL THE KING’S MEN, THE HUSTLER…

“This film has no story,” said Fiona, but in fact Rossen’s debut, JOHNNY O’CLOCK has a lot of plot, it’s just that it all plays out in dialogue, characters talking about people and events that are offscreen. Two murders take place before the climax, but we don’t see either happen.

But it’s entertaining. The talk is good. The people, Dick Powell and Thomas Gomez and Evelyn Keyes and Lee J. Cobb and Ellen Drew (unusually but effectively cast as a sexy bad girl) and Nina Foch, are all very flavourful. The bits players are colourful — people like Shimen Ruskin and a girl called Robin Raymond, who has an interesting scene. She plays a hatcheck girl. The previous hatcheck girl, who was touchingly sweet, is dead. RR plays her replacement, who is crass, vulgar and stupid. She plays it enthusiastically for laughs, and gets them, but the dramatic point of the scene is Johnny’s melancholy — he misses the previous girl. So it’s a scene that manages to head in two directions at once, and miraculously reaches both destinations.

Mostly it’s a kind of mash-up of elements that worked in other movies just beforehand, or else slightly later movies reworked the same stuff and made this one seem familiar, prewatched. If Dick Powell went through the wrong door he’d find himself in THE GLASS KEY or I WAKE UP SCREAMING.

I feel like the movie would work really well for the drunk or high viewer — the story often seems a tad cloudy and you could get into that. William Hurt watches a movie stoned in THE BIG CHILL and he says “I think the guy in that hat did something terrible,” and “Sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you.” I had a couple gin and tonics but I started too late to really disassociate from the wispy narrative.

I did get into a strange routine about Momo’s expensive cat treats, which are supposedly duck and raspberry flavour. “They have to catch a duck while it’s eating a raspberry. Then they get it in the duck press and compress it down until it’s just one tiny treat. When Momo eats them they expand to almost full size. He’s sturdily built, luckily. A flimsier cat would burst, and you’d just have a bunch of ducks and raspberries.”

Fiona here –

I was also involved in these musings, which were centered around Momo’s almost constant shouting.

The expensive treats are to placate him and shut him up. We’re terrible parents. I started with “I’d eat those cat treats.” The duck and raspberry combo sounded tempting. Then Mr Crayons launched into his baroque monologue about the creation of the treats.

We then strayed into another area of interest regarding the Shutting Upness. David suggested a special electronic chip like Snake Plissken wears in Escape From New York. Every time Momo attempted to enthusiastically vocalise through his big, fat mouth, the collar would shock him into quietude. Or blow his head off. It has to be said, sometimes the thought of Momo’s head exploding is a rather attractive one. We’re terrible parents.

To round things off, it’s my belief that the fact we have these strange conversations is the secret of why we’re still together after twenty seven years. That and being married by Norman Lloyd. When you’re married by Norman Lloyd, you STAY married.

JOHNNY O’CLOCK is one of the best films in the Columbia Noir 3 box set. I contributed an essay on THE DARK PAST.

Urban Gorilla

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2010 by dcairns

Well, I’ve got to admit, there are times when my mission to watch all the films depicted in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (a mission I have entitled See REPTILICUS and Die) has seemed a little… onerous. Not to say stupid.

But then comes a movie like THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL, and it’s all suddenly worthwhile. Gifford informs us that this Stuart Heisler flick was Paramount’s only B-movie monster film, to which one can only say, “Quel dommage!” Perhaps because they weren’t in the habit of making this kind of film, the studio seems to have showered largesse upon it, stuffing the cast with colourful character actors and assigning a decent, and apparently enthusiastic, director.

According to Gifford, the film is a remake of GO AND GET IT, a 1920 silent, a fact even the IMDb seems unaware of. The original, co-directed by Marshall Neilan and Henry Roberts Symonds, certainly shares the same plot synopsis:
“An intrepid newspaper reporter attempts to solve a series of murders committed by a gorilla carrying the transplanted brain of a human.” Although the 1941 version sidelines the journalist and basically turns the gorilla into protag.

We begin with Ellen Drew (ISLE OF THE DEAD), slouching out of the fog to bemoan her fate in a piece-to-camera speech that starts the film off in an arresting and unusual manner, before it dives into a courtroom drama in which her brother, Phillip Terry stands accused on a murder he didn’t commit. When Terry takes the stand, the first thought is that this must be some kind of hypnosis drama, since his delivery is so robotic and strange, but NO! He’s just a strange actor. I don’t want to say “bad” — it’s pretty interesting the way he invents a sort of MK-Ultra kind of zombified, yet pained, speech-making, like a constipated somnambulist. This is better than acting!

David Bordwell has noted that B-movies deployed faster cutting than prestige films, which maybe ties into modern patterns of fast editing, since modern studio pictures are essentially inflated Bs… anyhow, the cutting throughout this film is very pacy, with the courtroom disintegrating into a flickbook of glowering visages. Our stilted hero is railroaded to the electric chair, Ellen’s testimony that her husband seduced and abandoned her to a gang of sex traffickers, compelling her into a life of prostitution (this is all surprising stuff for a 40s genre film), and that the gang is somehow responsible for framing her unhappy brobot.

So far almost half an hour has gone by, and the movie is a perfectly acceptable proto-noir with a Cornell Woolrich style nightmare scenario of an innocent man wrongly accused. But now, without warning, George Zucco sidles into the story, asking to have Phil’s brain after he’s fried. Naturally, Phil agrees, no questions asked.

In Zucco’s surprisingly spacious lab (I guess Paramount didn’t have standard mad scientist’s lair stuff, so they’ve achieved something more original and exotic by starting from scratch) he and his assistant Abner Biberman (memorable as the “albino” hood in HIS GIRL FRIDAY) transplant the deceased patsy’s brain into a man in a gorilla suit (Charles Gemora, a man whose surname already suggests a giant besuited Japanese monster). The operation scene is accompanied by a wheezing accordion score, mimicking the movement of the oxygen respirator…

After a compelling flashback montage, the ape breaks free and goes on what you might call a vengeance spree, tracking down and bear-hugging (gorilla-hugging) his enemies to death, baffling the coroner by breaking every bone without leaving a single bruise. Is this even possible?

“I’m sick of murders,” complains a homicide detective. “Why can’t people just behave?”

Somebody has thoughtfully provided Gemora with a fantastic rogue’s gallery to get his arms around, starting with Onslow Stevens (HOUSE OF DRACULA) as the vicious DA, followed by Gerald Mohr and Robert Paige, neither of whom I was familiar with but both of whom were really good, deploying light leading man charm to oily, disturbing effect (it turns out I’d just seen Paige in SON OF DRACULA and entirely forgotten him), and then Marc Lawrence, Joseph Calleia and Paul Lukas. What a gang!

Through his bone-crushing escapades, Gemora is followed about by Skipper, his faithful dog, who is apparently able to smell his master’s brain through the casing of gorilla-skull now encircling it, and dutifully carries a hunting cap in hopes of being taken to chase squirrels. I was longing for the gorilla to actually put the hat on, but no dice. Still, the sight of the cheeky wee dog following an unsuspecting Lawrence through the street, like the world’s cutest harbinger of doom, was decidedly eerie, and Heisler’s high-angle shots showing the killer ape tracking his victim are really effective.

Check out this clip — it goes from comical to spooky, as you get used to the ape-suit, and then suddenly very comical again, as Gemora appears to sexually mount Marc Lawrence, perhaps repeating something he learned in the American penal system during his human days…

Believe it or not, this movie is dramatic, atmospheric, well-written and touching! Of course it’s not quite strong enough to overcome the monkey-suit element, nor is it so strong that you want it to: it’s the balance of silliness and effectiveness which makes it so watchable, along with the strange cross-genre stew of mismatched clichés, amounting to something curiously original: for instance, Zucco’s mad scientist survives the movie — how I wish Paramount had followed his future misadventures!