🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s- The year is 1951- Part 1

History-Project-2016-oz

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BENEVOLENT VISITORS FROM SPACE, DREADFUL BEGINNINGS, UNKNOWN WORLDS, FUNNY MEN, LONE SURVIVORS, INVISIBLE BOXERS AND KILLERS GORILLAS.

Two Lost Worlds

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Directed by Norman Dawn the film stars James Arness as Kirk Hamilton, Kasey Rogers as Elaine Jeffries, Bill Kennedy as Martin Shannon, Pierre Watkin as Elaine’s father, Magistrate Jeffries, Gloria Petroff as Janice Jeffries, Tom Hubbard as John Hartley, Jane Harlan as Nancy Holden, Tom Monroe as Captain Tallman, Michael Rye as Captain Hackett, and Fred Kohler Jr.as sailor Nat Mercer.

In 1830, on the American clipper ship named ‘The Queen’ first Mate Kirk Hamilton is assailed by bloody pirates led by Captain Hackett. Kirk is brought ashore to treat his wounds, where he meets Elaine Jeffries and the two fall in love. But Elaine is engaged to rancher Martin Shannon and of course a the male rivalry begins. Once again the ruthless Captain Hackett raids and plunder the colony and kidnap Elaine and her little friend Nancy Holden. Which leads Kirk and Martin Shannon to rescue them from the pirates and various dinosaurs that inhabit the volcanic island!

two lost worlds the dinosaurs

Two Lost Worlds Nancy Holden and a dinosaur this aint Alice through the Looking Glass

This ain’t Alice through the looking glass!

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

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Directed by Charles Lamont a satirical look at H.G. Wells’ story with our two funny men Bud Abbott and Lou Costello at the center! The film also stars Arthur Franz as boxer Tommy Nelson, Nancy Guild as Helen Gray, Adele Jergens as Boots Marsden, William Frawley as Detective Roberts and Sheldon Leonard as Boots Morgan…

Comedy didn’t escape the horror genre so it certainly didn’t lose time letting Abbott & Costello have a crack at The Invisible Man! By the 1950s they needed gimmicks to seduce their fans into adoring them again. The pair play Bud Alexander and Lou Francis amateur private eyes, hired by boxer Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz) who’s been accused of killing his manager, to clear his name of the murder. Tommy takes scientist Helen Gray’s serum that produces invisibility. In a hilarious scene Lou poses as a boxer while the invisible Tommy is really doing all the slugging. Of course the duo find the real killer!

Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man 1951

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Arthur Franz, Lou Costello, 1951
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Arthur Franz, Lou Costello, 1951
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Arthur Franz, 1951
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Arthur Franz, 1951

Det. Roberts: [Tommy Nelson is gone] How did he get out?

Lou Francis: Installments.

Det. Roberts: Installments?

Lou Francis: Yeah, he did a Gypsy Rose Lee, come here!

[they find Tommy’s clothes lying about]

Lou Francis: That, that’s all that’s left of him.

Det. Roberts: Evidently Nelson changed clothes… what was he wearing when you last saw him?

Lou Francis: Air… nothing but air… and then he asked me how he looked.

Det. Roberts: Wearing air? What are you talking about?

Lou Francis: I went to shake his hand, his hand was gone, I looked up to speak to him, his head was gone. Then he took off his shirt, his body was gone, he took off his pants, his legs were gone! Then he spoke to me, I was gone.

Bride of the Gorilla

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Director Curt Siodmak, (director The Magnetic Monster 1953 & Curucu The Beast of the Amazon 1956, Black Friday, The Ape and The Invisible Woman 1940-story/screenplay, The Wolf Man 1941-screenplay, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman 1943, Son of Dracula 1943-screenplay, I Walked with a Zombie 1943-screenplay )

Bride of the Gorilla stars the gorgeous Barbara Peyton as Mrs. Dina Van Gelding, Lon Chaney Jr. as Police Commissioner Taro, Raymond Burr plays it cool as Barney Chavez , Tom Conway as Dr. Viet, Paul Cavanagh as Klaas Van Gelder , Giselle Werbisek as Al-Long, Carol Varga as Larina, Woody Strode as Nedo the Policeman. and Steve Calvert as the Gorilla.

Bride of the Gorilla lobby card Burr and Payton

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“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked!Klaas Van Gelder

Bride of the Gorilla ape and burr

Raymond Burr plays Barney Chavez who manages a plantation in the jungles of South America. He desires his boss plantation owner Klaas Van Gelder’s wife and in order to get his wife Dina he murders him in cold blood. But he is vexed by the old witch Al-Long who has seen his crime, he believes that he has been cursed to become a nocturnal gorilla run amok

Deep in the South American jungle plantation manager Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr) kills his elderly employer in order to get to his beautiful wife (Barbara Payton). However, an old native witch witnesses the crime and puts a curse on Barney. Does he really transform into a killer ape by night or is the curse just a matter of suggestion, and psychological head games pressing on his guilt. He is driven mad believing that he is the ‘jungle demon-the succarat’.

Bride of the Gorilla old witch Al-Long

Bride of the Gorilla Long Chaney as Taro

Police Commissioner Taro: [narration] This is Jungle – lush, green, alive with incredible growth – as young as day, as old as time. I, Taro, Police Commissioner of Itman County, which borders the Amazonas River, know it as well as any man will ever know it. Isn’t it beautiful? But I have also learned that beauty can be venomous, deadly, something terrifying, something of prehistoric ages when monstrous superstitions ruled the minds of men, something that has haunted the world for millions of years rose out of that verdant labyrinth. Let me tell you how the jungle itself took the law into its own hands. This was Van Gelder Manor, built to stand against the searing sun, built to shelter generations of Van Gelders, it also has become prey to the powers of the jungle, that terrifying strength that arose to punish a man for his crimes.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

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🚀 KLAATU BARADA NIKTO

day the earth stood stil klaatu and gort arrive

Directed by the master who started out as an editor working with Val LewtonRobert Wise, created this iconic film which gave the science fiction genre a level of artistic authenticity. It’s memorable and sensational for so many of us because of  Wises’ directing, Leo Tover’s photography, acting by a stellar cast led by Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal and the art direction, set design and spectacular visual effects.

Day_The_Earth_Stood_Still 1951 on the set

Day the earth Stood Still the ship shows up in the sky

Day the Earth STood STill the saucer in Washington

Day the Earth Stood Still-Klaatu emerges

Day the Earht Stood Still miliary

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu with offering looks like a weapon

Michael Rennie plays Klaatu a visitor from another world, millions of miles away from Earth who brings a very dire yet hopeful message to us earthlings. “We have come to visit you in peace and with goodwill.” Klaatu appears essentially as a heavenly angel on a mission of mercy.

Klaatu has been sent as a representative by an organization of planets who have found a way to curb their tendencies toward war by installing other powerful robots like Gort to police them, “In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us!” Well, that’s a very provocative statement to make coming from Hollywood in the midst of The Cold War, but hey it’s one method, albeit a dangerous one, as Klaatu explains that “This power cannot be revoked. At first signs of violence they act automatically  against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible too risk.” The violation implies that their planet will be destroyed, which is what Klaatu warns the Earth about. Yes, Klaatu you haven’t achieved perfection with this system but you say it works. So does every dictatorship and totalitarian state.

Of course Michael Rennie is also not at all difficult to listen to as he isnt’ a 10 foot one eyed amorphic blob or a grotesque pants monster. Writer/Film historian Bill Warren mentions this inaccuracy in his book and cites Erich von Däniken. He was an ancient alien theorist claimed that if aliens had visited before they could come again. Perhaps they left a few travelers behind who shacked up with earthlings and voilà thousands of years later you have a very sophisticated and silky talking Brit who looks smashing in a custom tailored suit.

Day the Earth Stood Stilll-Klaatu comes in peace

Day the Earth stood still people watch as Klaatu approaches more crowd

Patricia Neal is beautiful in that retiring style of  hers as widow Helen Benson, Hugh Marlowe plays insurance man Tom Stevens, the wonderfully sage Sam Jaffe plays Professor Jacob Barnhardt, Billy Gray plays Bobbie Benson, Frances Bavier runs the rooming house (another Aunt Bea) as Mrs. Barley, and Lock Martin is lurking inside that great robot silver pants-suit called Gort!

There are tiny bitty part for Stewart Whitman plays a sentry, Olan Soule has a bit part as Mr.Krull, Dorothy Neumann as operator Margaret and Richard Carlson as Thomas Stevens Jr. and few more familiar character actors we all love!

Part of the charm of this film for me on a side note is seeing three of The Andy Griffith Show players like Dorothy Neumann who plays Otis Campbell’s wife, Olan Soule who plays hotel clerk / prissy choir leader Mr. Masters, and of course Francis Bavier the lovable Aunt Bea.

Neumann on the line

Dorothy Neumann as Rita Campbell isn’t always just barking at Otis or pouring his hootch down the drain. She’s been a hard working character actress in so many television shows and films you probably love! (The Snake Pit 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number 1948, she was Helen Lawson’s maid in Valley of the Dolls 1967

Leo Tover is at the helm of the camera, and captures the feeling of a world in befuddlement as well as framing many scenes with a noir sensibility as he had shot so skillfully before with The Snake Pit 1948, The Secret of Convict Lake 1951, and A Blueprint for Murder 1953. Art direction by Addison Hehr and Lyle R. Wheeler (Gone with the Wind 1939, Rebecca 1940, All About Eve 1950, Compulsion 1959) The post-modern expressionist Art Deco interior ship design is out of this world by Set direction by Thomas Little (The Grapes of Wrath 1940, All About Eve 1950)

The flying saucer or space-craft which allegedly cost $100,000 was modeled after actual sightings that were very popular and becoming rampant during that time in the 1950s And of course there’s always Bernard Herrmann’s use of the theremin that just quivers my strings.

Thanks to the direction of Robert Wise (one of my personal favorite directors), The Day the Earth Stood Still is considered one of THE best and most beloved American Science Fiction films of the fifties. One of the interesting themes that runs through the movie is how Christ-like or archetypal Savior figure Michael Rennie’s character Klaatu is– as he comes to save the Earth from their violent ways, and from themselves–in the end only to sacrifice his own life for the cause, then to be resurrected –moving on leaving his grave warning in our laps.

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Day the Earth STood Still Lincoln

Day the Earth stood Still at the monument washington SAVIOR IMAGE

Day the Earth Stood Still People Watch as Klaatu approaches crowd

Day the Earth stood STill the army aims

Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 Klaatu is shot by the army

Day the Earth stood still the miliary waits

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu is down

Day the Earth stood Still Gort comes out of ship after Klaatu is shot

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu gets up atfer shot meets the military

The film does work as a allegory during the Cold War era which warns us against our transgressions and wicked tendencies toward violent aggression. Klaatu arrives in his spacecraft with his robot companion a gleaming and imposing silver giant named Gort. Klaatu has been sent by an inter-planetary federation that fears Earth will use the atomic-bomb to destroy the universe in the not too distant future, and warns that if they do not stop their aggressive behavior, they will be blown to bits. Met by the military Klaatu extends an olive branch in the form of a gadget that they interpret as a weapon even though he tells the people of Earth “We have come to visit you in peace and in good will”. But they begin firing upon him wounding him and imprisoning him in a hospital where he escapes and assumes the identity of a gentlemanly earthling. Bernard Herrmann’s signature melodic motif of tumult underscores a wonderful scene as authority figures search frantically for Klaaut, and Wise shows the public in various rapt by their radios and television set, reading newspaper headlines about the missing space man!

day-the-earth-stood-still-prisoner at the hospital

Day the Earth Stood Still-lets just say we're neighbors Mr Hardy-it's hard to think of another planet as neighbors

After Mr. Hardy who comes to interview Klaatu asks where he comes from Klaatu tells him that he’s traveled millions of miles to this planet Klaatu –“lets just say we’re neighbors” Mr Hardy-“It’s hard to think of another planet as neighbors.”

day the earth stood still Klaaut is missing from the hospital

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Day the Earth Stood Still the roomers see Mr.Carpenter in the doorway of the rooming house

Day the Earth Stood Still Maj.Carpenter arrives at the rooming house

In the meantime Klaatu takes a small Washington boarding house as a mild mannered Maj. Carpenter where he meets Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and develops a poignant relationship with she and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). Helen is being wooed by insurance agent Tom (Hugh Marlowe) who turns out to be as aggressive and dangerous as the majority of antagonists in the film.

Taking the name from the tag on a borrowed jacket he’s wearing, Klaatu takes the identity of Major Carpenter. When he arrives at the rooming house everyone is stunned at first, as he stands in the shadows.

Day the Earth Stood Still Maj. Carpenter Arrives

Day the Earth Stood Still rennie neal and marlowe

Day the Earth Stood Still a meal at the rooming house

Mr. Krull “It’s enough to give you the shakes. He’s got that robot standing there, 8 feet tall just waiting to just waiting for orders to destroy us!”

Day the Earth Stood Stil at the dinner table

Helen- “This space man or what ever he is, we automatically assume he’s a menace. Maybe he isn’t at all… {…after all he was shot the minute he landed here } I was just wonder what I would do?” Maj. Carpenter-Well perhaps deciding on a course of action he would want to know more about the people here. To orient yourself in a strange environment.”

Day the earth stood still Mrs Barley -he comes right here from earth

Mrs. Barley-“If you want my opinion he comes from right here on Earth!”

Olan Soule , John Brown as George Barley and Francis Bavier, Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie as Maj. Carpenter are having a meal at the rooming house.

Day the Earth Stood Still Maj Carpenter sits with PAtirica Neal 3

Klaatu wants to walk among the people of earth to try and understand their, ”strange, unreasoning attitudes.” As Phil Hardy says Robert Wise’s film works so well because of his masterful balance of the ‘ominous allegory with the sub-plot of Rennie’s attempt to discover what humans are really like.’

Day the Earth stood Still Klaatu in Bobbys room with Patricia

In an amazing scene, where he shows his benevolent nature, Bobby catches his new friend at the blackboard in the Professors lab and solving a complex equation that he had been struggling with, in a few seconds. Bobby asks if the Professor had done it wrong, Klaatu tells him “It just needs a little help.”

benevolent Klaatu solves a problem

Klaatu also is befriend by the kindly, wise and brilliant scientist Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) who recognizes that Klaatu is not a threat nor a false prophet and reflects the better nature of humankind.

You have faith, Professor Barnhardt?- Klaatu

“Our problems are very complex Klaatu, you mustn’t judge too harshly”Professor Barnhardt

“I can judge only by what I see.” –Klaatu

“ Your impatience is quite understandable’ –Professor Barnhardt

“I’m impatient with stupidity” –Klaatu

Day the Earth Stood Still Sam Jaffe at the blackboard

Professor Barnhardt: It isn’t faith that makes good science, Mr. Klaatu, it’s curiosity. Sit down, please. There are several thousand questions I’d like to ask you.

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu and Patricia noir frame hiding from the miliary

Robert Wise and cinematographer Leo Tover know how to paint a film noir canvas within the realm of science fiction The Day the Earth Stood Still bares a striking resemblance to many great noir pictures and their familiar tropes… not the least the misunderstood man on the run forced into the shadows, aided by a good women who has faith in him!

Day the Earth Stood Stil Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" Michael Rennie, Hugh Marlowe, & Patricia Neal 1951 20th **I.V.
“The Day the Earth Stood Still”
Michael Rennie, Hugh Marlowe, & Patricia Neal
1951 20th
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Day the Earth STood Still Bobby discovers Klaatus secret

Bobby follows his friend Maj. Carpenter/Klaatu and discovers his secret! In a panic he runs and informs his mother all about it. She tells him he’s been dreaming again, but she also happens to be with Tom (Hugh Marlowe) who is just waiting to get Maj. Carpenter out of the picture and sets the end in motion.

day the earth stood still bobby sees Klaatu with Gort go into his ship

Day the Earth stood still Klaatu goes into ship to stop the earth

Day the Earth Stood Still stunning visual inside ship to stop the earth

The set design and use of lighting lends to the magnificent & moody atmosphere of the film.

Day the Earth Stood Still-Annex - Rennie, Michael

As the title of the film suggests… it’s striking when the moment emerges and everything stops, or stands still.

Klaatu sets the wheels in motion to stop the motion all over the earth! And so everything grinds to halt not only all means of transportation in this modern world, trains, ships, automobiles and buses, tools of industry cease like– farming machines that milk the cows, power stations and factories. Even the creature comforts people take for granted, like washing machines which are left with puddles of sopping clothes, milkshakes that don’t get shook and those poor people at the top of the roller coaster at the amusement park … A nation wide man hunt for the space man begins!

Day the Earth stood Still paper Are we long for this world

New York the streets have clammered to a halt

London all has stalled

London piccadilly circus is shut down people in the streets

Russia nothing works the roads filled with cars

Russia the people stand around

traines stop working

cars in the street and buses wont start

washing machines leave soaking messes

stuck on a rollercoaster

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Day the earth stood still after thing stop people gather by the ship and GORT

Day the Earth STood Still the reporter

Reporter: I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us.

Klaatu: In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.

Day the Earth Stood Still the army plans

day-the-earth-stood-still-Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie

He tells Helen “If anything should happen to me, you should go to Gort… You must say these words, Klaatu Barada Nikto. You must remember these words.”

Day the Earth Stood Still GORT blasts two soldiers

day the earth stood still GORT blasts two soldiers decompose into light

day the earth stood still patricia neal encounters GORT

day the earth stood still patricia neal gets frightened of GORTS imposing nature

day the earth stood still GORT stands at the ready lit up

day the earth stood still patricia neal cowers as GORT hovers

day the earth stood still GORT stands before patricia neal viser closed

day the earth stood still patricia neal cowers in corner noir frame fear

Day The Earth Stood Still Gort Carries

day-the-earth-stood-still-GORT on ship with Patricia Neal

Day the Earth STood Still -the resurrection of Klaatu:Christ

Gort resurrects the Christ-like Klaatu

Day the earth stood still GORT close up

In the end, he is gunned down which summons the ire & wrath of Gort who opens up his metallic visor and lets loose a laser beam killing the soldiers. Consistent with the theme of deliverance and resurrection Gort brings Klaatu back to life and ascends like an other-worldly angel from the Earth to return to his delegation leaving behind the message that they either learn to live in peace or be destroyed that we do not have the temperament to be in control of atomic weaponry.

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu ship in the park night shot

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Day the Earth STood Still Gort close up

Day the Earth Stood Still-Gort outside the ship

“I will not speak with any one nation or group of nations I don’t intend to add my contribution to your childish jealousies and suspicions. —Klaatu

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu and Gort 2

Day the Earth stood Still nations

Day the Earth Stood STill-It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet

“It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence this earth of yours will be reduced to a burned out cinder… your choice is simple… join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration!… We shall be waiting for your answer… the decision rests with you.”–Klaatu

Day the Earth Stood STill ship takes off night

Klaatu and Gort take off in the ship, he ascends back into the heavens our future rests with us!

An ‘ominous allegory’a reflection of our fears and mistrust– a message that it’s not too late to be overseen by giant soulless robots that might malfunction and reduce you to a cinder if you have an angry outburst about your $6 coffee tasting like mud!.

Day the Earth Stood Still Gort

Klaatu’s command to —“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!”

Gort, Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie

Five

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Directed by Arch Oboler (Strange Holiday 1945 starring Claude Rains, Bewitched 1945 starring Phyllis Thaxter, Bwana Devil 1952 in 3D, The Twonky 1953 and another 3D film The Bubble 1966)

Arch Oboler had been regarded very highly for his work in old time Radio primarily on “Lights Out” another show about fantasy/horror & science fiction themes.

Stars William Phipps, Susan Douglas Rubes, James Anderson, Earl Lee and Charles Lampkin.

This independent film has all the trappings of a low-budget art-house film with science fiction over-tones that’s rather dreary and nihilistic in tone. It’s deals with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust that wipes out the entire civilization except for five survivors. The story has been dealt with either viewed through a campy lens as with Roger Corman’s amusing vision of radioactive fall-out Day the World Ended (1955) with it’s cast of diverse survivors stuck in a canyon who are at risk of mutations out in the eerie fog, some turning on each other as their limited resources.

As with Corman’s beloved cult foray, Five’s characters are also victims of radioactive dust clouds, that kills off the animal life on the planet and essentially vaporizes people down to their skeletons.

William Phipps (Crossfire 1947, War of the Worlds 1953, The Brothers Rico 1957 & a slew of television appearances) plays Michael, a man who survived the nuclear disaster because he was stuck in an elevator at the top of the Empire State Building high enough to shield him from the atomic clouds (perhaps I should re-think my fear of elevators and my fear of heights -hhm) He encounters the only other survivors up in the mountains, Rosanne (Susan Douglas) who is going to have a baby, another recognizable actor from the 50s is the handsomely intense James Anderson, who plays an aggressive neo-Nazi named Eric, a black doorman named Charles (Charles Lampkin, another familiar face and busy television & film actor) and Mr. Barnstaple (Earl Lee), a bank clerk who is complete denial about what has happened, of course he succumbs to radiation poisoning.

With the mixture of personalities left to band together it isn’t any wonder that tensions build especially because there is only one woman left to go around. Eric cannot help but antagonize Charles and try to make an object out of Rosanne. Roxanne is still waiting for her husband to return, safely to her. The film has a filthy strain of meanness in it, as Oboler wants us to feel the desperation and detestable situation for ourselves. Eric kills Charles and grabs Rosanne with her newborn baby telling her that they are going to search for her missing husband in the city. It’s gruesome and dismal as they stumble upon skeletons in mid pose, in doorways, in their cars trying to escape. When she finds out that husband has perished she wants to go back up to the mountains. The two struggle and Rosanne tears his shirt exposing the fact that Eric has radiation burns all over his chest. In yet another very bleak turn of events, Rosanne’s baby dies while she’s making her way back to the mountains. All that are left now are Michael and the distraught Rosanne to be the archetypal Adam & Eve in a not so paradisiacal Eden drenched in atomic fallout.

The New York Times review said of Oboler’s Five- “Mr. Oboler spends so much time scanning the landscape, the sky, the sea and clouds that he can’t seem to bring himself to tangle with the problems fo his meek and baffled crew. And when he does he contents himself with fashioning a little drama of left-over racial hate in a world virtually empty of people, rather than seek the terror in a human void.”

STAY TUNED FOR PART II OF KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES -THE YEAR IS 1951

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Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!

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IT’S HERE AGAIN… THAT TINGLING ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK BECAUSE THERE’S FOUL DEEDS AND MURDEROUS MACHINATIONS AFOOT…HOSTED BY SPEAKEASYSHADOWS & SATIN… AND SILVER SCREENINGS… THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON OF 2015!

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“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”
Stephen King, The Shining

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
Werner Herzog

“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”
Jacques Derrida

DRAGONWYCK  (1946)

Vincent Price -had said- “I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge…”

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Vincent Price is perhaps one of THE sexiest men in film. Eventually type cast albeit an icon of the horror film industry… enough of us are aware of his range of talent and his sophisticated manner. If I were to have met him, I would have swoon… and that’s not a lie. He possessed a unique sensuality both tragic and dynamic that just drew you in.

Price always could play ONE of the most cultivated, enigmatic and beguiling villains any time….

Dragonwyck
-Secret thoughts… That led to secret love… That led to rapture and terror!-

Gene Tierney as Miranda Wells:Nicholas – you do believe in God?”

Vincent Price as Nicholas Van Ryn: “I believe in myself, and I am answerable to myself! I will not live according to printed mottoes like the directions on a medicine bottle!”

The chemistry between Price and Tierney is authentic and captivating. When Miranda Wells feels humiliated by the gaggle of high class snobbish debutantes because she’s from the wrong end of the river, not from the Hudson but The Connecticut River bottom, and Nicholas tells her she’s better then all of them and asks her to dance. He seems so gentle and human… but he has a dark and villainous side!

CapturFiles_52 You couldn't help yourself any more than I
“You couldn’t help yourself any more than I”-Nicholas

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CapturFiles_40 what makes you think you're so much better than I am
“What makes you think you’re so much better than I am!”

DRAGONWYCK 1946 was Vincent Price’s 18th film, after having appeared in The House of the Seven Gables 1940 as Shelby Carpenter opposite Gene Tierney in Laura 1944, Leave Her to Heaven 1945, right after he appeared as the cold blooded Dr. Richard Cross in Shock 1946.

Produced by Ernst Lubitsch uncredited and overseen by one of my favs– Writer/Director Joseph L Mankiewicz. this Gothic & dark romance is based on the novel by Anya Seton… With cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (The Ox Bow Incident 1943,The Razor’s Edge 1946, Whirlpool 1949, The Prowler 1951), Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler and Russell Spencer, Set Direction by the great Thomas Little. The lighting alone is a mixture of noir chiaroscuro and offers dramatic shadings of the best classical elements of horror. The narrative speaks of familial secrets, and twisted vengefulness not unlike Lewis Allen’s spooky debut masterpiece The Uninvited  1944.

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Added to the moodiness is the eerily haunting score by Alfred Newman with Orchestral arrangements by Edward B Powell. Edited by the keen eyes of Dorothy Spencer (Stagecoach 1939, The House Across the Bay 1940, Lifeboat 1944, The Ghost and Mrs.Muir, The Snake Pit 1948.) 

Costumes by Rene Hubert and Make Up by Ben Nye. The film bares shades of Hitchcock/de Maurier’s Rebecca 1940 and Robert Stevenson’s/Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre 1943. Even a bit of de Maurier’s tautly suspenseful My Cousin Rachel 1952 directed by Henry Koster and starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. The book is a hell of a good read if you enjoy Gothic melodrama.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price reunite after having appeared in Otto Premingers‘ memorable film noir masterpiece Laura in 1944.

Annex - Tierney, Gene (Laura)_05
Otto Preminger brings together these two fine actors in his noir masterpiece Laura 1944

Here-Gene Tierney plays Miranda Wells, Walter Huston is her devoutly christian working class father-Ephram Wells.

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Walter Huston as Ephram Wells reading from his bible to Miranda
CapturFiles_6 I thought so it's got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Mirdanda
Miranda takes a drink of wine. Her father reproaches her-“I thought so, it’s got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Miranda”– Her stifling life with her religious father pushes her further into the arms of Nicholas Van Ryn

This scene foreshadows the dangerous path the Miranda is willing to wander through, as she starts to break free of her puritanical upbringing and reach for a life of being a free spirit. Believing that Nicholas represents that freedom. But there is a hint of evil that her father can sense.

Vincent Price once again manifests a passionate yet conflicted antagonist Nicholas Van Ryn with a magnetism you cannot escape, yet you may despise his cruelty and his self indulgent murderous arrogance.

CapturFiles_52 I must not feel like my life is finished as long as you are with me
“I must not feel like my life is finished as long as you are with me”-Nicholas
CapturFiles_41 You must never be afraid when you're with me Miranda
“You must never be afraid when you’re with me Miranda”

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Glenn Langan is the handsome yet vanilla Dr Jeff Turner, Anne Revere adds a depth of nurture as Abigail Wells-Miranda’s mother who is weary of her daughters intentions to marry such a powerful man.

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Spring Byington is one of the maids-Magda. Connie Marshall is the young melancholy Katrina Van Ryn, Henry Morgan is Bleeker one of the farmers who challenges Van Ryn and fights back against the antiquated laws.

Vivienne Osborne plays wife-Johanna Van Ryn. Jessica Tandy gives a marvelous performance as Miranda’s maid the feisty Peggy O’ Malley. Trudy Marshall is Elizabeth Van Borden. Reinhold Schunzel is Count de Grenier, Jane Nigh is Tabitha. Ruth Ford is Cornelia Van Borden, David Ballard is Obadiah. Scott Elliot is Tom Wells and Boyd Irwin is Tompkins.

DRAGONWYCK is a Gothic suspense melodrama in the grand classical style. It even brushes against the edges of the classic horror film not only because of the way it’s filmed, but there are certain disturbing elements to the story. The shadows and darkness that are part of the psychological climate work almost reminiscently of a Val Lewton piece. There’s even a pale reference to that of a ghost story that is concealed or I should say unrevealed, with the first Mrs.Van Ryn’s spirit playing the harpsichord, and the eerie phantom chords that add to the mystery and gloom that hang over the manor house.

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Katrine-“I don’t like it now The singing’s getting louder now, I’m afraid I’m afraid”

Ghostly Dragonwyck

With swells of atmospheric tension and darkly embroidered romance there’s just the right tinges of shadows and danger. A lush and fervent tale that combines tragic Gothic romantic melodrama with the legitimate themes of social class struggle wrapped within dark secrets and suspense.

As always, Price conveys a tragic pathos even as the story’s villain, he is a man who manifests layers upon layers of feeling. Brooding, charming, sensual, intellectual, menacing, passionate, conflicted, self-loathing, and ego-maniacal all at once.

One of my favorite roles will always be his embodiment of Corman/Poe’s Roderick Usher in House of Usher 1960.

Vincent Price in House of Usher, 1960.

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The film also offers us the sublime acting skill and divine beauty of- Gene Tierney as the heroine or damsel in peril, a simple farm girl living near Greenwich Connecticut, who dreams of the finer things in life, swept up by the allure of a fairy tale existence only to find out that her dream has become a nightmare.

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Once Miranda receives a letter inviting her to come and visit Dragonwyck, she is perhaps at once young and naive when she arrives at the austere place to be a companion to Van Ryn’s despondent daughter Katrine, a lonely sort of isolated child. First triangulated by Van Ryn’s over-indulgent wife Johanna, after her death, the two begin a whirlwind romance that leads Miranda to marry the imposing Nicholas Van Ryn.

Almost in the style of a Universal monster movie, the central focus is the mysterious mansion, surrounded by volatile thunderstorms and restless villagers who want to take action against their oppressor. The film works as a period piece seeming to possess an added heaviness due to the provincial settings and underpinnings of class unrest, which lends itself to the bleak mood.

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DRAGONWYCK’S villain or very human boogeyman is the inimitable & urbane Vincent Price who holds sway over the locals as the patroon–lord of the land, as well as master of all he surveys, and of course his new wife. Driven by his obsession to have a son. He is a brooding dark figure whose dissent into drug addicted madness comes to light like a demon who has escaped from a bottle.

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Nietzsche quote

Van Ryn is vain and contemptuous, scornful, condescending and cruel. Eventually driven by his immense pride, love and desire… to murder his first wife who is in the way of his ultimate legacy.

DRAGONWYCK is an interesting film that belies any one genre. And as I’ve pointed out, beyond the dark melodramatic suspense elements, it’s every bit a horror film. And it is also the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz 

Ghost Story

Set during the Nineteenth Century when parts of New York were still founded as feudal Estates. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the history of the 19th century Upstate New York Dutch colonies and their struggles between the rich and poor against the reigning yet dying tradition of aristocratic rule over the small family farms which were overseen by ‘Patroons’  A Patroon is the owner of the large land grants along the Hudson River. They are descendants of the original Dutch patroons… “and they’re terribly rich and elegant.“ -Miranda

Yet as in the case of Nicholas, they can be brutal and self-opportunistic land lords who collected the rent from these hard working, exploited and poor farmers.

This is what first impresses Miranda about Nicholas, his power and station in life. Tibby her sister tells her that she’s not anxious to leave home.

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Miranda says “That’s not fair, you know that I love you and pa, all of you and my home it’s just that I try to be like everyone else… and want what I’m supposed to want. But then I start thinking about people I’ve never known and places I’ve never been. Maybe if the letter hadn’t come I’d…. Oh I don’t know I must be loony.”

Nicholas Van Ryn is a brooding and powerful aristocratic patroon who runs all matters with an iron hand. In the Nineteenth Century the upstate New York counties were still dealing with a system run by these Patroons. There began a social uprising of the surroundings farmers who wanted more power over their land and a rule that would abolish the aristocracy that was a tribute to a dying past practice. Soon there would be an end to these ruling Estates.

As seen in Van Ryn’s maniacal demonstration of his being seated in an elaborate throne he remains poised while collecting the farmers rent. Henry Morgan plays the tough and prideful farmer Klaus who has brought nothing with him. “Not rent– nor tribute.”

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“I’m a free citizen I take my hat off for no one”

When Nicholas’ first wife cannot bare him a son as heir to carry on the Van Ryn name, the wealthy and wicked Nicholas Van Ryn secretly plans to poison her with the help of an Oleander plant. Setting his sights on the younger, more beautiful cousin Miranda.

Oleander

He then invites Miranda (Gene Tierney just naturally exudes a uniquely dreamy eyed splendor) to come and visit Dragonwyck. She is an innocent girl fascinated by the urbane Nicholas but by the film’s climax she becomes entrapped in the foreboding and bleak atmosphere of Dragonwyck, a place of secrets, sadness and insanity.

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Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

Miranda is so taken with the idea of dancing the waltz and how fine a gentleman cousin Nicholas seems. Her father always reading passages from the bible, she hungers for adventure. Miranda craves the freedom to experience a better life.

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Vincent Price is incredibly handsome as Nicholas. Mysterious, his deep blue eyes crystallize   through the stark black and white film. He has a strong jawline, and possesses a vitality… at first he is so charming. Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

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The first meal at Dragonwyck, is a grotesque scene in which his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) shows herself to be a lugubrious sow, a glutton and a spoiled child who now bores and disgusts her husband. He tells Miranda, “To my wife, promptness at meals is the greatest human virtue.” 

Nicholas is already starting to reveal his cutting tongue by commenting on how his wife over eats and is not refined. A hint of his cruel nature.

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“I think I’ll have the bon bons before going to bed”
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Look at the detail of this frame. It’s almost the perfection of a Late 19th century painting

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Miranda meets the despondent Katrine… a hapless child

At dinner, Johanna begins to nag him about bringing home the pastries from New York, the Napoleons, she appears to be a glutton, and though very pretty, a most unattractive portrayal of her character is given for the narrative’s purpose of Nicholas justifiably ridding himself of her so that he might pursue Miranda. In contrast to Johanna’s piggishness, Miranda is given a clear bowl of broth for her supper. the scene is set up so we feel a bit of sympathy toward Nicholas.

As Johanna shoves another bon bon into her mouth…

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Cinematographer Arthur C. Miller frames the shot as Johanna is placed in between Nicholas and Miranda. His wife Johanna appears like a fairy tale character–the over-exaggerated plump wife who gorges herself on sweets while Nicholas and Miranda talk of love and loss. Miranda is wildly curious. He is withdrawn and pensive.

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Nicholas plays the harpsichord. Miranda listens contentedly then asks who the woman in the painting is. He tells her it’s his grandmother Aziel –“That’s a strange name… she looks like a frightened child.”

Miranda asks him to tell her more about his grandmother. Was it love at first sight?

Nicholas-“No Van Ryn does anything at first sight” Miranda-“Oh but she must have been happy to live here” Miranda smiles, her face a glow. Nicholas adds, “As it turned out it didn’t matter, soon after her son was born she died. She brought this harpsichord with her from her home. She played it always.”

Johanna “If you listen to the servants they’ll have you believe she still does!“ she laughs. But Nicholas quickly turns around to look at her, a dark shadow creeps along his brow. His eyes raised.

Nicholas-“fortunately we don’t listen to either the servants or their superstitions.”

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Magda (Spring Byington) tells Miranda about Nicholas’ grandmother from New Orleans, the woman in the portrait. That his grandfather never loved her, he never wanted her at all. he wanted their son. he kept her from him… He forbid her to sing and play. He broke her heart. And drove her….” Magda stops short…. “She prayed for disaster to come to the Van Ryns and she swore that when it came she’d always be here to sing and play… She killed herself in this room.”

Magda asks-“Miss Wells why have you come here? Do you think Katrine is in need of a companion? Miranda answers her, “Well that would be for her father and her mother to decide.”
Magda says, “Don’t you think she’s in need of a father and a mother… that was a silly question wasn’t it?” 

The meddling maid pierces Miranda’s innocence with her honesty like venom–causing a bit of shock on Miranda’s face that usually seems as tranquil as a quiet lake of sparkling water.

“You like it here?” Miranda answers–“Of course I do” Magda comments- “Course you do, you like being waited on, I could see tonight it was the first time. You like peaches out of season. You the feel of silk sheets against your young body. Then one day, with all your heart you’ll wish you’d never come to Dragonwyck…”

The handsome young Dr. Turner (Glenn Langan) comes to take care of Johanna who has taken sick to her bed.

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He and Miranda sit and talk by the fire. He tries to imply that living at Dragonwyck has changed her, he tells her that the last time he met her he felt like they had so much in common.. “Frankly right now I doubt you have any idea about the slightest thing to talk to me about.”

Johanna’s illness gets worse, of course we know Nicholas has poisoned her. Lying in bed she tells him that sometimes she thinks he hates her, but asks if they can go away together once she’s better. He says yes because he knows she’ll never get better. In fact she will never leave that bed alive.

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Continue reading “Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!”