Baron Boris Karloff is an 1830’s tyrant, and right before the villagers can violently depose him, he suggests (to the surprisingly patient angry mob) trading places with his lovable, crippled twin brother Anton. Everyone (except maybe the brother) is pleased. Before going into exile the outgoing baron shows his brother around the place, takes him into the cursed Black Room, and shoves him down a hole to his death – then pretends to have a crippled arm and a soft, friendly manner in order to retain power and marry the pretty harpist Marian Marsh (the poor girl who turns Peter Lorre’s criminal life around in Sternberg’s Crime & Punishment).
Now all Fake Anton has to do is avoid using his right arm, and never return to the black room, where the ancient prophecy said he’ll die. But signing a marriage document, his would-be father-in-law (Thurston Hall of The Great McGinty and Renoir’s This Land is Mine) spies him in a mirror (in a lovely zoom shot) and has to get murdered, the crime pinned on the harpist’s other suitor Robert Allen (a Westerns regular also in The Awful Truth). Then on the wedding day a suspicious dog chases Karloff straight into the Black Room where he falls on his late brother’s sword.
Probably better than the other Karloff movie I watched this month. Playing identical twins is always a good actor showcase, and I thought the movie would avoid throwing both Karloffs together, but right after they meet they’re in an action scene together, neat. Neill was a directing machine, cranking out 100+ movies until he worked himself to death.
Harpist and dad:
I get barely over an hour of laptop time on the flights, and don’t wanna stoop to watching Prestige Cable TV Dramas, so this box set of 65-minute Boris Karloff movies was just the ticket.
Karloff plays a mad genius (the same year he donned the neckscrews for the third and final time in Son of Frankenstein), working with Dr. Lang (Byron Foulger, a Preston Sturges regular who would later work with the real Lang) to perfect a mechanized external glass circulatory system for reviving the dead, so patients’ hearts can be stopped then revived, rather than having to keep them alive during major surgeries. Maybe not a great era for Euro-accented scientists to advocate gassing people to death. Anyway, Karloff’s test subject is willing student Bob, whose girlfriend Nurse Betty (Capra regular Ann Doran) calls the police, who bust up the experiment, ensuring Bob can’t be revived. After receiving the death penalty, Karloff is allowed to walk around the court insulting everyone… of course he’s donating his body to science, and Lang is there to collect.
“Make it weird, make it dramatic, and make it snappy.” A megalomaniac vengeance-seeking undead mad scientist can’t be our 1930’s movie hero, so enter Karloff’s beautiful daughter Lorna Gray (the 1940’s Captain America serial and Adventure in Sahara) and her reporter boyfriend Scoop, who crash daddy’s months-later plot to trap his condemning judge and jury in a booby-trapped house and murder them one by one, using electrified walls and poisoned telephones. Lorna and Scoop and the cops stop the rampage after only a couple victims, and a dying Boris shoots up his glass contraption, because who deserves eternal life, who can say?
Karloff, Lang, and the glass contraption:
Scoop up front with a bunch of dead men:
Lorna is disappointed in her dad:
“Our tolerance was a mistake.” After the poisoning death of a martial arts master, a brown-suited dude is sent to insult and challenge his disciples during the memorial service, a crass move that earns the wrath of disciple Bruce Lee. This starts out way better than The Big Boss by pitting Bruce against forty guys early on instead of waiting for the second half – “Next time I’ll make you eat the glass.”
The titular fist:
Lee’s confuse-o-vision technique:
This is Shanghai, and all the villains are Japanese. Not a master of history, I’d forgotten that the Japanese colonized parts of China throughout the 1930’s and I was amazed at their nerve. Bruce goes on a righteous rampage through the city, smashing racist Japanese in their jerk faces, then in case we’re tempted to feel bad for them, the Japanese massacre all of Bruce’s friends (including poor James Tien again). There is a love interest, just barely, and a couple of fun disguises. The big boss sports an absurd long mustache and has hired an English-speaking Russian tough who fights in a bow-tie – Bruce punches a guy’s dick off before taking them on, the action in this movie always great. Same as The Big Boss, the army closes in on Bruce post-killing-spree. Must see Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury, a sequel starring Jackie Chan in his first major role.
love interest Nora Miao:
the big boss Chikara Hashimoto:
“How could you do that?”
“Had to! Science, you know!”
Historians/Archaeologists being uncareful with their findings, discover the mummy of Imhotep who was buried alive. These guys have fragile British minds, and one goes instantly mad when he sees the mummy walk away from the dig site. Unlike the Hammer version, the mummy doesn’t return as a silent grey-ragged monster but as a well-spoken Boris Karloff, who helps the remaining dudes and one of their sons figure out where to dig next. Karloff hypnotizes a hottie named Helen to make her into his immortal queen, but the other guys needlessly interfere after realizing Karloff is their lost mummy by watching flashbacks in a magical TV-pool.
Imhotep’s funeral procession as seen in the Flashback Pool:
The hottie was Zita Johann of Howard Hawks’s Tiger Shark. Her movie career was as short as Freund’s directing career – he had shot Dracula and Metropolis, and after stepping up for this movie he made Mad Love and a few others before returning to his cinematographer role. David Manners, our young hero nobody cares about, also played the hero nobody cares about in Dracula, and his dad was Arthur Byron, sadly unrelated to Mary Shelley’s buddy Lord Byron.
L-R: Byron, Johann, Karloff, Manners
Reading my notes after the fact, it’s hard to piece the plot back together – a lot happening in 80 minutes, but it all made perfect sense at the time. Lange was working for a smalltime publisher named Batala, a scam artist and rapist. Lange just wants to write silly westerns and see them published. His dreams are working out, his stories gaining popularity, the cute Valentine is in love with him, but when Batala’s interference tries to bring it all crashing down, Lange kills him and goes on the run. Good movie, and commie film critics give it extra points for showing the publishing workers taking over production.
Lange is plain-looking René Lefèvre of Le Million. Valentine is Florelle of Lang’s not-great version of Liliom. This movie is set at a hotel where these two are crashing while fleeing for the border after the murder, most of the action shown as flashbacks as Valentine tells the story to the locals so they won’t turn Lange in. Jules Berry, who plays the villain, later costarred in Le Jour Se Leve – another film written by Jacques Prévert in which Berry is murdered and we learn the full story as the killer is hiding out in the aftermath.
A movie full of 1930’s big loud actors portraying 1750’s big loud actors trying to out-act each other. Brian Aherne (in both the 1950’s Titanic movie and a 1940’s movie with the same title as another Titanic movie) is Garrick, the “greatest” actor in Britain, off to France to work with the Comedie Francaise, but after a perceived insult they intercept him at an inn, pretending to be innkeepers and patrons, scripting a plot to make a fool of him. He’s onto their scheme and plays along, but Olivia de Havilland shows up unexpectedly and nobody knows what to do with her. Whale seems to excel at making horror movies that are secretly comedies, and when he makes a straight comedy here it’s not so amusing. The wikis say that Whale made an anti-nazi movie in 1937 that was neutered in re-editing by his nazi sympathizer bosses at Universal, so this wasn’t his year.
Nearly the same plot as Spaced: two down-and-out strangers apply for a couples-only newspaper ad. But here, another popular 1930’s plot is thrown in: the rich guy pretending to be a commoner. Trouble in Paradise star Herbert Marshall is a futurist auto mogul, God’s own Jean Arthur (same year as The Whole Town’s Talking) can cook very well, and they’re hired as cook-and-butler by some fellas. He’s trying to stay in charge of the company he founded, she is arrested when his secret auto designs are found in her possession, their criminal employer Leo Carrillo proposes to Jean, Herbert doesn’t fool anyone for long and when he returns to his old life, Leo kidnaps him from his society wedding – it’s a lot for a 70-minute movie, and it mostly works thanks to the cast.
Musical in which Jessie Matthews (in one of Hitchcock’s least-known movies the same year) plays a stage star who disappears to have a secret daughter, and years later plays the secret daughter, who gets a job onstage impersonating her mother. Intro music hall scene reminds of the beginning of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, not in a good way, but the movie picks up. Jessie’s love interest Barry MacKay played Fred Scrooge in A Christmas Carol a few years later, and I could tell you more about the movie if I hadn’t let 45 quarantine days pass before trying to write about it.
Ford directed at least 25 movies in the 1930’s – this one was made soon after Judge Priest. We watched this for Jean Arthur (a couple years before Easy Living), and a bonus was the really impressive dual acting by Edward G. Robinson and all manner of effects used to make him into two people: a bland office worker, and a bank robber nicknamed Killer. Robinson is turned into the cops by busybody Donald Meek (Stagecoach, etc), so the cops give him a signed letter saying he’s not the killer but a lookalike – of course this gets into the newspapers, since everything back then got into the newspapers, so Killer comes looking for his lookalike, steals the letter and forces the bland Robinson to cover for him. But Bland Robinson’s secret is that he’s a creepy stalker for his lovely coworker Jean Arthur, so when she’s endangered by all this activity, our man steps up and saves the day. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought crime comedies to be in John Ford’s wheelhouse, but dude’s wheelhouse was extremely large.