🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s- The year is 1951- Part 2

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CONTINUED!

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AND DON’T FORGET TO RE-VISIT THE FABULOUS CLASSIC MOVIE HISTORY PROJECT BLOGATHON 2016!

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Click Here for the original introduction to the series!

X MAN, trips to MARS, Lost Continents, Men in White Suits, the man in red silk underwear-SUPERMAN, a Super Intellectual Carrot– plus lots more!

Flight to Mars

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Flight to Mars _1951

Fligth to Mars 1951

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The Earthlings…

flight to mars

The Martians…

Fifty Years Into The Future!–The Most Fantastic Expedition Ever Conceived by Man!

Director Lesley Selander with a screenplay by Arthur Strawn  (The Black Room 1935, The Man Who Lived Twice 1936) Selander it seems is more known for his work with westerns both on the big screen and television set. The film stars Marguerite Chapman as Alita, Cameron Mitchell as Steve Abbott, Arthur Franz as Dr. Jim Barker, Virginia Huston as Carol Stafford, John Litel as Dr. Lane, and Morris Ankrum as Ikron who became an incredibly familiar supportive player in many of these fantastic films of the 1950s, (Rocketship X-M 1950, Red Planet Mars 1952, Invaders from Mars 1953, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers 1956, Beginning of the End 1957, Kronos 1957, The Giant Claw 1957, Zombies of Mora Tau 1957, Half Human 1958 and How to Make a Monster 1958.)

With special effects and art direction by Edward S. Hayworth, Jack Cosgrove, and cited by Fantascene Irving Block (matte artist for Invaders from Mars 1953, Forbidden Planet 1956, Kronos 1957, The Giant Behemoth 1959) was responsible for the impressive design and over all look of the picture with cinematography by Harry Neumann (The Land of Missing Men 1930, Vanity Fair 1932, The Thirteenth Guest 1932, When Strangers Meet 1934, The Mysterious Mr. Wong 1939, The Fatal Hour 1940, Doomed to Die 1940, The Face of Marble 1946, The Maze 1953 in 3D!, A Bullet for Joey 1955, My Gun is Quick 1957, The Wasp Woman 1959)

Flight to Mars telescope

Flight to Mars 1951 lobby card color

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After the reception that Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M got at the box office it’s no big leap to see why there would follow a film like Flight to Mars (1951) though 1951 and the rest of the 1950s decade wasn’t more jam packed with other films that forayed into space voyage. What became more noticeable was that the aliens–came here! Most likely to to budgetary constraints filming on location on Earth seems to make a lot more sense as it was cheaper to pull off. Along comes Monogram pictures, that became Allied Artists, who ventured into the landscapes of Mars, with a story filled with the sub-plot of earthly melodrama and cliché battle of the sexes on board.

flight_to_mars_1951 arthur franz

Flight to Mars offered little pesky problems, like weightlessness, meteor showers, a contemplative pipe smoking Arthur Franz as scientist Jim Barker who spends so much time calculating their trip to Mars that he can’t see that Carol Stafford (Virginia Huston) is hopelessly in love with him. Cameron Mitchell plays newspaper man Steve Abbott, who is the ‘man’s man’ there to act as brawn and counter-balance to the intellectual egg-headedness of the brainy types on board including Dr. Lane (John Litel) and Professor Jackson (Richard Gaines) also scientists on board.

Flight to Mars brain and brawn

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“You listening Carol, I think you are a prize package and VERY feminine… {…} I sure do Mr. engineer and I don’t have to look in a test tube to find out.”– Steve

Flight to Mars Cameron Mithell "close enough to the man in the moon to talk to him"

The extent of Steve Abbott’s philosophizing “Close enough to the man in the moon to talk to him.”

Flight to Mars 5

As Bill Warren writes, “It’s as if a law (the law of the box office) was laid down for makes of science fiction films of the 1950s; a man could not be both brilliant and amusing ; he couldn’t be both a genius and a lover, both a scientist and a sinner.; both skilled with his brains and with his fists. Wisecracks, sexual drive and heroics were usually allotted to one or two other characters. The scientist was almost always a loner with the faraway look of dreams in his eyes., never also a down to-Earth regular Joe who was also a brilliant researcher.

It stands to reason then that Carol would run straight into the arms of the hero, Steve Abbott, who notices that she’s “really feminine.”

Flight to Mars crash land orange sky

flight to mars the orange sky and towers

When the ship crash lands on Mars, and the sky burns a brilliant orange things get pretty exciting for the crew and us when they spot strange structures as part of the landscape. Enter steady science fiction player Morris Ankrum as the duplicitous Martian named Ikron, who not only looks very human but is quite eloquent with his use of the English language due to the fact that he has studied us from our radio and television broadcasts, and have know of their impending arrival. Ikron takes the earth men underground to their city dwelling with cars and air ships (animated) to show how advanced their civilization is.

flgiht to mars animated underground technology

Flight to Mars

OSA MASSEN Character(s): Dr. Lisa Van Horn Film 'ROCKETSHIP X-M' (1950) Directed By KURT NEUMANN 26 May 1950 CTW88028 Allstar/Cinetext/LIPPERT PICTURES **WARNING** This photograph can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above film. For Editorial Use Only.
OSA MASSEN
Character(s): Dr. Lisa Van Horn
Film ‘ROCKETSHIP X-M’ (1950)
Directed By KURT NEUMANN
26 May 1950
CTW88028
Allstar/Cinetext/LIPPERT PICTURES

Incidentally Alamy has mis-marked this photograph as Osa Massen when clearly it is Flight to Mars…

Flight To Mars 1951 B&W lobby card

Flight To Mars

The truth is that the Martians are running out of their precious resource of Corium and without the planet will become uninhabitable and they will perish. The Martians plan on hijacking the Earth rocket, use their technology to produce more rockets like ours and then conquer the Earth! But among these nefarious Martians are those who want to help them escape, like Tillamar played by Robert Barrat (Captain Blood 1935, The Life of Emile Zola 1937, Relentless 1948, and his last appearance as the kind father Stoney Likens in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’s incredible episode Return of Verge Likens 1964) and his beautiful daughter Alita played by Marguerite Chapman  (Charlie Chan in the Wax Museum 1940, Appointment in Berlin 1943, Strange Affair 1944, The Green Promise 1949, The Seven Year Itch 1955)

Marguerite Chapman

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Ikron finds out about the little insurrection taking place as he has a pretty spy Terris (Lucille Barkley) who alerts him to everything that is going on. Alita who has also fallen in love with brainy boy scientist Dr. Jim Baker (Arthur Franz) is a true heroine and helps the crew lift off Mars and away from her treacherous father and his evil plans.

Flight to Mars the spy

Steve Abbott: Dr. Lane, I once heard of a man who climbed a higher mountain than anyone else alive, but he was never able to get down again. What’s left of him is still up there.

Dr. Lane: The point is, Steve, he made it.

Flight to Mars the ship

Steve Abbott: [looking at the Earth through the port hole of the spaceship] Ah, the Earth seems so big when you’re on it… from out here so small and nothing. It’s like closing your eyes in the dark and suddenly you’re alone with your soul.

Lost Continent

The Lost Continent

Directed by Sam Newfield (The Terror of Tiny Town 1938, The Mad Monster 1942, Dead Men Walk 1943, I Accuse My Parents 1944) starring Cesar Romero as Maj. Joe Nolan, Hillary Brooke as Marla Stevens, Chick Chandler as Lt. Danny Wilson, John Hoyt as Michael Rostov, Acquanetta as ‘Native Girl’, Sid Melton as Sgt. Willie Tatlow, Whit Bissell as Stanley Briggs and Hugh Beaumont as Robert Phillips. Cinematography by Jack Greenhalgh and Augie Lohman (Barbarella 1968) in charge of visual effects and stop motion animation.

Let’s just get Hillary Brooke out of the way now, as she doesn’t crash land on the Lost Continent, as Marlashe only gets to dance with Cesar Romero before his flight leaves for parts unknown!

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Lost Continent 1950 lobby card dinosaurs

Somehow dinosaurs seems to go along with rocket ships and exploration of lands without and within. So naturally a lot of fantasy/adventure films are considers little lost continents amidst the Sci-Fi genre. According to Bill Warren, dinosaurs were actually a potential plot mechanism thought of by Robert Lippert for Rocketship X-M, thank the space-gods that the film maintains it’s integrity with just a civilization of savages wiped out by nuclear holocaust.

As Bill Warren cites in his bible for the 1950s genre there was a “tradition of blending phony Old Native Legends with some new, science fictional story elements.”

Lost Continent lobby card

Lost Continent lobby card

An atomic powered rocket craps out over the South Pacific, and so a rescue mission led by Maj. Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) is sent out to find the crew, aided by his co-pilot Danny (Chick Chandler) and cracking wise Sergeant Willie Tatlow played by Sid Melton who adds the comic-relief (Sophia Petrillo’s smart-alecky Sal, ‘May he rest in peace til I get there’) Along is Ward Clever, no wait he was a Sea-Bee, teehee Hugh Beaumont as top scientist Robert Phillips and scientists Michael Rostov played by the other ubiquitous supportive actor John Hoyt and Stanley Briggs played by the other very familiar face Whit Bissell who is terrified by a giant lizard one night and falls off the side of the mountain.

Major Joe Nolan: Look at the size of that footprint! I’ve never seen anything like it before!

Robert Phillips: I have. Once… in a museum.

Lost Continent Brontasaurus

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The crew crash lands just coincidentally in the same spot as the prior ship, and they find themselves on an Island (tinted in glorious green at the mountain top ) not only filled with volcanic activity but is radio-active AND it’s inhabited by the sultry Acquanetta (Captive Wild Woman 1943, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman 1946) a native girl who remained after all the others fled when they saw the great fire-bird fly over head and made the earth tremble.

Acquanetta born Mildred Davenport of Ozone, Wyoming.

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Here she is in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman 1946

Lost Coninent -Acquanetta

She also warns them not to climb the mountain as it is a ‘sacred mountain taboo’ which is the home of her gods. The crew is also getting a bit mistrustful of Rostov after all he is a Russian ex-patriot and has ice water in his veins. Joe gives him a dig after Briggs falls to his death pondering if he in fact just let the poor man fall, “another one of your–unpredictables?”

Lost Continent crew

The island or Lost Continent is a pressure cooker of vapors, clouds, greenery and uranium fields that might just blow! All this radioactivity must have been what brought down both rockets. and as one of them points out as “powerful as a stockpile of hydrogen bombs…”

The crew shoot a flying reptile minding it’s own business, there’s a gratuitous dinosaur fight between horned beasts and a brontosaurus ( which I thought were leaf eaters hhm, I’ll have to look that up) chases Phillips up a tree. The crew is befuddled by the presence of prehistoric dinosaurs, but Hollywood isn’t so they’ll just have to deal. Phillips asks,  “Who can explain it?… it’s an impossibility, yet here we are right in the middle of it!” 

The film even gets to stick some anti-red sentiment in there as the stranded crew from the rocket-ship come to find out that Rostov not only didn’t sabotage the rocket but is a regular ‘Joe/Mike’, who lost his wife in a concentration camp and considers some of his Russian countrymen ‘villains’ who he wants to go back and fight against them ‘pushing buttons on more rockets.’

Finally they find their ship nose down in the earth, but they can’t get near it because there is a large brontosaurus and a triceratops hanging around, and Willie winds up getting gored to death. Then the earthquakes begin but the survivors make it out to sea on a raft just as the whole mountain blows up!

The Man from Planet X

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Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (People on Sunday 1930, The Black Cat 1934, Detour 1945, The Strange Woman 1945, Ruthless 1948, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll 1957, The Amazing Transparent Man 1960)

Written by Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen (The Secret of Convict Lake 1951, Captive Women 1952, Port Sinister 1953, The Neanderthal Man 1953, Five Bold Women 1960.)

Stars Robert Clarke as John Lawrence, Margaret Field as Enid Elliot, Raymond Bond as Prof. Elliot, and William Schallert as Dr. Mears.

Though this is a very low budget film, I have an affection for it’s unassuming and atmospherically charming tone and I actually had an action figure of the alien as part of a series released in the late 60s, early 70s which included the winged angel from Barbarella!

Man from Planet X jpg

Okay enough meandering down nostalgic Warren Drive, Long Island USA.

The sets were left overs from Joan of Arc (1948) at Hal Roach Studios. Ulmer designed the ship that resembled less of a space craft and more like ‘diving bell that was lowered into our dense atmosphere -Bill Warren. The film’s use of low lighting hides that fact that set and the interior ship design was constructed out of plywood. Inside the alien suit it is suggested was a little person or person of short stature actor possibly Billy Curtis. According to Warren, as described in the script, his face had the look of being distorted by pressure, or as if similar to a ritual mask belonging to a primitive tribe. The lighting adds to the unique quality of his expressionless face.

The_Man_from_Planet_X_ enid sees the ship

The film opens with American reporter John Lawrence (Robert Clarke-The Astounding She Monster 1957, The Hideous Sun Demon 1959) narrating in voice-over his panic over the well being of both Professor Elliot and his daughter Enid who have been taken back to a space craft by the alien from planet X. As he paces the observatory tower floor he begins to relate the strange story that has unfolded in the past few days. He fears for their lives as well as his own.

Lawrence was sent to a remote Scottish Isle Burray in the Orkneys, to see Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond) after a wandering planet called ‘X’ is spotted in our solar system and is approaching Earth, estimated coming close to the Orkneys. John Lawrence stays with Dr. Mears played by extremely likable and oft seen William Schallert, although in this film he plays a rather suspicious and brooding character who has a mistrust of Williams. John Williams also meets his lovely daughter Enid played by Margaret Field. This science fiction gem has a sub-plot as most do where love gets to blossom, as Enid and John they take a foggy drive then a cozy walk along the moors, they encounter a small metallic object and eventually stumble upon an object that they establish is a probe.

The Man from Planet X a fine british love story

As Anthony Newley sings from his and Leslie Bricusse’s song from their award winning musical The Roar of the Greasepaint –the Smell of the Crowd“Look at that Face, just look at it!”

Man from Planet X looks at Enid

Later that night Enid gets a flat tire and walks back across the moors in the shrouded mysterious late night fog where she comes upon a sphere with an observation glass and she looks in, a strange face peers out at her!

X-shows his face

Enid runs and gets her father, and when they arrive back at the ship to inspect it, a light shines in her father’s face and becomes temporarily submissive. The laser gun creates a calming light zone where people not only comply, but can understand the droning language of the alien from X. When Lawrence and Mears go back to investigate the Man from Planet X comes out once again to greet them. In a very interesting scene, this adorable alien attempts to judge whether these earth men can be trusted, so he turns off his air supply until Lawrence realizes what he is doing he turns his air back on and from that point he sees that Lawrence can be trusted.

Dr. Mears is another matter entirely. The Man from Planet X has not come to Earth meaning any harm, and only turns defense and hostile after the greedy Mears bares his viciously aggressive teeth–bad scientist, bad bad scientist!

The Man from Planet X Enid and Dad get zapped by beam

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The Man From Planet X 1951

The Man from Planet X

The Man from Planet X Enid is scared

The Man from Planet X alien follows them home

The alien follows both men back to the tower where they’re staying, but he’s left with the greedy Mears who only wants to exploit the poor little gray guy in the cutest little space suit ever. He discovers great cosmic secrets from Mr. alien X conversing within the universal language of mathematics. The nasty Mears tries to subdue him by turning his oxygen source on low but once he revives and takes Mears and Enid with him back to the ship, later taking Professor Elliot and several villagers along with him putting them in the same hypnotic trance forming a wall around his ship.

The man from planet x Dr Mears intimidates x

Dr. Mears: [to the Man from Planet X –laughing] Dr. Mears: To think – a fantastic gnome like you had to hurdle out of space to put this power in my hands. Well, now that we’ve made contact, I’m gonna tear out every secret you’ve got!

the-man-from-planet-x dr mears is dangerous

man_from_planet_x he comes in peae

the-man-from-planet-x-LAwrence and the alien

The Man from Planet X dr under light

the man from planet x villagers and contsable

Planet X is drawing nearer to Earth… Roy Engle as Tommy the Constable calls in the military. John Lawrence manages to awaken the sleep walkers and get them safely away from the ship, while the evil Dr. Mears runs back in the direction of military fire. The space craft and sadly, the alien are blown to smithereens. Planet X in it’s wake creates terrestrial winds, and bright lights — and then disappears into the vastness of outer space once again, perhaps dooming Earth to bad weather?

the man from planet x bad weather

Whether or not The Man from Planet X was an innocent drifter who found himself in a kerfuffle on Earth just trying to survive being in the wrong place at the right time or as Lawrence feared might have been trying to invade the planet… because of his ‘otherness’ he had to be destroyed.

Dr. Mears-” How may we know what processes of thought run through his head? How may we assume he thinks as we do? How may we anticipate what a bizarre and fantastic organism might or might not do?”

The Man from Planet X oxygen tank testing humanity

Down on the ground Alien X has turned off his oxygen to test the earthling’s response. He’s about as aggressive as a kitten going belly up! John turns his air back on.

I have to admit that I am one of the ones who finds Edgar Ulmer’s work fascinating and worthy of it’s cult following as he’s done everything from moody b horror films to film noir. Some more lavish budgets like The Black Cat 1934, and Bluebeard 1944, to film noir masterpieces like Detour (1946) Some poverty row flicks with titles like Girls in Chains, Isle of Forgotten Sins and Jive Junction all made in 1943.

In an interview with film maker Peter Bogdanovich in Kings of the Bs, Ulmer said that he had to do it all for the sake of the money, “I admit to myself that I was somehow schizophrenic in making pictures. On one hand, I was absolutely concerned with the box office and on the other, I was trying to create art and decency with style. I could not completely get out of the commercial though I knew it limited me.” 

The Man from Planet X a diving bell

the man from planet x dr and john look inside the ship

But as Bill Warren says, what ultimately wound up happening because of Ulmer’s hand in The Man From Planet X resulted in ‘the first science fiction gothic horror film.”

An Austrian implant who had a knack for set design. And the lustrous and atmospheric demur of The Man From Planet X  just sets this curious and obscure little gem apart from all the other Sci-Fi films of the 1950s.

Enid Elliot: When I got close to it, it looked like a giant glass ball girdled with something like a steel belt. Three of them, I think. When I got close enough to look in – there it was.

Professor Elliot: It? What?

Enid Elliot: That face! Right on the other side of the glass looking right into mine! I was terrified!

Professor Elliot: A face? A human face?

Enid Elliot: A ghastly caricature like something distorted by pressure. I can’t think how else to describe it – a horrible, grotesque face looking right into my eyes!

Professor Elliot: Your statement has the tinge of fantasy.

the man from planet x diving bell

Enid Elliot: You know, I think that creature was friendly. I wonder what would have happened if… if Dr. Mears hadn’t frightened him.

 John Lawrence: Who knows? Perhaps the greatest curse ever to befall the world, or perhaps the greatest blessing.

The Man from Planet X a curse or blessing

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Continue reading “🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s- The year is 1951- Part 2″

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

weird-noir
There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

EDGAR G.ULMER’S: THE BLACK CAT (1934) “ARE WE BOTH NOT… THE LIVING DEAD?”

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“The phone is dead. Do you hear that, Vitus? Even the phone is dead.”

Karloff and Lugosi promo shot

THE BLACK CAT (1934)

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THE BLACK CAT (1934) U.S. (Universal) runs 65 minutes B&W, was the studio’s highest grossing picture in 1934. The film was also ranked #68 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movies. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and written for the screen by Ulmer and Peter Ruric.
Also titled: House of Doom; The Vanishing Body (the alternative British title was used in it’s re-release in 1953 as a double bill with The Missing Head an alternative title for the “Inner Sanctum’s” offering Strange Confession.

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
Tod Browning’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi
Boris Karloff  in Jame's Whales Frankenstein
Boris Karloff in Jame’s Whales Frankenstein 1931

With the success that Universal Studios garnered from Tod Browning’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1931 starring Hungarian born actor Bela Lugosi, and the equally sensational popularity of Mary Shelley’s adapted Frankenstein 1931 directed by James Whale starring Boris Karloff, it would seem only natural for the studio to harness the cult popularity of these two stars, creating horror vehicles to pair them together in. This is the first of the collaboration between Boris and Bela. Also both stars were equally billed in terms of their leading roles. In Lew Landers The Raven 1935, Lugosi dominated as Dr. Richard Vollin and in Lambert Hillyer’s The Invisible Ray 1936, the emphasis was more on Karloff’s complex character Dr. Janos Rukh. The Black Cat was a huge success for Universal and opened up the flood gates for seven more films featuring the collaboration of Karloff and Lugosi; Gift of Gab (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Black Friday (1940), and You’ll Find Out (1940).

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BlackCat Poelzig cat Shadow

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Edgar Allan Poe

Although The Black Cat 1934 claims in it’s opening credits that the film is ‘suggested’ by Edgar Allan Poe’s story from 1843 the film bares no resemblance to his short story, nor did Poe ever pen a single word about Satanism in all his volumes of the curiously macabre. The film does evoke the spirit of Poe’s fixation with morbid beauty, the preservation or perseverance of love after death, the suggestive ambiance, conflation of beauty and death and the unconscious dread of the uncanny. The architectural lines seem to also evoke the nihilistic sensibilities of Jean-Paul Sartre‘s ‘No Exit’ or a Kafka-esque fantasy of entrapment, with a mood set forth of futility and hopelessness.

Bela climbs the stairs

“Don’t pretend, Hjalmar. There was nothing spiritual in your eyes when you looked at that girl.”-Werdegast

Poelzig and his women in death

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‘the beast’ or the wickedest man in the world Aleister Crowley

Karloff’s character Poelzig is actually based on the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. Ulmer and Ruric were inspired by an odd news story circulating in the world press shortly before the making of the film. Stranger than fiction, it seems a naive young couple who were visiting a remote home of a magician, became entangled in the occult rituals involving an unfortunate animal sacrifice, a victimized black cat named Mischette. The magician was Aleister Crowley, and the isolated location was his Abbey of Thelema in Sicily. The press got wind of this when Crowley accused one of his writer friends Nina Hamnett of libel in a London Court. Hamnett had mentioned Crowley in her 1932 autobiography Laughing Torso.

The passage that incited Crowley’s vengeful wrath was Hamnett’s description of his days at the Abbey of Thelema “He was supposed to practice Black Magic there, and one day a baby was said to have disappeared mysteriously, There was also a goat there. This all pointed to Black Magic, so people said, and the inhabitants of the village were frightened of him.” Crowley became known in the public’s perception as ‘the wickedest man in the world.” It was from this story that the seed of sensationalism gave rise to the idea for The Black Cat which emerged as a tale of savagery and horror for Ulmer.

So, in actuality the title has nothing to do with Poe’s short story at all, as it merely alludes to Dr.Vitus Werdegast’s (Lugosi) all-consuming fear and dread of cats. A more faithful adaption would be The Living Dead (1934) directed by Thomas Bentley, and Tales of Terror (1962). The Black Cat (1941) starring Basil Rathbone was more of an old dark house mystery.

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Roger Corman directs Peter Lorre in Tales of Terror 1962

This mysterious and decadent tale was directed by Austrian born Auteur Edgar G.Ulmer’s who was part of the vast succession of émigrés of high-art who came to America, Ulmer passed away in 1972.

It is one of the darkest films of the 30s.The Black Cat is an effusive, atmospheric and brutal masterpiece of decadent horror among some of Ulmer’s other interesting contributions (People on Sunday 1930, Bluebeard 1944, film noir classic Detour 1945, and the wonderfully lyrical science fiction fantasy The Man From Planet X 1951).

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Influenced by the German Expressionist movement, the film lays out a sinister territory, strange and foreboding, unsavory and dangerous, clandestine and provocative. Ulmer worked for Fritz Lang in the early days living in Germany involved on films including Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). He also worked with F.W. Murnau on Sunrise (1927) Ulmer also worked with Max Reinhardt, Ernst Lubitsch in the 20s and Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnermann and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan,who was responsible for Metropolis’ miniature sky-scapes and vast edifices.

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On the set of The Black Cat
Boris and Bela in Edgar Ulmers The Black Cat
Boris and Bela on the set of Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat

The Black Cat is considered to be Ulmer’s best film, though his career did start to maneuver it’s way downward into poverty row’s fabulous cinematic gutter toiling in low budget features, after beginning an affair with a script girl named Shirley Castle Alexander who was married at the time to one of Carl Laemmle’s favorite nephews. At the time Laemmle was head of Universal Studios, and so Ulmer was essentially blackballed by the mogul from Hollywood. Another factor might have been Ulmer’s unwillingness to sacrifice aesthetic sensibilities over commercial profits.

Ulmer and Shirley got married and wound up moving to New York City spending many of his years working on low-budget films. He began this part of his career by making bargain-basement westerns under the pseudonym John Warner directing a series of cheap ethnic-market movies incorporating groups like Ukrainian,Yiddish and African Americans, before he moved onto the more stylish low budget thrillers.

Edgar Ulmer in the directors seat

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Edgar G. Ulmer

The Strange Woman poster

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By the 1940s Ulmer wound up back in Hollywood but had already resigned himself to making poverty row productions. All of which I find thoroughly enjoyable, such as his Bluebeard (1944) starring the ubiquitous John Carradine, Strange Illusion (1945) and film noir cult classic Detour (1945) starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage who’s battered and desolate characters actually fit the noir cannon with an authentic realism despite the anemic budget. I also love The Strange Woman (1946) and another great film noir  Ruthless (1948) with Zachary Scott.

Ulmer still remained a very productive director with PRC, even if it was one of Hollywood’s bastard children. Studio head Leon Fromkess never gave Ulmer enough money to fund his pictures, Ulmer wanted to produce high art films and first class effects as his origin had come from a place where he was such a ”visual artist as well as a filmmaker. The one good by-product of the deal was that it gave him creative license to run with what ever vision he had for a working project of his.

Boris and Bela on the staircase

Director Ulmer also doubled as set designer on The Black Cat to create a work of visual stateliness, beautifully stylish and elaborate with its collection of modernist set pieces, working with the art direction and set design of Charles D. Hall and cinematographer John J. Mescall’s (The Bride of Frankenstein) vision of the striking, uniquely cold and Futuristic Modern Gothic art deco ‘castle fortress’ and it’s interior shots creating the arresting landscape of luxury belonging to the enigmatic Poelzig’s (Karloff) inner-sanctum.

The eclectically sharp and angular camerawork establishes a stylish Machine Age imagery and eerie symmetrical aestheticism. Mescall’s camerawork creates a very non-Hollywood and non-stereotypical horror film, filled with a sense of melancholy responsiveness from the heavily influenced authentic Eastern European films of the period. There’s also a quality of cinematic eroticism with Mescall’s use of muting the focus within the shot to create an added emphasis on suggestive sexuality, as the camera dances through various scenes.

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Boris High Priest

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Poelzig down the spiral stairs

The stark use of light and shadow, the well defined contrast of light and dark with it’s cold black spaces and diffuse whites constructing margins that pay homage to the expressionistic lighting used by German Expressionists film makers of the 1920s and early 30s. The atmosphere is oppressive as well as claustrophobic with an added air of perversity that effervesces within the elegant framework.

Ulmer co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Ruric (who used the pseudonym Paul Cain for his hard edged detective novelettes for pulp magazines, with screenplays such asGrand Central Murder 1942 and Mademoiselle Fifi 1944). Their script for The Black Cat deals with a deadly game of chess, ailurophobia (fear of cats) rather taboo and provocative subjects such as war crimes, ‘Satan Worship’, human sacrifice, being flayed alive, drug addiction and the underlying perverse fetishism of necrophilia.

Heinz Roemheld’s blustering classical score, with the pervasive use of work from classical composers, all set the stage for a mélange of sadism, decadence, erotic symbolism, torture and hedonist themes of pleasure pain and death. The underscoring of this deliberate use of slow, solemn and imposing classical music emphasizes the atmosphere of entrapment and hopelessness.

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Boris Karloff as the imposing Hjalmar Poelzig

Karloff’s character, Hjalmar Poelzig’s morbid and unwholesome preservation of his deceased wife whom he stole from Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), having manipulated Werdegast’s wife into marrying him telling her that her husband died in the war, ultimately murdering her and then forcibly marrying Werdegast’s daughter is all very salacious material. Werdegast’s wife’s body is kept in a state of suspended animation like a sleeping doll which is visually shocking and gruesome. He tells Werdegast that his daughter too is deceased but in actuality she is Poelzig’s new young bride. a drugged sexual slave. The film possesses so many strange and disturbing elements. The allusion to incest, sacrificial orgies and the heightened presence of music drawing heavily from Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B and Schumann’s Quintet in E Flat Major, op.44, Tschaikowsky and most notably for me, Beethoven’s movement no.7, a personal favorite of mine.

The film was made just prior to the strictly enforced production guidelines of The Hayes Commission that policed all the sin and immorality on the silver screen. Allegedly there were various edits to the production that Universal insisted upon, but the film still bares a very deviant and erotically depraved tenor to the narrative’s mise en scéne.

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When Universal executives both Carl Laemmle Jr and Sr. screened the film they were horrified by Ulmer’s rough cut, they insisted that he edit the film and so they hacked it up and toned it down. And actually Bela Lugosi himself was unsettled at the thought of his protagonist showing lusty desires for the very young American girl Joan. Ulmer reluctantly went back and edited some of the harsher scenes out, including the infamous ‘skinning’ sequence, A comparison to the original script from the final version shows that many of the most disturbing elements, including a more unabashed orgy at the black mass, were quickly snipped away and scenes which were more violent and containing more suggestive elements were exorcized like the devil.

But in a subtle victory of wile, Ulmer added a few more scenes showing Karloff taking Lugosi through his historical dungeon artifacts of the encased suspended beautiful women in glass, the posed dead bodies in perpetual lifelike form as if by taxidermy, collecting them as his fetish, the idea of possessing them eternally as an ‘object’ in a state of death, the theme of necrophilia must have slipped by the Laemmles.

Women in glass cases

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Poelzig’s women in glass cases preserved. The imagery is reminiscent of Poe’s fixation with death and beauty, and the conflation of the two

The subject of contemporary Satanism had only been dealt with on the screen once before by Lugosi in his supporting role in the long forgotten and believed to be lost The Devil Worshipper (1920 German) Die Teufelsanbete.

Universal’s marketing department downplayed the aspect of Satanism in the picture, nervous that the idea of devil worship might not be acceptable to the public theater goer as entertainment. So in actuality the original version must have really pushed the boundaries farther and been even more sinister. British censors found the film so offensive and unacceptable that the British print of the film, entitled House of Doom replaces any reference to black magic, using less disturbing references to ‘sun worshipper’, (silly) which essentially obliterates the entire transgressive significance and it’s impact.

Carl Laemmle had given Ulmer a free reign on the story’s content, but kept a close eye on the director in other respects. Ulmer had not been given the larger budgets that either Dracula or Frankenstein had been endowed with. He was also given a very short span of time to shoot the film, a mere fifteen days. This did not deter or side track Ulmer at all who was used to working with small budgets, and knew how to construct a film that looks as elegant as any largely budgeted project. He began imagining the story, scrapping many scripts that Universal had been collecting. Any pretext associating the picture with Poe’s short story was cast to the wind. And so he created an entirely new vision. At the core, the film works thematically as a revenge piece. But of course there is so much more bewitching the film’s narrative.

Gustav Meyrink novelist The Golem Prague Jew
Prague Jew Gustav Meyrink novelist The Golem
The Golem
Paul Wegener in the adaptation of Czech writer Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem

In the 1960s Peter Bogdanovich interviewed Ulmer in ‘The Devil Made Me Do It‘ who recalled another theme that influenced The Black Cat. He had been in Prague… and met novelist Gustav Meyrink the man who wrote The Golem as a novel. Like Kafka, Mayrink was a Prague jew who was tied up with the mysticism of the Talmud. They had a lot of discussions, contemplating a play based upon the Fortress Doumont which was a French fortress the Germans had destroyed with their shelling during World War I. There were some survivors who didn’t come out for years. The commander who ultimately went insane three years later was brought back to Paris, driven mad because he had literally walked on a mountain of bodies and bones. “The commander was a strange Euripides figure.Ulmer told Bogdanovich. (Euripides being an archetypal figure as a representational mythical hero, an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Also Euripides voluntarily exiled himself, rather than be executed like his colleague Socrates who was put to death for his perceived dangerously intellectual influence.)

Much of the ambiance of this historic incident is reflected in Bela Lugosi’s dialogue in The Black Cat.

Werdegast-"I can still sense death in the air"…
Vitus Werdegast– “I can still sense death in the air.”

“And that hill yonder, where Engineer Poelzig now lives, was the site of Fort Marmorus. He built his home on it’s very foundations. Marmorus, the greatest graveyard in the world.” – Vitus Werdegast

Within The Black Cat is there an aesthetic tension between Expressionist Caligarism and The New Objectivity movement or Neue Sachlichkeit, which begin in Habsburg Central Europe at the dawn of the Nazi era? The New Objectivity espoused a new attitude of public life in Weimar Germany with it’s art, literature, music and architecture created to adapt to the changing mood of the culture. It was characterized by a practical engagement with the world, which was regarded by Germans to be an inherently American style or the cult of objectivity, functionalism, usefulness, essentially- Americanism. While the film injects a modern wholesome American couple into the plot, they are mired down in the decaying ghosts of the past atrocities and sins perpetrated not only on the land, but by presence of the vengeful and malignant atmosphere. An atmosphere represented within the framework of a very Caligarian milieu. This creates a friction or contrast by injecting the fresh American presence into the plot, surrounding them within an environment of an arcane and non-naturalist landscape.

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The Expressionist Caligarism was started by director Robert Wiene who’s surreal masterpiece Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari will always be remembered as the iconic ultra-expressionist watershed moment of the genre. ‘Caligarism’ Painters turned set designers Walter Röhring and Walter Reimann were responsible for the brilliant expressionist style which influenced other films with both the ornamental patterns transfixed in the dysmorphic repertoire of shapes and configurations that permeated the set designs for 20s science fiction films like Andrew Andrejew’s AELITA – Queen of Mars 1924.

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AELITA- Queen of Mars 1924

The use of the color black or more accurately, the absence of light, can also been seen as part of the symbolism in The Black Cat: We are the voyeurs to this claustrophobic madness, as spectators we see the horror as highlighted by the stark blackness of the clothes, the black trees which are filmed in silhouette against a blackened sky. Poelzig is often silhouetted in distinctive blackness. This use of the color black or again more accurately in lighting it with the absence of any color or ‘light’, is used thematically as a way of installing a sadistic marker of the imagery.

expressionist black Poelzig

Cast of Characters:

  • Boris Karloff is Hjalmar Poelzig
  • Bela Lugosi is Dr. Vitus Werdegast
  • David Manners is Peter Alison
  • Julie Bishop is Joan Alison (as Jacqueline Wells)
  • Egon Brecher is The Majordomo to Poelzig
  • Harry Cording is Thamal Werdegast’s faithful servant
  • Lucille Lund is Karen Werdegast
  • Henry Armetta is Police Sergeant
  • Albert Conti is Police Lieutenant
  • John Carradine plays the Organist (uncredited)

Boris Karloff plays Haljmar Poelzig who is perhaps one of his most impressively darker characterizations. His all black attire, strangely androgynous hair style, and exaggerated use of make-up accentuates his features giving him the appearance of extreme and austere wickedness. Karloff’s eyebrows arch, his eyes flare and the use of his black lipstick make him almost deathly. Jack Pierce (The Man Who Laughs 1928, Dracula 1931,Frankenstein 1931 White Zombie 1932, The Mummy 1932 Bride of Frankenstein 1935 ) was responsible for the subtle yet dramatic make-up.

Karloff’s voice, his wonderfully lilting voice is typically modulated within the drift of his dialogue. He is remarkable as the incarnation of profane evil, with his icy cold reserve and detachment from the world.

Both protagonists are enigmatic, Karloff’s Poelzig’s utter malevolence and Lugosi’s hero Dr. Vitus Werdegast who is sympathetic yet also damaged, callous and obsessed by his lust for revenge, make both these disparate figures, magnetic archetypes that are equally compelling.

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Boris and Bela in a high stakes chess match, a game of death

The film takes place in Hungary, starting out with scurrying masses boarding the grandeur of the Orient Express. The Allison’s are on their way to Budapest,Visegrad for their honeymoon. American Newlyweds Peter a mystery writer and his new bride Joan Allison board the opulent train. David Manners who plays spare hero Peter Allison had portrayed Jonathan Harker in 1931’s Dracula opposite Lugosi, and again appeared as the leading man with Karloff in The Mummy 1932. Jacqueline Wells plays Joan. At first the young love birds have their compartment all to themselves until Dr. Vitus Werdegast, psychiatrist and veteran of World War I, a captive who has just been released from a prisoner of war camp after 15 years imprisonment, (Ulmer himself was a refugee of Hitler) enters the compartment due to a mix up needing a place to sleep. He tells the young couple that he is on his way to visit an ‘old friend.’

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Vitus Werdegast -“So you are going to Visegrad”
Peter Allison- “Yes to (sounds like) Gaermbish by bus.”
Vitus Werdegast– “Gaermbish is very beautiful, I too am going very near there.”
Peter Allison– “for sport?”
Vitus Werdegast (raising his eyebrows, looking down and speaking more to himself) perhaps… I go to visit an ‘old friend'” (spoken with a dark unpinning of hatred)

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While Joan and Peter fall asleep the gentle yet peculiar Werdegast becomes fixated on her, stroking her hair while her husband Peter who is now awake watches silently for a moment. Werdegast explains that his wife and daughter were left behind when he was sent away to prison.

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Vitus Werdegast- “I beg your indulgence my friend. Eighteen years ago I left a girl, so like your lovely wife… To go to war. Kaiser and country you know… (serious look, deeper inflection) She was my wife. Have you ever heard of Kurgaal? (Peter quietly nods ‘no’) It is a prison below Amsk. Many men have gone there… Few have returned. (taking in a deep breath) I have returned. After fifteen years… I have returned.”

Out in the rain let's share a ride

On their way

Bus Crash

Joan injured in crash

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When the honeymooners get off the train, it is pouring rain… they agree to share a bus ride with Werdegast , but there is a storm and the desolate rain soaked roads are treacherous, causing the bus to crash. The bus driver dies, and Joan is injured in the wreck. Needing to seek shelter Dr. Werdegast recommends that they join him at his friend’s home, the Castle Poelzig, so he can take care of the young bride.Werdegast treats Joan’s injury, injecting her with a powerful hallucinogen called hyoscine.

The name Poelzig is an homage to Hans Poelzig set designer/architect of the 1920s who’s version of Der Golem was stunning. Real life Poelzig was responsible for the astonishing Prague set that underpinned the mythic mood of The Golem.

In Hans Poelzig’s own words, “The effect of architecture is magical.” And he meant that literally as he believed that every building was a living thing, had it’s own musical rhythm and a mystical sound that could be ‘heard’ by the those who were initiated into the world of magic. Though a very private man it was known that Poelzig dabbled in magical arts, holding spiritualist seances with his wife at their home and using their daughter as a medium.

According to Poelzig’s biographer, Theodor Heuss, his library was “filled with the works of mystics, the occult sciences and astrology”  he was in the pursuit of the mysteries of eternal forms that he erected and revered through his sacred work constructing his grand style architectural designs as his ‘magic’ medium. Poelzig also found cinema to be an environment for his magical sensibilities, jotting in his notebook “Film… the magic of form-the form of magic… Devil’s Mass…” 

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Architect Engineer Hans Poelzig who indulged in the magical arts and believed that buildings had a soul…

Poelzig intrigued a lot of people with his mysterious persona. Director Max Reinhardt hired Engineer Hans Poelzig to build sets for his theatrical stages. Ulmer was one of the architect’s junior assistants who later worked on the set of The Golem as a silhouette cutter for Paul Wegeners monumental production. Ulmer had studied architecture in Vienna and so carried that knowledge with him which sheds light on his sense of set design.

Hans Poelzig had a grand imagination, a creative fortitude and a host of eccentricities, one of which was to be at times a very overpowering presence and domineering personality.

Architect Engineer Hans Poelzig

This left an impression on Ulmer, who took those memories from Germany to Hollywood and created a cinematic resurrection of designer Hans Poelzig’s persona in the image of Karloff’s shadowy devil worshiper Hjalmar Poelzig, creating the shades, shadows and the template for Ulmer’s mystical engineer sadist of The Black Cat’s.

F.W. Murnau’s Faust 1926 too, definitely bears it’s influence on Ulmer who worked as a crew member on the film. Faust, in terms of cinema of the Satanic, was a major studio production who’s main protagonist was the Devil and who was a complex character, and not merely a vehicle for a simple horror themed picture, it sprung from a confluence of intellectualism and metaphysical ponderings.

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Murnau’s Faust (1926)

DEVILS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION IN CLASSICAL FILM

Stefan Eggeler-illustrations for Gustav Meyrink-Walpurgisnacht-(1922)
Stefan Eggeler-illustrations for Gustav Meyrink-Walpurgisnacht-(1922)
Dante's Inferno
Dante’s Inferno

The Black Cat does seem to be one of the earliest illustrations of the Satantic cult film. While the era of Silent Film had a slew of films that dealt with the devil and black magic, (Dante’s Inferno 1911,The Student of Prague 1913, Henrik Galeen’s The Golem 1914 Thomas Edison’s The Magic Skin 1915, The Black Crook 1916, The Devil’s Toy 1916,The Devil’s Bondswoman 1916, Conscience 1917, Murnau’s Satanas 1919, Der Golem 1920,The Devil Worshipper 1920, Dreyer’s Leaves of Satan’s Book 1920, and 1921’s Häxan, Nosferatu 1922. The Sorrows of Satan 1926 and  F.W. Murnau’s Faust 1926 ) After the economic crash of 1929 these very recognized landmark films seem to disappear.The 30s had The Black Cat 1934 and The Student of Prague (1935), both these films might be the protracted essence of the Satanic Expressionism of 20s German cinema.

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Dante’s Inferno 1911
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Director F.W. Murnau’s expressionist extravaganza Faust 1926

The ‘devil worship’ film or ‘Satanic’ cinema evokes our primal fears, paranoia and unconscious dread that is implicit toward the ‘Other’ As was in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s brilliant portrayal of this very paranoia. Satanic films trigger our fears of the intrusion of an outsider who infiltrates society, or rather the comfortability of our moral landscape. It also sign posts our secret pleasures which are derivative or surrogate as catharsis by way of the horrors of satanic power. In the 40s the few offerings were, William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941, Maurice Tourneur’s Carnival of Sinners (1943) and Mark Robson/Val Lewton’s literate and intensely woven The Seventh Victim (1943) and Thorold Dickinson’s imaginative masterpiece The Queen of Spades 1949.

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director William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
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The 7th Victim (1943) a shadow play about a devil cult by Val Lewton
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Thorold Dickinson’s story about a pact with the devil  The Queen of Spades 1949

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Black Cat Lobby Card

While Universal had successes with both Dracula and Frankenstein, The Black Cat is a more intensely layered film with it’s hidden and not so implicit meanings. It has a depth that explores the undercurrent of the 1920s aestheticism and fascination with magic. There are heterogeneous elements that run through both compelling performances by Karloff and Lugosi’s characterizations.

Manning, Karloff and Bela

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Poelzig enters Peters room

"Next time I go to Niagra Falls"
“Next time I go to Niagra Falls”

karloff and lugosi at the desk

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Werdegast “You sold Marmorus to the Russians… scurried away in the night and left us to die. Is it to be wondered at, that you should choose this place to be your house. A masterpiece of construction built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction… the masterpiece of murder. (he laughs) the murderer of ten thousand men returns to the place of his crime. Those who died were fortunate. I was taken a prisoner to Kurgaal, Kurgaal, where the soul is killed… slowly. Fifteen years I rotted in the darkness. Waited… not to kill you, to kill your soul… slowly. Where is my wife Karen and my daughter?!!!!”

Poelzig“Karen? Why what do you mean?”

Werdegast“I mean you told Karen I had been killed, I found out that much in Budapest. I mean you always wanted her in the days at Salzberg before the war, always, from the first time you saw her. I mean that after you saved your own hide and left us all to die in Marmorus, you took Karen and induced her to go to America with you. I traced the two of you there. And to Spain and to South America and finally here. Where is she?”

The film is also powerful in it’s evoking of the horrors of World War I, which was still a very haunting specter in the public psyche. Most Universal films offered escapism, in contrast The Black Cat confronts the viewer with a bit of historic retelling of the nightmares of war, more penetrating than the usual concocted monsters the studio was proffering.

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“Where is she?”
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Poelzig- “Vitus.. you are mad”
Poelzig “She died two years after the war”
Vitus Werdegast -“How?”
Poelzig “Of pneumonia, she was never really very strong you know.”
Vitus Werdegast- “(crying) And the child… our daughter?”
Poelzig “Dead…”

Karloff’s aloof and restrained malevolence guided by the subtle intonations of his melodious voice tethered to Lugosi’s sympathetic and often poignant performance as the broken Vitus Werdegast, in particular the scene when he first sees his dead wife Karen exhibited as if in a museum, suspended in death, evoking authentic tears, Why is she like this?” All set to the maudlin Ludwig Van Beethoven’s ‘Symphony no. 7: Second Movement.’

Beethovin’s symphony no. 7 often used in films and a most powerfully contemplative piece underscores Karloff’s soliloquy as the camera glides through the dark and dank dungeon of Marmorus taking us on a tour of the decaying deathly oxygen of the place.

Poelzig leads Werdegast through the subterranean enclosures of Marmorus. It is here that Werdegast sees his wife who had died two years after he was in prison, and that his Karen (Lucille Lund) is now encased in glass.

Poelzig reveals the perfectly preserved body of his wife in necrophilic stasis, that he’s encased in glass like an immoral specimen of his unholy fetishism. This might be the only other reference to Poe and his morbid preoccupation with beauty in death. He reveals the dead body of ‘their’ beautifully angelic wife, encased in her crypt like glass vessel. Poelzig lies to Werdegast telling him that his daughter is also dead.

Werdegast is devastated and demands retribution but Poelzig insists that fate must wait until the ‘outsiders’ are gone. Of course Poelzig intends to kill the Americans, sacrificing Joan, but forces Werdegast to play a diabolical game of chess the outcome for which the lives of the young couple hinges upon. Werdegast loses and Joan is then taken to another room to await Poelzig, as she is to be his next sacrifice at the black mass ritual during the dark of the moon, in his Bauhaus ceremonial inner sanctum of worship, his sepulcher of debauchery, his sadistic sanctuary, the archaic shrine to the devil.

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“Very well Vitus I’ll shall take you to her”
Being led to the bowels
The camera focuses on the darkened spiral staircase heading downward toward the dungeon and then again as Poelzig and Werdegast ascend from the subterranean nightmare.

Taken to the bowels

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Poelzig “Come… Vitus… come are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures. You say your soul was killed, that you have been dead all these years. And what of me… did we not both die here in Marmorus fifteen years ago ?… Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder. Are we not both, the living dead? For now you come to me playing at being the avenging angel… childishly thirsting for blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game Vitus. A game of death if you like. But under any circumstances, you shall have to wait until these people are gone. Until we are alone.”

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Werdegast, Poelzig and the Karen under glass

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“You will find her almost as beautiful as when you last saw her… Do you see Vitus I have cared for her tenderly and well.” Is she not BEAUTIFUL… “
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“I wanted to have her beauty always”-

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“Why’s she… why’s she like this…?”- 

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Poelzig has finished his nihilistic sermon. The camera as spectator angles back on the two men walking slowly again. What ever remained of the man, Vitus Werdegast has now been annihilated.

The essence of which makes the film as disturbing and queasy as any in this contemporary age of violent horror films. Ulmer convinced Laemmle Jr to let him make a film in the European Caligari style, surreal, post modern and artistic. The one condition was that he use Poe’s title for the picture. The story line is hallucinatory, dream like and nightmarish, framed within the architecture of a set that becomes part of the character of the plot. Poelzig it is revealed is the High Priest of a Satanic Cult, there is a scene where we catch sight of him reading a book entitled The Rites of Lucifer, which promotes the customary sacrifice of virgin blood while Werdegast’s beautiful blonde daughter Karen believed to be dead, sleeps next to him most likely kept in a drug induced cataleptic state, to maintain her appearance of a morbid deathly slumber in order to feed Poelzig’s penchant for conflating sexuality with death.

Poelzig and Karen bedroom scene

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The dark of the moon, tis tonight
“The dark of the moon, tis tonight”

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Hjalmar Poelzig owner, engineer and designer of the castle is an intense and eccentric man who’s castle rests upon the bloody ruins and remains of Fortress Marmorus and the slew of graves where the dead betrayed soldiers, victims of his treason during World War I are buried. Poelzig is as removed from his treacherous past as is his Modern castle which denies it’s bloody legacy.

Werdegast accuses Poelzig of betraying the Hungarians to the Russians, while he was the commanding officer of the Fort during the war. Telling him that he was responsible for leaving him and the other soldiers to die or be captured. He also believes that Poelzig stole his wife and child when he was sent to prison, and that they must still be in the fortress somewhere. Poelzig has a room secretly hidden especially for his satanic black masses. As the conflict unfolds, the young couple become the unwitting hostages of these two men.

One of these men is an unorthodox heretic who is consumed with power, death, sublimation and perverse sensuality. The other is blinded by revenge and hatred for the man who destroyed his life. He also has an all consuming fear of cats, and early on in the film kills Poelzig’s black cat, although Poelzig is seen carrying around a black cat with him while he glides around his house as he revisits the women he has encased in glass.

We are first introduced to Poelzig as he is laying on a bed with his young wife Karen, a quite provocative image by 1934 Hollywood standards. The vision is sterile and hypothermic, surrounded by glass, chrome and steel. As the camera moves into Poelzig’s bedroom lair, we see him as he rises up from a prone position emerging in silhouette like a wraith.

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Once Joan enters the castle Poelzig is drawn to her, as she is young and attractive possibly baring a resemblance to his dead wife. As the narrative progresses, it becomes even more strange and uncanny, as Poelzig’s dead wife is revealed to have been married to Werdegast, who believed he died during the battle of Marmorus. She marries Poelzig but he murders her soon afterwards, raising their daughter and then in an imbroglio of incestuous lust, marries the ethereal young girl, it’s so creepy and blasphemous.

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CapturFiles_71b Please child, listen to me we're all in danger, Poelzig is a mad beast I know
“Please child, listen to me we’re all in danger, Poelzig is a mad beast I know”
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“I know… I’ve seen the proof-‘He took Karen my wife murdered her and murdered my child”

Werdegast tells Joan “Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the devil of evil? Herr Poelzig is the great modern priest of the ancient cult. And tonight at the dark of the moon, the rites of Lucifer are recited. And if I’m not mistaken, he intends you to play a part in that ritual. a very important part. There child, be brave, no matter how hopeless it seems. Be brave it is your only chance.”

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the grand staircase Poelzig, Werdegast walk

Vitus,Hjlmar and Servant

Game of Death

Game of Death- Karloff and Lugosi match wits with a game of chess in order to decide our heroine's fate

Vitus loses at chess

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“‘I’m Karen… Madam Poelzig”
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“Karen do you understand me, your father has come for you”

Peter and Joan in danger

Peter Allison behind the bars

Joan is won in the game of death chess

Cult group Karloff ascends the stairs

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When Poelzig wins the chess game, Peter Allison is chained up and locked away in the dungeon below. Werdegast is spiraling into madness now and has his loyal servant Thamal merely pretend to be loyal to Poelzig in order to help his true master Werdegast. Joan meets Werdegast’s daughter Karen who wanders into her room like a lithe spirit. She introduces herself as Madam Poelzig. Joan tells her that her father is actually alive and in the castle waiting to rescue her. When Poelzig finds out he brutally kills Karen and leads Werdegast to find her body in order to torture him further.

Poelzig’s ascends the grand staircase as his cult guests begin to gather around him. the image is pictorial and impressive. as they ready themselves for the Satanic ritual. The soulless expressions on their faces is quite chilling.

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Poelzig begins his intonations to the dark master as Joan is led towards the alter.

Karloff improvises giving a compelling invocation to Satan yet actually consisting of a few harmless latin non- sequesters, phrases he used from his college latin, like Vino Veritas which basically means ‘In wine there is truth’. Cave Canum, ‘Beware of the dog’ and Cum grano salis which is ‘With a grain of salt.’

Werdegast and his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) stop the ceremony, interrupting the sacrifice and eventually avenge his wife’s death and the plundering and despoiling of his beautiful daughter. They rush Joan away from the ceremony and hide her from Poelzig.

Saving Joan

Vitus and Joan at the sacrifice

This is when Joan tells him that his daughter is quite alive and now been forced to marry Poelzig. Joan’s screams alert Peter who can not enter the barred room. He thinks Werdegast is assaulting her when he is trying to help her find the key to the door and so Peter shoots him, but he lets them escape.

Thamal has been wounded by Poelzig’s servant but rushes to help his master. The two men strap Poelzig to his Art Deco inspired contraption, embalming rack that looks like an angular cruciform, while Werdegast rips away Poelzig’s shirt, grabbing a scalpel he begins to skin his adversary alive.

Joan at the end

Joan on the floor after escape

peter gets the drop on poelzig's servant

Vitus discovers his daughter Karen dead

Vitus dead Karen

Karloff and Lugosi hand fight 2

Karloff and Lugosi hand fight

Strapping Poelzig to the Flaying cross

Flayed Alive 1

Flayed Alive 2

Flayed Alive

Flaying again

Flaying Karloff's face close up

Flaying Karloff Bela close up

Bela's revenge final

I’ll leave it here. It’s enough that you’ve seen Poelzig flayed alive. The film deserves a fresh re-viewing. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little overview of this striking masterpiece of Gothic horror featuring two of the most iconic genre stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Please let me know what you think, and please… be kind to black cats…

Your Black Cat loving MonsterGirl

April 20-24th is TERRORTHON: Celebrating the scariest classic films you’ve ever seen!

HOSTED BY Page of My Love Of Old Hollywood and Rich of Wide Screen World...

This promises to be a very hair raising event indeed with so many wonderful bloggers and classic horror films on the slab….

I’ll be offering my vision of Edgar G. Ulmer’s decadent masterpiece of 1934 The Black Cat with the very first pairing of Karloff and Lugosi… And I promise not to say a word about the little black cat in the film… cross my cat worshiping heart and hope to die.

Then once I leave Fortress Marmoros, I’ll be heading to the fog permeated small village called Whitewood in search of Christopher Lee and the Raven’s Inn, run by  Mrs. Newlis in Horror Hotel (City of the Dead) 1960

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MonsterGirl says BE THERE!!!!!! and be scared be very very scared!!!!!!

A trailer a day keeps the Boogeyman away! The Man From Planet X (1951)

THE MAN FROM PLANET X (1951)

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (The Black Cat 1934,Detour 1945) and starring Raymond Bond as Professor Elliot who accompanied by his daughter Enid (Margaret Field) sets up an Observatory on a remote Scottish island, to study a rogue planet that is heading toward Earth.

Robert Clarke plays John Lawrence a reporter who shows up, right after the spaceship from Planet X lands near the observatory. Also starring William Schallert  as Dr. Mears Professor Elliot’s assistant who tries to communicate with the man from Planet X.

Is this adorable, rubbery astronaut in a silver tubed space suit, good-natured or an enemy to the people of Earth? Your heart will pound, your pulse will throb…!

Prof. Elliot-“A face…a human face?”

Enid Elliot-“A ghastly caricature like something distorted by pressure… a horrible grotesque imitation looking right in my eyes!”

I actually had the rubber action figure of The Man From Planet X. In the 70s they had put out a series of replicas from various sci-fi movies. I also had the winged angel from Barbarella. Either  Octaman or one of the Green Slime, I can’t quite recall the detail work, (sad to say, I’m getting to be an older MonsterGirl) Plus I had the Red Devil alien from Angry Red Planet!

Do any of you remember these action figures as well? I’d love to hear from you!

“The WEIRDEST Visitor the Earth has ever seen!”

Keep watching the skies!-MonsterGirl