The back half of our New Year’s Eve classic movie double-feature. It doesn’t have the naughty thrills of Baby Face, but it’s a good western in beautifully-restored technicolor.

Our lead cowboy Logan (Dana Andrews, star of Night of the Demon, had postwar rage issues in The Best Years of Our Lives) is aggressively growing his pack mule business, gets chastely paired up with British Caroline (Patricia Roc). His banker buddy George (Brian Donlevy, Dr. Quatermass and the great McGinty) has a fine mustache but also has gambling problems, is stealing from the bags of gold dust in his vault to pay his debts, and after he eventually gets killed, Logan is free to steal his girl Lucy (Susan Hayward, Veronica Lake’s love rival in I Married a Witch), who is more Logan’s adventurous type.

Bragg (foreground) and Logan:

George and Lucy:

In between, a bunch of serious stuff happens. A young couple marries, gets a cabin built by the townspeople, then gets slaughtered by indians who attack after large-faced baddie Bragg (Nebraskan Ward Bond of Johnny Guitar and Rio Bravo) probably rapes/kills an indian woman. Logan’s friend Hoagy Carmichael (famous singer/songwriter, also of To Have and Have Not) and decent-enough local dude Lloyd Bridges testify against George, who is freed from jail by Logan only to be gunned down off camera. Logan’s business burns to the ground, and even Andy “Friar Tuck” Devine is killed. Of course there’s a chase/fight at the end, and Bragg is left for the indians. Them were hard times, but that’s a fine supporting cast. Rose Hobart was in there somewhere too, but I’m not sure where.

Lloyd and Hoagy:

Devine and Caroline:


Under the familiar trappings of cabin raisings, poker games, saloon brawls and frontier combat is a remarkably dense drama where the tensions between individual enterprise and communal good are often strained and the line between hero and villain is not a matter of black and white, but shades of gray.

I’ve enjoyed Jacques Tourneur’s SHOCKtober-worthy Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, so I planned on watching Night of the Demon and The Leopard Man this year. But wait – just discovered that his father Maurice was also a filmmaker, also made horror movies, and their careers overlapped. So I watched movies by father and son from 1943, along with an early silent short.

The Devil’s Hand (1943, Maurice Tourneur)

“An avalanche, a madman, and prunes! The evening is completely spoiled.”

High-quality studio picture that plays like an expensive Twilight Zone episode until it gets bonkers towards the end. Very nice light and shadows, some Cocteauian fast-motion and reverse photography providing subtly supernatural effects.

Failed painter Roland (Pierre Fresnay of Le Corbeau and Grand Illusion) buys the titular hand from a great chef (who immediately loses his own right hand and his kitchen skills – this doesn’t seem to faze Roland) despite warnings from the chef’s assistant Ange (heh) and then sees his painterly fortunes soar. But he begins to be stalked by a short, cheerful man in a bowler hat claiming to be the devil and taunting Roland – offering to take back the hand in exchange for tons of cash.

The fatal purchase:

Jolly old devil:

His girl Irene (Josseline Gael of Raymond Bernard’s Les Miserables, whose career ended the following year, imprisoned for sleeping with the Gestapo) was the impetus for Roland’s devil-hand purchase, dumping him at dinner in front of the chef, calling his artworks trash. After his success, they’re married and the devil tries to trade her soul for Roland’s, calling her “a beautiful sinner.” Later she phones Roland from the hotel where she used to live offering him enough money to unload the hand, but when he arrives she has been murdered. I’m missing something – why her old hotel? How’d she get the money? By doing something immoral, no doubt, but she made more money in two days than the most celebrated painter in town could dig up?

Irene with Orpheus lighting, worn out from making all that money:

Anyway, after losing everything at a casino, Roland stumbles into the best part of the movie, a dining hall full of ghosts of the men who formerly possessed the hand, telling their stories via shadow-plays, culminating in the appearance of Maximus Leo, whose hand they’ve all been fooling with. So Roland goes off to the mountains trying to locate Leo’s grave so he can return the hand and break the curse.

Framing device: he’s been narrating all this to the patrons of a snowed-in lodge (who provide most of the film’s sense of humor), despondent because the devil just staged a power outage and nabbed the hand. The devil seems alternately powerful and feeble, serious and pranksterish in this movie. Suddenly Roland runs outside, chases down the devil and wrestles free the hand before falling to his death – upon Leo’s grave. So the curse is broken, I guess. Anyway, the movie is very enjoyable despite my story confusions. Based on an 1832 short story, no relation to The Hands of Orlac or The Monkey’s Paw.

F. Lafond:

Even if some sequences make use of expressionistic lighting, Tourneur manages to instill a sense of fear by emphasising the concrete consequences of the Faustian pact rather than the supernatural powers of the Devil … Above all, the pact functions as a commercial transaction … As with other films made during World War II, there are no direct references to the military and political context of the time. But Roland’s wild-eyed looks upon entering the inn at the outset of the film express a feeling of pervading paranoia that one can fully comprehend only by taking into account the extra-diegetic reality. The horror elements of Tourneur’s La Main du diable may well express an anxiety experienced by every Frenchman opposed to the German invasion, in their souls if not through action.

The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Another in the Val Lewton series that also produced I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim and The Ghost Ship – all in the same year! This one seemed more slight than the others I’ve seen (Curse of the Cat People excepted). A leopard gets loose in New Mexico after a publicity stunt goes wrong, kills a bunch of young women, and the singer and publicity man responsible for its escape try to help out (though they’re low-key about it, because it’s not cool to act responsible for terrorizing a town).

Kiki (serial player Jean Brooks, with a nice Myrna Loy-like voice) is the singer and Manning (Dennis O’Keefe, in Hangmen Also Die the same year, also star of the original Brewster’s Millions and Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal and T-Men) the publicity man – and the guy who lent them his leopard is named Charlie How-Come, a good-natured guy, but he’d like his leopard back, please, or the $225 it’ll cost to get a new one. I don’t remember if Charlie ever gets paid.

Young Teresa is the first and saddest victim, having to cross town at night to buy cornmeal, then pounding at her door to be let in as the leopard approached. Next up is Consuelo (a Finnish actress playing Mexican – hey, any foreigner will do), accidentally locked into a cemetery while awaiting her boyfriend. And finally Clo-Clo the maraca girl (“Margo” of Lost Horizon – too bad they couldn’t get The Panther Woman from Island of Lost Souls) who kinda had it coming, since she purposely frightened the leopard at the beginning, leading to its escape.

One victim – Teresa, I think – and her finches:

Turns out a local professor (James Bell, who also played the doctor in I Walked with a Zombie) found the dead leopard (or did he kill it?) and has used the leopard-on-the-loose headline as license to kill girls himself, leaving leopard-like evidence at the scenes. What a weirdo. I like how first he tries to convince Charlie How-Come (the “leopard man”) that Charlie is becoming a leopard while drunk, so that Charlie asks to be locked up, werewolf-style.

The Man With Wax Faces (1914, Maurice Tourneur)

A silent trifle with a good ending. The classic plot, which may not have been so classic at the time, of a man who bets he can spend the night in a spooky place (wax museum) in order to prove his bravery. But he’s not brave at all – the wind and shadows scare the hell out of him, and when his prankster friend sneaks in, he gets stabbed to death by his crazed buddy.

Adding to the sense of strangeness is some wicked, Decasia-worthy film damage, coincidentally appearing right after the title “Deeper into the night, the wax figures become more terrifying.” If you saw your world melting and tearing apart like this, you’d go mad, too.

Battle of the Tourneurs – advantage: Maurice

I always like a good satanic cult movie, and the cult’s power in this one seems much stronger than in The Seventh Victim. The movie as a whole isn’t as great as Seventh Victim – much more straightforward, less mysterious and with appalling special effects – but it’s also more audacious and intense.

Doomed professor Harrington (Maurice Denham, appropriately of Shout at the Devil) comes running over to see devil-bearded Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis, appropriately of The Devil’s Agent), asking him to take back some curse, but Karswell declines, and Harrington is chased by a giant demon into power lines. So dreamy Doctor Holden (Dana Andrews, appropriately of Hot Rods to Hell and The Devil’s Brigade) arrives in town to take over Harrington’s work, gets cozy with Harrington’s niece (Peggy Cummings, appropriately of Hell Drivers and Meet Mr. Lucifer) and ignores all this devil/curse nonsense – until it’s too late!

It seems Karswell is part of some demon cult and Harrington planned to publish a conference paper exposing the group, so K. passed H. a slip of paper with runes written on it, and after three days of spooky signs, the giant demon came for Harrington. K. asks Holden if he plans to continue his predecessor’s work, Holden says yes, gets the runes, is doomed – unless Karswell forgives him and breaks the spell, or Holden figures it out and passes them to someone else before they “escape” (are pulled by a clearly visible string) from his grasp.

Karswell’s pet cat morphs into a leopard, shown here mid-transformation.
Not shown: the leopard’s transformation into a stuffed toy, which “wrestles” comically with Holden.

Clearly the best scene is when our heroes show at Karswell’s house to speak with him and his mother (Athene Seyler, appropriately of Satan Never Sleeps) and K. is dressed as a clown, using his dark magic to entertain children. Challenged to prove his powers, he summons a hurricane and destroys his own party. His mom isn’t pleased, and starts helping the do-gooders behind her son’s back.

Clownswell with the grinning do-gooders:

There’s also some business about an ex-cult member, a farmer now in an insitution, who is hypnotized into revealing some plot points about the runes, before jumping to his death under Holden’s supervision – you’d think he’d be blamed for the poor guy’s death but nobody seems to care.

Holden and Ms. Harrington gradually become convinced of the dark powers, go to the police complaining of smoke following them through the woods and pages ripped out of books, and are rightly dismissed. So Holden fights witchcraft with witchcraft, manages to pass the runes back to Harrington who is immediately killed by the demon and/or a train.

A cool, noirish shot:

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Tourneur went from genre cheapies (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie) to great studio pictures (Out of the Past and Stars In My Crown) back to genre cheapies, maintaining unusually high quality throughout.

IMDB on Drag Me To Hell: “Raimi intended this to be a remake but could not secure the rights to the film. Instead, they kept many elements and rewrote the story. Elements kept: 3 day hex, the passing of an item to be rid the curse, the train station used for the ending.”

Now that I’ve seen this twice (both times on 35mm at Emory) I’m positive it’s one of my favorite movies. Perfect actors, dialogue, camera and lighting, perfectly paced and scored. It’s such an ideal film that while walking out, I almost fell into the trap of wishing for the glory days of Hollywood because they can’t make ’em like that anymore. Close call – I’m feeling better now.

Criminal flunky Joe (Paul Valentine of House of Strangers) tracks down Robert Mitchum (early in his career) working at a small-town gas station, says that big badman Whit (Kirk Douglas, a few years before Ace in the Hole) wants to speak with him. Mitchum drives up to Whit’s house with his cutie girlfriend, tells her his long flashback story along the way. We spend such a long time in flashback that once the action picks up again, I keep forgetting we’re back in the present.

Mitchum was originally hired by the baddies (both with prominent chins) to track down Kirk’s thieving runaway girl Jane Greer (whose IMDB page is more interesting for trivia about how Howard Hughes used to stalk her than for her film roles). He finds her in Mexico, falls for her, and they run off together, live in hiding for a couple years until discovered by his partner (Steve Brodie, a cop in Losey’s M, also in The Steel Helmet, later Frankenstein Island and The Wizard of Speed and Time). She shoots the partner and runs off, Mitchum belatedly discovering that she’d also stolen Kirk’s money for which she’d been claiming innocence.

So now Kirk wants Mitchum to steal some incriminating files for him, but plans to frame Mitchum along the way as revenge for absconding with Kirk’s girl (now back in the fold). Mitch gets the scoop from Rhonda Fleming (of The Spiral Staircase, Spellbound), and steals the files, but can’t avoid the frame-up and flees home followed by the gangsters and the law.

Mitchum gets unexpected help from his deaf-mute employee, who dispatches Joe with a fishing-rod yank off a cliff. The kid was Dickie Moore – the youngest actor in the movie, but the one who would retire first, near the end of his child-star film career. The Femme proves to be extremely fatale, shoots Kirk to death, then drives herself and Mitchum into a guns-blazing police roadblock. The “happy” ending is that Mitchum’s sweet small-town girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston – in her short film career she played Tarzan’s Jane once, and four characters named Ann) is free of his big-city corrupting influence, and can be properly courted by local cop Jim (Richard Webb, also of The Big Clock), in a world devoid of excitement or interest.

The author of the “unadaptable” novel wrote the screenplay himself, would later co-write The Big Steal and The Hitch-Hiker. Shot by the great Nicholas Musuraca, who practically invented film noir with his lighting – or lack thereof – on Stranger on the Third Floor in 1940. Nominated for nothing, in favor of timeless classics like Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, Ride the Pink Horse and Green Dolphin Street. Bah! Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Bridges, James Woods, and re-starring Jane Greer as the femme fatale’s mother.

I was skeptical of the IMDB’s claim that the plot was based partly on Jane Eyre, but after Katy summarized the novel for me I can totally see it. Weird. It’s a Val Lewton super-production, with director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People), editor Mark Robson (The Seventh Victim), and writer Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man, Robert Siodmak’s idiot brother per Shadowplay).

Frances Dee (Little Women, Of Human Bondage) is Betsy, who travels to the exotic west indies to work as private nurse for an extremely dysfunctional household. The man of the castle is Paul Holland (Tom Conway who I recognize from The Seventh Victim, also in Cat People and some MST3K flicks), a rich sugar plantation guy. His wife Jessica has been in a sleepy trance ever since getting caught having an affair with Paul’s half brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison of a pile of 30’s westerns). And the boys’ mother (Edith Barrett of The Ghost Ship the same year) lives with them, dabbles in voodoo secretly on the side, may be responsible for Jessica’s zombie condition.

At first I thought hunky Rand would be the love interest, not the withdrawn husband full of dark secrets, but it’s the other way around – Rand is the wormy drunk little brother who eventually pays for his crimes, chased (slowly) by awesome lead zombie Carrefour into the ocean, holding recently-murdered Jessica in his arms. We know Betsy will be okay since she is narrating the movie from The Future. Lovely little bit when she first arrives, hears drums in the distance and one of the men says “the jungle drums… mysterious… eerie,” then demystifies it, telling her it’s the work drum at the sugar mill. Purposely deflates the spooky foreign atmosphere the movie is trying to set up, reassuring her that it’s not as spooky and foreign as all that. And then of course it is.

More movie mythology: the workers at the mill and house servants are ex-slaves, who “for generations found life a burden. That’s why they still weep when a child is born and make merry at a burial,” says Paul. Ritualistic and zombie-raising or not, it’s good to see black actors with speaking roles in a 40’s film – mainly head maid/nurse Alma (Theresa Harris, tiny parts in The Big Clock, Out of the Past and Angel Face) and plot-device troubadour Sir Lancelot.

Sir Lancelot with Betsy and Wesley:


Another post-Civil-War American small-town drama – I kept flashing back to John Ford’s Judge Priest movies. Our hero this time is more priest than judge. Pastor Joel McRae (I’d forgotten he was a cowboy actor when not appearing in Preston Sturges films) comes to town in the wild old days, marries Ellen Drew (same year as Baron of Arizona, still the queen of not making a strong impression) and whips the town into shape.


A bunch of years later they’ve inherited a nephew (13-yr-old Dean Stockwell), our protagonist who shows us around the rest of the colorful town. They’ve got a friend called Uncle Famous, there’s a guy named Chloroform (his mom liked the word), Alan Hale (father of the Skipper) is hardworking but godless farmer Jed, and Pastor Joel’s best friend is the town doctor (Lewis Stone, better known as Andy Hardy’s dad). Well, when the doctor dies his son takes over as doctor, and the son doesn’t like mixing his scientific work with the pastor’s religious work.

Serious young doctor (dancer James Mitchell) with love interest Amanda Blake (later a Gunsmoke star):

There’s lots of work for doctor and pastor since young Dean catches typhoid fever from the school well and soon all the kids in town have got it. The pastor cancels church service to avoid spreading disease, and the new doctor becomes the prime influence in town; people stop calling for the pastor’s services. Joel gets a little credit for eventually finding the source of the illness and alerting everyone, but maybe he could’ve talked to his son sooner. Kids were thought not to have any information worth knowing in the 40’s-50’s, let alone the turn of the century.


More trouble: Uncle Famous (Puerto Rican Juano Hernandez, later of Kiss Me Deadly) is being menaced by a mine owner who first offers to buy Famous’s land for more than it’s worth, then trashes the place and ruins his crops and offers to buy it for less (farmer Jed helps him rebuild), then sends the KKK cross-burning lynch mob after him. Big climax comes when pastor Joel protects Famous by reading a fake will deeding all his possessions to the masked mob members, shaming them into going home.




Happy ending: Famous is safe, the illness is passing, doctor and pastor are reconciled and Farmer Jed and his family all come to church the next sunday.

Early in the movie Jack Lambert is a town bully – but instead of a Forty Guns situation, after Joel McRae whups his ass into the mud he sits and laughs. We’re all still friends here. Nicely sets the tone of the town – even the bad guys here are good at heart – which makes the klan-turnaround ending ring more true.

I can’t tell much about Tourneur judging from this and Out of the Past and Cat People – all very different but quite good movies. It’s weird watching this so soon after The Sun Shines Bright – another post-civil-war movie named after a song lyric and featuring people playing Dixie and a racial-barrier-crossing white authority figure. Safe to say I liked this a whole lot, even if I’m not anxious to watch it again.

M. Grost:

Stars in My Crown contains a ferocious attack on racism. It is one of the boldest of the post-war films, that supported the growing Civil Rights movement of the time.

This film is like Out of the Past, in that it shows evil forces laying siege to people in small towns. Both towns are idyllic places, filled with small businesses and homes. In both towns people love to fish, something that is treated as a source of friendship between grown-ups and kids. But the gangsters of the one film, and the typhoid and race hatred in the other, threaten to destroy the possibilities of harmony.

[Tourneur] is as exhaustive as Fritz Lang, in trying to find every interesting image possible in a scene, then staging the scene around it.

I don’t know much about Tourneur, don’t even know how to pronounce Tourneur, but every time I hear about this movie it’s a (producer) “Val Lewton movie”. So maybe Tourneur isn’t the auteur here. Don’t think I have to care about that. Neat movie, mostly worth watching for Simone Simon. Funny how I’ve recently seen two of her movies (la bete humaine, devil & daniel webster) and didn’t recognize her.

Good scene in a swimming pool, some good psychiatry (“what does one tell a husband? one tells him nothing”) and probably a pretty good (if predictable) ending. Not positive about that, cuz my tape cut off right as Simone entered the panther cage. Loved how she fell in “love” with our generic male hero in less than two days, and lovely the way he proposes to her. She’s trying to tell him about her dark past, and he cuts her off, “We’ll get married and you can tell your stories to our children”. Wow! Of course he’s actually in love with his co-worker, and who can blame him. Not sure about this being one of the greatest thrillers in history, but I enjoyed it.