What’s coming up

A very brief update to say that a more substantial post will be coming soon. I’m awaiting the arrival of a DVD I’d like to review of a movie I haven’t seen in over thirty years. It will be interesting to revisit it. There’s also an interesting history attached to the title, which I’ll include in the review. With luck, I may have the review up by this weekend. If not, the holiday weekend for sure.

I’ve finally transcribed the notes I had for a second novel and have ironed out many of the kinks I had in the early planning. There are still plenty of things to be sorted out, but the hurdles I’ve overcome have put me in a positive frame of mind. I think this second novel is going to be more challenging since I’m falling into my habit of non-linear story telling. Thankfully, there are only two sections that deviate, and they’ll be easily identifiable as flashback sequences. I’m also pleased with the evolution of a particular character; they’ve become more layered and nuanced, hence, more interesting. In addition, I’ve settled on a cover image that I believe captures the essence of the story. At least I have that cleared from my mind.

I’m in desperate need of a new proof copy of the first novel. The one I have from ten months ago is basically useless now. At least the first half is, since I’ve made so many changes to, and beefed up, the early chapters. There’s still so much to do, but I never feel like I have enough time, and I haven’t gotten into the right frame of mind to continue. The lack of substantive writing nags at me, I feel like I’m being neglectful.

I surprised myself by finding an audio note file for a third novel that I accidentally stored with the notes for the second. Some good stuff in that. The mistake was understandable; the three novels are connected. My goal is to publish three novels, not a trilogy, but a trio of books that can be read as stand alones. However, reading all three would provide a much richer reading experience and, depending on the order in which the books are read, a different reading experience. Each novel has a self-contained story, but there are people, places, and events that feed into the other two. It’s an exciting idea, but ambitious. I could really use a burst of unstoppable creativity and inspiration for about two years to finish the project. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, so I’ll muddle through inch by inch.

Calling Dr. Death (1943)

A doctor’s cheating wife is found dead. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know what he was doing at the time due to a black-out. Will hypnosis prove him guilty or innocent of the crime?

Dr. Mark Steele, a neurologist who employs hypnosis in certain cases, has a problem; an adulterous wife. He’s also attracted to his nurse, Stella Madden, and he suspects the attraction is mutual. Returning home from work one evening, he learns from the butler that his wife, Maria, is out. He dines alone, with only his thoughts for company. Then he waits, and waits, long into the night, even phoning his nurse at three a.m., unaware of the time. Maria finally comes home an hour later. Watching from the balcony, Mark sees her impart a kiss to her lover before heading inside.

Entering the bedroom antechamber, Maria starts in on her husband for waiting up. They argue, with the brazen hussy admitting her infidelity but unwilling to divorce; she likes the status and nice things her marriage to him provides. She taunts that he doesn’t have the guts to kill her.

The next evening, when Mark returns home, the butler reluctantly informs him Maria has gone away for the weekend. The enraged doctor heads out in search of her.

Mark wakes Monday morning sitting at his office desk, with no idea how he got there or what he did the last two days. Stella comes in and, concerned, suggests he cancel his appointments for the day. He declines. As he’s finishing his ablutions, two detectives arrive with bad news; Mrs. Steele is dead, murdered. Mark accompanies them to his country house. Not only was Maria bludgeoned to death, her beautiful face was disfigured by acid. It’s clear that the lead detective, Inspector Gregg, suspects Mark.

An arrest is made, not of Mark, but Maria’s lover, Robert Duval. Mark goes to talk to him at the police station. Duval confesses to the affair, but swears he’s no killer. Mark believes him, and says he’ll do what he can to help. A trial via montage and newspaper headlines show Duval convicted and sentenced to death. Insp. Gregg, however, doggedly pursues Dr. Steele, convinced he’s the real culprit. Eventually, Mark resorts to self-hypnosis to discover the truth.

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This is the first of six Inner Sanctum films by Universal starring Lon Chaney Jr. It’s a fairly tidy little murder-mystery, directed by Reginald Le Borg, with an original screenplay by Edward Dein. Chaney plays Mark Steele and seems to display a little more range in this role than usual. Patricia Morison, as Stella, is Mark’s nurse and dependable right-hand. J. Carrol Naish puts in a good turn as Insp. Gregg, although I wanted to punch the character from time to time for his smugness as he continually harangues, pesters, and needles Mark about being the guilty party, sending an innocent man to death for his crime. As Maria, the beautiful but bitchy wife from hell, Ramsay Ames makes an impression in her very brief appearance. There’s an Ann Blyth as Veda Pierce quality to the character and portrayal, which adds to the fun. I wish she’d had more scenes. David Bruce and Fay Helm round out the cast as the Duvals, with Helm’s role being nearly inconsequential.

There’s a lot of voice-over by Mark in this one, not unlike a radio drama. Incidental music is used sparingly, often only an organ for emphasis. There’s effective use of chiaroscuro in several scenes, lending a noir vibe, as well as the use of a Dutch angle in a key scene. When Mark arrives at his country house to identify his wife’s body, the movie uses his P.O.V. as he walks the gauntlet of photographers and reporters to the front door, momentarily putting the audience in his place. The dénouement raises a couple of questions that aren’t really explained, but a viewer can fill in the blanks. The movie drags a little around the half or two-thirds mark, but overall, it’s an enjoyable hour. My rating, 6 out of 10 (6/10)

Night Monster (1942)

There’re strange goings-on in and around Ingston Towers. When the frogs stop croaking in the slough, best watch out, something’s out stalking. Something deadly.

Milly Carson has had enough. Working as a maid in wealthy Kurt Ingston’s home, she’s seen too many weird things, like blood spots on the floor, and thinks it best to tell the cops, especially since her employer’s doctor was recently found dead in the nearby slough. She abruptly quits, accepting a ride into town with chauffeur Laurie. After he makes an unwanted pass, she catches a ride with a passing townsman. At the house, Kurt’s sister, Margaret, anxiously awaits the arrival of a doctor she’s summoned, psychiatrist Dr. Harper.

Laurie heads into town to pick up three guests; Drs. King, Phipps, and Timmons. The medicos know each other, all having treated their host, Ingston. Milly meanwhile, tells her story to Constable Beggs, who doesn’t think much of her vague claims. She heads back to the house to collect her things. Through a plot contrivance, her ride leaves without her and she starts walking through the slough, rattled when the frogs and crickets fall silent; it’s a sign all is not well.

On the road, a woman with a broken-down car begins walking towards the house, but turns back upon hearing a woman scream. She flags down an approaching car and asks for a lift to Ingston Towers. She’s Dr. Lynn Harper, psychiatrist, and her good Samaritan is Dick Baldwin, mystery writer and acquaintance of Ingston. Harper fails to mention the blood-curdling shriek of terror she just heard.NM5

The trio of doctors arrive at the house and wonder why they were summoned, with Timmons feeling remorseful at their having turned Ingston into the paralyzed shell he’s become. Harper and Baldwin arrive soon after and all sit for dinner, joined by their host, the wheelchair-bound Ingston, who has had a prosthetic arm made so he can at least feed himself. When Margaret Ingston asks to speak with Dr. Harper, her brother orders her to wait, there’re more important things to attend to.

All retire to another room, where Indian mystic Agor Singh gives a demonstration of manipulating “cosmic matter” by making a skeleton materialize through focused concentration and sheer will. Ingston tells the physicians it could be used to create new limbs or organs, like a lizard regrowing a tail. Dr. King blusters it’s all poppycock. Not long after everyone’s retired, he ends up dead.

The next morning, Milly’s body is found. Harper manages a conversation with Margaret in which nothing useful is learned. That night, more dead doctors, with Breggs and Baldwin investigating the house to figure out whodunnit.

To say this effort by Universal is a disappointment is an understatement. Night Monster suffers on multiple levels. The story is overpopulated, for one,  and despite a promising first few minutes, soon devolves into the uninteresting. The direction by Ford Beebe plods along, but the real culprit is writer Clarence Upson Young. It’s bad when I start rewriting the script in my head, cutting characters and changing events to make things more engaging.

Another major problem is not knowing why Kurt Ingston consulted doctors in the first place; accident, disease? How did his doctors fail him, botched surgery, medication, or dangerous and unorthodox treatments? A more revealing conversation between them, perhaps with Singh, would have helped the audience to become more engaged. There’s not enough time or space for characters to develop or backstories to be told. As for sister Margaret, are the butler and housekeeper gaslighting her? Probably/possibly. We’re never shown or told why she chooses to stay in the house if she fears she’s being driven mad by the hired help.

As for the acting, Don Porter as Dick Baldwin is as affable as Leif Erickson’s lecherous Laurie is churlish. Robert Homans annoys as hick constable Beggs. As Lynn Harper, Irene Hervey seems flat, remote, and disengaged in most of her scenes. It would have been more interesting if maid Milly (Janet Shaw) stuck around, she had some moxie. In fact, dump Harper and Beggs, and have Baldwin and Milly as friends/lovers doing the investigating in the old, dark house. Bela Lugosi, as butler Rolf, and Lionel Atwill as Dr. King are wasted in small, supporting roles. Ralph Morgan as Ingston and Fay Helms as maybe crazy sister Margaret are decent enough. Nils Asther, as Singh, isn’t around enough to make a fair judgment.

There are a few effective scenes. Singh conjuring a skeleton was nicely done, and there’s some interesting shadow work in a later scene, with what’s presumably the design of the fire grate visible on the people in the room. The frogs and crickets falling silent lends a nice eeriness, but none of it is enough to lift this movie out of the morass it’s stuck in. I rate it 3 out of 10. (3/10)

The Great Alaskan Mystery (1944)

Explosions, bare-fisted brawls, shoot-outs, poison gas, avalanches, and icebergs are just a few of the hazards faced by a just-returned-home marine when he heads to the wilds of Alaska with a scientist in search of a special quartz to power a unique new device.

Seattle scientist Dr. Miller (Ralph Morgan) has created a new contraption, the Peratron, a machine meant to project particles from one location to another. Unfortunately, it’s only a partial success, since he and his associate, Dr. Hauss (Martin Kosleck), haven’t found the proper element to fully power the device. Dr. Miller’s daughter, Ruth (Marjorie Weaver), and her recently discharged marine boyfriend, Jim Hudson (Milburn Stone), witness another failed attempt in Miller’s lab. If only they could find the right element! It just so happens that Jim’s father owns a mine up in Alaska, and one of the workers recently discovered something that had incredible energy, knocked him clear across the mine. Care to check it out? Don’t worry, Pop’s got a lab, too.

Conveniently, a steamer is headed up to the Last Frontier the very next day, and Hauss happens to know the captain. In fact, the two know each other very well and are in cahoots to steal the Peratron. The following day, Hauss, Miller, and Jim set sail, with two mysterious bearded trappers, Dunn and Grey, coming aboard at the last minute. Who the trappers are is anybody’s guess (per IMDB, they’re supposed to be undercover agents), but it doesn’t much matter, because they’re cannon fodder. After Dunn spies Capt. Greeder sending a message via carrier pigeon, Hauss tips off Greeder, who, in turn, pitches Dunn overboard. The captain is prepared to shoot the others, but smartest man standing Hauss gives him a colorless, odorless, water activated poison to use instead. The captain calls Miller, Jim, and Grey into a cabin, then sneakily dumps the poison in a carafe of water and locks them in the room. Right about that time, the ship hits an iceberg. Hauss grabs the Peratron, and he and Greeder take off in the only usable lifeboat.

As this is a serial, the heroes escape what appeared to be their doom with the assistance of Bosun Higgins (Edgar Kennedy), and after checking what’s left of their cabin, Miller and Jim believe the Peratron was destroyed and Hauss is dead. After more thrills and spills (including Grey going crazy, then being eaten by a polar bear), the heroes make it to land with the assistance of newly licensed pilot Ruth, who’s been buzzing the north Pacific in a seaplane looking for them, and a village of helpful Eskimos. The villains have made it to land, too. Facing a potential run-in, Greeder hides Hauss’ identity by wrapping his head in bandages, à la The Invisible Man, saying he was a crewman burned in the shipwreck. Suspicious Jim and Bosun beat up Greeder and the disguised Hauss and retrieve the Peratron, instructing the Eskimo chief to hold the men until US marshals arrive.

The plot becomes more intricate at this point. Once they make it to a town, Jim puts in a call to a family friend in Saskatch who owns a transportation company, a man named Brock (Samuel Hinds), and arranges for the group to catch a ride on a transport plane up to his father’s mine. Brock, however, is on the bad guy’s side, and radios a henchman in Saskatch. He also sends men masquerading as law enforcement to free Hauss and Greeder (after which, the captain is out of the picture).

Everybody, good guys and bad, eventually make it to Saskatch (but not without hazards and danger for our heroes). At the Gunsite mine, the mystery power source is a highly energized quartz, nestled in the deep tunnel. A sample proves it to be just what the doctor needed, but upon further experimentation, Dr. Miller realizes he’s created an atomic death ray. Brock’s team of kerchief wearing desperado hijackers make numerous attempts to kill Jim Hudson and put the Peratron in the hands of Dr. Hauss. Will they succeed? Will good triumph over evil? Will true-blue Americans thwart the efforts of the Nazi who’s never called a Nazi and the fifth column?

Although this 1944 serial by Universal can at times be absurd (mostly due to the impossible escapes from certain death), it’s a lot of fun. Stone, Kennedy, Kosleck, and Joseph Crehan, as Jim’s father, Bill, are the most solid on the acting front. Marjorie Weaver doesn’t have all that much to do, frankly, so it’s hard to judge her performance. Surprisingly, as Brock, Samuel Hinds (Dr. Kildare) doesn’t seem fully committed most of the time.

There’s plenty of action, stock footage, and outdoor shooting locations, not to mention, fist fights, gun fights, and explosions from dynamite, hand grenades, and the Peratron itself. The Saskatch band of hijackers are incredibly inept, led by an incompetent named Brandon, who keeps radioing Brock and telling him Jim Hudson is dead. I’m convinced that’s an intentional running gag. The smartest person in all of this is Dr. Hauss, a quick, clever thinker and a cool liar (as an interesting aside, Martin Kosleck didn’t mind playing Nazi bastards because he loathed them; he’d been listed as an undesirable and fled Germany before a death squad could catch up with him).

This is the first serial I’ve watched in full and I enjoyed it. I’ve been watching more B-movies from the 1940’s of late, many from Universal, and I’m developing an appreciation for what the studio accomplished. The on-screen talent ranged from decent to exceptional, the latter helping to lift middling pictures, and the writing, if not always straight forward, didn’t sink in unnecessary and confusing convolutions. This title is an example of that, especially when considering the cast. Clocking in at just over 3-1/2 hours, The Great Alaskan Mystery is fun entertainment over several evenings or a binge watch on a dreary weekend afternoon. I rate it 6.5 out of 10.

Coming to a close

For the past week or so, I’ve been watching the 1944 Universal Studios serial The Great Alaskan Mystery, and tonight I’ll screen the final two chapters. As preposterous as it all is, it’s been entertaining. The story revolves around a ray gun, initially meant to work as a sort of particle/matter transporter beam, but when a special type of energized quartz is used to power it, it becomes a catastrophic atomic death ray. Bad guys want it. Who they’re affiliated with has never really been disclosed, but since one of them speaks with a German accent, must be Nazis, although I have to admit, that’s one hell of a fifth column in No Man’s Land, Alaska.

The dangers and near-death close-calls experienced by the heroes are patently absurd and the bad guys, save two, are laughably witless and inept. The only two with any brains is the man who wants to sell the weapon to the highest bidder, and the scientist-spy who was working on the ray gun project in the first place. In fact, the spy is, without question, the smartest of the bunch.

There’s a plucky heroine thrown into the mix, of course, but after the first two chapters, she’s basically reduced to rendering first aid and shouting “Jim!” to either warn her hero boyfriend of approaching baddies or when searching for him when, by all accounts, he should be dead on the side of the road or blown into a million pieces.

I can understand why kids would enjoy these serials back in the day, they’re pure escapism and unashamedly so.

 

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

It’s bad news on the bayou when a swamp drainage project unearths mummy Kharis and the Princess Ananka.

In a local tavern in Cajun country, workers relax while the proprietress, Tante Berthe, entertains them with a song. Once finished, conversation starts about a missing worker, Antoine, and the story of the mummy who carried a girl into the swamps twenty-five years ago. The workers are spooked, but foreman Cajun Joe shrugs it off as nonsense.

On the job site, presumably the next day, the project manager, Pat Walsh, is trying to allay the workers’ fears about their missing co-worker and unnatural things that may exist in the swamp. Now get to work!

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That’s when Jim Halsey, archeologist, arrives with his associate, fez-wearing Egyptian Ilzor Zandaab. They just blew into town to collect those mummies from the swamp so Zandaab can return them to Egypt. Walsh doesn’t want them interfering with his project, but their plan is to look in the areas after they’ve been excavated. Walsh still doesn’t like it. His secretary (and niece) Betty tries putting in a good word on behalf of the archeology team, but her uncle still isn’t convinced.

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The bad word comes in that the missing Antoine has been found, dead. Everyone rushes to the scene, but Halsey is more intrigued by the mummy shaped depression and piece of bandage found nearby in the mud. Must be the mummy! Later that night, Ilzor rendezvous with one of the workers, Ragheb, who tells him Kharis is in the abandoned monastery on the hill, up yonder. When Ragheb admits to using a few workers to transport Kharis’ carcass, Ilzor bitches, but Ragheb tells him not to worry, they won’t say anything, just like Antoine.

They head to the monastery and it turns out Ilzor is a High Priest of Arkham and Ragheb is a disciple. Ilzor provides a lengthy exposition info dump about Kharis and Ananka, then explains about reviving Kharis with the brew of nine tana leaves. After a taste, Kharis rises and gets in his first kill after the Sacristan barges in, raising holy hell about pagan rituals and the pile of dead bodies he found. He is wholly unfazed by the ancient living mummy standing a few yards away.

On another day, after the workers knock off, Ananka rises from the muck of the swamp. After a dip in the water, she wanders, dazed, but perfectly groomed, until found by Cajun Joe who takes her to Tante Berthe. This is witnessed by Ragheb, who high-tails it to the monastery. Ilzor sends Kharis to go get her, but he fails when the frightened and amnesiac Ananka flees upon seeing him. She’s found by Betty and Dr. Halsey and begins helping the doctor with cataloging mummy related stuff found in the swamp. It isn’t long before Kharis makes another attempt to claim his princess.

This isn’t a great movie, but I like it more than its predecessor, The Mummy’s Ghost. The swampy locale of Louisiana is a nice change, even if it doesn’t wholly jibe with the previous entry’s ending. Ananka’s resurrection scene is creepy and effective nightmare fuel, well done by Virginia Christie, the scene is the highlight of the film. The performances are a mixed bag. Addison Richards is fine as crusty and gruff Pat Walsh, as is Kurt Katsch as the affable Cajun Joe. Kay Harding does well enough as Betty. Dennis Moore as Dr. Halsey isn’t terrible, but he isn’t exactly memorable either. Virginia Christie is somewhat mediocre, too, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with.

As Kharis, Lon Chaney, Jr. lopes along at a snail’s pace and half the time I wondered if it was really him under the bandages. Peter Coe has a rather thankless role as High Priest Ilzor; unlike earlier movies, his priest of Arkham doesn’t fall for the girl, he’s solely focused on his task of retrieving the two mummies. He’s also burdened with having to deliver a lengthy voice-over during a flashback. With a better script, I think he could have done more. The dependably shifty Martin Kosleck is on hand as worksite plant, murderer, and acolyte Ragheb, although even he looks bored during Coe’s long monologue; no wonder he makes an out-of-nowhere play for Betty. It would have helped if there had been a scene or two showing Ragheb and the secretary interacting to indicate his interest in her. The outdoor locations and sets are up to Universal’s usual standards.

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Like so many of Universal’s movies of this time, this entry is short and moves at a decent pace. I give it a 5.5 out of 10; if you ignore the plot holes, like how Halsey and Betty became a romantic couple, how Halsey can follow footprints through a swamp in the dead of night without a light source, and Kharis moving slower than a turtle stuck in molasses, it’s a fun way to spend an hour. Definitely worth a watch for the Ananka rising from the swamp scene and the always reliable Kosleck.

The Mad Doctor (1940)

After the death of his wife, a Bluebeard psychiatrist sets his sites on a wealthy, but psychologically fragile, young woman. His plans begin to go awry when he falls in love with his intended victim, a reporter starts digging into his past, and his partner in crime begins voicing objections.

The Mad Doctor is a crime thriller from Paramount studios starring Basil Rathbone, Ellen Drew, John Howard, and Martin Kosleck. On a stormy night in the town of Midbury, Dr. Downer (Ralph Morgan) is summoned to the home of Dr. George Sebastian (Basil Rathbone), whose ill wife has taken a turn for the worse. Upon arriving, Downer is met on the veranda and told he’s too late, the woman is dead, having succumbed to pneumonia. After the funeral, on an appropriately rainy day, George heads home and discusses his future plans with his live-in companion and friend Maurice Gretz (Martin Kosleck). George’s wife didn’t die of illness, but was murdered, and the two men have a criminal history that goes back some twenty years to Vienna. Once the estate is settled, George declares, it’s on to New York. Dr. Downer, meanwhile, can’t shake the feeling that something nefarious took place, but since he has no proof, he decides not to pursue his hunch.

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Several months later, George has established himself in New York. The ditzy wife of a newspaper publisher, Louise Watkins, calls upon Dr. Sebastian to interpret her dreams. Impressed, she’d like the charming doctor to talk with her sister, Linda, who is apparently neurotic. Louise is hosting a charity bazaar and arranges for the doctor to meet Linda who will be working a booth. At the bazaar, Gil Sawyer (John Howard), a reporter for Lawrence Watkins’ newspaper, is covering his boss’ wife’s event, and stops to chat with mopey Linda (Ellen Drew). It seems they’ve been seeing each other romantically. George arrives, and has a brief conversation with Linda that angers Gil; the reporter rails to Louise that psychiatrists are frauds and quacks and steal people’s souls.

Once George leaves, Gil and Linda step onto the terrace. With crazy eyes, she tells him she’d never be happy married to him.

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When Gil walks off to make a phone call, Linda climbs over the railing intending to jump. He stops her just in time and takes her home, with her sister calling Dr. Sebastian. Gil bitches again about evil headshrinkers, he’s going to write an exposé about them! Watkins refuses to print it, so Gil says he’ll shop it to a competitor. Upon returning home, George informs Maurice he’s going to marry again, only when this one dies, they’ll be rich. That sounds good to Maurice.

For an unspecified amount of time, Linda has been seeing Dr. Sebastian to get her head straight. Leaving his office one day, she happens to meet Gil in the elevator. He’s been writing his anti-psychiatry articles, as promised, and convinces Linda to spend the afternoon with him, all she needs is to have fun! They go to Coney Island and the races. That evening, George shows up at the Watkins’ for a formal dinner engagement. Linda and Gil arrive and Sawyer begins to bitch at George again about his chosen profession. Dr. Sebastian (in one of the best scenes of the movie) then proves he’s not a charlatan by hypnotizing Linda and having her reveal the traumatic childhood experience that’s been plaguing her subconscious. The information she imparts is confirmed by her sister and brother-in-law. Humbled Gil departs.

Sawyer heads down to Midbury to talk to Dr. Downer about George. It seems Dr. Sebastian is a two-time widower. Gil discovered that, prior to living in Midbury, George lived in Savannah, where his wife died of pneumonia. Dr. Downer holds off on revealing any information, he wants to verify Gil is who he says he is first.

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George and Linda have begun seeing each other and eventually become engaged. The only problem is that George has truly fallen in love with her, she’s not just some hapless victim in his eyes anymore. George informs Maurice he’ll be moving to Ecuador with his bride, and he’s not invited to join them. Maurice is less than pleased. In addition, Gil’s journalistic sleuthing is starting to uncover some of George’s past.

I really liked this movie. I forgot how wonderfully silky a villain Rathbone could be, and he always does it with panache. He’s great in this. Unlike some other crime thrillers of the era I recently watched, this movie is neither convoluted nor overpopulated, which works to its advantage. Director Tim Whelan keeps things moving relatively well throughout. The only thing that started to feel trying was an extended game of cat-and-mouse in the third act, although part of my irritation with it may stem from the copy I was watching. This film doesn’t have a proper video release, I was watching a DVD-r made from a print in a personal collection. The picture is a bit soft, night scenes disappear in blackness (only a few, thankfully), it suffers from extremely low volume audio, and the audio went badly out of synch in the third reel, a maddening distraction.

The aforementioned hypnosis scene is a highlight of the film. Setting a metronome in motion, George sits at the piano and begins to play a tune. Linda falls into a trance and the melody being softly played on the piano is the perfect accompaniment for what transpires next. A wonderful scene, as is a later one, again with Rathbone and Drew, talking on the balcony where she had earlier attempted suicide. It’s then that we get some backstory on Dr. George Sebastian.

The greatest mystery of the movie, however, revolves around the relationship between George and Maurice. At the start, one could say Maurice was a servant to George and his wife, he’s the one dispatched to Dr. Downer. Later, however, it’s obvious he’s not a servant, the relationship between the two men is much more. Obviously they’re partners in crime and long-time friends. Lovers? Perhaps. During a contentious argument, Maurice complains that George was always “the brains,” implying George is the dominant personality in their relationship. Dr. Sebastian may be the professional with a degree, but Maurice has pragmatism, street-smarts, and cool grit on his side, which he uses to shift the dynamic, so who’s really the dominant personality?

The acting overall is good, although early on, Ellen Drew’s wide, darting eyes to signal the crazy was a bit over done. Since it’s mainly set in New York City among the well-to-do, we see women in long gowns and men in tails interacting in swanky apartments. And let’s not forget the fascinatingly louche duo of Rathbone and Kosleck casually lounging on couches while discussing their next crime.

In spite of the problems with the copy I watched, I give The Mad Doctor a solid 7.5 out of 10. (The audio file below is a full synopsis with spoilers. Raw notes made immediately after viewing)

The Mad Doctor synopsis/review

The Mummy’s Ghost (1943)

Even higher institutions of learning aren’t safe from the centuries old Kharis, who causes chaos on a college campus.

As the fourth installment of Universal’s mummy franchise begins, the aged and tremor-ridden High Priest of Arkham, Andoheb, gives instructions to his replacement, Yousef Bey, tasking him with finding and returning Kharis and the Princess Ananka to Egypt. He also tells him Kharis is still alive and can be summoned by brewing up some tana leaves during a full moon.

In an unnamed college in Mapleton, Massachusetts, Prof. Norman discusses the mummy and its history with his skeptical class. He insists it’s all true, he saw the mummy in action himself. One of the students, Tom Hervey, is dating another student, Amina Mansouri, a woman of Egyptian descent who comes over a bit flakey whenever Egypt comes up in conversation.

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That night in his study, Prof. Norman has his eureka! moment and starts boiling the nine tana leaves, what with it being a full moon and all. Kharis emerges from wherever the hell he’s been hiding out and heads for the professor’s. As he passes Amina’s, his shadow falls across the sleeping woman through her window. She gets out of bed, then seems to sleepwalk in the same direction. Kharis makes it to Norman’s and kills the professor, pausing to take a swig of the tana leaf brew. Standing across the street, Amina sees him leave and promptly faints, suddenly sporting a streak of white in her dark hair.

The police investigate the murder, and Amina, found nearby, can’t explain why she was in the vicinity. When Tom hears of the event, he rushes over and, though alarmed, says nothing about the hair color change.

That night, Yousef Bey uses the tana leaves to summon Kharis. Despite a murderer in their midst, Tom, with his dog Peanut in tow, parks on a secluded road for a chat with Amina. She comes over strange again when Kharis’ shadow flits past and Peanut starts yapping. Kharis inexplicably heads to a farm and kills the owner when the man goes to check on his own barking canine. The intrepid sheriff is on it, organizing either a posse or neighborhood watch with the town’s menfolk.

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Yousef Bey pays a visit to the Scripps Museum and hides in the Egyptian room housing the wrapped remains of Ananka. Once the museum closes, Kharis joins him for what is presumably a ritual. Unfortunately, when Kharis reaches out to touch Ananka, the bandages collapse; there are no remains. Bey says the princess has been reincarnated, they have to find her, she’ll have the mark. Kharis pitches a fit, trashing the room, which draws the attention of the night watchman. It’s another kill for Kharis.

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The sheriff decides to set a trap for the mummy by reenacting the events leading up to Prof. Norman’s murder. Tom plans on taking Amina to New York, against the sheriff’s orders not to leave town, and leaves his dog with her for the night. Kharis follows the tana leaves, and this time, meets the mesmerized Amina outside. He takes off with her and word spreads of the abduction, with the incessantly yipping Peanut, Tom, and the posse following.

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No mincing words; this movie is terrible and a struggle to sit through. The characters are uninteresting, and there’s quite a few noticeable day for night shots, which detract from the many outdoor scenes. Why the mummy’s lame arm is suddenly usable when he needs to carry Amina is beyond me. Don’t get me started on the college students who look to be about thirty-five, and the less said about the barking Peanut the better. The acting is forgettable; not awful, but not memorable, except for John Carradine as Yousef Bey (try not to think of The Ten Commandments when he starts praying to the gods of Egypt). Lon Chaney Jr. shuffles along as Kharis, something we see a lot of, Kharis walking, walking…and walking (padding out the run-time, no doubt).

I did like the scene of Kharis’ temper tantrum in the museum, not to mention the shot of the security guard reading a Detective magazine while listening to a Suspense or Inner Sanctum type show on the radio in his office. Yousef Bey’s eventual hide-out, an abandoned mill, was visually interesting, especially the steep ramp with rails to the shack up top. The other thing I liked I can’t mention as it serves as a spoiler, but it was well done and added a neat twist to the proceedings. A dog of a movie, I give it a 4 out of 10, most of it going to Carradine.

Level of engagement when writing

While doing a stream of consciousness recording last night, I began talking about my novel-in-hiatus, as well as another project, and some valuable insight emerged. I started talking about the new approach I undertook to rework another old manuscript.

Several weeks ago, I sat down with a notebook to brainstorm ideas to develop an early draft of another book (I plot or plan a story to have a good foundation, the skeleton and muscle, so to speak. Once that exists, the fleshing out and dressing up can occur more spontaneously). I made the decision to be methodical, clinical, and, most importantly, dispassionate as I worked. This approach helped. I’d write something down and was able to coolly and logically say, “that’s good,” “no, that’s not right,” or “this has potential and could possibly work.” At one point, I remember becoming excited about an idea, the old “yes! That’s awesome! I’m really — ” Disengage, my analytical brain said, be more workmanlike, and I listened.

This was an interesting process, not being emotionally invested. It’s because of that investment that I believe I (and other authors) flame out. In my case, I put the characters in my hiatus novel through the wringer; it’s emotionally and psychologically grinding. It’s exhausting for me because I became so invested in their world and their “lives.” I believe I have to be emotionally invested if the story is going to have any semblance of legitimacy or plausibility. That insistence on my part may be detrimental, along with an annoying perfectionist streak that only appears when writing.

I write third person omniscient; that fly on the wall, observing events and characters, but also possessing the ability to jump inside their heads. I see what they do, but at the same time, know their motivations, and what they think and feel (physically and emotionally). It’s a lot of baggage. Not for me, personally, but when writing, I’m carrying theirs all at once. I’m the porter, the bellhop, weighted down with however many characters’ burdens, machinations, doubts, fears, etc. That takes big shoulders, but even so, I have to shake that off and take a break (and none of them tip!).

Still on the hiatus novel, it’s not like when I was doing the earliest draft, when the ideas came fast and furious and I just wrote them down. Now, it’s the hard work, rewriting. A lot of good came out of the rewrite, but it’s become a much more complex story. It’s draining. I was on a writing high when working that early draft, filled with yeah, this is good! enthusiasm,  (for what it was, it was okay). I didn’t have the long-term investment like I do now with this incarnation. I went deeper, into the heart and soul of it, burrowing down into its core. I realize I’ve been working on it for so long, with so many detailed notes, it’s become difficult to approach this novel dispassionately. I may have to detach myself from it in order to complete it, but even that’s a balancing act.

I used to see the advice of “write for yourself.” If I follow that, I can always let the novel lie and die. After all, I know how the story ends.

She-Wolf of London (1946)

A young bride-to-be suspects she’s a lycanthropic killer when a serious of mysterious attacks occur near her ancestral home.

Turn-of-the-century London. At Scotland Yard, Detective Latham speaks to the Inspector about a man attacked in the park. The victim survived, and reports it was a woman who did the deed. Latham entertains the idea it could be a werewolf. The Inspector thinks he’s crazy.

Engaged couple Phyllis Allenby and Barry Lanfield are enjoying a horseback ride in the park near the Allenby mansion and discussing their wedding set for the following week.

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They come across the cops investigating the crime scene. Phyllis gets squirrelly. They head for home. At the mansion, Phyllis’ cousin asks housekeeper Hannah, on her way to the market, to deliver a note which will be retrieved by her lover. Sure thing. Unfortunately, Carol’s mother, Martha, witnesses the hand-off and stops Hannah, demanding the note. Mother then ushers her daughter into the house and says she can never marry penniless artist Dwight Severin. She then explains they aren’t related to Phyllis. Martha was in love with George Allenby, but he married Phyllis’ mother and Martha married someone else. When her husband died, Martha became the housekeeper at the mansion, daughter in tow. Phyllis is the sole heir.

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When Barry and Phyllis return, the dogs bought for protection are menacing Phyllis, they don’t like her. That night, the dogs are riled up, putting Phyllis on edge. Aunt Martha stops by and offers to fix the poor girl a glass of warm milk to help her sleep. She heads to the kitchen, then Carol sweeps down intending to meet Dwight. She’s caught by Mama, who sends her up to bed before taking the milk to Phyllis. A little later, a cloaked figure exits the house. In the nearby park, a pair of constables hear the cry of someone in distress.

The following morning, Phyllis wakes to discover blood on her hands and mud on her slippers. When Auntie pops in to ask how she slept, her distraught niece shows her the incriminating evidence and wails it’s the Allenby curse (a vague curse never fully explained). Aunt Martha tells her to play it cool, act natural, especially in front of Carol.

At breakfast, Carol joins the two and reads aloud from the paper the news about a ten-year-old boy who was killed in the park the previous night. Phyllis freaks out. When Barry arrives later, Phyllis refuses to see her affianced. Det. Latham stops by for a brief talk with the lady of the house about the goings-on. That evening, the police are patrolling the park, including Latham, who keeps crying werewolf. Like the Inspector, the constables also think he’s crackers. The mystery woman slips from the house again and Latham is attacked, dropping dead before he can gasp out who assailed him.

 

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Carol offers a sympathetic ear to not-cousin cousin Phyllis, who doesn’t care to discuss her troubles. Carol goes out riding with Barry and suggests he disregard her mother and talk to Phyllis, which he does. He convinces his betrothed to go out for a drive, but she quickly gets on the Allenby curse nonsense again, without revealing details of the nocturnal happenings.

Another night, another expedition, but the woman is followed by Barry. They head to the park, which is crawling with cops. A lot of misdirection ensues. A man is seen sitting on a park bench in the foggy night. Two officers run into Barry, who’s some big-wig lawyer. They hear the man shout out and rush to his aid. He explains he was attacked from behind, definitely by a woman, but he didn’t see the face, and remarks she was quite strong. Conveniently, Carol makes the scene, her lover Dwight being the man who was attacked. She explains they had a rendezvous. The police suggest they head to the station to sort things out.

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The following night, Phyllis heads to Carol’s room with a bundle, saying she needs to talk. A short time later, as Carol is heading out of the house, she’s stopped by her mother. Going to meet her lover? How brazen! No, to the police. No, she can’t do that, think of poor Phyllis!

Obviously, there is no werewolf in this, but, rather, a female murderer, making it a mystery instead of a horror flick. Directed by Jean Yarbrough (House of Horrors), the cast is enjoyable; June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost in Space) is the wide-eyed ingenue Phyllis, and Don Porter (Gidget) plays her intended Barry Lanfield. Sara Haden props things up as stern, but concerned, matriarch Aunt Martha. Jan Wiley, as Carol, and Eily Malyon as Hannah round out the cast of Allenby Hall residents. As mentioned, a lot of misdirection is going on, with cagey glances and questionable behavior casting suspicion on the four ladies living in the house. Will Carol make a play for Barry? Is Phyllis a maniacal killer? Is Hannah being devious? Just how much does Aunt Martha know? The nighttime park scenes are appropriately foggy and the interior of the mansion has some nice baroque details. The middle of the movie can seem a bit tedious, but it’s worth sitting through for the conclusion, including a key scene in the finale that makes use of Dutch angles, to great effect. I rate it 4.5 out of 10.