Film Review: While the City Sleeps (1956)

Also known as: New Is Made at Night (working title)
Release Date: April 19th, 1956 (London premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on: The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein
Music by: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cast: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Robert Warwick, Mae Marsh, Leonard Carey

Bert E. Friedlob Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“What a beautiful nightgown; and it’s a shortie!” – Ed Mobely

I love Fritz Lang’s work, especially in regards to the noir narrative and visual style. And while noir films were waning in popularity by 1956, Lang still managed to make a pretty good one with this picture.

The film is about a serial killer that is terrorizing the city. All the while, a media tycoon dies and leaves the business to a son he despises. The son, played by Vincent Price, doesn’t know much about running a news company, so he creates a new “second-in-command” position. He holds a contest between the company’s best investigative journalists to catch the killer. The one who does will be given the new position and some lucrative perks.

The movie has a weird but interesting premise and all the core actors in this do a good job with the material.

One thing Lang does exceptionally well in his films is how he builds up tension and suspense. He does a fantastic job in this one, as well.

I think the serial killer stuff is also a bit darker and more gruesome feeling than other serial killer movies before this. But going all the way back to 1931’s M, Fritz Lang showed that he didn’t shy away from the darkness and was able to really push the envelope in spite of the limitations of what was deemed acceptable at the time.

This movie is full of characters that are entertaining and fun to watch. However, there is still this haunting presence looming over everything.

Ultimately, this isn’t Fritz Lang’s best noir picture but it also solidifies the fact that the guy never made a bad or even mediocre one.

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: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Release Date: November 14th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Lowell S. Hawley
Based on: In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verna
Music by: William Alwyn, Muir Mathieson, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Cast: Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Keith Hamshere, Jack Gwillim, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Anderson Jr., Antonio Cifariello

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know which is worse, by George: having you so happy you sing all the time, or so glum you won’t even talk. “The ombu tree is gorgeous. Enjoy it!” Huh!” – Lord Glenarvan

While these kids today won’t have the attention span for this movie, it’s still one of the greatest family adventure films of all-time!

Sure, you may disagree, but you’re wrong.

This was made by Disney at the height of their live-action adventure epics. It also starred one of their most bankable stars, at the height of her young career: Hayley Mills.

In Search of the Castaways was also an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel and while it might not be as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth, it is still a grand adventure of the highest and most exciting caliber.

Disney did a fine job in creating this motion picture and despite a few spots with wonky effects, it is one of the best effects blockbusters of its era. Sure, some of it looks dated but there’s also a certain appeal to it. And frankly, none of it breaks the movie or ruins the magic. In fact, it adds an extra level of charm and for fans of classic filmmaking, it’s just cool to experience on the screen.

This is one of those larger-than-life classic films that I wish I could’ve seen on the big screen but it predates me by a few decades. Unfortunately, I’ve never caught it playing anywhere but that’s probably because it’s a fairly forgotten movie. Hell, it isn’t even streaming on Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+.

Honestly, it’s a film that deserves more love. From start-to-finish it is energetic and fun. You’ll like most of the characters, even if the French guy can sometimes grate on the nerves with his singing and goofiness. But for something that is only 98 minutes, the picture covers a lot of ground, goes to a lot of exotic locations and constantly pushes these characters into new situations to overcome.

The core of the story is about two kids looking for their father who is missing somewhere in the world. They’re not immediately sure where but they set off on a long journey, trying to find answers to their father’s whereabouts.

I’m actually kind of surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to reboot this movie yet. I mean, they probably will at some point because original ideas in Hollywood are like trying to catch a leprechaun. However, it’d be damn hard for a modern version of this story to have the same sort of cinematic magic.

All in all, this is just an amusing and lovable picture. It’s a sort of perfect storm of several important factors just coming together and gelling the right way: a Jules Verne story, Disney’s blockbuster filmmaking style and Hayley Mills in her prime. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the ’50s & ’60s, as well as other Disney Hayley Mills movies and other Disney adventure films of the time.

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: 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

Film Review: Psychomania (1973)

Also known as: The Death Wheelers, The Frog, The Living Dead
Release Date: January 5th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cameron
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Benmar Productions, Scotia-Barber, Scotia International, International Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It’s easy to kill live people.” – Jane Pettibone

When I read the premise of this film, I got massively excited. I had to see it! However, watching it was a massive disappointment.

The premise stated that the film was about a small town biker gang called The Living Dead. They are a wild bunch with skull helmets that like to hangout in cemeteries and obsess over dead stuff. The leader kills himself to actually be reborn as “the living dead”. The rest of his crew follow suit and we get an evil biker gang that is seemingly immortal, indestructible and have super strength.

This film could have been something really cool but in the end, it was mostly a bore without any real frights or scares and it was all just really nonsensical and pointless.

The biker leader is the bratty son of some rich psychic lady with ties to some ancient power or something. The biker brat gets some mysterious frog and they are able to harness its mystical powers so that the young man can become a handsome leather clad zombie biker. In fact, when the biker brat emerges from the grave on his motorcycle, he has no dirt on him and his hair looks like some model’s from a 1970s Short & Sassy shampoo commercial.

The movie suffers from the fact that there isn’t a likable person in it. Everyone is actually kind of deplorable. The one character that is supposed to be the innocent girl about to be victimized by the zombie bikers is actually a member of the gang that just doesn’t have any interest in being undead. Still, she is a part of this gang of nincompoops and the audience shouldn’t really give a shit about her.

Our biker zombies never really become zombies anyway. They just look the same but they can easily murder people with their bare hands and Incredible Hulk grip.

This is a dumb and pointless movie and the music throughout it is horrible. I don’t hate it though; it isn’t total shit. It just sort of exists in a weird limbo. It could have been something interesting but it failed to be good and it failed to be bad. Had it been atrociously bad, it could have been somewhat endearing. It was just a boring dud with no style and not a lot of substance.

Rating: 4/10