Archive for Murder by the Clock

Aunt Julia Vs the Scriptwriter

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on November 9, 2010 by dcairns

In MURDER BY THE CLOCK, Aunt Julia (Blanche Friderici) is a nasty old woman with a morbid fear of premature burial. Taking a leaf from Poe, she’s installed the family crypt with a kind of horror horn, which she can sound off should she awaken unexpectedly entombed. Meanwhile she’s changed her will, various grasping relatives are plotting her assassination, and her “idiot” son Philip (Irving Pichel) has an unhealthy obsession with murder: when she asks him what he’d like to do in life, he replies “Kill!”

I was seeing this movie as part of my ongoing odyssey to view every movie depicted within the quaint and curious A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford, and it just happened to tie into Poe Week, via the premature burial theme, so it serves as a suitable aftershock of that festivity. It’s not great, but it’s from 1931 so it’s a fascinating historical artifact, showing how the fear film hadn’t yet gotten to grips with the supernatural can of worms opened by DRACULA. Here we’re in CAT AND THE CANARY terrain, with every creepy event solidly rooted in the criminal psychology of melodrama.

Apart from Mr. Pichel (above, right), who would go on to direct SHE and co-direct THE HOUNDS OF ZAROFF, we have clown-faced Regis Toomey, stalwart William “Stage” Boyd, and sultry Lilyan Tashman (above, left), who seduces three men into killing for her. Her husband is particularly unfortunate: strangled by Tashman’s lover, he’s revived by an adrenalin shot to the heart, Uma Thurman-style, then nearly stabbed to death by the lover, and finally scared to death by the spectre of his resuscitated aunt, before he can name the man who originally throttled him. Unlucky stiff.

With its witless comedy and on-the-nose dialogue, this creaker is no classic — it makes James Whale’s often rigid FRANKENSTEIN look fluent and pacy, and lacks that movie’s moments of the sublime. But it is extremely handsome, photographed by Karl Struss in the Paramount soft-focus style, which makes for an unusual-looking horror film. Director Edward Sloman sure lives up to his surname, but obtains good perfs, especially from the sly Tashman and amiable maniac Pichel.

Seeing as how most talkies by 1931 had shed the stumbles, cracklings pauses and enunciation of the early sound misfires, I guess it was deliberate policy to play horror movies slower, for creepy atmos and suspense. Makes sense. But when it doesn’t quite work, it feels like the movie’s slipped back to 1929…

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.


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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