The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016! 🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s

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“I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice. Tell the world… Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the Skies! Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott — The Thing From Another World (1951)

Keep watching the Skies!

It’s that time of year once again when Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & One Upon a Screen host a momentous event…. The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016 which will begin August 5th -10th, 2016.

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas. –Wikipedia definition of Science Fiction

Robot Monster rocket

This event always promises to be an epic endeavor as there are so many interesting themes and subjects to cover. I am excited to be participating once again with these fabulous hosts who make it possible for all of us to contribute to a wealth of classic film history goodies to devour. Now listen folks, don’t get frightened off! You cast of exciting unknown readers… This has become a real project for me, a work in progress that will unfold over the next several weeks. For the purpose of The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016, I offer an overview that will be a lead in for the entire decade of 1950s science fiction cinema conquering it year by year in separate articles. As I started delving into this project, it began to grow larger and larger as if Jack Arnold and Bert I. Gordon themselves compelled me to GO BIG!

amazing colossal man vegas

attack_of_the_50_foot_woman_3_by_farzelgaart-d4ubn9h

50 foot woman at the bar

In order to review an entire genre of such an influential decade and do the treatment it so rightly deserves, I realized that I needed to spread it out as a series. Re-visiting these beloved movies that inspired my childhood with wonder and sometimes tapped into my own authentic fears, I fell in love all over again. And though I tend to gravitate towards the classical Gothic horrors that are steeped in mythology, the supernatural and the uncanny, I can’t help but feel my mind expanding by the iconic themes that emerged from 1950s science fiction! So I’ll be publishing each year as individual posts or chapters from 1952 on… over the next several week or so instead of all at once. Talking about all the films I mentioned here and so many more films & things to come!

It’s a collection–a decade of the sci-fi genre, sub-genres and it’s hybrids– some eternally satisfying because of their remarkable ability to continuously shine a light on fascinating & mesmerizing fantasy stories. Well written and adapted as visual narratives and surreal stories by beloved visionaries who set out to reach inward and outward through all of us dreamers and thinkers.

There are also those lovable Sci-fi films that are charming and wonderfully kitsch. And some… are just downright so, so, soooo awful their… awesome!

That’s what makes so many of these diverging films cut through the cross-sections to become cinematic jewels & memorable cult favorites!

Robot Monster 2

There are many films that I’ll cover more in depth, some are the more highly polished masterpieces that have lingered for decades with us as adult children who grew up watching them on a rainy afternoon on televisions with knobs that only had 9 channels and if you were lucky you didn’t snap the knob off every 6 months! Growing up in New York I had Chiller Theater, on local channel 11 or Creature Features on Channel 5, or Fright Night on Channel 9. That’s how I fell in love, and got my fill of the treasures of films & television anthology series that was lurking out there destined to leave long lasting impressions on so many of us!

Chiller Theater

Fright Night WOR

Or back in the day, you went to the Drive-In theater to explore in the back seat of your pop’s Chevy Impala any double feature, and it was an invigorating and entertaining experience and you didn’t even have to get out of your pajamas.

Retro Drive In

You could spend all day in a musty theater festooned with captivating promotional lobby cards and colorful posters. Too bad, I wasn’t of the age to witness William Castle’s ballyhoo he strategically placed at certain theaters for that interactive live experience , EMERGO, PERCEPTO! You could take in a bunch of the latest scary films, sometimes double & triple features, while sitting on sticky red velvet seats that smelled like hot buttered popcorn and week old spilled Pepsi. A box of Milk Duds in hand and the faint wiff of air conditioner freon at your back. You’d enter the movie theater in the bright light of a sunny Saturday afternoon only to exit into the dark of night, tired and filled with wonder, awe and okay maybe looking over your shoulder a few times. Some films were big budget productions, that contained serious acting by studio contract players, terrific writing that blended deep thoughts and simple escapism pulled from some of the best science fiction, fantasy & horror literature and adapted screenplays, scares and witty dialogue besides and cinematography that still captivates us to this day.

3D Audience

Well… sure some were B movies that have now sustained that Cult film charm and cheesiness, and some… are just downright pitiful, laughable guilty pleasures… and a bunch even came with really neat 3D glasses!

SOME ICONIC GEMS FOR THE AGES THAT I’LL BE COVERING!

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Incredle Shrinking Man vs Cat

THEM! (1954)*INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) *DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)*FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) *THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)*EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) *THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) *INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) *WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) * CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) * IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)* IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) *EARTH VS THE SPIDER (1958) *THE CRAWLING EYE (1958) *THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) *IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) *TARANTULA (1955) *FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) *THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957)* THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) * THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)*KRONOS (1957)* THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (1956)*X-THE UNKNOWN (1956

I’LL ALSO BE TALKING ABOUT SOME GUILTY PLEASURES!

Attack of the Crab Monsters 4

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

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Paul Birch is the alien vampire Paul Johnson in Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth 1957

The Brain from Planet Arous 1957* Attack of the Crab Monsters 1957* The Killer Shrews 1959* The Giant Claw 1957 *Beast From Haunted Cave 1959 *The Monster from Piedras Blancas 1959 *Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957 *The Monster that Challenged the World 1957 *Not of this Earth 1957* The She-Creature 1956* The Man Who Turned to Stone 1958* Invisible Invaders 1959* Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958* The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) * Monster on the Campus 1958* The Unknown Terror 1957* Creature with The Atom Brain 1955 * The Unearthly 1955 * From Hell it Came 1957,

Tabanga and Korey

It’s also important to mention some of the ubiquitous actors who graced both the great & guilty pleasure flicks, you’ll be seeing a lot of in the following chapters like John Carradine * Ed Nelson *Allison Hayes *Paul Birch *John Agar *Hugh Marlowe*Peter Graves *Richard Denning *Richard Carlson *Faith Domergue *Mara Corday *Les Tremayne *Marie Windsor *Morris Ankrum * Arthur Franz *Kenneth Tobey* John Hoyt * Whit Bissell and of course Beverly (kicks-ass!) Garland!

One thing is for certain, each film is relevant and all have a place in the 50s decade of Sci-fi / Horror & Fantasy!

So come back and read a little at a time and get some thrills even while you’re sitting under the hair dryer… Do people still do that today? I need to get out more…

1955 hairdryer wants to be a space-age helmet

This 1955 hair dryer is just begging to be a space-age helmet!

It all started with Georges Méliès 1903 fantasy A Trip to the Moon
Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902 – Georges Méliès

Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902

Trip to the Moon 1902

As early as 1920 there was the German expressionist film dealing with the arrival of a menacing alien visitor from the planet Algol giveing actor Emil Jannings a machine that awards him unlimited powers. ALGOL aka POWER 1920 directed by Hans Werckmeister

Emil Jennings in Algol 1920

“That which you believe becomes your world.”
Richard Matheson from ‘What Dreams May Come’

Science Fiction emerged out of the “Age of Reason” literature reflected a merging of myth and historical fact. Stories filled with an imagination that had no boundaries. While Science Fiction is a literary movement that can be a separate study all it’s own, story tellers who grasped the concepts of science fiction who questioned the endless possibilities, the far reaching machinations of brilliant minds, this project if focused on the history of 1950s science fiction cinematic and all it reveals. Science Fiction cinema flirted blatantly with ideas and images of a world that reached beyond the known, and contemplated aloud, fantastic stories as early as the silent era. Consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, re-envisioned time and time again.

barrymore 1920 dr jekyll

dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-(1920)

John Barrymore lifts the dark conflicting tale of the inward monsters off the pages of Stevenson’s book. Barrymore so fluently moved through the silent stage, reveals that we all just might be harboring in our sub-conscious hidden dark and primal desires. Unleashed by a concoction, a seduction of science creates a fiend! Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

aelita-queen-of-mars-1924

Aelita Queen of Mars (1924)

The odd yet visually stunning Russian spectacle Aelita Queen of Mars (1924) aka Revolt of the Robots.e

There were a few early visions of fantasy, magic & Science Fiction films from all around the world- At 3:25 aka The Crazy Ray (1924)  Directed by Rene Clair-a scientist invents a ray that makes people fall asleep where they stand! The German film Master of the World (1934) (Der Herr der Welt) where a German scientist wants to create an army of Robots to do the dangerous work of laborers so, when he is told it’s too risky he goes mad and it’s too late the machine has a mind of it’s own. It features really cool electronic chambers and more!

And Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) Scientists construct a tunnel under the ocean-stars Richard Dix, Leslie Banks and C. Aubrey Smith.

Metropolis 1927 the dystopian masterpiece by director Fritz Lang was the beginning of the fascination with exploring the fantastic and our unbounded imaginations on film, it’s remarkable set design, imagery and narrative sparked the Science Fiction genre in a big way— spanning decade upon decade, in particular revived in the 1950s!

Metropolis

The first influential science fiction film by Fritz Lang created a dystopian societ in Metropolis 1927. It’s influence has maintained it’s powerful thrust for decades. An inspiration for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner (1982)
Metropolis 1927

“Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him”-H.G.Wells

Island-of-Lost-Souls 1932

Kathleen Burke Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls charles_laughton

Island of Lost Souls 1943 The House of Pain

Charles Laughton is superb as H.G. Wells Dr. Moreau a sociopathic sadist/scientist with a god complex whose profane experiments on animals and humans tortures them in the ‘house of pain’ trying to create a hybrid race he can hold sway over on his private island hell! Science has never been more evil! Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Then there was the 1936 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Things To Come (1936) directed by William Cameron Menzies and starring Raymond Massey as Oswald Cabal, Ralph Richardson as The Boss, Margaretta Scott as Roxanna/Rowena and Cedric Hardwicke as Theotocopulos.

things-to-come

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“What is this progress? Progress is not living. It should only be the preparation for living.”

Flash Gordon and similar serials provided super heroes for generations of young people in the 30s & 40s, planting the seeds for the future that would give us the Star Wars legacy.

Flash Gordon Buster Crabbe and Ming

Audiences between the World Wars preferred horrors of a Gothic nature– James Whale’s Frankenstein 1931 & Bride of Frankenstein 1935, as they helped exercise demons conjured up from the 19th & early 20th century.

James Whales Bride of Frankenstein 1932

The electrical secrets of heaven, the lighting, the elaborate sets designed by genius Kenneth Strickfaden with his lights throbbing gizmos flashing and zapping, the creepy atmosphere of murky tones. The consummate Universal monster movie with iconic scenes introducing a new face, Boris Karloff who would become the great father of terror stories …

colin clive and dwight frye Frankenstein 1931

Frankenstein's hand it's alive

ColinClive it's Alive

What’s on that slab?,It’s Alive, It’s Alive!…” those monumental words that remain ingrained in our consciousness. Colin Clive becomes hysterical as he has creates life from death, but that life would become a whole new ethical, moral and imposing dilemma for Dr.Frankenstein. A horror film with strong science fiction/fantasy tropes. And the laboratory as gorgeous set pieces would become a staple of the science fiction realm.

Bride & Frankenstein's monster

bride_of_frankenstein 1935

The 1950s Science Fiction genre took root with it’s profouns contribution to our collective consciousness AS a genre its vision & breadth possessed quintessential & ever-lasting sociological and psychological metaphors, iconic tropes and striking imagery.

The splitting of the atom, ushering in the atomic age and the collective anxiety most definitely was the catalyst for the many of the movie fantasy stories known as the 1950s Sci-Fi film.

“But no matter what else it might be, what makes a science fiction film science fiction is the fact that it is, in some sense, about science—and not only science but futuristic science. By that I mean that science fiction movies deal with scientific possibilities and technologies that do not exist yet but that might exist someday. Science fiction is the realm of the not-yet.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

Ridley Scott – (Alien 1979, Blade Runner 1982) “When you come to the second World War You’ve got a very specific enemy. You know what that enemy is, It’s there for all the wrong reasons and it should be prevented…. Then you got the next phase which is The Cold War again which is to do with paranoia . But I think real, it’s real. Movies started to dip into that.”

splitting the atom men in white coats

“The Splitting of the atom…. forces that can only be explained to us by these guys in white coats… All of a sudden the guys in white coats became these simultaneously kind of rock stars and the most evil thing you could imagine.”

In a scene from The Atomic City 1952– The mother’s child sitting at the kitchen table with his breakfast “If I grow up do you know what I’m gonna do?” The mother turns to him, leaving her scrambled eggs on the stove and corrects him nervously, “It’s when you grow up, not if…”

The Atomic City 1952

The Atomic City 1952 trailer

Duck & Cover 1951 classic propaganda film

From the short instructional film Duck and Cover “But no matter where they go or what they do they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then!” (the kids suddenly fall into the brick wall. The narrator says ) It’s a bomb DUCK & COVER!

James Cameron – “All of our fate as human beings, our destiny seems bound up in our technology and our technology is frightening. It’s Terrifying!”

Steven Spielberg- “So there was a great deal of anxiety in the air. It was not just fear of being beaten up by the local bully. But the fear was being NUKED!… But we almost pushed a button on each other during The Cuban Missile Crisis…… I was absolutely prepared for Armageddon and these movies from the 1950s and early 60s played on those fears. And these movies were all metaphors for those fears. ”

George Lucas- “I would say that there was a certain amount of anxiety about that I mean I grew up right in the very heat of that. DUCK & COVER drills all the time… We were always hearing about the fall out shelter. About the end of the world, issues that were always going on about how many bombs were being built. The Cold War was always in the media.”

From The Twilight Zone “The Shelter” season 3 episode 3

Twilght Zone 'The Shelter' s3e3

1950s Sci-Fi films represented a conservatism or ‘reactionary wing’ that seems consumed by a motive to emphasize the values of 1950s America post WWII, in the midst of a McCarthy era witch hunt that prevailed fueling our fears that seeped into many of the Sci-Fi narratives on screen and in literature. Reflecting the growing internal struggles within American society and the developing mistrust about Soviet aggression and anyone and anything perceived as subversive.

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?”

Some films that reflected the paranoia of the period were well regaled by a Hollywood studio system that was itself at the center of the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeting screenwriters and actors as ‘communist sympathizers’ and no one could be trusted. -Just like Invaders from Mars 1953, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, X the Unknown 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, and I Married a Monster From Outer Space 1958.

X The Unknown

Invaders from Mars

In 1947, in Roswell New Mexico the military reports that they have a UFO in their possession. The phenomena of sightings of UFOs would continue throughout the 1950s, though agencies were fully prepared to explain away the reports. Yet the public had a hunger to and fascination with the possibility of extra-terrestrials.

As Phil Hardy’s insightful take on the genre, all this manifested in a way that the Science Fiction films of the 1950s ‘supplanted horror as the genre that dealt with fear and paranoia.” The films expressed a very realistic look at science within the atomic age, and shed the shadows and expressionism of the earlier Gothic horrors and while not all scientific fact, tried to embrace a world of possibility.

The Flying Saucer 1950 begins the momentum for the decade of Science Fiction cinema’s love affair with unidentified objects and begins to round the edges of space crafts from other worlds that aren’t our American sharp and phallus shaped rockets!

The Flying Saucer -ship

The flying_saucer 1950

DESTINATION MOON 1950 was featured in COLOR BY TECHNICOLOR. Being hailed the 2001, Space Odyssey of it’s time, it attempts to portray a realism trip to the moon. Phil Hardy calls Destination Moon 1950a sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space that dominated the decade.’

destination moon rocket

destination-moon-space matters

Destination Moon did attempt to accurately portray a trip to the moon given the technology and knowledge that was stuck in 1950.

Then we shot past the moon in cinema and went straight to the red planet with Flight to Mars 1951!

Flight to Mars

Themes and metaphors that emerged from anxiety about the atom bomb, radiation fallout, the advent of modernity, the space race and the wanderlust to conquer outer space, interplanetary warfare, military vs. science hubris, science meddling with nature, fear of science and technology, invasion anxiety, continued fear of otherness, deviant (in terms of counter-culture not exclusively moral judgement) subversion and xenophobic nightmares.

Sometimes we were even married to a monster from outer space and didn’t even notice much of a difference except for the lack of small talk! Here’s Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott in I Married a Monster from Outer Space 1958.

I Married-a-Monster-from-Outer-Space Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott

I Married a Monster From Outer Space

Director Howard Hawk and screenplay by Charles Lederer, created a striking science fiction masterpiece of film noir ambience with it’s chilling back lit set pieces- The Thing From Another World 1951, adapted from John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’, other films that followed the path of paranoia — Invaders from Mars 1953, War of the Worlds 1953, It Came from Outer Space 1953, It Conquered the World 1956 & Invasion of the body snatchers 1956.

Xenomorph

bodysnatchers 1956 review

The Thing it's round like a spaceship

The Thing at the door

the thing shadow play

There were also science fiction films that rang the warning bell about cosmic calamity and catastrophic world coming to an end, annihilation fantasies like When Worlds Collide 1951.

War of the Worlds 1953 and When Worlds Collide 1951 had as Phil Hardy states, ‘religious dimensions’ that accused us of bringing about catastrophic punishment because of our misdeeds and transgressions.

War of the Worlds Valley of Shadows

When Worlds Collide 6

H.G. Well’s view of Martian invaders created for the public consciousness the idea of destructive beings from another world. It was a great reflexive move for those science fiction films to portray aliens that were sympathetic, yet non-humanoid in appearance. Most Sci-Fi films show aliens as menacing, not only destructive but dangerous because they also wanted to keep us as captives, zap our resources and colonize our planet, sometimes even take our women, oh god no unhand Faith Domergue you pants wearing Mutant!

This Island Earth Metaluna mutant

invaders from mars b&w

Is that a fireball or something

“Is that a fireball or something?”

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INVADERS FROM MARTS MUTANTS WITH ZIPPERS

InvadersFromMars

invaders-from-mars-

Hollywood saw a trend later on in the 50s with Destination Moon 1950 when they came upon a story written by Harry Bates called The Return of the Master this became Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 which has remained one of the best regarded science fiction films of all time. This is one of the rare occasions when the alien Klaatu played beautifully like an intricate clock by the chiseled face, tranquil speaking Michael Rennie is benevolent, bringing with him a sincere and dire warning about earth people’s course and the future of their civilization if they don’t relent about the proliferation of atomic weapons. There were several well intended alien visitors who were met with hostilities as with, Klaatu (Michael Rennie ) in Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, and The Man From Planet X 1951.

The Man from Planet X

the-day-the-earth-stood-still

Day the Earht STood Still Klaatu solves the board 2

Day the Earth Stood Still Patricia Neal and GORT1951-

GORT

Many films, even the low budget excursions dealt with our primal fears of alienation, estrangement & loss of identity i.e.,(communism at it’s core, the ramifications of otherness) nothing hits home more than Invaders from Mars 1953, and the quintessential loss of self and individualism in Don Siegels’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

they would have changed into people who hate you

“They would change into people who hate you!”

Steven Spielberg talks about the impact of Invaders from Mars 1953, “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!”

I can attest to the persuasion these films could have over the burgeoning imagination of a child, especially one like me who felt very much like an outsider as a kid. One night, as sure as my name is MonsterGirl, I went home, looked at my parents, decided they had been switched by aliens and ran out of the house, walking around the block for at least an hour before I convinced myself that I was being ridiculous. Or was I? These themes did have a not so subtle impact on a young impressionable mind who could easily question the world around them. Who could you trust? Would would believe you anyway?

There is the outsider narrative, diminishing human forms as in Bert I. Gordon’s Attack of the Puppet People 1958 where obsessed and lonely puppet maker John Hoyt loses his marbles. Although mad -bad science has shrunk down people before the 1950s in The Devil Doll 1936 and in the hands of crazed Albert Dekker in Dr. Cyclops 1940.

Attack of the Puppet People John Hoyt and Agar

dr cyclops 1940

There is the quintessential existential crisis, the beautifully thought provoking film by director Jack Arnold starring the eternally transcending man Grant Williams in, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

the-incredible-shrinking-man-1957-

And of course there is the matter of GIGANTISM!

Earth vs the Spider

EarthVsTheSpider

THEM!

Monster_Challenged

The Black Scorpion

Giant insects, sea creatures and people who ran around half crazed and scantily dressed were a by-product of the atomic age!

50 ft Woman

The Amazing Colossal Man

George Lucas —“Out of that fear came I think a lot the monsters which you mess around with stuff and you’re gonna unleash this unknown monster!… it’s making tangible the unknown… A lot of that has to do with the mystery of this silent death that comes along with it that nobody knows exactly what it is or where it came from or can’t see it, can’t touch it. Well let’s make it easier to deal with by making it a giant monster.”

War of the Colossal Beast

Some films show the ascension from violence & hyper-masculinity, Women as professionals & bold heroines who didn’t shrink as hysterical victims. Female dominated civilizations (Cat- Women of the Moon 1953, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Missile to the Moon 1958, Fire Maidens from Outer Space 1956, that threatened to maniacally seduce & subsume male voyagers, dressed by 5th avenue they are outré chic. Wanton warriors & nubile space maidens who often never saw the male species before or wanted to destroy them altogether!

Fire Maidens of Outer Space

missile-to-the-moon-1958 directed by richard-e-cunha

A tagline reads “SEE-Astounding she-beasts of Venus!”

Queen of Outer Space

In Queen of Outer Space 1958 the masked disfigured Queen Yilana (Zsa Zsa Gabor) imprisons the men who crash land on her planet, intending to annihilate the earth with her beta disintegrator, though her beautiful subjects revolt in the name of love.

Mark Hamill –“We sometimes imagined other planets as paradises…. with girls!!! they looked more Hollywood starlets than space aliens, anyway they were eager to please. Their dancing their music their leotards were so Moderne! like Greenwich Village in outer space.” referring to Cat-Women of the Moon 1953.

Cat Women on the Moon May we serve you earth men?

“May we serve you earth men?”

Missile to the Moon-You're the first man I've ever seen.

“You’re the first man I’ve ever seen!” Carol Brewster as Alpha is mesmerized

missile to the moon

Step on it and don't spare the atoms! planets as paradise with GIRLS!!!

“Step on it, and don’t spare the atoms!” from Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953)

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“Their dance, their music, their leotards were so Moderne!”

KT Stevens as The Lido in Missile To The Moon

Missile To The Moon- Hollwood chorus girls

Missile to the Moon 1958

Missile to the Moon spider maiden

Missile to the Moon 1958

There’s nothing worse than a space Queen–The Lido (K.T. Stevens ) and one of her maidens in distress…

Mark Hamill who narrates the wonderful documentary written and directed by Richard Schickel Watch the Skies! Sci-Fi , the 1950s and Us presented by Turner Classic Movies also reminds us that “50s science fiction may have shot at the stars but the dialogue often remained earth bound tied up with the battle of the sexes.” Many prevailing sub-texts were also love stories, soap operas involving relationships between men and women.They would create love stories in space!

project moonbase 1953

Project Moonbase 1953 Donna Martell as Colonel Briteis (bright eyes?)

they would create love stories in space Lloyd and Osa in Rocketship X-M doomed to crash

Rocketship X-M (1950) starring Lloyd Bridges and Ossa Massen

Osa's character in Rocketship XM is brave in the end not hysterical-she sees her death as a new beginning

Cameron Mitchell plays Steve Abbott in Flight to Mars 1953, who tells Marguerite Chapman as Alita a fellow scientist/astronaut, “I think you’re a prize package and very feminine.”

Flight To Mars 1951

There is always time for romance in outer space!

flight-to-mars with scientist Margaritte Chapman

There were menaces from without, menaces from within. The ordinary world transformed into the monstrous. There were warnings from benevolent aliens and aggressive attacks by aliens who wanted to colonize our planet.

Sometimes the warnings or threats came from disembodied heads and brains, like Donovan’s Brain 1953, Fiend Without a Face 1958 and The Brain from Planet Arous 1957.

Donovan's Brain 1953

fiend WITHOUT A FACE

Gor from Planet Arous

The indie filmmakers introducing teenagers as both heroes & monsters. Many films were horror/sci-fi hybridizations. And by the end of the decade we were left a legacy of impressive productions that remain timeless masterpieces, the cult grade- B Sci-Fi picture with their indelible charm and kitsch emblems, and the true stinkers that are so bad there too good not to appreciate. Sublime, thrilling, provocative & yes campy!

Teenagers from Outer Space

I-Was-a-Teenage-Werewolf

There were collections of stylized works by Jack Arnold, Bert I. Gordon, Edward L. Cahn and one indie auteur who showed us how to make a memorable movie on a shoe string budget who also launched many a career, the inimitable and grand Roger Corman. And of course those guys at American International Pictures (AIP)

Within the 50s decade shedding the Gothic themes of the 30s & 40s, the poetic shadow plays of Val Lewton,1950s Sci-Fi films had a pre-occupation with the modern world and mostly all the central menaces were transformed into non-human threats that we not only couldn’t empathize with but were revolted against as dangerous, vicious, insidious and potentially nihilistic in vision, they were seen as only a threat to our humanity and ultimately would lead to our destruction.

It came from outer space Xenomorph close up

Within Sci-Fi there are so many films which are complex hybridizations of horror/science fiction /fantasy and have become too insurmountable to dissect or decipher all the nuances between the various free-floating genres. Writer critic historian Robin Wood in his Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.—wagers that “the horror film’s radical potential lies in the fact that ‘the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses’ Jancovich states that the monster “must therefor be seen as a profoundly ambiguous figures which challenges social norms and so reveals society’s repressive monstrosity.”

Killers from Space

Killers from Space 1954

This theme is attached to McCarthyism that showed up as coded narratives in the more highly produced Sci-Fi films- “the myth of Communism as total dehumanization—accounts for the prevalence of this kind of monster in that period” -Mark Jancovich -Rational Fears- American Horror in the 1950s.

We can’t forget contributions made by the maestros in the visual effects department, direction, art direction and cinematography from George Pal, William Cameron Menzies and Ray Harryhausen.

Ymir4

20-million-miles-to-earth-creature-ymir and elephant-in-rome

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from Venus

it-came from beneath the sea

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Ray Harryhausen’s The Kraken

Cinematographers who brought these visual narratives & landscapes to life- just to name a few!

Clifford Stine (It Came from Outer Space 1953,This Island Earth 1955, Imitation of Life 1959,Spartacus 1960) Sidney Hickox (Them! 1954, The Big Sleep 1946,Dark Passage 1947,White Heat 1949), John F. Seitz (Invaders from Mars 1953, Sullivan’s Travel’s 1941m Double Indemnity 1944, Sunset Boulevard 1950), Russell Harlan ( The Thing from Another World 1951, Red River 1948, Witness for the Prosecution 1959 To Kill a Mockingbird 1962) George Barnes (War of the Worlds 1953, Rebecca 1940, Spellbound 1945) Leo Tover (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, Hold Back the Dawn 1941,The Snake Pit 1948, The Woman on the Beach 1947,The Heiress 1949, Journey to the Center of the Earth 1959) Ellsworth Fredericks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Hold Back the Night 1956,The Stripper 1963, Mister Buddwing 1966)

And just as key to the atmosphere and attitude of the films were the musical contributions which defined that certain feel of chills and excitement, screwball antics and off-beat perscussion that filled up your head with pulsing visions of laser beams and other-worldly noises that ran up your spine like a finely coiled wire resonating the confluent sounds of the cosmos! Geesh that was a mouthful!

Invasion of Saucer Men bug eyes

There were composers who masterfully underscored some of the BEST films and even the worst!, Dimitri Tiomkin * Bronislau Kaper * Bernard Herrmann *Hans J. Salter and Henry Mancini to name a few.

Instrumentalist Clara Rockmore mastered the Theremin which had a cosmic, universal vibe that was, well out of this world!

The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument created by Russian inventor , Léon Theremin controlled by the performing thereminist who makes the dulcet eerie tones by manipulating the two metal antennas that respond to the hand movements which influence the oscillations or frequency with one hand and effecting the volume with the other hand.

Popular were the films that dealt with the hubris of science that ultimately manifested monsters. There were even pants monsters, yes! pants monsters…! The burning sun turned him into a hideous fiend, but he still had time to put on those Haggars casual men’s trousers!

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959
THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959

There was a running sentiment —the notion of us against them, and even at times when not working together to fight a common enemy- you’d see the military vs science… And sometimes, though almost always male hero driven, there emerged some anti-damsels, all-powerful women who broke the cliched mold of the helpless hysterical female and arose as smart, intellectual (a socially constructed gendered male quality), mindful and fearlessly driven woman with guts and composure even if it was to hold off from laughing at Paul Blaisdell inside that cucumber monster from Venus.

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Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956) The Venusian cucumber

Beverly Garland anti damsel It conquered the world

Just look at Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954, Joan Weldon as Dr. Patricia Medford in Them! 1954, Beverly Garland as Dr. Andrea Romar in Curucu, Beast of the Amazon 1956 & and her gutsy Clair Anderson in It Conquered the World 1956, Tina Carver as Dr. Terry Mason in From Hell It Came 1957 and Faith Domergue as Dr. Ruth Adams in This Island Earth 1955 & Prof. Lesley Joyce in It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955, and Lola Albright as Cathy Barrett in The Monolith Monsters 1957 .

Some sci-fi films were visually surreal landscapes or existential masterpiece such as William Cameron Menzies Invaders From Mars 1953 or Ib Melchior’s The Angry Red Planet 1959 and Jack Arnold’s magnificent adaptation of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

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The Angry Red Planet (1959) The Rat Bat Spider puppet monster!

Incredible Shrinking Man Grant Williams in the atomic cloud

Grant Williams sails into the radioactive mist in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957

Invaders from Mars awake from a dream

Invaders from Mars (1953) Jimmy Hunt awakens to a UFO crashing into the sand dunes

“To sleep perchance to dream”-Hamlet-William Shakespeare

This dream-scape is a visual masterpiece, with the appearance of the sublimely brilliant Finnish painter Hugo Simberg, ( I happen to get permission from The National Museum of Finland to use Simberg’s ‘At The Crossroads’ as the cover of my album Fools & Orphans) thanks to the art design by visionary William Cameron Menzies!

the surreal art design looks like a Hugo Simberg painting

A scene from Invaders from Mars (1953)

It is absolutely true about one thing— that it’s wholly complex to begin dissecting what makes a film solely and definitively Science Fiction and what constitutes it being a hybridization of horror & fantasy. There are way too many that fall right on the gray line that either exists in the middle or transects both themes at once.

The Tingler Vincent Price I"m stuck on you

Vincent Price can’t get that pesky Tingler off his arm in William Castle’s terrific horror/sci-fi extravaganza equip with buzzing chairs-The Tingler (1959)

For example, I am covering William Castle’s The Tingler 1959, because, while the central terror surrounds a monstrous ‘horror movie themed monster’ a creeping fiend that lives inside us all and grips our spines the moment we are in abject fear, it is discovered by scientific and medical research. One could say the film is also a crime drama. There are too many nuances and parameters that intersect. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 is called a Monster movie by Universal and by fans of all generations. But it falls into the deep well of hybridization as so much of it focuses on the very philosophical questions around scientific hubris, the creation of human life and the question of god, ownership of one’s identity, and what is monstrous?

Boris Karloff as The monster

“A lot of science fiction films are also horror films in which monsters are spawned by scientific experiments, but not all horror films are science fiction, because science fiction does not deal in the supernatural. Science fiction takes place in the realm of the not-yet; supernatural horror films operate in the realm of the impossible.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

The enormous influence that Science Fiction cinema had long-lasting effects on the advent of television. Just look at Rod Serling’s Fantasy/Sci-Fi anthology series which aired on CBS from 1959-1964. The show came in on the end of the decade. Stories that were infused by the themes of the 50s and set the tone for future decades to come. The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking and thought-provoking, dealing with issues of war, class, race, it was a socially conscious program that constantly tried to remind us of our humanity. The decade of 1950s Science Fiction also bled into the mindfulness of my favorite early 60s science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits.

Twilight Zone mr dingle martians

The Zanti Misfits

The Zanti Misfits-one of the many fabulous Outer Limits monsters!

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Orwellian Control Voice from The Outer Limits anthology television series aired from 1963-1965.

Mark Jancovich writes “Again and again, the threats which distinguish 1950s horror
do not come from the past or even from the actions of a lone individual , but are associated with the processes of social development and modernization. In this period, it is the process of rationalization which is the threat, and in this way horror texts were at least as concerned with developments within American society as they were with threats from without… Here rationalization is understood as the process through which scientific – technical rationality is applied to the management of social, economic and cultural life…

… this new system of organization was seen by many as inherently totalitarian system which both created conformity and repressed dissent.”

the last man_on earth zombies

Vincent Price fights off zombies from a plague that wiped out most of the human race in Richard Matheson’s adapted screenplay from his story I Am Legen- The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The outsider narratives– were illustrated as contrasting and conflicting to accepted norms, we see this with Richard Matheson’s writing (I Am Legend which became Vincent Price’s agonizing journey as The Last Man on Earth 1964, and later The Omega Man 1971 and Jack Arnold’s films involving “the reoccurring preoccupation with alienation, isolation and estrangement” -Jancovich- seen in Creature From the Black Lagoon 1954 and The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

Creature Black Lagoon

Grant Williams protagonist Scott Carey becomes engulfed in a glittery mist of atomic dust particles in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 the film exudes anxiety of his diminishing masculinity by not only losing his literal size, his physical height but he loses his maleness as a husband and as a regular man. This estrangement become a journey of his eternal soul and it’s place in the vast unknown other-world.

grant small in the chair

Grant Williams is feeling ‘literally’ like such a small man.

shrinking sublime transcendance

There would be films that embrace the dystopia narratives, and curiosity with technical advancements like robots!

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Fritz Lang’s iconic robot in Metropolis (1927)

Forbidden Planet Robby Robot

Robby the Robot and Walter Pidgeon as Morbius in George Pal’s take on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as Forbidden Planet 1956

These Science Fiction/Fantasy films have left a deep and abiding impression on so many of us. Whether you grew up actually seeing them for the very first time, or becoming a new fan who is excited to embrace the heart and soul of a genre that made you think beyond what if? Either way, Science Fiction is an exploration of our imaginations, both glorious and often terrifying but it’s a genre that is here to stay, and the 1950s in particular truly rang the alarm bell that is still reverberating today!

Added to the mix in many of these film favorites was the essential mechanism of ‘not being believed’ added to the fear and paranoia of the moment!

The Face of Paranoia

THE FACE OF PANIC_PARANOIA BODY SNATCHERS

Invasion Anxiety

tv3QQht

FEAR OF THE ATOMIC BOMB! The Atomic City 1952 trailer

I see you with my million eyes!

fly

Hey big fella got a light!

Godzilla King of the Monsters

The theremin ‘the dulcet tones’ that wavered throughout sci-fi and beyond!

clara rockmore theremin

‘The modern world’

1952

It’s intermission time! Head out to the snack bar for some 50s refreshments!

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LOST WORLDS AND SPACE TRAVEL

Destination Moon

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Directed by Irving Pichel and producer George Pal along with a screenplay by Robert Heinlein took a very documentary approach to the narrative and the landscapes. The film stars John Archer as Jim Barnes, Warner Anderson as Dr. Charles Cargraves, with Tom Powers and Dick Wesson. The film was a critical success an revived the Sci-Fi genre.

Destination Moon 1950 was an attempt to show a serious technical side to space travel. based on what science actually knew at the time. Actually it was in response to a spread that ran in Collier’s Magazine of series of paintings done by artist Chesley Bonastell of gleaming space craft.

Steven Spielberg had said of the picture, “DESTINATION MOON is a scientific attempt to create suspense based on no bad guys no villains and no aliens.

Similar to almost Apollo 13 (1995) or Marooned 1969)

George Lucas says “At the time it was a very provocative idea because nobody had ever seen anyone go to the moon.” 

Though it’s been called the precursor to 2001 Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick never admitted to having seen the movie. Which is highly possible, and given his genius we’ll take his word for it.
Destination Moon on the surface

In the midst of the Cold War, the film reflects America’s desire to conquer, and according to the generals in Destination Moon, the moon would be the ideal location for a strategic military base of operations. And thus the race for America to get there first. There’s also a conflict seen as there were those who would embrace the new technologies and those who saw the impending modernity as a threat or a ‘bad thing’.

Pichel and Pal wanted to situate this film farther away from the fantastical science fiction ‘soap opera’ serials of the 1930s. Physicists and astronomers were consulted in order to stay true to the realistic view Heinlein, Pichel and Pal desired as their vision of the future. They also used striking paintings by Chesley Bonestell to imagine the gorgeous lunar landscapes along with designer Ernest Fegte who create the realistic cratered look of the Moon.

destination-moon-1950--chesley-bonestell

Destination Moon gear

The film features the first lunar landing that was envisioned as realistic and not melodramatic or surreal. The crew led by actor John Archer manage to land on the Moon but they run out of fuel, that they seem doomed to be stranded. They lose all the excess weight in order to get the ship space worthy again, but till they are over the weight limit. In a noble act of courage and sacrifice Dick Wesson (Tom Powers) figures that he can remove his cumbersome pressure suit and re-enter the ship a lighter and better man in order to save the rest of the crew…

destination-moon

Dr. Charles Cargraves: You can’t buck public opinion; I’ve tried. Have you seen this?
[Newspaper headline: MASS MEETING PROTESTS RADIOACTIVE ROCKET]
General Thayer: That isn’t public opinion – it’s a job of propaganda!
Jim Barnes: You’re almighty right it is. Manufactured and organized – with money and brains. Somebody’s out to get us.

The Flying Saucer

the flying saucer

The FLying Saucer 1950 saucer

Directed by Mikel Conrad, stars Mikel Conrad as Mike Trent, Pat Garrison as Vee Langley, Hantz von Teuffen as Hans, Lester Sharpeas Col. Marikoff Roy Engel as Dr. Carl Lawton and Denver Pile as Turner! Because we feared the Russians in the early 1950s much of the paranoia around UFO sightings were connected to those pesky Reds! When CIA secret agent Mike Trent tracks a flying saucer to Alaska he finds out that it is a ship built by scientist Dr. Carl Lawton who hopes to sell it to the Americans!

The Flying Saucer screaming woman 1

The Flying Saucer 1950

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Pat Garrison and Mikel Conrad-50s cool!

Col. Marikoff: Mr. Trent, you’re giving us a great deal of trouble. Why didn’t you stay in New York with your drunken friends of the night club?

Mike Trent: I sobered up.

Prehistoric Women

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Laurette Luez

Laurette Luez as Tigri

prehistoric_women_1966_Martine Beswick

Prehistoric Women would find a resurgence in the 60s! Here’s British actress Martine Beswick in the 1966 movie with the same title!

Prehistoric Women (1950) Directed by Gregg C. Tallas Shown from left: Jo Carroll Dennison, Joan Shawlee, Laurette Luez, Kerry Vaughn, Mara Lynn (bending over), Judy Landon
Prehistoric Women (1950)
Directed by Gregg C. Tallas
Shown from left: Jo Carroll Dennison, Joan Shawlee, Laurette Luez, Kerry Vaughn, Mara Lynn
(bending over), Judy Landon

Directed by Gregg  C. Tallas, (Siren of Atlantas 1949) offers an adventure sci-fi fantasy film. Prehistoric Women stars Laurette Luez as Tigri, Allan Nixon as (Mesa of Lost Women 1953, Pickup 1951) Engor, Joan Shawlee as Lotee, Judy Landon as Eras, Mary Lynn as Arva, Jo Carroll Dennison as Nika, Kerry Vaughn as Tulie, Tony Devlin as Rulg, James Summers as Adh, Jeanne Sorel as Tana, and Janet Scott as Wise Old Lady.

As Bill Warren puts it in his wonderful series Keep Watching the Skies published by the awesome McFarland Press-Prehistoric Women “Were this picture not so naive, it would seem more sleazy than it does. It’s not good in any way, but has a certain daffy charm because of it’s unsophisticated unbelieveability.”

Prehistoric Women 1950 Engor and Tigir

Prehistoric Women Engor discovers fire

The Commentator:And Engor called it Firee, which was his word for Fire.”

The film is narrated documentary style because the cast are primitives who Amazonian cave-women and had little to no dialogue, it just adds to the laughable style and god awful Cinecolor production. I’d like to know how they got a turkey vulture to wear a mask poor thing, the film is so blurring it’s hard to tell what the hell is flying up in the prehistoric blue sky… scourge of the skies indeed! Still, prehistoric films, though considered mostly adventure stories seems to be included in books on the Sci-Fi genre. Though it could also easily be branded as a very cheap sexist exploitation romp!

Prehistoric Women 1950 the scourge of the skies

Look it’s a flying dragon the scourge of the skies!

Bill Warren cites a review from the Monthly Film Bulletin: “They assert feminine superiority ruthlessly, setting their captives to hard labour, clubbing them intermittently and cutting off their escape… {Engor-} (the intelligent troglodyte who invents fire) uses a flaming torch to destroy a giant winged dragon (a disguised turkey vulture they must have tortured off set by putting fake ears and beak on it) that threatens their encampment {and}the girls are stunned with fear and admiration and surrender unconditionally.”

Tigri and her clan hate men but realize that they are sort of needed for some things, so they capture a bunch of fellas and try to force them to become their mates. But when Engor, escapes and discovers fire gets re-captured and not only slays the “flying dragon the scourge of the skies” but uses the fire to fight off the ugly brute who threatens their lives Tigri has a change of heart and all is right with the primitive world again. The women start running around panicked and screaming hysterically and the men are once again in charge… it’s ludicrous.

This giant is a real 9 foot giant… named Guadi in the film is Johann Petursson The Viking Giant was the Tallest Man From Iceland and traveled with Ringling Bros. Circus!

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Prehistoric Women 1950

The Commentator: “Strangely enough, the swan dive was invented before the swan.

Rocketship-X-M

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GASP AT THE DARING COURAGE… AS THEY THUNDER BETWEEN PLANETS ON A RUNAWAY ROCKET!

Directed by science fiction story aficionado Kurt Neumann ( Secret of the Blue Room 1933, Half a Sinner 1934, Island of Lost Men 1939, a slew of Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan pictures, She Devil 1957, the outstanding Kronos 1957, and The Fly 1958 ) Rocketship X-M stars Lloyd Bridges as Col. Floyd Graham, Osa Massen as Dr. Lisa Van Horn, John Emory as Dr. Karl Eckstrom, Noah Beery Jr. as Maj. William Corrigan, Hugh O’ Brian as Harry Chamberlain, Morris Ankrum as Dr. Ralph Fleming, and Sherry Morland as the Martian girl.

Cinematographer Karl Struss   (Sunrise 1927, The Great Dictator, 1940, Limelight 1952, The Fly 1958) and art direction by Theobold Holsopple create at times a sublime and beautifully desolate landscape using matte paintings, miniatures among the technical effects. For all the scenes on Mars, the film is tinted a pinkish sepia tone (filmed partly in The Mojave desert). Struss lenses an landscape that is eerie and atmospheric.

Rocketship X-M was a B picture designed to beat DESTINATION MOON in the movie theaters, and even with it’s grim ending, it actually did better at the box office. Director James Cameron called it an ‘Anodyne answer to Destination Moon 1950.’ It was a cautionary tale about how we will not be able to control this new technology. It’s a warning about too much hubris surrounding this powerful technology that sometimes ‘precedes a tragic fall’-Mark Hamill.

The crew finds the remnants of a Martian Civilization that was destroyed by it’s own technology much like the revelation in Ridley Scott’s Alien 1979.

The film though with it’s bleak message is quite a surprisingly interesting science fiction tale about a trip to the moon, by way of Mars that is interesting because of it’s earnestness and visual style. And to be honest a lot more interesting and characters more full of life than with it’s predecessor in 1950 Destination Moon.

Rocketship XM Staffing Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr. You heard this year's Oscar Winner for Best Actor credit his father for his acting career. Well here he is folks. Third from the left: Lloyd Bridges.
Rocketship XM
Staffing Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr.
You heard this year’s Oscar Winner for Best Actor credit his father for his acting career. Well here he is folks. Third from the left: Lloyd Bridges.

Rocketship XM Osa and Lloyd and deep thoughts

Rocketship XM the crew inside their ship

rocketship-x-m on Mars

Rocketship XM the crew investigates the landcape

Rocketship X-M sepia exploring

Rocketship X-M

German director Neumann came to Hollywood in 1925 and became best known for his work on The Fly. (1958) Rocketship X-M is a sober and beautifully filmed piece of science fiction realism blended with romance and crisis. Like Destination Moon ,it features the first manned rocket-ship to the Moon that winds up knocked off course winding up on Mars, stranded on the bleak landscape where the crew led by Dr. Karl Eckstrom stumble upon a dome-shaped structure and an odd metallic mask. They deduce from all the radioactivity that there must have been a superior race of intelligent beings who had once inhabited the planet but fell victim to some kind of atomic catastrophe, leaving only a few mutant savages to forage the bones of the now desolate planet.

Rocketship XM the surving race

These crazy looking bald Martians sort of remind me of Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes 1977

Rocketship XM attacked by the Martian savages

The crew is eventually besieged upon by the remains of that once thriving Martian race, which in a shocking reveal shows Sherry Moreland the Martian girl to have a lifeless stare as she is blind. The Martian trogldyte attackers kill Dr.Eckstrom, and Maj. Corrigan, wounding Chamberlain. Col. Floyd Graham and Dr. Lisa Van Horn make it back to the ship, but don’t have enough fuel to get back home. In a very intense and poignant scene as the two hold each other and embrace their inevitable fate with a transcendent fatalistic sense of hope, much like Grant Williams at the end of The Incredible Shrinking Man, the lovers watch through the view finder as they plunge toward Earth to their deaths, in a darker film ending– as they crash. Rocketship X-M seems to have brought the warning not to earth in the form of Klaatu the benevolent, but has placed us on a hostile planet much like Planet of the Apes that gravely warns us that our future could very well wind up the same way if we pursue atomic weapons.

Rocketship XM the Crash landing

Lloyd Bridges holds Osa Massen It ends badly for everyone. As they look out the porthole “it’s only seconds now, try not to be afraid” She clings to him-Suddenly she is not afraid anymore. She feels like something is lifting them up and holding them right before they crash…

Osa Massen sees her tragic end as a new beginning she sheds her fears and finds a courageous way to embrace their impending death. It’s a rather poetic scene when they hold each other and look out at the view finder and watch as life rapidly escapes them. It’s a very dark ending.

Doomed to crash and burn Floyd and Lisa cannot control the technology. There is a conflict with the machines and mechanisms we build that can either annihilate  us or set us free to explore and thrive.

‘Their last desperate hope is for transcendence”

ROCKETSHIP X-M — Director John Cameron calls it a ‘dualistic dance’ with technology -referring to the end being so nihilistic potentially– then the head of the program says they’ll start construction tomorrow.

Already on Earth they are planning another mission called Rocketship X-M2!

Rocketship XM no gentlemen the X-M was not a failure tomorrow we start on the construction of the X-M2

PROGRESS MARCHES ON-“No gentlemen the X-M was not a failure tomorrow we start on the construction of the X-M2”

 

Floyd: I’ve been wondering, how did a girl like you get mixed up in a thing like this in the first place.

Dr. Lisa Van Horn: I suppose you think that women should only cook and sew and bear children.

Floyd: Isn’t that enough?

[Floyd and Lisa comfort Eckstrom, who was mortally wounded by a Martian’s axe]

Floyd: Murdering savages!

Dr. Eckstrom: No Floyd. Poor fear-crazed despairing wretches. Pity them. Pity them!

STAY TUNED FOR MORE-coming up! 🚀 The Year is:

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Mad Monster Party? (1967) “You’re different”

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The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social Blogathon of Cheer hosted by Fritzi of the spectacular Movies Silently

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So the whole idea is to feel good right? Well I think  a lot of us would agree that any Rankin/Bass production is going to put a smile on your face… I couldn’t resist revisiting the children’s & adult animated feature that embraces Boris Karloff as an animagic puppet and a lot of campy inside cheeky humor, that’s not just for the kiddies, as the New York Times review from 1967 says it’s for ‘The monsters in all of us!”

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“When I was nine, I played the demon king in “Cinderella” and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster.”- Boris Karloff

RANKIN-BASS-BRIDE_OF_FRANKENSTEIN_POSTER copy

MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)

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Presented by Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine and Directed by Jules Bass (Return to Oz 1964, Rudolph, the Red -Nosed Reindeer 1964, The Daydreamer 1966, Frosty the Snowman 1969, produced The Last Unicorn 1982, The Sins of Dorian Gray 1983, The Wind in the Willows 1987)

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baron and felix music

Mad Monster Party? (1967) is a wonderfully cheeky animagic feature filmed in Eastman color, was released on March 8th, 1967. This puppet comic horror gem stars the voices of Boris Karloff as Baron Boris von Frankenstein, Allen Swift  lends his voice to these hairy scary characters Felix Flankin (Swift does a very obvious take off on actor James Stewart) / Peter Lorre character ‘Yetch’ / Dracula / the Invisible Man / Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde / Chef Machiavelli / the Captain / First Mate / Mr. Kronkite / Mail Man / The Monster and a skeleton band called the Little Tibias and the Phibbians who are wearing those groovy Beatle wigs.

Baron meets Dr. Jekyll

the mummy and hunchback

the bone band

Gale Garnett is the voice of the Baron’s lovely assistant, the fiery red-headed temptress Francesca, Phyllis Diller is not called the Bride, she is referred to as The Monster’s Mate!

the mummy the mate and baron

Music by Maury Laws, with cinematography by Tadahito Mochinaga and animation/puppet department by Jack Davis, an illustrator for EC comics in the 1950s, a fellow contributor to Mad Magazine and During the 1970s, he did concept art and storyboards for television commercials (‘Lectric Shave, Utica Club, Cask Mt. Wine, Unispin, Gillette, Sominex, Dodge Boys) animated by the Phil Kimmelman and Associates animation house. He was also the poster artist for the brilliant “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1964)

It, baron in plane

Plus uncredited Art Direction by mind blowing artist, music albums, poster art and graphic comic books Frank Frazetta.

Mad Monster Party? (1967) is an offbeat  stop-motion animation feature made by Rankin/Bass Productions.  It’s a parody of classic monster movies more aimed at adults than children though it was badly marketed to the wrong audience, the weekend matinee for kids. It blends the art of slapstick with the nostalgia of Universal & RKO monster greats. Harvey Kurtzman, who wrote the script, was a co-creator of Mad Magazine. The characters were designed by Jack Davis, one of the illustrators of Mad Magazine. It explains the element of racy, campy, quirky and delightfully droll humor, and why it has remained a cult classic, since the days of Saturday afternoon programs like Creature Features! Oh those were the days…

the monster and his mate

frankensteins monster and Diller

“Certainly, I was typed. But what is typing? It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing.”-Boris Karloff

The film is a feature length ‘animagic’ gem but because they could not get the licensing to homage the actual classy trademarked monsters, they resorted to a parody of the characters using similar names instead. The Bride of Frankenstein is called “the Monster’s Mate” and is brought to life by the superb impersonation of the batty and biting Phyllis Diller rather than the surreal & sensual Elsa Lanchester. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is called “Creature.” And King Kong is referred to as “IT.”

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Boris Karloff himself did the voice for Baron Boris von Frankenstein. Karloff recorded his dialogue in England at the sound stage, which was a much more comfortable job for Boris Karloff made easier on his body, by that time he was suffering from debilitating arthritis and trouble with his lungs.

boris action figure
I know what I’m getting for my birthday this year!

Composer Maury Laws said of the great Karloff, “Boris Karloff was the perfect gentleman.” Producer Arthur Rankin Jr. said “He was suffering from an illness at the time, but he gave us a great performance in Mad Monster Party? (1967) and The Daydreamer (1966) as well!”

Boris as the Rat in Rankin?Bass The Daydreamer 1966
Boris Karloff plays the voice of The Rat in Rankin/Bass’ The Daydreamer (1966) stories by Hans Christian Anderson

And let us not forget that Boris Karloff played the voice of The Narrator & Grinch in director Chuck Jone’s adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story How The Grinch Stole Christmas tv movie (1966)

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Boris Karloff and Chuck Jones
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Boris Karloff and Chuck Jones

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The party guests also include The Wolf Man, Quasimodo, various zombies that appear to pay homage to the dreaded flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and a deranged chef named Mafia Machiavelli.

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Allen Swift does a great take on Peter Lorre who pines after Francesca… Yetch- “It’s me, Your Don Juan” Francesca, “I Don Juan to look at you!”, and if it’s not my imagination, I could swear that what remains to be seen of the Invisible Man looks and sounds like Sydney Greenstreet’s fez wearing character Signor Ferrari in Casablanca (1942) a coincidence… I think not! And I could swear that monocle wearing version of Dracula bears a striking resemblance to pioneering live show of the ’50s Your Show of Shows, brilliant comedian Sid Caesar.

Dracula

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In the movie, Baron Frankenstein who is equip with a laboratory that would make Kenneth Strickfaden proud, invites his noodle headed, perpetual throat spraying annoyingly allergic nephew Felix Flanken who dreams of being a pharmacist, to take his place as the head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters to be run at his tropic hide away The Isle of Evil.’

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There his uncle will be bestowing on Felix his last great creation, a secret formula capable of destroying all matter. When the Baron announces this to the organization of his new successor, the monstrous guests plot to get rid of the nerdy Felix so they can take over the organization and grab Dr. Frankenstein’s secret formula. The Baron’s assistant, Francesca, falls in love with Felix, and is kidnapped by the monsters. Boris gets Francesca away from those greedy ghouls, and Felix and Francesca are able to leave the island, rowing away in their tiny row boat, with perhaps a delicious twist ending in store for you!

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Singer Garnett creates the voice of the curvy red head Francesca that adds a wonderful spark to the character who radiates Ann Margret & Ann Francis with Mamie Van Doren’s twists & boobs!

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Although the film came out in 1967, the distributor Embassy Pictures relegated it to kiddie matinees, instead of reaching older audiences that would’ve appreciated the human and references. The film got virtually no attention until 1969’s (read here )☞ New York Times review.

Howard Thompson writes, “In this peppery and contagiously droll little color package, a collection of animated puppets scamper across some clever miniature sets, exchanging sass and barbs and occasionally warbling some sprightly tunes.”

Rankin/Bass Productions (who brought us those memorable claymation Christmas feel-goods) in affiliation with Avco Embassy found the intended audience for the film in the 1970s and early 1980s by showing it on the small screen. They also made a 1972 prequel called Mad Mad Mad Monsters.

Mad Monster Party’s soundtrack includes 60s songstress Gale Garnett who sang the catchy hit pop song “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” 

The film also includes songs the opening song rendered by jazz great Ethel Ennis with- “Mad Monster Party”, “One Step Ahead” (sung by Boris Karloff) Our Time to Shine & Never Was a Love Like Ours (sung by Gale Garnett) music and lyrics by Maury Laws and Jules Bass, also lets not forget, “You’re Different” sung by Phyllis Diller

Mad Monster Party? (1967) The making of a classic

“My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He’s my best friend.”- Boris Karloff

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Here’s the link to Boris Karloff’s Sherry infused Guacamole recipe

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It’s been a Mad Mad Mad Mad Party here at The Last Drive In… Hope you had a Groovin’ Ghoulish time! –Your EverLovin MonsterGirl!

 

MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!

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Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!

We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!

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Gloria Stuart The Invisible Man

Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !

Let’s drink a toast to that notion!

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The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to runs your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay! From A-Z

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Phantom in the Rue Morgue 1954

ELIZABETH ALLAN

Elizabeth Allan

A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958 she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.

Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)

The film is a Tod Browning’s re-take of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).

The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.

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Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) hatch an intricate plot to trap the murderers!

Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit, includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna  (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all what it seems?

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Elizabeth Allan (below center) and Carroll Borland as Luna in Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935)
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Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire (1935)

The Phantom Fiend (1932)

Directed by the ever interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.

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Ivor Novello is the strange & disturbing Michel Angeloff. Elizabeth Allan is the daughter of the landlords who rent a room to this mysterious fellow who might just be a serial killer. Daisy Bunyon falls captivated by this tormented and intense young man…
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A.W. Baskcomb plays Daisy’s (Elizabeth Allan)father George Bunting and Jack Hawkins is Joe Martin the regular guy in love with Daisy
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Michel Angeloff (Ivor Novello) to Daisy Bunting (Elizabeth Allan) “Stay away from me… don’t ever be alone with me…{…} -You trust me, no matter whatever I’ve done?”

The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)

There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes have put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.

Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!

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HEATHER ANGEL

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Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943) and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.

Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.

The L.A times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low- budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”

Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervillles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.

Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909.
Heather Angel in Berkeley Square (1933) Image courtesy Dr Macro

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932)

Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holme’s thriller Originally serialised in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.

In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror oriented story it calls for the great detective to investigating the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from it’s victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.

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Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

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Douglass Montgomery as Neville Landless and Heather Angel as Rosa Bud in the intensely superior rare gem The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.

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The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!

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Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vie for Rosa’s affections. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.

OLGA BACLANOVA

Olga Baclanova

Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind the scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.

It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal and loyalty.

Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact a poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folk. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead and more!

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Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but much reverence paid toward the Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.

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( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tight rope walker, the subtle choreography between gut wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)

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Baclanova and Earles

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“You Freaks!!!!”
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Gooba Gabba… I guess she isn’t one of us after all!

here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928)

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Continue reading “MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!”

THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON- CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) & Night Tide (1961) : Gills-A LOVE STORY!!!

THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON hosted by the fabulous Speakeasy & Silver Screenings

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CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) directed by Jack Arnold

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There have been sympathetic monsters that elicit our understanding, who cause you to care about them and their ordeal whether they’re the focus of a rampaging mob of villagers with flaming torches and pick axes or scientists armed with spear guns at the ready as surrogate penises –okay maybe I didn’t think about that surrogate penis thing when I was 9, but I see it so clearly now!!!!

Back in the day of the musty cool matinee theatre’s air smelling of buttered popcorn and old leather shoes, you could slink down in your good ‘n plenty and Milk Dud encrusted red velvet seat and wish that the monster would not only get away… but that just maybe he’d get the girl– instead of the self righteous hyper-science macho hero who objectifies everything! After all, the creature is not the one invading their territory, he’s prevailed in that environment for ions, before these macho nerds came along!

As a little monstergirl I used to think, and still do… just leave the ‘Gill Man’ alone!

We can sympathize with monsters, like Victor Frankenstein’s creation, & The Gill Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon. We can find our involvement (at least I can), as one viewed with empathy toward the monster’s predicament. embedded in the narrative is a simultaneous pathos, that permits these monsters to express human desires, and then make sure that those desires are thwarted, frustrated and ultimately destroyed.

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Richard Carlson Julie Adams Richard Denning and Whit Bissell as Dr. Edward Thompson study the fossil of an amphibian man found near the Amazon.
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The crew catches something in their net… and whatever it was… has ripped a giant Gill Man size hole in it leaving behind a claw!

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Friedrich Nietzsche

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Mr. ‘It’s mine all mine” and Kay and Mr. “But think of the contribution to science!” looking at the poor trapped Gill Man-a lonely prisoner of scientific hubris and egocentric men.
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The creature trapped in a bamboo cage… floats, quietly thinking deep thoughts–while the three look on pondering what to do with him..

‘The Outsider Narrative” can be seen so clearly in Jack Arnold’s horror/sci-fi hybrid Creature From The Black Lagoon. Film monsters like The Gill Man form vivid memories for us, as they become icons laying the groundwork for the classic experience of good horror, sci-fi and fantasy with memorable story telling and anti-heroes that we ‘outliers’ grew to identify with and feel a fondness for.

As David Skal points out in The Monster Show, he poses that films like Creature From the Black Lagoon …are the “most vivid formative memories of a large section of the {American} population…{…} and that for so many of these narratives they seem to function as “mass cultural rituals.”

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Creature From The Black Lagoon is quite a perfect film, as it works on so many different levels of examining human nature and nature as human.

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When belligerent scientists and their relentless pursuit of expanding control over the natural world invade a unique creature’s habitat, forcing their domination of him- naturally he’s compelled to fight back.

In the midst of this evolves a sort of a skewed Romeo and Juliet. The Gill Man never intends to threaten Julie Adam’s character Kay Lawrence, he seemingly wants to make her his love object and maybe just maybe (idealizing of course while I imbue the ‘creature’ with a higher consciousness) the Gill Man seeks to free Kay from the dangerous men she is surrounded by. An amphibious knight in scaly armor, a rugged green scaly Adonis with limpid eyes and full lips.

The arrival of the expedition creates chaos and swampy mayhem due to the intrusion of the two opportunistic men who tote phallic harpoons around and fight with each other over questions of ethics, how to conduct scientific research and naturally who will conquer Kay– acting like spoiled children-the both. Only the Gill Man sees her beauty from a place of primal hunger and desires her above all else, perhaps with a innate sense of possessing her, but without all the cocky male posturing.

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THE LOVABLE HUGGABLE GILL MAN!! 
“I promise to keep my claws trimmed and never come to bed with cold clammy feet!”

“Yes, yes,” said the Beast, “my heart is good, but still I am a monster.” –Among mankind,” says Beauty, “there are many that deserve that name more than you, and I prefer you, just as you are, to those, who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.”
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

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“What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“When is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it.”
Caitlyn Siehl, Literary Sexts: A Collection of Short & Sexy Love Poems

In trying to capture the amphibian man he is driven out of his home in the mysterious upper Amazon by these otherizing anthropologists. And so the Gill Man–being shot at by spears and besieged by sweaty men in bourgeois khakis and unfashionable swim trunks blech! –must defend his realm.

He who is just lazing around, dreaming through the sun’s rays which sparkle upon the surface of the water amongst the little fishes and coral… bothering no one. Suddenly surrounded by intruders with weapons and nets, poison and cages.

But wait, one of them is leggy and soft and looks divine in her one piece bathing suit designed by Rosemary Odell... (Brute Force 1947, It Came from Outer Space 1953, This Island Earth 1955, To Kill a Mockingbird 1962) and what a pair of eyes!

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The Gill Man goes on a mission to get the girl and so endures his attackers because he has fallen for the simple beauty of Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams.)

Though his world has become disordered, the presence of the beautiful Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) it has awakened his sexual desire.

The film stars Richard Carlson as David Reed and Richard Denning as Mark Williams. The two men who invade The Gill Man’s quiet life and argue about what should be done with the subject of their research findings, to exploit, or study, or bring back to the states to gain notoriety and get paid lots of clams!, without an ethical thought in their curly scientific brains, forcing themselves on the creature and making him an object of entrapment & exhibition.

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“I think I love you so what am I so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for I think I love you isn’t that what life is made of? Though it worries me to say that I’ve never felt this way”— Insert music from The Partridge Family –
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“There’s just something about an Aqua Velva Gill Man!”

The Gill Man watches from below the surface, as Kay Lawrence casually smokes a cigarette, taking long sensual puffs and throwing the butts upon the lagoon like trinkets for him to worship. He feels compelled to reach out for her but decides to be a voyeur for a bit longer.

Later the Gill Man sees Kay on the beach, the camera catches a notable deep sigh when he lays those deep green eyes on her. He moves closer. She lets out the obligatory monster movie scream queen shriek, that siren squeal, you know the kind, with the carefully place hands cupping the face in shock.

One of the men from the expedition takes a machete and tries to attack the creature, and he gets killed for his efforts. Dave and Mark hear Kay scream and approach just in time for the knock out powder they’ve placed in the lagoon to finally take effect and subdue the creature who is now out cold. He falls flat on his green gilled face down in the sand.

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Kay passes out. the Gill Man places her down gently on the sand...
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Mark (Richard Denning) can’t wait to beat the fish guts out of the creature!

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David (Carslon) has to intervene before Mark (Denning) bashes the creatures head in “Stop you’ll kill him!…”

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Once Williams (Denning) sees that the Gill Man has fallen down, he says “Got him!” then begins brutally smashing at him with his rifle, until David (Carlson) tells him to stop before he kills him. They throw a net over the unconscious creature. The scene shows the level of ferocity that man is capable of, and with this violent over-kill we on the other side of the evolutionary scale become monsters as well. It is a not so subtle contrast with the main character who is considered the ‘creature.’

Ricou Browning portrayed the creature in the under water scenes, and Ben Chapman played the creature on land. There’s wonderfully engaging cinematography by William E. Snyder. (Flying Leathernecks 1951, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 1956)

The Gill Man has dwelt in the warm existential depths of the water… the lagoon his endless cycle of existence, thriving until he is invaded by scientific hubris. While in the lagoon he is connected to the creator of his world, remaining bound to a body of water that is symbolic of the eternal maternal womb. He is then forced out of his quiet habitual life where he then becomes ‘otherized’. With an ‘Outsider’ narrative the familiar then becomes monstrous.

Our perceptions are focused on how this ‘creature’ shatters the mold of normalcy. He transforms the ordinary world into something provocative and forces the outside world to define him, once again as with Frankenstein’s monster, he is perceived as a thing… a creature.

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A film like Creature from the Black Lagoon can suggest to us the recognition of our notions of conventional sexuality and gender as well. The Gill Man is similar to a frog yet has walks upright and has the stance of a man and possesses that archetypal ogling that shows he has sexual designs on our heroine Kay.

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Kay Lawrence: “And I thought the Mississippi was something.”

While he is placed in a role that sees Kay as the ‘object’ of his affection, he’s sort of an androgynous amphibian, and yet he suggests that  “alternatives can exist which may be more desirable”-Mark Jancovich Rational Fears American Horror in the 1950s. Jancovich goes on to say that the film is “unremittingly sexual” The film has sexual symbolism throughout, as the outside world intrudes on an ambiguous sexual being living in the womb of the water, now unleashed as a sexual peril to women. The water scenes between the water ballet swimming Kay unaware that the creature is also swimming very near to her–are absolutely visual foreplay.

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Sweaty men baring their chests, wielding shot guns and Phallic harpoons as much as possible.

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Need I say more???

The most significant scene of the film is when The Gill Man swims a slight distance away from Kay, under the murky lagoon while Kay unaware, simultaneously moves through the water embracing it’s import with pleasure and liberation. She whirls above him, barely hinting at an erotic intimacy between the two.

Under the water the creature is not a threat to Kay, he’s almost shy, as he barely touches her leg, he swims away as if he’s conflicted with uncertainty about this new experience. William E Snyder is responsible for the striking underwater footage, that creates an erotic spacial world of shimmering light.

It’s almost a type of Eden, that those pesky aggressive scientific males spoil…

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We know that the creature shows a fascination toward Kay, but she sort of shares a kind of bond with him, as both are threatened by the domination of the two male scientists Mark and David. She tells the men to leave the creature alone, that it won’t bother them. Mark wants to capture the creature as proof of his discovery, rather than just study him in his own habitat. Mark also wants to possess Kay, both of them are treated as ‘objects’. There are several scenes where Kay and the creature stare at each other as if they see something in common within themselves. Harry Essex wrote the screenplay, hated the script at first so he added the Beauty and the Beast theme, to give the creature more of a sense of humanity.

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon is relentlessly sexual. Inhabited by mostly male characters, scientists who have traveled to the deep Amazon in search of undiscovered animal life. What they find instead of more fossils is the Gill Man who refuses to give up his freedom. And why shouldn’t the creature react violently to their intrusion into his quiet domain. What’s more interesting is how he quickly becomes attracted to the gorgeous Julie Adams and her gutsy character Kay, the only female on the expedition who once again looks smashing in a one piece white bathing suit and swims like she’s in the water follies. Jancovich quotes Biskind from his Seeing is Believing – claiming that the creature is “driven into a frenzy by the proximity of Julie Adams in a one piece bathing suit.” Sounds about right to me!

The Gill Man evokes our sympathy who has become an ‘object’ to be controlled, dominated and assaulted by the outside world. It’s the ‘men doing science’ who become the ‘aliens’ the bad guys, the human monsters and the creature another existential anti-hero who we identify with. It’s just a different slant on the theme of unrequited love in the the lagoon…

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Continue reading “THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON- CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) & Night Tide (1961) : Gills-A LOVE STORY!!!”

Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A Halloween treat!

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promo shot for The Wolf Man- Evelyn Ankers

THE WOMEN OF CLASSIC HORROR: THE 1940S!

You could say that Evelyn Ankers is still the reigning queen of classical 1940s horror fare turned out by studios like RKO, Universal and Monogram. But there were a host of femme screamtales that populated the silver screen with their unique beauty, quirky style and/or set of lungs ready to wail, faint or generally add some great tone and tinge to the eerie atmosphere when ever the mad scientist or monster was afoot. Some were even monstrous themselves…

For this upcoming Halloween I thought I’d show just a little love to those fabulous ladies who forged a little niche for themselves as the earliest scream queens & screen icons.

ELSA LANCHESTER 1902-1986

I’m including Elsa Lanchester because any time I can talk about this deliriously delightful actress I’m gonna do it. Now I know she was the screaming hissing undead bride in the 30s but consider this… in the 40s she co-starred in two seminal thrillers that bordered on shear horror as Mrs Oates in The Spiral Staircase 1945 and a favorite of mine as one of Ida Lupino’s batty sisters Emily Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941

I plan on venturing back to the pre-code thirties soon, so I’ll talk about The Bride of Frankenstein, as well as Gloria Holden (Dracula’s Daughter, Frances Dade (Dracula) and Kathleen Burke (Island of Lost Souls) Gloria Stuart and Fay Wray and so many more wonderful actresses of that golden era…

Elsa Lanchester in The Spiral Staircase
Elsa Lanchester as Mrs.Oates in director Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase 1945
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The Sisters Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941 starring Elsa Lanchester, Ida Lupino and the wonderful Edith Barrett (right)

ANNE NAGEL  1915-1956

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the playfully pretty Anne Nagel
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Anne Nagel & Lon Chaney Jr in a promo shot for Man Made Monster
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Anne Nagel strapped to the slab and at the mercy of the ever mad Lionel Atwill. Here comes the glowing Lon Chaney Jr! in his electric rubber suit in Man Made Monster!

The depraved mad scientist Lionel Atwill working with electro biology pins gorgeous red headed Anne Nagel playing June Lawrence, to his operating slab in Man Made Monster 1941. Lon Chaney Jr. comes hulking in all aglow as the ‘Electrical Man’ which was his debut for Universal. He carries Anne Nagel through the countryside all lit up like a lightning bug in rubber armor. Man Made Monster isn’t the only horror shocker that she displayed her tresses & distresses. She also played a night club singer named Sunny Rogers also co-starring our other 40’s horror heroine icon Anne Gwynne in the Karloff/Lugosi pairing Black Friday in 1940.

She played the weeping Mrs.William Saunders, the wife of Lionel Atwill’s first victim in Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942. And then of course she played mad scientist Dr Lorenzo Cameron (George Zucco’s) daughter Lenora in The Mad Monster 1942. Dr Cameron has succeeded with his serum in turning men into hairy wolf like neanderthal monsters whom he unleashes on the men who ruined his career.

Anne Nagel and Lionel Atwill Mad Doctor of Market Street
Anne Nagel and Lionel Atwill Mad Doctor of Market Street

Poor Anne had a very tragic life… Considered that sad girl who was always hysterical. Once Universal dropped her she fell into the Poverty Row limbo of bit parts. Her brief marriage to Ross Alexander ended when he shot himself in the barn in 1937, and Anne became a quiet alcoholic until her death from cancer in 1966

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Lon Chaney Jr and Anne Nagel Man Made Monster

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Dr Cameron’s daughter Lenora (Anne Nagel) discovers the wolf-like man in his laboratory in The Mad Monster
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Glenn Strange as Petro the Hairy man in The Mad Monster 1942

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the sultry Anne Nagel and Bela Lugosi in Black Friday 1940 photo courtesy Dr Macro

MARTHA VICKERS- 1925-1971

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the beauty of Martha Vickers

Martha was in noir favorites The Big Sleep 1946 & Alimony 1949. This beauty played an uncredited Margareta ‘Vazec’s Daughter’along side Ilona Massey as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein and the marvelous older beauty Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva the gypsy! in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 1943. Then she played heroine Dorothy Coleman in Captive Wild Woman 1943 and Miss McLean in The Mummy’s Ghost 1944.

Originally Martha MacVickar she started modeling for photographer William Mortenson.David O Selznick contracted the starlet but Universal took over and put in her bit parts as the victim in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and in other ‘B’ guilty pleasures like Captive Wild Woman & The Mummy’s Ghost. She was also the pin-up girl for WWII magazines.

Martha also starred in other noir features such as Ruthless 1948 and The Big Bluff 1955. She was Mickey Rooney’s third wife.

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Martha Vickers and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep photo courtesy of Dr Macro
Martha Vickers and Lon Chaney in Frankenstein Meets the wolf man
Martha Vickers and Lon Chaney in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Martha Vickers and John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman
Martha Vickers and John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman
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I just can’t resist Vicker’s sex appeal here she is again… Wow!

FAY HELM  1909-2003

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Fay Helm as Nurse Strand with John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman

Fay Helm played Ann Terry in one of my favorite unsung noir/thriller gems Phantom Lady 1944 where it was all about the ‘hat’ and she co-starred as Nurse Strand along side John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman. Fay played Mrs. Duval in the Inner Sanctum mystery Calling Dr. Death with Lon Chaney Jr. 1943

Ella Raines and Fay Helm in Phantom Lady
Ella Raines and Fay Helm in Phantom Lady

Fay Helm plays Jenny Williams in Curt Siodmak’s timeless story directed by George Waggner for Universal and starring son of a thousand faces Lon Chaney Jr in his most iconic role Larry Talbot as The Wolf Man 1941

Fay as Jenny Williams: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

Fay was in Night Monster 1942. Directed by Ford Beebe the film starred Bela Lugosi as a butler to Lionel Atwill a pompous doctor who falls prey to frighting nocturnal visitations. I particularly love the atmosphere of this little chiller with it’s swampy surroundings and it’s metaphysical storyline.

Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey) a psychologist is called to the mysterious Ingston Mansion, to evaluate the sanity of Margaret Ingston, played by our horror heroine Fay Helm daughter of Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan) a recluse who invites the doctors to his eerie mansion who left him in a wheelchair.

Fay gives a terrific performance surrounded by all the ghoulish goings on! She went on to co-star with Bela Lugosi and Jack Haley in the screwball scary comedy One Body Too Many (1944)

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Night Monster
Fay Helm in Night Monster
Fay Helm with Bela the gypsy in The Wolf Man
Fay Helm with Bela the gypsy in The Wolf Man

LOUISE CURRIE 1913-2013

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Louise Currie and Bela Lugosi in The Ape Man

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Bela Lugosi as half ape half man, really needed a shave badly in The Ape Man 1943, and Louise Currie and her wonder whip might have been the gorgeous blonde dish to make him go for the Barbasol. One of the most delicious parts of the film was it’s racy climax as Emil Van Horn in a spectacle of a gorilla suit rankles the cage bars longing for Currie’s character, Billie Mason the tall blonde beauty. As Bela skulks around the laboratory and Currie snaps her whip in those high heels. The film’s heroine was a classy dame referred to as Monogram’s own Katharine Hepburn! She had a great affection for fellow actor Bela Lugosi and said that she enjoyed making Poverty Row films more than her bit part in Citizen Kane! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she appeared in several serials, from both Universal & Republic like The Green Hornet and Captain Marvel.

Tom Weaver in his book Poverty Row HORRORS! described The Ape Man as “a Golden Turkey of the most beloved kind.”

Louise Currie followed up with another sensational title for Monogram as Stella Saunders in Voodoo Man 1944 which again features Lugosi as Dr. Richard Marlowe who blends voodoo with hypnosis in an attempt to bring back his dead wife. The film also co-stars George Zucco as a voodoo high priest and the ubiquitous John Carradine as Toby a bongo playing half-wit “Don’t hurt her Grego, she’s a pretty one!”

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Pat McKee as Grego, Louise Currie, John Carradine and Bela Lugosi in Monogram’s Voodoo Man 1944
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the outrageous Voodoo Man 1944

Continue reading “Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A Halloween treat!”

A trailer a day keeps the Boogeyman away! The Ghost of Frankenstein

“The King of all Monsters strikes again! No chains can hold him! No tomb can seal him in!”

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN 1942

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When Bela Lugosi as Ygor brings the wounded Frankenstein’s monster to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) to help restore his strength, the good doctor tries to replace the monster’s abnormal brain, with a normal one. The cast is fabulous with Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster, Lionel Atwill, Evelyn Ankers as Ludwig’s daughter Elsa, Ralph Bellamy and Doris Lloyd!

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Images & Lobby Cards -courtesy of Doctor Macro’s High Quality Images

Coming to you from Trailer Land-The Ghost of MonsterGIrl!

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

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

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THE BLACK CAT (1934)

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

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

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

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Edgar Allan Poe

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

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

Poelzig and his women in death

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

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

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

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

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Roger Corman directs Peter Lorre in Tales of Terror 1962

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edgar Ulmer in the directors seat

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Edgar G. Ulmer

The Strange Woman poster

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

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

Boris and Bela on the staircase

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

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

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Boris High Priest

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Poelzig down the spiral stairs

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

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

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

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Boris Karloff as the imposing Hjalmar Poelzig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AELITA- Queen of Mars 1924

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

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Cast of Characters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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While Joan and Peter fall asleep the gentle yet peculiar Werdegast becomes fixated on