Film Review: The Premature Burial (1962)

Release Date: March 7th, 1962 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Ray Russell
Based on: The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, Dick Miller

Santa Clara Productions, American International Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Can you possibly conceive it. The unendurable oppression of the lungs, the stifling fumes of the earth, the rigid embrace of the coffin, the blackness of absolute night and the silence, like an overwhelming sea.” – Guy Carrell

The Premature Burial is the only Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that Roger Corman directed that didn’t star Vincent Price. The reason being is that Corman started developing this picture outside of American International Pictures and because Price had an exclusive contract with AIP, at the time, Corman had to cast someone else. Oddly enough, AIP would eventually produce the film before it went into the shooting phase. However, by that point, Ray Milland, an Academy Award winning actor, had already signed on.

Sure, I would’ve liked to have seen what Price would’ve done with the lead role in this but I’m also not going to downplay Milland, how great he was in this and how great of an actor that he was in general. And even though Price is one of my all-time favorites, it’s hard to deny that Milland was probably the more accomplished actor, as far as mainstream, critical recognition goes.

So, yes… Ray Milland is pretty damn incredible in this low budget, Corman directed, Edgar Allan Poe story. I also really believed the connection he had with Hazel Court in this. She’s a horror icon of this film’s era and she was always great alongside the boys at Hammer, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as Vincent Price. However, she had really strong chemistry with Milland, even if she turned out to be traitorous and the villain of the story.

This was just a really compelling tale and honestly, it’s one of Corman’s best movies and not just out of his Poe stuff. Milland brought a real seriousness to this and I think it made the rest of the cast really step up too. While Corman is known for rushing through his shoots because that’s his style, Milland’s presence and his ability to elevate his castmates probably made Corman’s job much easier.

I love how dark and brooding this picture is. While that fits with Corman’s other Poe movies, this one just has a thick, stifling atmosphere about it. It also features a trippy LSD-like dream sequence. I always loved that about these movies and this film boasts maybe the best one.

Overall, this isn’t my favorite of the Corman-Poe pictures and it does seem somewhat strange without it starring Vincent Price, but it’s still a damn fine classic horror picture and it is one of the best ones Roger Corman directed.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

Release Date: February 29th, 1940 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Joe May
Written by: Lester Cole
Based on: The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: George Sanders, Vincent Price, Margaret Lindsay, Dick Foran, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

I’ve always wanted to see this movie but it’s just evaded me over the years. It was streaming on something I have, though, so I figured it was as good of a time as any to finally check it out.

Man, Vincent Price is super young in this. The only other film that I have seen where he’s actually younger is The Invisible Man Returns, which is from January of the same year. He’s also invisible throughout that picture.

This story isn’t a horror film despite Price’s penchant for those roles. Although, some in this wealthy family believe that there is a family curse and thus, make some pretty heinous and drastic decisions based off of that fear.

The family, falling on some fairly hard times, is contemplating selling their mansion. This pits the two brothers against each other. The villainous one of the two, believes that there is a fortune hidden in the house and that with it, he can survive, living life at the pampered level he’s accustomed to. With that, he frames his nice brother, played by Vincent Price, for the murder of their father. In prison, years later, Price’s Clifford meets Matthew, who is part of the family that “cursed” Clifford’s. The two actually become friends and devise a plan to clear Clifford’s name and to expose what his dastardly brother did to him and the family, since his imprisonment.

Surprisingly, a lot happens in this movie that it is just shy of 90 minutes. It’s well paced, doesn’t waste a moment and you really like the virtuous, honest characters in this. You want to see the villain get what’s coming. Plus, the performances are solid and even for still being in his twenties, Price showed great promise, here.

I ended up liking this more than I thought I would. I didn’t expect it to be bad but it was a short, dramatic film with a young Price lacking the mileage he had by the time he became a horror icon with 1953’s House of Wax.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The Mole People (1956)

Release Date: November 21st, 1956 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Virgil Vogel
Written by: Laszlo Gorog
Cast: John Agar, Hugh Beaumont, Cynthia Patrick, Alan Napier, Nestor Paiva

Universal-International, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Archaeologists are underpaid publicity agents for deceased royalty.” – Dr. Roger Bentley

Being that this is a Universal movie, I feel like the Mole People should be considered Universal Monsters by default. Maybe they aren’t included due to this film not being at the same level of quality as the debuts of their more famous monsters but if I’m being honest, it is better than a lot of the sequels once those properties went really deep into their runs.

Also, even though this was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is better than the vast majority of films that they lampooned.

You are exposed to the monsters pretty early on and for audiences of the 1950s, seeing creatures emerge from the dirt that can pull you under and suffocate you in the ground was probably legitimately scary.

And what makes this interesting, is that as the film evolves, you learn that these monsters are victims, enslaved by some shitty humans. So the real monster is man. Granted, this wasn’t a new angle, even by the time that this came out, but it adds an extra narrative layer to this film, making it more than just a standard, cheap thrills, creature feature.

Additionally, the sets are pretty impressive for the time and what I’m sure was a fairly scant budget, even for a major studio production. Sure the matte paintings are obvious with 2019 level HD but they were probably convincing backdrops for the time.

The Mole People is a film that is better than I thought it would be. I don’t ask for much with these sort of pictures but this one wasn’t your typical MST3K schlock and plays like something worthy of being on a double bill with the better Universal Monsters pictures.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: This Island Earth, Monolith Monsters and The Deadly Mantis.

Film Review: The Strange Woman (1946)

Release Date: October 25th, 1946
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Hunt Stromberg, Edgar G. Ulmer, Herb Meadow
Based on: The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders, Louis Hayward, Alan Napier

Hunt Stromberg Productions, Mars Film Corporation, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[Giving a sermon, quoting from Proverbs 5:3] The lips of a strange woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil… But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword!” – Lincoln Pittridge

I’ve really come to enjoy Edgar G. Ulmer as a director. As I’ve been watching a lot of film-noir, in recent months, I was thoroughly impressed with his film Detour and also really enjoyed his earlier pictures The Black Cat and People On Sunday, which was a collaboration with other German and Austrian born noir directors, Robert Siodmak and Billy Wilder. Also being a fan of Hedy Lamarr, as an actress and a person, I had to give this film a shot.

It also stars George Sanders and Alan Napier has a small role in it too.

While this does fall into the realm of film-noir, it is very much a character study that showcases the bizarre behavior and traits of Hedy Lamarr’s Jenny Hager, a conflicted and complex woman who at first seems mean, selfish and irrational but you see her portrayed in such an honest and intimate light that you get the feeling that she isn’t always in control of her actions, as if some uncontrollable force is driving her. Nowadays, we call this stuff “mental illness”.

The film and the character of Jenny work so well because of how damn good Hedy Lamarr was in this role. She humanized a person that could have easily just been a monster or a one-dimensional femme fatale. Despite her wickedness, you feel something for her and like George Sanders’ John Evered, you want to help her. It’s easy to see why the men in the film get so wrapped up in her despite her natural beauty. I really need to work my way through Lamarr’s work again but this is my favorite performance she ever gave us.

Ulmer had a talent for taking something as common as a noir picture and giving it a little something extra. Detour was a harsh and high octane noir that is unique and exceptional. This film sort of does the same thing but it is less “in your face” about it. It’s got this underlying darkness that you don’t quite understand until the narrative evolves into something more personal and complex. But where Detour is like a wrestler in a no holds barred cage match to the death, The Strange Woman is more like a pretty girl that gives you a kiss but you don’t know you’ve been poisoned by her until its too late. Both are rough and brutal but in very different ways. Regardless, the end result is still pretty effective and final.

The Strange Woman isn’t the best film-noir and I do like Ulmer’s Detour more but it is still an intimate experience and a wild ride through a crazy woman’s mind. It’s well shot, stupendously acted and offers up something more than a typical noir picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other Hedy Lamarr film-noirs, most notably Dishonored Lady.

Film Review: Criss Cross (1949)

Release Date: January 19th, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Daniel Fuchs
Based on: Criss Cross by Don Tracy
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I should have been a better friend. I shoulda stopped you. I shoulda grabbed you by the neck, I shoulda kicked your teeth in. I’m sorry Steve.” – Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez

Working my way through a lot of film-noir for the month of Noirvember, this is one of the ones that really stands out. In fact, Criss Cross could be a top five noir for me.

Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson. He is perfectly cast for this film, as he literally lives in every scene where he is on screen. He’s handsome, he’s tough, he’s clever and there is just an air about the guy that glows through the celluloid.

Then you have Dan Duryea, who is just so good at playing stylish slime balls. While I enjoyed Duryea’s work in Fritz Lang’s Woman In the Window and Scarlet Street, both opposite of Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson, his villainous Slim Dundee, in this film, takes the cake. He’s an awful bastard in this and he’s spectacular.

Yvonne De Carlo is enchanting and viscous as Steve’s ex-wife and forced lover of Slim. She plays a hardened woman yet still a damsel in distress… or is that just her angle? While she had to compete with two powerful and charismatic men in this film, she held her own and felt at home in this picture.

The film starts with a powerful theme, as soon as the credits roll. You immediately get dragged in and watching the behind-the-scenes machinations of how the armored truck driver job works, is fascinating. The director, the great Robert Siodmak, and the cinematographer, the veteran Franz Planer, did a fantastic job showing this world in a visual sense. Plus, there are just some great shots in this film, particularly when the armored truck arrives at the plant for the big setup and we get a nice bird’s eye tracking shot of the truck traversing between the buildings.

Criss Cross is a true film-noir in every sense. It’s got the lead that falls for a textbook femme fatale, gets in over his head because of the girl, does some dirt and despite his unfortunate circumstances, has to face the music for his actions.

This isn’t a great film because it has a perfect noir narrative, many noir pictures hit the right narrative notes. In the case of Criss Cross, it has a great cast, a great director and cinematographer with great eyes, it’s great technically and everything just sort of comes together like magic.

Criss Cross is one of the best film-noirs of the classic era.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Lured (1947)

Also known as: Personal Column (UK)
Release Date: September 5th, 1947
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
Written by: Leo Rosten, Jacques Companéez, Simon Gantillon, Ernest Neuville
Music by: Michel Michelet
Cast: George Sanders, Lucille Ball, Charles Coburn, Boris Karloff, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Napier

Hunt Stromberg Productions, United Artists, 102 Minutes

Review:

“There’s a homicidal maniac loose somewhere in the vast honeycomb of London. A maniac with a weakness for young, pretty girls and not a thing we’ve done has brought us one inch nearer his apprehension.” – Inspector Harley Temple

To be honest, I have never really seen Lucille Ball outside of “I Love Lucy” and her other comedy shows. It was pretty eye-opening and refreshing to see her in this, something much more dramatic and serious. And even though she isn’t the top billed star, she is the central focus of this film.

The film also stars George Sanders, Charles Coburn, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Napier and a fantastic and wacky performance by horror legend Boris Karloff. There’s a whole lot of male energy present in this movie but Ball outshines them all. Well, except for maybe Karloff, simply because this was a unique character for him and he nailed it.

In this picture, we meet Lucille Ball’s Sandra Carpenter, an American girl in London. Her best friend is murdered and the police convince Sandra to go undercover and be the bait needed to lure out the killer. She agrees, as she wants justice for her friend. However, even though this isn’t a comedy film, we see Ball have to play off of several strange characters. She does amuse the audience in this film but not in the same way that one is used to seeing. She never sabotages the tone of the plot by being in this. She shows her wit and charisma but does the material justice and never crosses the line in a comedic sense.

Lured was also an early film of Douglas Sirk’s but here, he already shows how skilled a craftsman he is. It has a clean, big budget, pristine look. This wasn’t a low budget film per se but it just looks wonderful. The cinematography was handled by William H. Daniels, a veteran when he did this. Daniels would follow this up with the absolutely stunning looking noir films Brute Force and The Naked City.

It is also worth mentioning that this was a remake of a French film Pièges. That was a Robert Siodmak picture. What’s interesting about that, is that he would also become a well accomplished noir director with classic like The KillersPhantom LadyThe Spiral StaircaseThe Dark Mirror and Criss Cross.

Lured is highly entertaining, highly energetic, witty and a testament to the many layers of Lucille Ball’s talent. Plus, if you are a Boris Karloff fan, you really need to see him in this.

Rating: 8/10