Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era, before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety that called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and post master general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and the Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” and “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all it’s risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its strangle hold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place since 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied it’s frame of mind and it’s puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sells. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with it’s violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) starring Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and a creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), social dilemma’s (drug abuse, poverty and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. The result, movies became more lewd, ruthless and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was it’s MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ who were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatures in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters, and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in it’s Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screen play pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit to the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered as perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly there were some productive strategies of circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man hunting, they sure seem to be mostly interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says, if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned was in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough as nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame or a risque night club owner. Perhaps shes an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no nonsense persona, be it her tough as nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often that not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in it’s scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency were getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. Of the various subject matter that was restricted on screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex-perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The films stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar  may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency , the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what were called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932 and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put it’s seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group who would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the ground work for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters, if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code had consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit representation of, or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanism within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before they reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid 1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, any illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s name. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secret, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career he challenged the restrictions of the Code, and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amended its ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexual’s were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were become more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of film goers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA ratings system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

DIrk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration, but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and the The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris of the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper, and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. They three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The risking Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald to flee to the America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cell mate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets to rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet as he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stage hand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak it’s name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on it’s face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted to film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggling with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn

Coded characters in film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily a positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Happy Birthday to Bradford Dillman April 14

Bradford Dillman in a scene from the film ‘Circle Of Deception’, 1960. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Untroubled good looks, faraway poise & self-control, with a sartyrial smile and brushed-aside sophistication  – that’s Bradford Dillman

Bradford Dillman is one of those ubiquitous & versatile actors who you find popping up just about everywhere, and whenever I either see him in the credits or think about some of his performances, I am immediately happified by his presence in my mind and on screen.  It’s this familiarity that signposts for me whatever upcoming diversion I’m in store for, will be something memorable indeed.

He’s been cast as a saint, a psychopath, elite ivy league intellectuals with an edge, unconventional scientists, military figures, droll and prickly individualists, clueless bureaucrats, or drunken malcontents and he’s got a sort of cool that is wholly appealing.

Bradford Dillman was omni-present starting out on the stage, and major motion pictures at the end of the 50s and by the 1960s he began his foray into popular episodic television series and appeared in a slew of unique made for television movies throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the addition of major motion picture releases through to the 90s. His work, intersecting many different genres from melodramas,historical dramas, thrillers, science fiction and horror.

There are a few actors of the 1960s & 70s decades that cause that same sense of blissed out flutters in my heart — that is of course if you’re as nostalgic about those days of classic cinema and television as I am. I get that feeling when I see actors like Stuart Whitman, Dean Stockwell, Roy Thinnes, Scott Marlow, Warren Oates, James Coburn, Lee Grant David Janssen, Michael Parks, Barbara Parkins, Joanna Pettet ,Joan Hackett , Sheree North,  Diana Sands, Piper Laurie, Susan Oliver and Diane Baker.  I have a fanciful worship for the actors who were busy working in those decades, who weren’t Hollywood starlets or male heart throbs yet they possessed a realness, likability, a certain individual knack and raw sex-appeal.

Bradford Dillman was born in San Francisco in 1930 to a prominent local family. During the war he was sent to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. At Hotchkiss, senior year he played Hamlet. At Yale he studied English Literature and performed in amateur theatrical productions and worked at the Playhouse in Connecticut. Dillman served in the US Marines in Korea (1951-1953) and made a pact that he’d give himself five years to succeed as an actor before he called it quits. Lucky for us, he didn’t wind up in finance the way he father wanted him to.

Actor Bradford Dillman (Photo by  John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Dillman enrolled and studied at the Actors Studio, he spent several seasons apprenticing with the Sharon Connecticut Playhouse before making his professional acting debut in an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarecrow” in 1953 with fellow Studio students Eli Wallach and James Dean. Dillman referred to Dean as ‘a wacky kid’ but ‘very gifted’.

He only appeared in two shows in October 1962 of The Fun Couple in 1957 with Dyan Cannon and Jane Fonda before the play closed in New York only after two days.

We lost Bradford Dillman last year in January 2018. I was so saddened to hear the news. And I missed the chance to tribute his work then, but now that his birthday is here, I feel like celebrating his life rather than mourning his death, so it’s just as well.

Bradford Dillman wrote an autobiography called Are You Anybody? An Actor’s Life, published in 1997 with a (foreword by Suzy Parker) in which he downplays the prolific contribution he made to film and television and acting in general. Though Dillman didn’t always hold a high opinion of some of the work he was involved in, appearing in such a vast assortment of projects, he always came across as upbeat and invested in the role.

“Bradford Dillman sounded like a distinguished, phony, theatrical name, so I kept it.”

[about his career] “I’m not bitter, though. I’ve had a wonderful life. I married the most beautiful woman in the world. Together we raised six children, each remarkable in his or her own way and every one a responsible citizen. I was fortunate to work in a profession where I looked forward to going to work every day. I was rewarded with modest success. The work sent me to places all over the world I’d never been able to afford visiting otherwise. I keep busy and I’m happy. And there are a few good films out there that I might be remembered for.”

Continue reading “Happy Birthday to Bradford Dillman April 14”

Quote of the Day! The Third Man (1949)

Harry Lime (Orson Welles) to Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten)  “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”

You’re EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ I gotta go set my Cuckoo Clock, see ya soon!

🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1953

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BUD & LOU, CAT-WOMEN, JEKYLL & HYDE, HOSTILE BRAINS and HOSTILE MARTIANS… IT CAME FROM… AND MUCH MUCH MORE!

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Abbott and Costello go to Mars poster

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They’re too wild for one world!

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Source-courtesy of Getty Images

Directed by Charles Lamont. Starring those 2 brilliant comedians Budd Abbott and Lou Costello, as Lester and Orville. With Mari Blanchard as Allura, Robert Paige as Dr. Wilson, Horace McMahon as Mugsy, Martha Hyer as Janie Howe, Jack Kruschen as Harry, Jean Willes as Capt. Olivia and Anita Ekberg as a Venusian guard.

From Keep Watching the Skies by Bill Warren –“To children in the 1940s and on until the mid-50s, a new Abbott and Costello movie was better than a trip to the circus.”

We all noticed that Bud Abbott was the straight man and Lou Costello was the mechanism to draw out the comic gags. At times Bud even came across as Warren says, “cruel” to Lou and I know for me it made me a bit uncomfortable even back then. Lou was lovable and wasn’t considered an idiot, but rather like a little boy trapped in a man’s body. Again I cite Bill Warren who sums it up beautifully-“His curiosity and haplessness got him into trouble and assured that he would stay there, but the film’s essential unreality always made us feel that Lou and Bud would be out of problems by the end…[…] There was always a sadness to Lou Costello, as there is with almost every clown.”

Go to Mars

Directed by Charles Lamont who did all of Bud and Lou’s films here, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) Bud plays Lester, a handyman who works for a rocket research institute, and Lou plays Orville, a handyman who works at an orphanage. Of course the story’s title indicates that they take a trip to Mars, when the pair accidentally launch one of the rockets with them on board! They take a short trip, a very short trip as unbeknownst to Lester and Orville they haven’t landed on Mars, but in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. So when the outlandish and bizarre costumes parade around the duo, they have no reason not to think they’ve landed on another planet…

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The film co-stars two wonderful character actors Horace McMahon who plays Mugsy  (Naked City tv series 1960s) and Jack Kruschen who plays Harry– both are bank robbers on the lam, who have used spacesuits they stole from the ship as a disguise when pulling the heist. The two criminals hide away on the spaceship equip with paralyzer guns and lots of science fiction gadgets. And it gets launched yet again with our two characters Lester and Orville. This time they are heading for Venus. To go with this silly gendered plot line you’ll have to take it that Venus is run by a Matriarch name Queen Allura (Mari Blanchard)

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Allura has banished all the men from the planet 400 years earlier because the King had been unfaithful to her. She also falls in love with Orville. Lou has eyes for Anita Ekberg (who wouldn’t…) she plays a Venusian guard. Queen Allura finds out that Lou is also unfaithful ‘like all men’ and goes crazy with anger. The passengers of the renegade ship manage to get away and crash land back on Earth.  There’s a funny scene as they zip around Manhattan in the ship they make the Statue of Liberty duck then they zoom thought the Holland Tunnel giving New York a piece of science fiction slapstick. The film also co-stars Robert Paige as Dr. Wilson, Martha Hyer as Janie Howe, and Jean Willes as Captain Olivia.

In Jim Mulholland’s The Abbott and Costello Book he talks about the film, “The futuristic sets on Venus look expensive , but the film is so silly and is so obviously geared to kiddie matinee audiences that it is almost impossible to endure.”

Well if the adult child in you still adores seeing the antics of Bud & Lou then it should be included in their list of films you want to see.

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Mary Blanchard as Queen Allura

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Anita Ekberg as a Venusian Guard

Venusian #1: “What is it?”

Allura: “I could be wrong, but I think it’s a man.”

Venusian #2: “That’s a man?”

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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The Laughs Are Twice as MONSTER-OUS as Ever Before!

Again directed by Charles Lamont. Lee Loeb and John Grant wrote the screenplay working from a story by Sid Fields, based off the character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal science-fiction fantasy novel. With camera work by cinematographer George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein 1939, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman 1943, Tarantula 1955)

With make up both Mr. Hyde and the mouse mask by Bud Westmore!

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Our two heroes Slim and Tubby meet Boris Karloff as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

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Bud and Lou had already met Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man and The Wolf Man, it was just a matter of time until they met the conflicted dual personality of Dr. Jekyll and his darker alter ego Mr. Hyde. It was the first time the boys came up against a monster since 1951.

Bud and Lou are American detectives who tag along Scotland Yard, and come to find out that that the menacing Mr. Hyde has been terrorizing London for years. Meanwhile the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll is one and the same man… Boris Karloff. Of course, Lou tries so hard to get Bud to believe that the kindly Dr. Jekyll is actually Hyde. The other players in the film include Craig Stevens as Bruce Adams a newspaper reporter who is in love with Vicky Edwards (Helen Wescott) which poses a problem as Dr. Jekyll himself is in love with Vicky as well.

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Bill Warren writes- “This romantic triangle is extremely artificial-Karloff at all time seems avuncular, not predatory-and was apparently added for the obligatory romantic elements, to enlarge the plot beyond Bud & Lou fleeing from Hyde.”

The film shows as Warren points out a “series of set pieces” as they chase Hyde around a wax museum, filled with homages to other films like wax likenesses of the Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula.

Sadly, the film was not well received, people had started to tire of the ‘meet’ films of Bud and Lou and the popularity was waning. Universal had actually been planning a Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon but it never got off the ground.

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Craig Stevens co-stars as Bruce Adams, Helen Wescott as Vicky Edwards and Reginald Denny as the Inspector with John Dierkes as Batley.

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Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Hyde

Slim: Now look! You can’t make two persons out of one. If there’s a monster, there’s a monster. If there’s a Dr. Jekyll, there’s a Dr. Jekyll. But one can’t be the other.

Tubby: Now listen Slim. All I know is that I locked up the monster and when I came back, Dr. Jekyll was there. You know I’m no magician.

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The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

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FANTASTIC SEA-GIANT CRUSHES CITY!

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Eugène Lourié who was an art director working with Jean Renoir. Directed The Colossus of new York 1958, The Giant Behemoth 1959, and Gorgo 1961. He started out designing ballets in Paris, was the art director for Strange Confession 1944, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry 1945, Limelight 1952, Shock Corridor 1963, The Naked Kiss 1964, The Strangler 1964. Eugène Lourié  designed one of Renoir’s most influential films, Rules of the Game (1939), he also designed work on The Southerner (1945) Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) and The River (1951) To say the least he has had a wide range of eclectic films.

Eugène Lourié  worked with the master Ray Harryhausen on the special effects and the creature which are spectacular!

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Screenplay by Bronx born Fred Freiberger ( Garden of Evil 1954, Beginning of the End 1957)

The film stars Paul Hubschmid as Professor Tom Nesbitt, Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter, Cecil Kellaway as Prof. Thurgood Elson foremost paleontologist , veteran science fiction hero Kenneth Tobey (The Thing 1951, It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955) as Col. Jack Evans, Lee Van Cleef as Corporal Stone, Steve Brodie as Sgt. Loomis, Ross Elliot as George Ritchie, Frank Ferguson as Dr. Morton and King Donovan as Dr. Ingersoll.

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A ferocious dinosaur awakened by an Arctic atomic test terrorizes the North Atlantic and, ultimately, New York City. The film begins when they are testing a nuclear device inside the Arctic Circle, which winds up freeing a prehistoric ‘Rhedosaurus’ which is a carnivorous giant beast that walks on four legs and lives under water and can walk on land too! Tom Nesbitt played by Paul ‘Hubsschmid’ Christian is the only survivor to tell about the prehistoric creature, but no one believes his story.

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Eventually the Beast emerges again and sinks a small ship with that survivor telling the same story, identifying the ‘Rhedosaurus’. Cecil Kellaway plays a well known paleontologist that Nesbitt seeks out for help. Now the Beast starts moving toward New York City believed to be the ancestral origin and breeding ground for the Rhedosaurus. It comes ashore on Manhattan, right near the Fulton Fish Market. Elson is lowered in a type of diving bell called a bathysphere so the paleontologist can study the creature up close. Unfortunately he becomes a tasty morsel, a hard candy with a soft center… Yikes!

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It then proceeds to smash and stomp everything in it’s path, until it returns to the river. What complicates things is that while it becomes wounded, they discover that it’s blood is highly infectious and deadly, so they need to find a way to destroy it even more than ever.

The wounded Rhedosaurus takes refuge in an old fair ground on Coney Island near a roller coaster which it takes out it’s aggression on by snapping it like twigs in it’s massive jaws and claws.

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Prof. Thurgood Elson: [in the diving bell, to view the monster] “This is such a strange feeling, I feel as though I’m leaving a world of untold tomorrows for a world of countless yesterdays….[…] It’s unbelievable he’s tremendous!”

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Professor Tom Nesbitt: “The world’s been here for millions of years. Man’s been walking upright for a comparatively short time. Mentally we’re still crawling.”

George Ritchie: [referring to the A-bomb test] “You know every time one of those things goes off, I feel as if I was helping to write the first chapter of a new Genesis.”

Professor Tom Nesbitt: “Let’s hope we don’t find ourselves writing the last chapter of the old one.”

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Cat-Women of the Moon

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SEE: THE DEADLY CAVE OF MOON-GOLD!

SEE: THE BLOOD-THIRSTY BATTLE OF MOON MONSTERS!

SEE: THE LOST CITY OF LOVE-STARVED CAT WOMEN!

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Directed by editor Arthur Hilton, who worked on noir classics  The Killers 1946, and Scarlett Street 1945. The film stars Sonny Tufts as Laird Granger, Victor Jory as Kip Reissner, Marie Windsor as Helen Salinger, William Phipps as Doug Smith, Douglas Fowley as Walt Walters, Carol Brewster as Alpha, Susan Morrow as Lambda, Suzanne Alexander as Beta, Cat-Woman are Bette Arlen, Roxann Delman, Ellye Marshall and Judy Walsh. originally in 3D– it’s Schlock at it’s very best!

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An American space crew is led by the uptight straitlaced Laird Granger (Sonny Tufts) who does everything by the book, but as Kip (Victor Jory) says “some things aren’t in the book” And that’s for sure, when you wind up on a planet with Cover Girls in black leotards. From the moment they leave the base on route to the moon, the crew find themselves in trouble when a meteor creates trouble for the ship, a fire in the bottom of the craft started by acid forces them to land, suggested by Lt. Helen Salinger who is the ship’s navigator and Laird’s girlfriend. She picks the area in between the dark and light sides of the moon. This makes Kip very suspicious though he’s pretty skeptical about most things that’s why he carries a gun with him at all times.

Don’t be too impressed with Windsor’s character playing a Lt, after they crash land she still has to grab for her compact and fix her face, and powder her nose. Marie Windsor (whom I adore) is sultry and perfectly suited for film noir (Force of Evil 1948, The Sniper 1952, City that Never Sleeps 1953, The Killing 1956, The Narrow Margin 1952 ), and is a joy to see in this film even if it’s a true stinker! She’s much better suited for the science fiction obscure gem that has it’s shocking moments, The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963).

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Helen leads the crew when they go out to investigate their surroundings and find a nearby cave, they realize that the atmosphere is exactly the same as it is on earth. There’s water and oxygen and so it is safe to take their space suits off. The gang is attacked suddenly by some cheesy hairy horned spiders which they manage to kill. In the meantime someone has stolen their spacesuits and helmets. They go deeper into the cave until they stumble onto an ancient Greekesque city inside the moon where they are greeted by women who look like a dance troupe for Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp in their black leotards. Helen slips away to meet Alpha (Brewster) the leader of the Cat-Women who are telepathic.

They are called Cat-Women for no reason I can glean, or that emerges from the entirely silly narrative. Alpha tells Helen- “Our generation predates yours by centuries.”

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The Cat-Women led by Alpha (Carol Brewster) has been in telepathic communication with and controlling Lt.Helen Salinger for years, unbeknownst to the men in the crew. There are no men on the moon but Zeta (Alexander) explains, “We have no use for men.”

Alpha tells Helen-“You are one of us now.”

Alpha has been controlling Helen by imprinting an image of the moon, a white spot on her hand. Once this spot is covered it breaks the control over her.

It’s not that the Cat-Women haven’t been enjoying their lives cavorting around with each other dancing and creeping around in their oh so Mod-erne leotards, it’s that their planet’s atmosphere is breaking up and in order to survive they must seek out a new planet. So the plan is to steal the crew’s rocket and go to Earth, c0ntrol the mind of the Earth women  and eventually take over the planet! First they must truly gain Helen’s male compatriot’s confidence in order to find out how to run the ship.

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Of course the cynical Kip doesn’t want any part of these gorgeous moon gals…

Kip secretly in love with Helen gets her alone, puts his arms around her, which breaks Alpha’s spell, and Helen tells him what’s going on.

Once Kip (Jory) figures this out he covers Helen’s hand and quickly asks her three questions, two that inquire whether she’s truly in love with Laird or him, the other is to find out how to get away.

But Alpha has already gotten information out of Laird and Walt has taken Zeta back to the ship to show her how it operates.

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It was Alpha who helped Helen get her assignment to the space crew. Of course, the men become enamored of Cat-Women in leotards, except for Kip (Victor Jory) who is suspicious of these beguiling tribe of moon temptresses. Walt Willis (Douglas Fowley) wanders off with one of the women to explore the cave that is filled with gold, she stabs him but not before he teaches her how to fly their spaceship. Another of the Cat-Women has fallen for one of the crew members, Lambda (Susan Morrow), falls hard for Doug Smith (Bill Phipps) the radio operator. All she wants is to go back to earth with Doug, romp around on a sandy beach drinking a Coca Cola.

In this soap space opera, the staid and steady Laird has fallen for Helen, and under a sort of mind control has given all the information the Cat-Women need to take over. They make plans to return to earth with Alpha and Beta (Suzanne Alexander). Lambda tries to intervene but gets brutally conked on the head with a large rock and killed. Kip shoots the evil Zeta and Alpha off screen, the remaining earth crew kill the rest of the Cat-Women, escaping with Helen and head back to earth.

Cat-Women of the Moon is one of those so bad it’s good movies that’s just fun to watch! It’s more space soap opera than science fiction but those girls are so outré Mod-erne in their black leotards BUT no physical attributes that make one think of any similarity to cats, their features nor feats of skill… The best part of the film is the dance scene by the Hollywood Cover Girls in their unlike cat costumes. The film was remade in 1959 called Missile to the Moon.

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As Bill Warren illustrates how badly filmed this is and in particular how ‘excruciatingly stupid’ the script and visuals are… (i.e.) the chairs the crew sit in are standard swivel desk chairs that roll around the floor on castors.– “Take the spaceship cabin. Ignoring the fact that it looks like someone’s front room and that down is always in the direction of the floor, even when the ship spins end-for-end in an effort to make the meteor fall off (which it does), there is still enough in the room to make a good technical director faint.”

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Laird Grainger: “The eternal wonders of space and time. The far away dreams and mysteries of other worlds. Other life. The stars. The planets. Man has been face to face with them for centuries, yet is barely able to penetrate their unknown secrets. Sometime, someday, the barrier will be pierced. Why must we wait? Why not now?”

Alpha: “Four of us will be enough. We will get their women under our power, and soon we will rule the whole world!”

 

Donovan’s Brain

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Directed by Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride 1947, The Man Who Cheated Himself 1950)

Based on a story written by Curt Siodmak who wrote the script for The Wolf Man 1941, with the script co-written with director Feist. This above average Science Fiction suspense stars Lew Ayres as Dr. Patrick J. Cory, Gene Evans as Dr. Frank Schratt, Nancy Reagan as Janice Cory, Steve Brodie as Herbie Yokum, Tom Powers as Donovan’s Washington Advisor, Lisa Howard as Chloe Donovan.

Donovan’s Brain is perhaps the caviar of Brain in a Tank films to all the other Velveeta films of that sort. Although it is a remake of the quite engaging Lady and The Monster (1944) and Vengeance (1962) both based on the novel Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak.

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Siodmak’s story has been retold several times, first with director George Sherman’s  The Lady and The Monster (1944) starring Erich von Stroheim, Richard Arlen and Vera Ralston. Then in 1962 it was re-visioned as a British Sci-fi chiller directed by Freddie Francis called The Brain starring Anne Heyward. Because of Siodmak’s talent at storytelling the film is an intelligent and compelling film

And there was at least one radio adaptation I believe through the Suspense series, which is a wonderful version, I own cast with Hans Conried, Jerry Hausner, John McIntire, and Jeannette Nolan.

And Boris Leven’s set design lays out the eerie ‘science gone awry’ landscape, with tanks filled with brains, it doesn’t hearken back to Strickfaden’s elaborate mad scientist milieu but it works for this particular science fiction/horror narrative.

Bill Warren-“One of the few sets apparently actually constructed for Donovan’s Brain is the laboratory, which looks satisfactorily jury-rigged and inexpensive. Unlike most ‘mad scientists’, Pat Cory hasn’t bothered to build elaborate consoles with labeled switches. The tank for the brain is literally a large tropical fish tank, again adding to the air of improvised science.”

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Essentially Dr. Patrick Cory (Lew Ayres) and his associate Dr. Frank Schratt (Gene Evans) are doing brain research, they’ve been trying to remove a monkey’s brain and keep it alive outside of the body, though the foundation for doing these experiments aren’t truly spelled out. We just hear that it’s “for the good of humanity.” In these fascinating Science Fiction tales where science hubris and it’s idolization by often well meaning doctors –often see their experiments go awry.

Assisting them is Pat’s wife, Jan played by Nancy Davis, who had just become Mrs. Ronald Reagan. Now, the experiment with the monkey was encouraging –“A brain without a body, alive!” I suppose in 1953, these three hadn’t met Jan in the Pan (The Brain that Wouldn’t Die 1962), or they wouldn’t have been that excited over the prospect of live brains in tanks looking like a benefit to humanity.

As fate would have it, the same day they have success with the monkey brain, a small plane crashes very close to the lab, being doctors Cory and Schratt are called upon to help the victims. There is but one survivor, a multi-millionaire named Warren H. Donovan. Donovan is close to death so the two operate on him, but it’s no use and the millionaire dies. But, it is Dr. Pat Cory who has the idea –“Science can use Donovan’s brain,” though his wife Jan and partner Frank fervently object at first. “What an idea, stealing a man’s brain”-they go along with Pat’s operating to remove the dead man’s brain and keep it alive in the tank…

In many ways, looking past the sci-fi elements of the story, it is a stark crime thriller about the evils of power. This is also one of those science fiction morality plays that informs us that is it ‘science’ itself that is the villain and is ‘evil and dangerous’, especially in the hands of a scientist, even if he is altruistic at heart. Dr. Pat Cory is a good man, who happened to trigger a very bad series of events. It is a story about “tampering with things man (and women) was not meant to know.” In the end he tells us, “I did many foolish things.”

The 1953 film is the closest to the novel. Dr. Patrick Cory, the scientist, attempts to save the life of millionaire Donovan “Donovan carried to an extreme the independence of the self-made man”, Dr. Pat Cory, who is working with the research of the powers of the brain, seduced by the potential of unlocking the secrets of the brain, seizes the opportunity to explore his theories. The danger ensues once he removes Donovan’s brain from the severely damaged body and under very clandestine experimentation not unlike our old Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Pat Cory manages to keep the brain alive in a tank in his laboratory.

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W.H.Donovan had been a very famous yet shady character in his business dealings, so his death draws a lot of media attention. So Pat and Frank have to keep their experiment a dark secret. The two scientists also run into a free-lance journalist Herbie Yocum played by Steve Brodie, who wants to take some sensational photos like the operating table where Donovan died. This, Pat Cory agrees to because he doesn’t want to create any suspicion around his death, especially near his laboratory. But Yokum takes a photo of the brain in the tank.

The experiment is a success and Donovan’s brain is taking in all the nourishment it needs to become stronger, it actually begins to increase in size. The equipment in the lab also indicates that there are thought waves occurring in the brain. Donovan’s brain is actually sending out thoughts telepathically. “Donovan’s brain is giving out thoughts. All I have to do is use my brain to receive them.” Pat Cory tells Frank. So he sits in front of the tank and concentrates leaving his mind open, and it works, he goes into a trance and starts to write notes in W.H. Donovan’s handwriting. This terrifies Jan and Frank, who worry about Pat’s state of mind. The next day, Donovan’s brain takes hold of Pat once again, this time actually causing him to limp the same way Donovan used to when he was alive. At this point Donovan is in complete control of Dr. Pat Cory.

But Donovan alive was a very powerful and ruthless business man , one of the wealthiest men in the world who is still asserting his influence from his remote tank. He forces his will over the poor scientist and actually possesses Dr. Pat Cory like an evil demon.  Lew Ayres is a wonderful actor who does a great job of playing Dr. Pat Cory. So good at playing sensitive civilized men, here he is at the mercy of a very strong willed cutthroat, who wants to see his missions carried out as planned right before his plane crashed. Pat charters a plane where he takes Donovan’s favorite suite in a hotel he was famous for hanging out in, and he closes out his bank account for $27,000 that Donovan kept under a false name. He purchases new equipment so the poor doctor can now boost his brain power even more. He even orders suits like the ones Donovan used to wear and takes up his dirty business dealings.

Pat runs into Yocum, who has figured out the truth behind all the secretive veil surrounding Donovan’s death/life. He knows that Donovan is still alive and starts to blackmail Pat Cory.

Steve Brodie who plays the smarmy reporter Yocum pays the price of finding out about Dr. Cory’s stealing Donovan’s brain and his plan to blackmail the doctor backfires. It isn’t long before, the ruthless mind of W.H. Donovan takes over Cory’s body again hypnotizing Yocum and sending him off into the desert so he can drive his car off a cliff into a fiery mess…

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Gene Evans is very subtle as the inebriated colleague Dr. Frank Schratt. Donovan forces Dr. Pat Cory to continue his tax evasion scheme. He also cuts Donovan’s children out of his will, and plans to have his brain placed in permanent residency at a special installation to house and protect his criminal brain..

Frank tries to shoot the brain in it’s tank-“It’s unnatural, unholy”-but it forces him to shoot himself instead.

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From Bill Warren- “When the brain takes over, Ayre’s transformation from Good Dr. Cory to Bad W.H. Donovan are subtle and powerful.”

During a moment when Donovan is not in control, Pat Cory takes the opportunity to send a message to his wife, with instructions on how to destroy the monstrous brain, but we do not hear what he instructs her to do. Later Donovan thinks that Frank (Gene Evans) and Janice (Nancy Reagan) are in the way and plans on having them taken care of the same way he did with Yokum. That’s when Frank tries to shoot the brain as it forces him to turn the gun on himself. Once Donovan has taken over Pat Cory’s body fully, the doctor no longer exists. He tries to strangle Janice Cory, during a thunderstorm, when a bolt of lightning strikes the lab’s lightning rod, which we now learn was part of Dr. Pat Cory’s instructions. He has hook up a special conduit so when the bolt of lightning hits, the juice charges the tank and Donovan’s brain becomes fried dumplings.

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Of course Dr. Pat Cory must pay for his profane crime of tampering with science and using an unauthorized brain in his experiments,but his faithful wife Janice promises to wait for him.

Gene Evans (The Giant Behemoth 1959, Shock Corridor 1963) plays the good friend who drinks too much, but he’s dependable and likeable. And have no fear, though he shoots himself he does not die by the film’s end.

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [after Cory wakes Dr. Schratt up from a drunken stupor] “My dear Dr. Schratt, you sober up with more—[pauses and shrugs] grace than anyone I ever saw. You’re terrific. C’mon, let’s go.”

Dr. Frank Schratt: “Are you kidding?—[He hold out his shaking hand]—Look! Nope.”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “Frank, don’t let me down.”

Dr. Frank Schratt: “What’s more useless than a surgeon with a hangover? I’m a drunken zero.! I pass!”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “No, you don’t. I’d rather have you do a corneal transplant for me drunk than anyone else sober—[Pulls him by the arm] Let’s go boy.”

Dr. Frank Schratt: “You’re brilliant but not normal.”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [Laughs] “So are you, but are you and who is?”

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Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [after Cory wakes Dr. Schratt up from a drunken stupor] “My dear Dr. Schratt, you sober up with more.” [pauses and shrugs]
… Grace than anyone I ever saw. You’re terrific… C’mon, let’s go.”

Dr. Frank Schratt: “Are you kidding?” [He holds out his shaking hand]
… Look! Nope.”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “Frank, don’t let me down.”

Dr. Frank Schratt: “What’s more useless than a surgeon with a hangover? I’m a drunken zero.! I pass!”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “No, you don’t. I’d rather have you do a corneal transplant for me drunk than anyone else sober.” [Pulls him by the arm]
… Let’s go boy.”

Dr. Frank Schratt: “You’re brilliant but not normal.”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: [Laughs] “So are you, but are you and who is?”

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Dr. Patrick J. Cory: -“Perhaps I’ll cure Frank and every other alcoholic if I can solve the mystery of Donovan’s Brain. I think it’s a matter of chemistry how the brain thinks. The problem is to find out what chemical combinations are responsible for success… failure… happiness… misery.”

Janice Cory: “Sounds impossible.”

Dr. Patrick J. Cory: “But it is not. It can’t be. There has to be a way.”

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Four Sided Triangle

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Directed by Terence Fisher this is a rare and obscure little film! Stars Barbara Payton as Lena/Helen, James Hayter as Dr. Harvey, Stephen Murray as Bill, John van Eyssen as Robin, Percy Marmont as Sir Walter.

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Photo courtesy of: Alamy

1950s had some memorable science fiction films within the genre that entertained us in the decade that saw the heyday of the illusory American dream—where the books and films forged out of fantasy were a great release from the anxiety of WWII and the advent of McCarthy Era paranoia. It was rarity to find American science fiction films of the early 50s that were based on novels of the same name. This was even more of an oddity for British films. Then there was the very provocative Four-Side Triangle, adapted from the novel by William F. Temple and scripted by the prolific Terence Fisher who also directed, co-scripted by Hungarian born Paul Tabori who went on to write several science fiction novels himself, the most well known being The Green Rain. The novel was published in 1939. A first fantasy feature by Hammer with director Fisher’s that predates his stint with the Hammer brand horror/sci-fi The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958)

Four-Sided Triangle wasn’t received very well, and it’s still considered quite dreary and so it remains pretty obscure today.

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And I find it sort of possesses an air of deviance and a serious curiosity piece concerning a love triangle that becomes a twisted kind of quadrangle. The films stars Barbara Peyton who plays a dual role —the object of both men’s desire.

Lena who returns to her English home town to see her old child hood friends, Robin (John Van EYSSEN) and Bill (Stephen Murray) have invented a machine that can duplicate objects by reconstructing matter into energy. Not unlike the transportation device in The Fly (1958) that messed with atomic particulars that re-assembled matter then sends it to another location re-assembling it, sans any contamination in the field like let’s say a house fly… “Eeeeeee….Help me, Help me!”

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They try out their experimental machine first using a totally innocuous  object — a watch, which they manage to duplicate. Meanwhile Lena and Robin get engaged and leave to get hitched, leaving Bill to mess around with their new discovery. He uses a living subject instead of just an inanimate object. He’s also madly, tragically in love with his brother’s girl, Lena. This is where the story becomes if not risqué it bares the element a of twisted Sci-Fi melodrama. His brother Robin returns from the honeymoon and heads out to London on business. Poor lovesick Bill asks Lena to please submit to his very profane request… to allow him to duplicate her, using the machine, so that he may fulfill his desire for her in some way.

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Lena actually agrees to this, and her doppelgänger Helen is born. But as they say careful what you wish for, and while the machine is effective in duplicating the subject, it does exactly that! And what happens… Helen falls in love with brother Robin as well. Oh what a tangled web we weave. It’s a theme about life’s song of irony and the lesson that we shouldn’t meddle with nature. The constant trope that runs through most to all Science Fiction stories. Not to play god, not to tamper with the nature of things, nor to be as bold to force our will upon other people or the natural world, at least not without paying the consequences for these sacrilegious actions.

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Of course Bill is devastated by the outcome, and instead of learning his lesson, he delves deeper in the dark recesses of his lower self and tries to wipe out Helen’s memory, in hopes of being able to seduce a blank slate. Bill does wash her mind clean, by electronically eradicating Helen’s memory but there is a fire in the laboratory and one of the women is killed.

I’m sorry, but you get what you deserve when you’re willing to create a woman in a machine that mimics the object of your desire. It is pathetic and outré creepy, and it says that that any woman will do as long as she’s from the same atomic particle ‘mold’ rather than accepting fate. It doesn’t create much sympathy, even if it is born out of a broken heart. Get over it, or get a puppy!

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Lena: An empty mind… and a new beginning!

Invaders from Mars

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Murderous Martian creatures from out of space! From out of space… came hordes of green monsters! Mankind’s oldest fear…The Alien’s last conquest!

Directed by innovative designer William Cameron Menzies who directed (Things to Come 1936) a surreal & beautiful science fiction dreamscape with a screenplay by Richard Blake. Starring Helena Carter as Dr. Pat Blake, Arthur Franz as narrator/Dr. Stuart Kelston, Jimmy Hunt as David MacLean, Leif Erickson as George MacLean, Hillary Brooke as Mrs. Mary MacLean, Morris Ankrum as Col. Fielding, Max Wagner as Sgt. Rinaldi William Phipps as Sgt. Baker, Milburn Stone as Capt. Stone.

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Cinematography by John F. Seitz (The Lost Weekend 1945, Double Indemnity 1944, Sunset Boulevard 1950) and music composed by Raoul Kraushaar (Cabaret 1972)

Invaders From Mars is perhaps one of the most recognizable science fiction gems of the 1950s partially due to William Cameron Menzies eye and experience for artistic design, he creates a dreamlike colorful yet terrifying landscape, with the feel of a comic book horror/sci-fi/fantasy. It’s a vision of alienation, alien occupation and paranoia that we can all relate to at some point in our lives. I know it effected me as a kid, while not growing up in the 1950s I certainly was fed a substantial dose of the product of horror/sci-fi/fantasy that came from the contribution of literature and film that preceded my childhood growing up in the following decade of the turbulent 60s.

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The story uses as it’s protagonist a little boy who experiences a nightmare journey that recycles itself in the end, creating the dreaded sense of entrapment. The young protagonist finds his “Own reality is being twisted into the kind of horror…[…] the story is literally a nightmare.”

The story is told from the point of view of David MacLean played by Jimmy Hunt. Bill Warren in his terrific overview Keep Watching the Skies published by McFarland. “Children operate with a different kind of logic than adults: events proceed from cause to effect, but the causes adults and children see don’t produce the same effects, and vice versa. Adults and children are not frightened of all of the same things, nor do they find the same things interesting. It takes a special imagination to achieve this kind of viewpoint.”

David is a young star gazer who is awakened one night by a flash of bright light when he looks out his bedroom window and sees a flying saucer land out over the hill. He wakes his parents, George and Mary (Leif Erikson and Hillary Brooke) to inform them of what he’s seen. The artistic direction and color palette reminds me of Finnish painter Hugo Simberg. The set pieces have a surreal, simplistic yet fantastical color scheme and composition.

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Menzies art directions were “like a daisy chain” of dream sequences.

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In the morning, father George goes out to investigate near the place David saw the craft go down, the fence seems to disappear into the sand dune. A mysterious hole in the sand swallows up George, who doesn’t return home, his wife phones the police, until George suddenly comes back but with a completely different temperament. He seems like a changed man. He has no emotions at all, yet he bares a strange ill-tempered streak, verging on violent when unprovoked he strikes David hard with the back of his hand, when David questions him about a strange mark on the back of his neck.

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“Say dad when you were out there did you see anything?”
“lets not start that flying saucer nonsense again.’

he notices the implant in the back of his father’s neck “Hey dad” “Yeah what do you want!” “what happened to your neck, it looks like there’s a ….?”

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Imagine the nightmare of a twist of fate where the people who love you now hate you and the ones who are supposed to keep you safe, become the most dangerous!

The next to disappear in the sand pit are the two policemen Douglas Kennedy and Charles Kane -called out to find David’s father. Once they return they appear to have the same eerie ill mood as George, zapped of any human emotion. Now, when a little girl also disappears, seemingly swallowed up by the sand and disappears in front of David, he tells his mother, but she too returns just as a fire starts in the basement of the little girl’s house. David panics and goes to the police station. Seeking out the symbol of authority and protection right… wrong…!

The little guy talks to the chief. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

“What makes you think the chief will?”

One of the cops who has been taken over by the invaders asks, “What’s the trouble Mac?”
it’s a very creepy tone, that seems menacing in it’s coldness…

David sees that the guy has the same wound on the back of his neck. Pulling his collar over it to conceal it.

When the little guy runs into the police station asking to see the chief, it goes to that place where we feel most vulnerable and the panic sets in when we realize there is no one you can trust, no one to believe you. There is no safe place. And those you love are gone. The threat goes to the issue of trust and sense of safety and not just about creepy aliens lurking around. A film of paranoia and insecurity.

Spielberg says that Menzies gave himself the license to work on the film doing homages using BERTOLD BRECHTIAN sets, because it was a dream. Also the fear that it kept recurring is the notion that there isn’t any escape you can wake up from the nightmare, but it only begins all over again. “It’s a trap. It’s absurd. it’s deadly frightening.”

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There the chief of police Bert Freed has also been taken over by the Martians who have submerged themselves in the land behind his house. David is locked up until a psychologist Dr. Pat Blake played by Helen Carter who comes to see him and realizes how genuinely frightened he is. He is petrified when his parents come to pick him up, his mother now showing the same frozen demeanor as his father. So Dr. Blake keeps David in her care and takes him to see a colleague Dr. Stuart Kelston played by Arthur Franz. Dr. Kelston is also an amateur astronomer who not only believes that David saw a space craft land in the back field, but that the earth could very well be under siege by Martians, an immanent invasion could be near. That they might be trying to interfere with local rocket experiments being launched in the area. And of course, that’s where David’s father works.

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Invaders from Mars

Kelston has a telescope and he, David and Dr. Pat Blake see David’s father lure General Mayberry (William Forrest) to the sand dune that swallows him up. Soldiers are sent to surround the sand pit, overseen by veteran science fiction supportive actor Morris Ankrum who plays Colonel Fielding along side Sergeant Rinaldi (Max Wagner). Meanwhile the Martians are systematically sending out their possessed humans to sabotage the works. The Martians act like puppet masters who can also control their subjects by exploding the devices implanted in their brains –the marks on their necks are where they’ve been drilled. Lovely thought…

David is told that his parents are getting their control devices taken out through surgery, just as the sand trap opens up right under his and Pat’s feet, they fall beneath the sand into the underground lair that the Martians have been operating from. We get to see two green Martians who walk like they shuffle (excuse me for saying, back in the day my older brother used to say that they walked like they had shit in their pants) actually these Martians do sort of qualify as ‘pants monsters’.

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Anyway, the two Martians bring David and Pat unto the grand Martian leader, a very kitschy Martian –a goldish green head including shoulders with nasty tentacles encased in something like a glass orb. The main Martian telepathically uses it’s eyes to communicate it’s creepy menacing power not with squinting veracity but more with a comical sort of soulessness.
The nefarious Martian Intelligence is portrayed by Luce Potter.

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Thank God the military saves the day as Fielding, (poor General Mayberry gets killed), enter the Martian’s underground chambers and rescue David and Pat, she was just about to get her brain drilled into, they blow up the spacecraft. After this climatic seen as David is on the surface running away, he awakens from this nightmare, (the rolling flashback in his head is a terrific touch) as it was truly a nightmare… runs into his parents bedroom, thank god the nightmare is over, he goes back to his room falls asleep until he is again awakened by a space craft landing out in the field behind his house, the entire cycle of events to repeat all over again. It’s quite a stunning conclusion… that doesn’t give us any release.

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In honoring Menzies incredible eye for design, and how the film was envisioned as if we are experiencing the nightmare through a child’s eyes, I defer to the way Bill Warren sums up some of the visual highlights of the film- “The jail set is especially impressive. The only things on the set are those that would impress themselves on a boy; (I’ll ignore that presumptive gender bias) there is a police chief, one sergeant at a towering desk, and on the wall behind him a clock with hands that don’t move, one cell and one key to the cell. The walls are white and almost not there at all; the hall from the front door to the desk is long and tall, it is a set out of a dream, as if it is only partially real…[…] The interior of the Martian flying saucer is equally imaginative and equally minimal. It’s composed almost entirely of greenish plexiglass. There are no instruments visible at all, there are a couple of tubes which reach up out of sight and a large inexplicable hole in the floor. The sphere with the Martian Intelligence inside rests on a pillar, and is brought to it brought to its perch by the giant green mutants.”

Not to mention the surreal space behind David’s house, the sand pit and the fence that disappears out of site, the winding trees that melt into space. It’s all very much a dreamscape. A reduction of images in which the minimalist elements actually add to the eerie atmosphere the opposite of Grand Guignol and Gothic old dark house set pieces. How can something so simplistic be so menacing. I guess that’s why Menzie’s film is still so gorgeous to experience today.

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Actor Mark Hamill-“The Invaders From Mars were no angels. They were here to bend our minds. They were the thieves of love and trust. The film was directed by the great art director William Cameron Menzies who gave it a memorably surreal design on a tiny budget.”

Director Steven Spielberg talks about how Invaders From Mars turned his world around “it got to a primal place which basically says the first people not to trust is your father and mother.”

Director James Cameron “What is the deep seated psychological fear that’s happening here. Maybe it’s a simple and elemental as you’re in a relationship with somebody whether it’s child/parent  husband/wife but you never really know what that other person’s thinking. And they might be evil.”

Steven Spielberg “It certainly touched a nerve among all the young kids like myself who saw that movie at a very young age. That you would come home and that you would not recognize your mom and dad they would have changed into people who hate you.”

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When the father hits his son so violently that it knocks him down, as Spielberg says “it’s a shattering primal attack on us.”

I had the same reaction, I came home one night and felt like my parents had been exchanged somehow. they were not cruel like David’s parents in Invaders from Mars, yet I felt that they were somehow duplicates. I walked around the block for an hour afraid to go inside the house. These movies certainly made impressions in that deep rooted primal way. The subtleties of films like Invaders from Mars will still leave their mark on your psyche.

The giant green Martian Mutants must have zippers up the back of their velour costumes…

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The idea of not being believed works as a trope and it possesses a powerful persuasive tone that seeps inside and effects you as a kid watching Invaders From Mars.

All of a sudden, parents turn into aliens, monsters and cruel. It could be a metaphor for any number of difficult issues children might confront, like alcoholism, abuse etc. It is the changes that the child experiences in private where they cannot convey to people outside the home, that tells the story of alienation and estrangement. It is a terrifying journey they must navigate on their own, while they try to negotiate what is happening to them.

The ship has crashed into the land, over the hill. The sand sinks down like quicksand that drags down anyone who walks over it. The mutants who walk like my brother used to say to me, like they’ve got shit in their pants, worship and serve this giant tentacled head in a glass orb. The whole vision of the ground ‘literally’ collapsing where you stand. it gives the idea that you can’t even feel safe where you stand. It will suck you down into the bowels of the earth where evil creatures will turn you into a mindless image of yourself.

Spielberg says “What really unseats you as a child seeing that movie. it’s all a dream. He wakes up and his mom’s normal and his dad is normal and they don’t believe him, but what happens in the last scene.”

“It starts all over again…  It’s the groundhog day of science fiction —lol I thought the same thing Spielberg. that’s pretty much what it is…. he’ll just go through the whole loop and then wake up over and over again. There’s a twilight zone episode like that where Dennis Weaver keeps getting sentenced to death by a jury and goes thought the execution only to wake up and do it all over again… Spielberg puts it like this “it’ll be a never ending mirror tunnel of nightmares.”

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Narrator: The heavens. Once an object of superstition, awe, and fear. Now a vast region for growing knowledge. The distance of Venus, the atmosphere of Mars, the size of Jupiter, and the speed of Mercury. All this and more we know. But their greatest mystery the heavens have kept a secret. What sort of life, if any, inhabits these other planets? Human life, like ours? Or life extremely lower in the scale? Or dangerously higher? Seeking the answer to this timeless question, forever seeking, is the constant preoccupation of scientists everywhere. Scientists famous and unknown. Scientists in great universities and in modest homes. Scientists of all ages.

It Came from Outer Space

It Came From Outer Space poster

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XENOMORPHS INVADE OUR WORLD! They can look like humans or change to objects of awesome terror!–From Ray Bradbury’s great science fiction story!–Amazing Sights Leap at You in 3-DIMENSION

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From a story by the master of fantasy and science fiction Ray Bradbury

The science fiction film that brought us the amorphous bubbly one eyed Xenomorph.

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Jack Arnold’s amazing foray into an alien crash landing that involves stolen identity, invasion fear and the possibility that life on other planets might be benevolent but still really really creepy.

The film stars Richard Carlson as displaced reporter John Putnam, the wonderful Barbara Rush as Ellen Fields, Charles Drake as jealous Sheriff Matt Warren, Joey Sawyer as Frank Daylon, Russell Johnson as George, and Kathleen Hughes as June.

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Art direction by Robert F. Boyle (North by Northwest 1959, In Cold Blood 1967, Cape Fear 1962, The Thomas Crown Affair 1968) and Cinematography by Clifford Stine (This Island Earth 1955, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957,Touch of Evil 1958, Imitation of Life 1959, Operation Petticoat 1959, Spartacus 1960, Patton 1970) Read Stine’s credits on IMBd they are far too many to list! The mesmerizing musical score is by an un-credited Henry Mancini, Irving Gertz and Herman Stein. The memorable visual effects are by David S. Horsley-(The Killers 1947, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948, This Island Earth 1955) It Came From Outer Space was also filmed in the sensationally hyped 3D!

It Came From Outer Space 1955 Carlson and Rush

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The music is wonderfully inspiring to the mood, especially with the desert’s sense of estrangement and when the presence of the Xenomorphs are near. I think they use it as some of the stock music for Night of the Living Dead… I need to check that out… From what I see about their contributors I cannot link to any of the three music contributors to It Came from Outer Space… but I always get a thrill when the ‘coming near’ motif music happens in both!

In reading Bill Warren’sKeep Watching the Skies his overview of It Came from Outer Space, gets into the discrepancies about Ray Bradbury’s full participation in writing the screenplay, being totally replaced by Harry Essex who is credited for the screenplay, if it was his memory that was failing in recollecting what happened or if he had been misunderstood and his work co-opted by Essex because Universal didn’t like Bradbury’s treatment of the script. Warren is totally supportive of Bradbury being an un-credited contributor to the script. While he delves into the weeds a bit more about the mystery and contradictions about the facts behind-the- scenes, I think I’ll just stick with Jack Arnold’s beautifully executed science fiction master work here. But the entire section on the film is fascinating if you want a good read and 1950s science fiction is of particular interest, pick up a copy of Keep Watching the Skies by Bill Warren, it’s a sensational compilation of a decade of gems and stinkers, informative, funny engaging even including old published reviews of the films during the time of their theatrical release. I highly recommend it.

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First of all,this is one of those science fiction films that’s actually a really good film, with so many elements that work fabulously to transcend genre. This is one of the first major studio Universal – International to release a film in 3D, and one of the first to be shown in what was called wide screen and in stereophonic sound.

It was also the first science fiction film to be directed by Jack Arnold. (YAY!!!) The first using the southwestern desert as a location— the Mojave desert to be exact and not the Arizona desert as plotted out in the story—Donovan’s Brain was set there but made little use of the area as a central focal point. The desert already has an eerie, isolated vibe to it…

The film stars Richard Carlson as John Putnam and Barbara Rush as Ellen Fields.
Ray Bradbury wrote the original story on which the film is based, He was at the height of his writing with The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451 which brought his genius into light.

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The story opens as a meteor cuts through the evening sky like a glowing fireball high above the alienating desert landscape. For the locals, this brings about many different reactions, including that of John Putnam, amateur astronomer who’s having dinner with his fiancee Ellen Fields. This gets John so excited that he immediately wants to drive out to the sight to investigate. He and Ellen hop on a helicopter and go and see where the meteor left a large crater.

Meanwhile from the view of what ever the alien life force is, it moves from the crashed spacecraft, revealing that it wasn’t a meteor at all. —“Bradbury describes  quick shots of animals fleeing in fright from the alien visitor. The jack rabbit, for instance. At this point, he does not mention the use of a subjective camera technique , which has so often been commented on in relation to the film.” -Bill Warren.

Putnam arrives at the crater and approaches the object that has crash landed in a gaping hole, nearly burned to molten rock. Suddenly a landslide occurs and covers up the opening and the space ship.

Bill Warren–In a sequence (not in the finished film) almost certainly suffused by Billy Wilders’ Ace in the Hole /The Big Carnival 1951, which also took place in the Southwestern desert, earth moving machinery arrives in an effort to uncover the buried pilot. No one believes Putnam’s story. Eventually everyone give up and goes home, including Ellen and Putnam. A strange shape crosses the highway in front of them, they stop to look for whatever it was and a Joshua tree in the dark frightens Ellen, but they do not see the strange shape again. The alien, with the first-person camera emphasized (the camera’s point of view is the Alien’s) watches them leave.

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The next day Putnam is interviewed by hostile reporters. A few days later, the excitement of the meteor has died down. They drive into the desert alone. stopping to look around. “It’s alive” says Putnam “it looks so dead out there. And yet, it’s all alive and waiting around us and ready to kill you if you go too far from the road. The sun will get you, or the cold at night, or the snakes and the spiders or a sudden rain that floods the washes will get you. Ohm there are a thousand ways you can die in the desert.”

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Here’s Essex’s version of the same scene, which is in the film, “It’s alive.” say Putnam. Ellen nodding adds, “And yet it looks so dead out there.” Putnam goes on. “But it’s all alive and waiting for you… And ready to kill you if you go too far. The sun will get you or the cold at night… a thousand ways the desert can kill.” There isn’t much difference though some of the dialogue is shared by Ellen which is a nice touch.

Putnam and Ellen drive on and meet the phone linemen. Putnam climbs up the ladder to listen to the strange sounds on the wire that the linemen have been noticing since the crash. The elder lineman says —

 

–“In all my years nothing like that sound. Like Someone’s on the line. Down that way maybe, tapping the wire. Or up the other way, tapping the wire. listening to unlike we’re listening to him… After you been working out in this desert for fifteen years like I have you get funny ideas. There’s that sun in the sky and the heat, and look at the roads, full of mirages. And the sand out there, full of rivers and lakes that are fifty, a hundred miles away…. And sometimes you get to thinking maybe some nights, or some noons like this noon , the sun burns on the wires and gets in the wires and listens and hums and talks like this talk and that’s what you hear now. And sometimes you wonder if some of the snakes and the coyotes and the tumbleweeds don’t climb the poles at noon, far off where you can’t see them, and listen in on us human beings.”

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“Once again, Essex condenses and duplicates this speech without understanding the poetic paranoia behind the words. Fortunately director Jack Arnold and actor Joe Sawyer did, and the scene is one of the most famous and best like in the finished film.”-Bill Warren.

Putnam and Ellen decide to help the linemen find out what’s happening to the wires, and head off in the opposite direction from the one the linemen take. The linemen meet the alien , the scene cuts to Putnam and Ellen. who turn around and go back. They meet the alien masquerading as the younger lineman (Russell Johnson) When he quietly walks up and taps Putnam (Ellen in the film)  on the shoulder, Putnam spots a body behind a mesquite bush, assumes the linemen are dead, and that what he is talking to isn’t human.

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The scene that follows, one of the only two in the film in which Putnam is not the central figure, was added to the screenplay by Essex. In it, the alien George (Russell) tells the real Frank (Sawyer) that they have landed by accident and that they have the power to make themselves look like us.

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Bill Warren passionately tries to defend and clarify this.. “I could continue through the entire storyline in this fashion , it would be profitless. Despite  all claims by everyone else to the contrary, the story and the best elements of It Came From Outer Space were written by Ray Bradbury, not by Harry Essex. Because of the many influences of this film, Ray Bradbury’s therefor far more responsible for the look, the feel and the approach of 1950s science fiction movies than he has ever been acknowledged or even suspected before.”

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In the finished film the aliens apparently literally take on the form of other people, they are actual shape shifters their bodies are malleable enough that they can actually restructure themselves to resemble anyone. In Bradbury’s script, the effect is the same but the power seems to come from hypnosis —the aliens resemble lizards in Bradbury’s treatment.

I learned something really interesting from reading Warrens analysis of the film. I myself have often confused Richard Carlson with Hugh Marlowe at times. Here is partly the answer to that

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“In the draft actually called It Came from Outer Space, almost all of the film that was to be was created by Ray Bradbury. In this draft (begun October 1, 1952) Bradbury emphasized scenic and character descriptions much more strongly than the had in his earlier drafts. probably on studio orders. In so doing he created the standard science fiction her of the 1950. who was to be played by Richard Carlson or the nearest equivalent through most of the rest of the decade. Hugh Marlowe, John Agar, Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason. The characters they played were almost always variations on John Putnam the dedicated slightly strange and earnest young researcher. The actors often physically resembled Carlson.”

When it all comes down to it, what Bill Warren is asserting is that he found evidence that Essex’s script was a duplication of Ray Bradbury’s treatment, meaning the result –he isn’t getting the credit for his contribution and Essex is getting credit for Bradbury’s work. And he feels that what Essex did manage to change slightly, didn’t work at all, including inventing some of the poorly envisioned scenes.

What does happen by the end of Bradbury’s final draft is how his incredibly fluid and convoluted description of these alien came to life as close to the poetic description Bradbury put forth. The few times the aliens show themselves they are hard to assess, in form, with the emphasis on their milky jelly like eye in a gigantic impression of a head, surrounded by a foggy mist, with sparkles and glistens like a jello mold … but in the end, the film shows them as close to their poetic description that Bradbury had envisioned. Different than some man in a lizard type pants monster suit with bug eyes, or layers of monster make-up, the floating amorphous alien really does seem to exist on the extra terrestrial plane.

“One of his main contributions to It Came from Outer Space seem to have been the shimmering bullseye effect used whenever the camera ‘is’ one of the aliens. The subjective camera “playing’ the aliens at time is Bradbury’s idea. but the refinements seem to have been Jack Arnold’s–Bill Warren

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Another aspect of these aliens is that they are not quite hostile, though they are not benign either. it’s sort of a unique view of them. They are panicked and desperate to get off the Earth, and get back to their original destination “Our mission was to another world, only an error dragged us to Earth” Some of the aliens, such as the one in the guise of Ellen that tries to kill Putnam,are indeed hostile to people. Others are just nervous, such as the Putnam duplicate. or openly friendly , like the one that copied George the lineman. In short, just like real people, they don’t have a common attitude they are not of one mind. They reveal an individual spirit. It’s quite a break away them from other aliens who are a collective group on a mission, unified.

This being director Jack Arnold’s first science fiction film leads with a focus on how the alien relates to this world he has invaded. The result that his films seems less fanciful and more realist than most other of this period, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

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Ellen Fields: If we’ve been seeing things, it’s because we DID see them.

Sheriff Matt Warren: [three-shot, characters gazing toward sky into which meteor-spaceship has rocketed] Well, they’ve gone.

Ellen Fields: For good, John?

John Putnam: No. Just for now. It wasn’t the right time for us to meet. But there’ll be other nights, other stars for us to watch. They’ll be back.

 

Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1953”

🚀 “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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The Earthlings…

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

Acquanetta_005_(Tarzan and the Leopard Woman)

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

the-man-from-planet-x

manfromplanetx poster

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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

the-man-from-planet-x-lobby-1951

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″