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The Body Snatcher

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Released – May, 1945 

Directed By – Robert Wise

Starring – Boris Karloff (Cabman John Gray), Bela Lugosi (Joseph), Henry Daniell (Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane), Russell Wade (Donald Fettes), Edith Atwater (Meg Cameron).

Description – Foul Fingers Crimson with Dead Men’s Blood!

It is 1831 in Edinburgh, Scotland and one year prior to the passing of the Anatomy Act which sought to end illegal trade in corpses, where Dr. Wolfe MacFarland runs a successful medical school.

Dr. MacFarland’s assistant, Donald Fettes, is hopeful that the surgeons skill can be used to help a young girl who has lost the use of her legs. For some reason, unknown to Fettes, the doctor is reluctant.

All the doctor’s time is spent on anatomical research with, what seems to be, a continual supply of fresh cadavers. Working so closely with Dr. MacFarland leads Fettes to learn that the doctor is paying Cabman John Gray to supply him with dead bodies.

Just how, and from where, are all the bodies coming from? Also, what is the hold that John Gray seems to have over Dr. MacFarland? I’t clear that the two have a history, but what is it?

The answers begin to surface with the revealing of a famous trial that took place many years ago when Gray was arrested for grave-robbing and refused to identify the doctor that was buying the bodies from him.

It looks like John Gray is using his silence to force Dr. MacFarland into continuing with payment for bodies illiegally stolen by Gray. Could the kindly Dr. MacFarland be the monstrous doctor whose identity was protected by Gray? And, is he still a monster?

NOTABLE: The robbing of graves for selling idea portrayed in The Body Snatcher, though based on a fictional short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, was also greatly influenced by the 1828 crimes known as The West Port Murders where the corpses of 17 victims were sold to provide material for dissection.

The Body Snatcher was the eighth and last on-screen teaming of legendary horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Released – March, 1945 

Directed By – Albert Lewin

Starring – George Sanders (Lord Henry Wotton), Hurd Hatfield (Dorian Gray), Donna Reed (Gladys Hallward), Angela Lansbury (Sibyl Vane), Peter Lawford (David Stone).

Description – His life was a muddy morass into which he dragged all who know him! Such was Dorian Gray, the man who wanted eternal youth, and bartered his soul to get it!

On the surface, Dorian Gray appears to have everything. He is handsome, wealthy, and intelligent, but the one thing he treasures most will pass with time. Dorian wants nothing more than to remain young forever.

While posing for a portrait, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton. It is Lord Wotton’s belief that the only life worth living is a life dedicated totally to pleasure, convincing Dorian that youth and beauty will bring one all that they desire.

Dorian now makes a wish, his wish is that the portrait would age rather than him. This wish is made in the presence of an ancient Egyptian statue of a cat-shaped goddess that supposedly has the power to grant wishes.

During a visit to a tavern, Dorian meets and falls in love with Sibyl Vane. Within weeks the pair are engaged and Dorian is as happy as ever. That is, until another fateful meeting with Lord Wotton. The Lord’s influence on Dorian again steers him in the direction of a life of hedonism and he sends a hurtful letter to Sibyl breaking their engagement.

The next day Lord Wotton informs Dorian that, upon receiving his letter, Sibyl has committed suicide. At first racked with guilt, Dorian begins to adopt the Lord’s manner of indifference and dedicates his life to pleasure.

One evening, after attending the opera, Dorian notices some subtle changes to his portrait. It seems to have aged, while Dorian, who is now nearly 40 years old. still appears to be 22. He decides to hide the painting from anyone but himself.

With each new sin and transgression the portrait seems to grow more ugly. During a visit with Dorian, Basil, the portrait’s artist, asks to view the painting. Dorian refuses, but Basis does accidently see the painting and is horrified.

He encourages Dorian to ammend the ways of his life, but this something that Dorian is in no hurry to do. In a panic, Dorian murders Basil locking his body in the same room as the painting.

It is only a matter or time before the ugliness of the painting makes the transition to the human body of Dorian Gray.

NOTABLE: The Portrait of Dorian Gray won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Angela Lansbury), and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White.

Althouth filmed in Black-and-White, the picture does use the 3-strip Technicolor technique Dorian’s portrait in its original state and again after a period of degeneration.

The original portrait of the decayed Dorian Gray, painted by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, took nearly one full year to complete and now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Actor Basil Rathbone tried in vain to get the part of Lord Wotton and believed his typecasting as Sherlock Holmes was the reason he was unsuccessful.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Released – December, 1954 

Directed By – Richard Fleischer

Starring – Kirk Douglas (Ned Land), James Mason (Capt. Nemo), Paul Lukas (Prof. Pierre Aronnax), Peter Lorre (Conseil).

Description – Fear of sailing the Pacific Ocean has terrified sailors and crippled the sailing lanes. Many ships have been lost and rumors of a sea monster are spreading rapidly.

In an effort to investigate these rumors, the U.S. government has invited Prof. Aronnax and his assistant Conseil along on the expedition. After months of finding no trace of any sea monster their ship is rammed by the monster.

Prof. Aronnax, Conseil, and master harpooner Ned Land are thrown overboard and watch helplessly as the ships sinks. The three drift in the ocean until they come across an unusual metal vessel that appears to have been deserted.

They board the ship and as they look around come accross a room with a full-view glass view of the ocean floor. From this window they see what appears to be an underwater funeral. It is the ships crew holding the ceremony, and when they return to the strange ship they find and capture the castaways.

The ships captain introduces himself as Capt. Nemo, master of the Nautilus, and explains that this ship is a submarine and able to travel beneath the surface of the ocean. Prof. Aronnax is recognized by Nemo who wold like to recruit the Prof. to help with his work. Nemo has discovered the secrets to using nuclear power.

Meanwhile, Ned has discoverd the coordinates of Nemo’s secret island and sends the information off as notes in bottles in the hope that someone will find them and rescue the group. Little do they know that their adventure is just beginning.

The group will have to escape from cannibals, a giant squid, and an armada of warships intent on destroying Nemo’s island and stealing his nuclear secrets.

Capt. Nemo will do anything, including destroying everyone and the island himself, in order to protect his secrets.

NOTABLE: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea won the Oscar’s for Best Effects, Special Effects, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color. The film was also nominated for Best Film Editing.

This motion picture proved to be the most expensive production of its time surpassing Gone With the Wind.

During the scene where the cannibals are chasing Kirk Douglas’ character Ned Land the actors playing the cannibals painted humorous messages on their foreheads. The messages were not viewable on the screen, but read, “Eat at Joe’s,” and “I Ate Joe.”

The impressive scenes of the interior of the Nautilus were designed by Roland Hill. Hill would later design Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.

Personal Note: An exciting 1950’s Science Fiction classic that should be enjoyed by each generation of children (and adults).

The Curse of the Cat People

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Released – March, 1944 

Directed By – Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise

Starring – Simone Simon (Ghost of Irena), Kent Smith (Oliver ‘Ollie’ Reed), Jane Randolph (Alice Reed), Ann Carter (Amy Reed).

Description – The Black Menace Creeps Again!

Although having many of the same characters this is mostly an unrelated sequel to the original Cat People.

After the death of his wife Irena (the original cat woman) Oliver Reed has remarried former co-worker Alice Moore. The couple have a six-year-old daughter named Amy. Amy is a troubled child who has a difficult time telling fantasy from reality. She also has an imaginary friend – her father’s deceased first wife Irena.

Amy also meets and befriends aging actress Julia Farren who may also be a cat woman. Amy’s imaginary friend along with her meeting with Julia surely must be more than just coincidence.

NOTABLE: The Curse of the Cat People was produced with a very small budget and some of the sets used were from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.

The original Cat People was an enormous success and although this story has little to do with the original, Columbia discounted producer Val Lewton’s original title ‘Amy and her Friend’ in order to capitalize on the original films popularity.

Personal Note: Considered a film in the horror genre, The Curse of the Cat People is more of an atmospheric, moody story about a lonely little girl who is, at first, befriended and ultimately haunted by spirits.

I Walked With A Zombie

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Released – April, 1943 

Directed By – Jacques Tourneur

Starring – James Ellison (Wesley Rand), Frances Dee (Betsy Connell), Tom Conway (Paul Holland), Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand).

Description – See this strange, strange story of a woman whose lure sent brother against brother, whose love caused hate – and whose beauty bowed to an evil spell whose power we must refuse to believe – Even If It’s True!

Canadian nurse Betsy Connell is hired by Carribbean sugar plantation owner Paul Holland to care for his wife Jessica.

Upon Betsy’s arrival she is taken to the Holland residence and during the trip is informed about the history of the island of Saint Sebastian and how the Holland family brought the slaves to the island.

That night at dinner, Betsy meets Paul’s half-brother Wesley Rand and learns that they both have the same mother, Mrs. Rand. Later that evening, while preparing for bed, Betsy hears the cries of a woman across the courtyard.

Her investigation leads her to a tower stairwell where she encounters Jessica Holland who approaches her almost ghost-like causing her to scream. Jessica’s zombie appearance is explained as a tropical fever.

During a visit to town learns that Wesley and Jessica had an affair and that Paul may be the cause of Jessica’s state-of-mind. Wesley believes Paul is trying to drive Jessica insane as a result of the affair.

The locals believe that Jessica has been cursed and is now one of the living walking dead. As some time passes, Betsy finds herself attracted to Paul and is more determined than ever to help cure Jessica.

When all conventional treatment fails, Alma, the maid, suggests that Betsy bring Jessica to see a Voodoo priest.

Voodoo and black magic follow in an attempt to cure Jessica. The locals feel that Jessica is evil and must be held accountable to their beliefs and practices regarding the undean.

Tension builds between the locals and the white settlers as a cure is hoped to be found before the bloodshed begins.

NOTABLE: Producer Val Lewton’s creativity is clearly evident here as this is one of those classic horror films he produced where he was given only the title of a film and had to create a story around it.

The motion picture had a “fun” disclaimer at the end of the credits that stated: “The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or possessed, is purely coincidental.”

Personal Note: If you are not familiar with the classic horror films produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, take note. They are some of the best ever make in the genre.

Modern zombie fans may be disappointed in the depiction of zombie’s in I Walked With A Zombie. They are not the flesh eating version so popular with today’s audiences. Rather, they are unfeeling, unthinking, and unresponsive traditional zombies.

This is one of the best with great atmosphere and a surprising and very satisfying conclusion.