Film Review: Panic In the Streets (1950)

Also known as: Outbreak, Port of Entry (working titles), Quarantine (script title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy, Daniel Fuchs, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel

Twentieth Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you’d always find some good, but I don’t know.” – Lt. Cmdr. Clinton ‘Clint’ Reed M.D., “With apologies to your mother, that’s the second mistake she made.” – Capt. Tom Warren

While most urban film-noir pictures take place in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s always cool to see one set in another city. In the case of this film, we’re taken to one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world: New Orleans.

I love New Orleans and it’s really neat seeing a film that was shot in that city’s streets circa 1950. It’s a very different place from what it would become but at the same time, it has such a rich history and really it’s own style that all of that comes through and gives you one of the most unique looking urban noir pictures ever made.

The film also gave us the debut of Jack Palance, who would go on to be one of the greatest character actors of all-time, as well as a multiple Academy Award nominee.

On top of that, we get such incredible performances from Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas that just on acting alone, this eclipses most of the other noir pictures of its day. Add in superb direction from a true maestro, Elia Kazan, and you’ve got a true classic.

While it’s not a masterpiece, it was a gritty, energetic and engaging motion picture from the first frame to the last.

The City of New Orleans really becomes a character in the film and apart from Kazan’s visual style, I think a lot of the credit also has to go to cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who has a pretty impressive filmography, himself.

The story is about stopping a potential outbreak, as a small crew of criminals murders a man and it’s discovered that the victim had pneumonic plague. This forces a police captain and a military doctor to have to begrudgingly work together in an effort to solve the mystery of the man’s execution, find his killers and stop a pandemic from happening in New Orleans.

This is a movie that packs a real narrative punch that is punctuated by an incredible finale in a banana factory. In fact, there’s so much squeezed into this energetic and very layered film that I’m surprised they were able to get it all in the movie at just 96 minutes.

It is well-paced and even if it moves by fairly rapidly, Kazan did a masterful job in executing his vision on the screen and with real energy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures of the era, as well as Elia Kazan’s other films.

Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Also known as: Walter Wanger’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (complete title), The Came From Another World, The Body Snatchers (working titles), Sleep No More (Germany)
Release Date: February 5th, 1956
Directed by: Don Siegel
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring
Based on: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Sam Peckinpah

Walter Wanger Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!” – Dr. Miles J. Bennell

The Body Snatchers story has been adapted at least a half dozen times over the years. Most of them have been pretty meh but this one, the original version, is pretty great for what it is and it is one of the best science fiction films of its era.

Honestly, when compared to what was the 1950s sci-fi norm, this film is pretty exceptional and it sort of legitimizes sci-fi film in a time where they were mostly ignored by critics and looked down upon as cheap, pulpy schlock made for kids that were rotting their brains reading comic books.

This isn’t my favorite version of the story but it only falls behind the ’70s remake with Donald Sutherland, which was pretty close to masterpiece levels.

My first experience with this film came when scenes from it were featured in Joe Dante’s Gremlins from 1984. Those scenes sort of enthralled my young mind and I remember asking my dad where they were from and he told me and then showed me this film when it popped up on television one night. It is probably one of the things that really got me into classic horror and sci-fi.

The film, unlike others like it, is actually well acted, well shot and it comes across as a competent, bigger budget movie. It feels as if it was put out by a major studio but it wasn’t. It was made by Walter Wanger Productions and then got distribution by the larger Allied Artists.

The story is creepy as hell and it’s still effective, even if this film couldn’t get as dark and harsh as some of the remakes.

Ultimately, this is a superb looking motion picture that eclipsed its similar competition and helped to move science fiction cinema forward.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien paranoia and atomic era science fiction.

Film Review: Clash by Night (1952)

Release Date: May 30th, 1952 (limited)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Alfred Hayes
Based on: Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti, J. Carrol Naish

Wald/Krasna Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“What do you want, Joe, my life’s history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results.” – Mae Doyle

While I love the hell out of Fritz Lang movies, especially his noir films, as well as just about anything that Barbara Stanwyck has done, this film mostly missed the mark for me.

This also has Marilyn Monroe and Robert Ryan in it too but regardless of the film’s star power, I found it mostly dull and sort of wrecked by Paul Douglas, who had me wanting to kill him by the third act of the picture.

Now I haven’t seen much with Paul Douglas in it, except for the original Angels In the Outfield, but he really started grating on my nerves due to how overly intense he was once he lost his shit due to his wife running around with Robert Ryan behind his back.

Sure, I understand the guy would be pissed but he wrecks the scenes he’s in by acting like a bull in a china shop. That might not be Douglas’ fault though, as Lang probably thought that it was effective, as he was sitting behind the camera directing these scenes. I guess my biggest issue with it is that it pulls you out of the picture and diminishes the great performance by Stanwyck, who felt like she was whispering her lines next to a madman with a bullhorn.

Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with Douglas’ character and maybe that’s just the magic of it all and Fritz Lang got the performance that he wanted out of him. And maybe I didn’t see how effective it was until that final scene that closed out the film, which had a surprisingly pleasant conclusion and made my heart warm for the two leads.

This isn’t the type of noir I fancy the most, however, as I like gritty crime stories. This one is more about a woman that creates human wreckage in her wake but starts to realize that she’s found something she didn’t even know she needed. Unfortunately for her, at least at first, she learns this way too late, after her selfish impulses have caused a lot of damage.

For those who prefer noir pictures that focus more on human romance, this will most assuredly be your cup of tea. It’s hard to deny how great Stanwyck, Ryan, Monroe and J. Carrol Naish are in this. And while this isn’t close to Fritz Lang’s best, you leave the film fairly satisfied with how it all turns out, which is kind of odd and unique for the noir genre.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the era, especially those featuring Barbara Stanwyck or Robert Ryan or directed by Fritz Lang.

Film Review: Invaders From Mars (1953)

Also known as: The Invaders (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (Detroit premiere)
Directed by: William Cameron Menzies
Written by: Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: Jimmy Hunt, Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Morris Ankrum, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke

Edward L. Alperson Productions, National Pictures Corp., Twentieth Century Fox, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Please God, let them find Mom and Dad before something bad happens. I don’t want them to die too.” – David Maclean

I’ve seen the ’80s remake of this film a half dozen times or more. Weirdly, I’ve never seen the original one until now.

I’ve got to say that this was pretty enjoyable but one would have to be a fan of ’50s sci-fi cheese for this to work for them. Since I am a fan of this type of stuff, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how good and cool this picture was when compared to the other films like it from its era.

Side note: this was the first movie to show space aliens and their craft in color. It was paired with War of the Worlds on a double bill but it was the film that was featured first and thus, got the distinction of being the world’s first color alien invasion flick.

For a picture that was rushed through production, just so it could be paired with War of the Worlds, the finished product is really good. The picture is kind of enchanting and beautiful and now seeing it, I understand why they designed the sets and shot the remake the way that they did. In fact, the remake is pretty damn close to this movie with the only major difference being the design of the aliens and the fact that the remake was friggin’ bonkers (but in an awesome way).

The kid actor isn’t annoying, which is a big plus, and the rest of the cast was decent.

Most importantly, the aliens were rather unique and cool looking and it made the picture that much better for just how truly bizarre the Martians were, especially the leader.

In the end, this was an amusing movie that worked well for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi/horror pictures of the 1950s. Specifically, those dealing with alien invasion.

Film Review: Sudden Fear (1952)

Release Date: August 7th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Miller
Written by: Lenore J. Coffee, Robert Smith
Based on: Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, Mike Connors

Joseph Kaufman Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.” – Myra Hudson

It wasn’t until recently that I knew there was a film where Joan Crawford starred opposite of Jack Palance. That thought alone is kind of chilling, just thinking of how intense a film might be with both of them sharing the screen. Add in the always stupendous Gloria Grahame and I knew that I had to check this out.

What we ended up getting is a really well acted and fairly compelling classic film-noir. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a bit underwhelmed by it.

What’s strange, is that it is hard to peg exactly why this didn’t resonate with me more. But I think that comes down to two things.

One, the film is slow. I feel as if they could’ve lobbed off twenty minutes and fine tuned the script quite a bit more but Crawford really liked to draw out her scenes when she was turning the drama up to 11. And she does that quite a bit in this movie but who am I to say it’s too much, as she got another Academy Award nomination for this.

Side note: Jack Palance was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The second thing that effected this picture was the story. It’s a pretty basic noir plot. Woman marries man, woman is rich, man wants money, man plans to kill woman all while his other woman is assisting him in his heinous plot. And like a proper film-noir, the film has twists. In this one, Crawford finds out about the plot and decides to turn the tables. Ultimately, every main character is a shitty person.

Now this did have serious strengths.

Crawford, Palance and Grahame were all solid, even if I thought Crawford could’ve spent more time getting to the point, as opposed to clocking in more screen time for a visual reaction.

Also, this is meticulously shot with an interesting visual flair to it. One shot that really stood out was a simple one where the camera was inside a closet looking out at the characters. The shot was framed by the clothes and interior walls of the closet, making the characters feel confined and trapped. I’m assuming that was intentional but either way, it added serious weight to that scene.

Overall, this isn’t on par with something as great as Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce but it still showcases her skills and allowed audiences to experience her and Palance as an item on the silver screen, which is cool no matter how you want to slice it up.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir, especially those featuring Joan Crawford.

Film Review: Night of the Ghouls (1959/1984)

Also known as: Dr. Acula, Revenge of the Dead (script titles)
Release Date: 1959 (limited), 1984 (video premiere)
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Gordon Zahler (stock music supervisor)
Cast: Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Paul Marco, Valda Hansen, Johnny Carpenter, Bud Osborne, Criswell

69 Minutes

Review:

“Monsters! Space people! Mad doctors! They didn’t teach me about such things in the police academy! And yet that’s all I’ve been assigned to since I became on active duty! Why do I always get picked for these screwy details all the time? I resign.” – Patrolman Paul Kelton

Released theatrically but very limited, Night of the Ghouls sat on a shelf in a lab for decades before finally being dusted off and released on videotape. The story behind that says that Ed Wood didn’t have the money to pay for the film to be released and so he never got enough copies produced to actually distribute it.

The film is a follow up to Wood’s Bride of the Monster while also feeling like a spiritual sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space. Tor Johnson returns to the role of Lobo while frequent Wood contributor Paul Marco returns to the cop role that he played in Bride.

I have wanted to watch this for quite some time but this was my first chance to see it and I was glad to see that it was streaming for free, at least for now, on YouTube.

I really enjoyed it overall, for what it is, but it’s seemingly less imaginative and bonkers than Plan 9. I’d say that it’s on par with Bride but it falls behind it a bit due to not having Bela Lugosi. I know that Wood wanted to add Bela via stock footage but ultimately, he wasn’t able to.

Criswell appears as Criswell to do the narration, as well as introing and outroing the film. He first appears, rising up from a coffin similar to the scene from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood where Jeffrey Jones plays Criswell.

The plot is about a bullshit artist a.k.a. fake psychic named Dr. Acula (get it? “Dr-Acula”… “Dracula”). Weirdly, he’s not a vampire and it’s a strange play on words for some reason. Anyway, Dr. Acula takes people’s money, convincing them that he’s contacting their dead relatives and loved ones. However, by the end, he actually conjures the dead and they rise to put him in a coffin and bury him alive.

It’s not a great story or even all that original, as 1933’s Sucker Money has a very similar premise. However, it does work well within the Woodiverse and it feels like an extension of Wood’s other horror/sci-fi outings.

One thing I found surprising is that Wood recycles some scenes from a failed TV pilot he directed called Final Curtain. I actually reviewed that here. The scenes don’t necessarily fit that well but at least Wood’s footage wasn’t wasted, even if this film also languished on shelves for decades.

Night of the Ghouls would probably be despised by most people. However, those of us that like and appreciate the man’s hard work and passion can find something endearing and kind of cool with this picture. 

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Film Review: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Also known as: Night Without Sleep, Mischief (working titles)
Release Date: July 18th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Daniel Taradash
Based on: Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: Lionel Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton

20th Century Fox, 76 Minutes

Review:

“You smell like a cooch dancer!” – Eddie Forbes

This is a really interesting film about mental illness. It came out in the 1950s when there wasn’t as much knowledge about the subject but compared to other films from the time, this one is actually really respectful towards mental health. Honestly, Don’t Bother to Knock is probably one of the best movies of its era to actually try and tackle the issue, as it doesn’t make the character struggling with it into a psychotic nutjob.

The film gives top billing to Richard Widmark but the real star of the picture is Marilyn Monroe, who plays a babysitter that mentally breaks down as the story rolls on. I’ve absolutely got to give Monroe props in this role, as she truly comes across as believable and makes you feel for her on a pretty deep level.

In fact, this is one movie that you can point to when people claim that Monroe was just a pretty face. She handled the material with a sort of grace and respect that transcends the picture. And if I’m being straight here, I’ve never been a massive Monroe fan. But her ability to act in this picture was stupendous and it kind of makes me want to reexamine her other roles.

Additionally, Widmark is superb in his role, as are Anne Bancroft, who I wish had more screen time, and the always entertaining character actor Elisha Cook Jr.

This is a sympathetic and intelligently handled picture where the cast figures out something is off with this girl but they ultimately rally around her to give her the help she desperately needs. It’s hard to say what happens to her after the film but you do leave with the feeling that the core characters in this story will be there to help her heal, as opposed to just sending her to an asylum and being done with her uncontrollable antics.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who would go on to do a lot of horror and sci-fi pictures, the film is well shot and it shows that the guy had a real skill that his later work might not have showcased nearly as well. While I enjoy the work he did for Hammer and Amicus, the two horror giants of the UK, this may be the best film of his that I’ve seen from an artistic and technical standpoint.

Don’t Bother to Knock has been a film that has been in my Prime Video queue for a long time. I’m glad that I finally got around to giving it a shot, as I was pleasantly surprised by it on just about every level.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early ’50s film-noir, as well as other early Marilyn Monroe movies.

Film Review: Jail Bait (1954)

Also known as: Hidden Face (alternative title)
Release Date: May 12th, 1954
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Alex Gordon, Ed Wood
Music by: Hoyt Curtin (as Hoyt Kurtain)
Cast: Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Clancy Malone, Herbert Rawlinson, Steve Reeves, Lyle Talbot, Theodora Thurman, Bud Osborne, Conrad Brooks (uncredited), Ed Wood (voice, uncredited)

Howco Productions Inc., 71 Minutes

Review:

“Plastic surgery, at times, seems to me to be very, very complicated.” – Dr. Boris Gregor

While this isn’t as painfully dreadful as Glen or Glenda, it is still one of Ed Wood’s worst films.

Being a fan of the guy’s work, as bad as it typically is, as well as an avid film-noir buff, I couldn’t pass up seeing Ed Wood try to tackle the style. Granted, this is pretty much exactly what you would expect. However, it lacks the charm and spirit that is apparent in some of his better known cinematic duds.

The story is actually really similar to the blockbuster ’90s film Face/Off. It sees a criminal switch faces with someone else in an effort to avoid the authorities.

Granted, this came out more than 40 years earlier than Face/Off and the premise wasn’t believable in the ’90s, so the ’50s take on the gimmick is even wonkier.

The film, as should be expected, is terribly acted, terribly shot, poorly written and is littered with a dozen or so other problems.

The only actors of note are Ed Wood’s then girlfriend and frequent collaborator Dolores Fuller, his other friend and collaborator Conrad Brooks, as well as future Hercules Steve Reeves.

The movie is noir at its core but it dabbles into areas where Wood was more comfortable like science fiction, horror and exploitation. This was heavily inspired by the TV cop shows like Dragnet but it hardly even lives up to the worst episodes of ’50s cop dramas.

Still, it’s hard to truly hate on an Ed Wood film, as the guy truly believed in himself and tried his damnedest to become a serious filmmaker.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ed Wood films or low budget crime pictures of the ’50s.

Film Review: Glen or Glenda (1953)

Also known as: I Changed My Sex (script title), Male or Female (poster title), Glen or Glenda, Which Is It? (alternative title), I Led 2 Lives (reissue title), He or She (Venezuela), The Transvestite (Venezuela alternative title), Louis ou Louise (France, Belgium)
Release Date: April, 1953
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: William Lava (uncredited)
Cast: Ed Wood (as Daniel Davis), Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, Conrad Brooks

Screen Classics, 65 Minutes, 74 Minutes (1982 re-issue), 68 Minutes (DVD cut), 71 Minutes (alternate DVD cut)

Review:

“The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars. All going someplace. All carrying humans, which are carrying out their lives.” – Narrator

I’m a pretty big fan of Ed Wood but this movie is so dreadful, even for Wood’s standards, that I’ve only seen it once and that was a few decades ago. But I figured that revisiting it was long overdue.

Well, it’s still a stinker of a movie and I think that has to do with the fact that it’s a drama where Wood’s other movies are typically about horror, sci-fi, crime, exploitation or any combination of those. Glen or Glenda is, instead, semi-biographical.

The film is kind of about Wood’s life as a transvestite. He likes to wear women’s clothes and he thought that by making a movie about the topic it would somehow help make a more tolerant society.

While the subject matter is definitely ahead of its time, it’s just a terrible film and it’s not going to win anyone over simply because it is a real chore to sit through. And while his message is fine, it’s hard to get that message out without making it more palatable for those who would’ve been open-minded enough in the early ’50s.

It’s poorly shot, atrociously acted and further butchered by a ton of editing mistakes. Weird, trippy, nonsensical things happen throughout the picture but none of it is interesting enough to give the film any sort of redeeming qualities.

Glen or Glenda also lacks the charm of some of Wood’s other films.

It’s kind of sad to think about, as this was probably his most personal project but it is also one of his worst. I don’t know if there is anyone that would actually enjoy it without really knowing the backstory about it or developing some curiosity after seeing Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other films directed by Ed Wood.

TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965)

Also known as: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 8-10)
Original Run: October 2nd, 1955 – June 26th, 1965
Created by: Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Stanley Wilson (music supervisor), various
Cast: Alfred Hitchcock, various

Revue Studios, Universal Television, Shamley Productions, CBS, NBC, 361 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode – seasons 1-7), 50 Minutes (per episode – seasons 8-10)

Review:

I grew up watching this show a lot with my granmum in reruns on cable. The theme song always got me excited and even though I was a kid of the ’80s that loved everything about that decade, I still also enjoyed older stuff like this and the other anthology shows of the era like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents always intrigued me though, as it seemed to have more legitimacy, at least to my little kid brain. This was because I knew very much who Hitchcock was, I was familiar with a lot of his work and I really liked his films, even when I was too young to grasp them or fully understand their meaning and themes. Plus, I just really liked Hitchcock’s personality.

Over the last few years, I’ve rewatched a lot of the episodes. I haven’t seen all of them, as there are just so many and because even if family members have DVD collections they have let me borrow, there are still a lot of missing pieces I haven’t gotten my hands on.

Regardless of that, I feel as if I have seen a large enough sample size, from most seasons, to give the show a review.

Overall, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is pretty good from top to bottom and the quality of the seasons feels consistent. Sure, like with any anthology series, there are episodes that don’t live up to expectations and sometimes feel like they could’ve been snuffed out at the pre-production stage. However, there aren’t a lot of episodes like this and, for the most part, the show isn’t hindered by its low points.

The show has a pretty wide range of genres it uses over the course of its 361 episodes but nearly everything feels like it lines up with Hitchcock’s own cinematic work.

Each episode may be written and directed by its own team but it seems as if Hitchcock was pretty involved in everything and just about every story maintains a certain tone and visual style.

This is such a massive show to get into and to try and watch in its entirety. I’m not even sure if all of it is commercially released, as it switched from different networks over the years it was originally broadcast. However, I know that a lot of episodes were on Hulu, recently. I’m assuming that you can still find them there. That is, unless the NBC episodes have been pulled for their upcoming streaming service.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other anthology mystery and horror shows of the era.