The Crimes of the Black Cat

Movie night!

The Crimes of the Black Cat sounds like it should have been directed by Roger Corman and should have starred Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. Wrong! Thank you for playing.

This gem’s a nasty little giallo from 1972 featuring the always-pleasant-to-look-at Silva Koscina. You could have loved her in Hercules (1958), Lisa and the Devil (1973), and The House of Exorcism (1975)…but probably didn’t. You might have loved her in Uncle Was a Vampire (1959), but if you did, therapy should be seriously considered – I have some names. It also features the always wooden Anthony Steffen. I doubt if you loved him in Django the Bastard (1969) or The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) but I couldn’t resist the name-dropping opportunity – and what names. Mr. Steffen also held his own with acting giant Lee Majors in Killer Fish (1979).

The director of the film, Sergio Pastore, has few credits, but four years before making tonight’s film, he directed; Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine.

What kind of mind…

Can you picture that on a marquee?

In the 60’s and 70’s, my generation was “…working on our night moves…” (Bob Seger), and trying to find “…paradise by the dashboard lights…” (Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf), at the drive-in theater. The screen entertained and encouraged our fumbling explorations with dancing hot dogs, buttercup popcorn, and Hammer Studio’s latest vampire/Frankenstein/mummy flicks, all with pristine sets, light from everywhere, and buxom babes in peril wearing lots of clothes with puffy sleeves. These were horror movies, but every victim died clean and the blood spilled was bright Christmas red. These were horror movies, but the monsters, be they covered by fur, bandages, or cape, felt as if they’d had a shower reasonably recently. Said monsters might assault a woman, but generally, the camera cut away from the actual deed, and clothes though disheveled and ripped, remained strategically intact even when sinking in quicksand.

Damn.

I admit profound ignorance about the existence of drive-in theaters in Europe during this time. But I discovered the “drive-in” films they were then making in Europe were clearly different…and I have been drawn to watch them like a car crash ever since.

They are sexy; occasionally fleetingly and implied, but often prolonged and explicit, and there are no warning labels.

They are violent; occasionally fleetingly and implied, but often prolonged and explicit, and there are no warning labels. Organs and limbs could, at any moment, become free to roam willy-nilly.

They are dark. Light with no discernible source is non-existent. In many scenes, light is non-existent.

The sets, in many cases are real…and often older than our country…and do not feel as if they’d had a shower this century.

These films are foreign…foreign in language, and sensibility, and foreign to my personal history and experience.

That does not make them wrong.

It makes them interesting.

It does not make them good.

Just interesting.

That’s good enough for me.

Tonight’s film, The Crimes of the Black Cat is far from original. If you saw Blood and Black Lace (1964), which, frankly, would stun me, you know this story. The Crimes of the Black Cat is clearly and simply a second artistic take on a story that clearly and simply didn’t need a first take.

It does feature some novel weapons of murder; a yellow Volkswagen, a cat with poisoned claws, and a hole in the ground. It does surpass my friend Eric Johnson’s bar (not known for its height) for filmic pulchritude. It fails utterly in my friend Joe Gatton’s Creative Backlighting Standard.

Otherwise, I’ve seen it. I loved it. You can skip it. You’re welcome.

Ripe for Redemption

Movie night!

And we’re slummin’ on Poverty Row, Hollywood again. This time we’ll be sampling one of the low-budget efforts of Republic Pictures.

Tonight’s delight is a forgettable little wisecracking-detective saga from 1946; The Inner Circle. The title has nothing to do with the flick…but it is fun to say out loud in your best funereal voice. There are interesting performances by Ricardo Cortez, William Frawley (the definitive Fred Mertz, Lucy & Ricky’s neighbor), and the almost delightful Adele Mara.

But what makes the film worth watching is Will Wright.

WARNING: a geezer moment is about to ensue.

Will Wright is one of those faces that haunts my TV-watching childhood. To me, his career sounds like a dream. In the movies he worked with Tracy & Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (1949), Peck & Mitchum in Cape Fear (1962), Powell & Loy in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and Brando in The Wild One (1953). That should be enough for anyone, but then there’s his television resume. Mr. Wright was in The Dick Van Dyke Show, Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, Rawhide, 77 Sunset Strip, Leave It to Beaver, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Maverick, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Animal stars flocked to him in Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, Mister Ed, and Fury (“The story of a horse and the boy who loved him.”- you can also say that in your best funereal voice). He portayed town skinflint Ben Weaver in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, including a Christmas episode that pretty well shattered my pre-teen heart.

Mr. Wright was born old, was often mean, but seemed always ripe for redemption.

…ripe for redemption…

Maybe that’s what’s missing in some of our elected leaders these days. I fear they’ve drifted far from being ripe for redemption.

Maybe we could use an actor like Will Wright for these troubled times.

Prickly Wisdom

Someone posted a link last week to an article about Walt Kelly – I forget the reason…as if you need one. It prompted me to delve in my treasure trove of Pogo compilations.

It is a treasure trove.

These books are probably not worth a lot of money (what books are anymore?), but the drawings, the word play, and the ideas are priceless and never fail to delight me.

For example, if you were sick in bed, wouldn’t you cherish a visit from your great friend Porkypine that included the comforting assurance?

“I jes’ wanted you to know, if they had made soup outta you, I wouldn’uv et any.”

“Wouldn’uv” – that’s worth the price of admission right there. I’ve always been tempted to use that contraction, but I wasn’t sure I knew the proper spelling. Now I may use it every day.

Porky’s personal dietary restrictions are just that; personal. He don’ hold the rest of the world to his standards. He’s pragmatic ‘bout it; “We never know who’s next. Somebody allus is a-eatin’ somebody…in a perfectly friendly way, natural.”

Nowadays, it doesn’t seem as “perfectly friendly” though. But then, perfectly friendly isn’t really Porky’s forte.

Porkypine is a paragon of stability among the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp. He is changeless. He scowls and don’ like nobody enough to hug’em. When asked if he sticks hisself when he rolls over in bed at night, he replies; “Yes, and I’m glad! ……don’ like nobody……” You always know where Porky stands, and with any luck, it’s not too close to you.

I admire ol’ Porky, but I do fear getting too close to him. In these shelter-at-home, social-distancing, tribal partisan days, it’s too easy to get all prickly and snarly and hug-shunning. As Governor Andy says; “You can’t be doin’ that.”

Besides, even Porky gets out and visits folks, whether he likes ‘em or not. He has been to the theatre and gets quite moved by certain performers’ efforts. All my theatre friends wouldn’uv complained if they could’uv earned this review; “One time, in a ha’penny tent opera, he sung such a fiery, bing-bang, harum scarum, drag’em out death scene, I din’t think he’d live through it.”

I’d buy a ticket to that.

Yes, I’m thinkin’ there are some swamps that don’ need to be drained.

Parole Bored

Movie Night!

Watching the 1948 treat; Parole, Inc. It’s from another Poverty Row studio; Orbit Productions.

Publicists cry, “All-Star Cast!” a lot, but when is it truly appropriate?

Tonight is that night.

I’m talkin’ ‘bout a flick that offers Turhan Bey (you loved him in The Mad Ghoul-1943 and The Mummy’s Tomb-1942), Evelyn Ankers (you loved her in The Frozen Ghost-1945, The Invisible Man’s Return-1940, Son of Dracula-1943, The Ghost of Frankenstein-1942, and The Wolf Man-1941), and…wait for it…Lyle Talbot (you laughed at him in Plan 9 From Outer Space-1959, Mesa of Lost Women-1953, and Glen or Glenda-1953).

There are two amazing things about that last sentence.

  • I’ve seen every one of those films and, sadly, am not ashamed to admit it.
  • None of these film actors are the starring actor in tonight’s film.

That honor goes to Michael O’Shea. You probably didn’t love him in anything, but Barbara Stanwyck loved him in Lady of Burlesque-1943, and he’s actually OK in this flick, which is more than you can say about the Bey/Ankers/Talbot trio. It’s also more than you can say about the film itself which centers on a criminal gang infiltrating a parole board.

If you have that on your bingo card, I concede.

No, not so good…but Lyle Talbot has certainly done worse.

I Picked the Wrong Year to Give Up Drinking, Smoking, Amphetamines, and Sniffing Glue

Movie night!

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges. I was watching Mr. Bridges dive underwater long before he was watching the skies blearily in Airplane. And long before that, he was making tonight’s movies.

That’s right, I said “movies”…plural.

It’s a Lloyd Bridges double-feature tonight (now there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day); The Limping Man (1953) and Trapped (1949). Inexplicably, neither have been made into musicals or roller coaster rides.

The Limping Man features early 1950’s plane travel (yes, it was hard to seriously watch Bridges in an airplane of any kind) with passengers disembarking on the runway and then walking to the terminal in the open air. (Geezer moment – this was de rigueur at Bluegrass Field in Lexington when I began flying, rain, snow, or shine.) The seats on Mr. Bridges’ movie plane were bigger than my first apartment.

The movie also features a complex and smart plot and a completely stupid ending. Think Dallas and weep.

Trapped features lots of Treasury Department doin’s with counterfeit twenty dollar bills (a bogus twenty in 1949 was damn serious bidness) and clunky cars in Los Angeles in the shortest car chase I’ve ever seen. Little-known fact illustrated by this flick; the Treasury Department in the late 1940’s was comprised 100% of white men in three-piece double-breasted suits. I’ve not seen such a monolithic wardrobe in film since Men in Black. Mind you, I’m not complainin’, I’m just explainin’ – I love a good three-piece suit.

The film also features a young and delicious Barbara Payton which is quite worth the price of admission. Ms. Payton later made an interesting early Hammer sci-fi film; The Four-Sided Triangle (1955). Unfortunately, much of the plot of The Four-Sided Triangle revolved around the irresistible physical charms of Ms. Payton’s character. By that point in her career, she wasn’t quite as irresistible, but she looks great in Trapped.

As for Lloyd Bridges…

…well…

…he was in both flicks.

Looking for Mr. Wong

Movie night and a lovely evening for another stroll through Poverty Row; the low-budget side of Hollywood.

Asian detectives were plentiful and standard fare for movie-goers in the 30’s and 40’s. They remain so today for me. Charlie Chan (either Warner Oland or Sidney Toler), Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto, and Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong are all welcome to solve my homicidal conundrums. All of those actors are improbable, occasionally silly, and delightful. None of them of course are actually Asian…go figure. But then, the last Pad Thai we ordered was of dubious ethnicity now that I think of it.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939) offers us all that foolishness in big servings;

  • Our Asian detective is played by an Englishman with a Russian-sounding name. Oh yeah…I’m buyin’ that.
  • Thrilling quote #1; “Then it was deliberate murder.” (Is there really any other kind?)
  • Thrilling quote #2; “He’s absolutely trustworthy, completely devoted to me.” (I’d be slappin’ the cuffs on him pronto.)
  • Boris Karloff’s make-up looks more like it’s from Madame Tussaud’s than Nanking.
  • Thrilling quote #3; “You know something, but you hold your tongue in more than one language.” (I know there’s wisdom in there somewhere but it plumb evades me.)
  • The clock strikes three a.m. in the film, but when Mr. Wong emerges from his bedroom at the police detective’s summons, he’s wearing his dressing gown and a perfectly knotted tie. Classy. Of questionable sleeping hygiene, but definitely classy.
  • The McGuffin in this flick is “The Eye of the Daughter of the Moon” – not quite as catchy as “The Maltese Falcon”.

What fiddle-faddle.

I loved it.

Standing Still for Michael Rennie

Movie Night!

But first, a Geezer Moment.

In the early 60’s there were three – count’em – three TV channels from which to choose. They were each affiliated with a national network; ABC, NBC, or CBS. One Saturday night, one of those national networks scheduled a program entitled “Saturday Night at the Movies”. The content that first Saturday night was a full-length motion picture from 1951; The Day the Earth Stood Still. The film unexpectedly drew a big audience and within a couple of years, we had “Monday Night at the Movies”, “Tuesday Night at the Movies”, “Wednesday Night at the Movies”, et al.

Hey! It was better by far than all the current reality shows. Gort and Klaatu were certainly more appealing than Honey Boo-Boo and “Love After Lockup.”

The Day the Earth Stood Still was great.

  • Any cast that included Aunt Bee (Francis Bavier), Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), and a giant robot had to be worth watching.
  • When spaceships start landing at the shortstop position of the Lincoln Monument’s local baseball field, you know attention must be paid.
  • When the military doctor says of the alien visitor; “He makes me feel like a witch doctor” and then proceeds to light up a Marlboro, you know you’re in deep waters.

70 year old dialogue exchanges that sound like they could be uttered today;

Military Bigwig; “Your impatience is quite understandable.”

Alien Guy; “I am impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.”

Military Bigwig; “I’m afraid my people haven’t. I’m very sorry…I wish it were otherwise.”

I’m guessin’ the Alien Guy didn’t have much patience with talk radio either.

Or this exchange at the Arlington Cemetery;

Little Bobby; “Is it different where you’ve been? Don’t they have places like this?”

Alien Guy; “Well, they have cemeteries, but not like this one. You see, they don’t have any wars.

Little Bobby; “Gee, that’s a good idea.”

Gee…….ya think?

I love this flick.

Klaatu barada nikto, y’all.

Tee ‘Em Up

I don’t play golf but I wish I did.

I don’t know enough about golf to be legit in passing judgment about any part of it.

But why let that stop me – eh?

I find it pleasant when I channel-surf and happen across a golf tournament on the tube. The real estate involved is utterly Eden-esque and purrs of renewal and plenty and green, green hope. Shame also creeps in as I watch that the resources that produce such Shangri-La’s for game-players and this TV game-watcher couldn’t produce housing for the homeless.

That was perhaps a bit brusque…but think about it.

Wait…it might be best if you didn’t.

I confess, I perk up when, in the depths of February, promos for the Masters begin to appear. When my ears hear the phrase; “The Masters, a tradition like no other.” My heart hears; “The Masters, azaleas like no other.” It’s weird. And something in me whispers; “Yes Roger, those crocuses you saw when you were walking your dog will become your azaleas in another 3-4 weeks.”  That’s double weird, but I count the days after Super Bowl till those Augusta promos begin to run. It helps get me though winter, being the three-season guy I am.

Nuthin’ wrong with that…if you don’t think about it too hard.

If you don’t think about the corporate tents, the azaleas brought in from outside for the TV cameras, the limos ferrying the players to where they can begin to walk the course, the rented mansions to house the players (all of whom are just thrilled and honored to be included), and of course the inspiring history of diversity and inclusion of the host club itself…no…if you don’t trouble your head too much on niggling voices from your childhood Sunday School and Civics classes…

I wouldn’t think about it too hard.

It might distract from those lush azaleas that frame the 10th green, or that treacherously perfect pond by the green on the par-3, or that shot of the bridge on Ray’s Creek on a late Sunday spring evening.

It’s perfect.

It deserves to be appreciated.

It’s perfect…

…for so few…

…for a game

…that so few can be part of…

…at a club…

…that so few can join…

…and so few would be welcome if they could join.

No, don’t think about it too hard and certainly don’t listen to me. I’m no expert. I journeyed 18 holes once in my life, driving the drinks golf cart, and played one hole that day (after driving the drinks cart – you noodle on that). I enjoyed my day, but I never did it again. I spent an afternoon on a deck in Hilton Head overlooking the 5th tee of the plantation golf course. The palm trees, the lagoon, the alligators, and the golfers in their Fred Flintstone carts were beautiful and perfect. Then there’s Caddyshack, and the golf scene in Goldfinger where Bond and Goldfinger cheat each other for high stakes while Oddjob caddies. That is my total golf expertise. What the hell do I know?

I hope the Masters goes on forever. It’s beautiful and perfect, and televised.

I just wonder if we couldn’t do more.

The Wyoming Whirlwind

Movie Night!

 

First, sing along with me, buckaroo;

 

“And that ol’ sheriff, he said;

‘Git you early to bed,

And always keep yer hat screwed on real tight,

In case you git in a fight.”

–Ralph McTell (a cowboy from Farnborough, Kent, England – hotbed of trail-drivin’ music)

 

I’m continuing my wanderings down the trails of Hollywood’s “Poverty Row” film studios. This time the trail’s a dusty one. Fluff out yer chaps, brush up yer Stetson, and get yer bullet outta yer pocket.

The flick is Wyoming Whirlwind (1932) and I admit initially suffering severe disorientation as the cast credits rolled across the screen.

I have a much-admired friend who lives in Wyoming named Mike Moser. He’s a bright, hard-working, highly-effective guy and I have always considered him to be the Wyoming Whirlwind. But au contraire (as I’m sure they say in Casper), this is a cheapo-cheapo western from Willis-Kent Studios featuring Lane Chandler as The Lone Wolf (for no discernible reason) and his wonder horse, Raven. And by the way, Wyoming is never mentioned again after the opening titles…and there’s no whirlwind……and, of course, Mike’s absent as well – like I said, he’s too bright for this schmegege.

The film features many of the basic food groups of cheapo-cheapo westerns; a hapless sheriff who actually says; “Dag-nabbitt!”, hapless Indians with full gift shop head-dresses and smoke signals, a barroom brawl (yes, the tables do collapse), the sheriff’s wife who actually says; “Land’s sakes!”, and the classic moment; “The killer was….agh-h-h-h!”, and Yakima Canutt – king of stunt men (with lines!).

Raven is a veteran of 20+ movies by the time this was shot and it shows. He keeps his face front, has flash, and always hits his mark. He even seemed to smile at the pretty girl (yes, hapless of course). Clearly, Raven is the best actor in the flick.

But Lane Chandler is the star, and his resume caught my eye.

He was raised on a family horse ranch in Montana, which eventually got him into cowboy films in the first place. He was briefly a star in the silent films, but when sound came calling, he lost his preferred position in the studio to Gary Cooper (another big Montanan). He persevered however though a 50 year, 393 film and TV credits (thank you, IMDB) career, as the roles got smaller and smaller. Weather-related cowboy epics were a specialty of Mr. Chandler. Besides The Wyoming Whirlwind, he also starred in The Texas Tornado, The Hurricane Horseman, and The Cheyenne Cyclone. Insert your own joke here about other films he could have made (The Stillwater Stiff Breeze, perhaps). He was a regular bit player (usually the Sheriff) in every TV western series I grew up watching, but I was too busy learning the theme songs from Maverick, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, and Have Gun Will Travel to notice.

No, he was not a star for very long, but had a lifetime as a working, paid, tax-paying actor…you could do a lot worse.

The Wyoming Whirlwind, a cowboy flick with no cows, no guitars, no Wyoming, and no whirlwind.

There was a car…a car!…did I mention that?

I loved it…even without my friend Mike.

Varney’s Posse

I had the great good luck to be about the same age as Jim Varney.

I met Jim when we were both in high school. At that time he was already legendary as a high school actor and was already developing riffs and routines that would later evolve into his standup routines and, of course, Ernest. A typical conversation with Jim during this time featured only a tiny amount of Jim. Instead, you found yourself deeply involved in philosophical (and ludicrous) discussions with Jim-Bob, Lloyd Rowe, the All-Teeth State Trooper, Studley Hungwell, the Low-Life Sisters (Bunny Jeanette, Juanita Dean, & the baby Nylon), and the totally evil Greenbury Deathridge.

Well…actually, you found yourself simply struggling to get a word in at all with that crowd. And whatever the topic of the chinwag, you were always outvoted.

One of those early high school routines featured a hopeless teenager called “petite little small ass Donnie”. This poor chump’s claim to fame was that he spent all day sitting on his grandmother’s couch watching TV. His response to everything was; “Got any cake?”

Our cat, Sprite, reminds me a great deal of petite little small ass Donnie. She has a similar agenda.

I love the kitten.

And I still miss Jim…all of him.

Well…maybe not Greenbury.