Cult Cinema Book Review ‘2

Hello Friends!

I’m back again on YouTube reviewing some more books on Cult Cinema.

Books under discussion are:

Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island – John Lemay
To ‘B’ or Not to ‘B’: A Film Actor’s Odyssey – Robert Clarke with Tom Weaver
The Dr Phibes Companion – Justin Humphreys etc.

Please feel free to ‘Like, Share and Subscribe’ if you enjoy the video and I always welcome comments.

Boys of the City (1940)

Boys of the City (1940)‘Five million guys thumbin’ their way along the road, and we gotta pick up a judge.’

A reformed gangster takes a gang of New York City hoodlums to camp to keep them out of trouble. Along the way, they offer a lift to a stranded judge and his daughter who are looking to lay low at his country place before he is tried on bribery charges…

The second in the series of East Side Kids comedies from the cut-price Monogram Studios features the gang of wise-cracking delinquents in very familiar territory: the old dark house mystery. Yes, it’s the usual menu of sliding bookcases, secret passages, mistaken identity and dubious hauntings in this hour-long ‘B’ picture produced by the notoriously cash conscious Sam Katzman.

It’s summer in the city, and it’s too hot to do anything but sit around moaning, uncork a fireplug and get into a scuffle with an Italian street vendor. Pretty serious gang behaviour in 1940s Hollywood. Facing time in Juvie Hall, they are bailed out by former mobster Knuckles Dolan (David O’Brien), whose brother Danny (Bobby Jordan) is the head of the gang. Big brother offers to take the boys out of the city, and the authorities are only too happy to see the backs of them. So the gang pack their golf clubs (really?) and head off down the highway, making for summer camp and a nice spot of fishing. But, in transit, they run across stranded Judge Malcolm Parker (Forrest Taylor), his pretty ward, Louise (Inna Guest) and bodyguard Simp (Vince Barnett).

Boys of the City (1940)

‘I’m sorry, but Mr. Lugosi is not at home…’

Taylor’s country place is nearby, and O’Brien is only happy to offer the trio a lift, especially when he meets Guest. To no-one’s great surprise, the house turns out to be of the ‘old, dark’ variety and comes with its own Mrs Danvers lookalike, Agnes (Minerva Urecal). She holds a long-standing grudge against Taylor, who she believes hounded his late wife to death. Why he hasn’t discharged her in the intervening years is one of the plot points that William Lively’s screenplay fails to address. Another thing the gang don’t realise is that Taylor is up on criminal charges due to his mob contacts and some bad men are keen to rub him out before he can testify.

What follows are the expected spooky shenanigans with the kids running around from room to room making lots of noise, Guest getting kidnapped by the masked villain, a trip through a secret passage and someone dancing around the family graveyard in a white sheet. The mystery, if the threadbare plot can be elevated to that description, is not difficult to work out and the resolution of the killer’s identity doesn’t make much sense anyway. O’Brien (a regular on the series in the early days) is probably the unlikeliest reformed gangster in cinema history, and there’s some vaguely racist stereotyping imposed on black gang member Sunshine Sammy Morrison. Yes, he’s the ‘scaredy-cat’ folks and likes nothing better than a slice of watermelon (sigh).

Boys of the City (1940)

‘You didn’t take that call from Mr Katzman, did you?’

The only real bright spot here is the performance of Urecal, who delivers her dialogue in wonderfully sepulchral tones. ‘There is never any warmth where the dead do not rest’ she intones deadpan at our cowering heroes. As a contract player for Monogram, she supplied creepy support to Bela Lugosi in ‘The Corpse Vanishes’ (1942) and ‘The Ape Man’ (1943) among many other low-budget assignments. Later on, she worked steadily on television until her death in 1966, even fronting her own series ‘The Adventures of Tugboat Annie’ in 1958.

The other notable presence here is director Joseph H Lewis, who is celebrated nowadays for bringing a sense of visual style to many a low budget production. There’s not much evidence of his skill here, however, apart from a few camera flourishes and some good set-ups in the few serious moments. His subsequent career included highly effective film noirs such as ‘My Name Is Julia Ross’ (1945)and ‘So Dark The Night’ (1946), but his reputation rests mostly on two classics of that genre, ‘Gun Crazy’ (1949) and ‘The Big Combo’ (1955).

Boys of the City (1940)

‘Yeah?’

The East Side Kids began life on Broadway as ‘The Dead End Kids’, stars of Sidney Kingsley’s smash hit play which ran for two years. When the property was optioned for a movie makeover, director William Wyler brought half a dozen of the ‘kids’ to Hollywood (including Jordan and Leo Gorcey), feeling that no local talent could convey the authenticity that the story required. The movie was another hit, and the kids were put into more features as a group, including box office juggernaut ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’ (1938) with James Cagney. However, bad behaviour on set led to their contracts being cancelled (not for the last time!) and some of the revolving lineup became ‘The Little Tough Guys’ at Universal. In 1940, Monogram producer Katzman picked two of them to star in ‘East Side Kids’ (1940) and a franchise was born.

This entry was the second in the series and must have been popular as the studio chose to recycle the plot on several occasions. The kids shared the screen with horror icon Bela Lugosi in ‘Spooks Run Wild’ (1941) and ‘Ghosts On The Loose’ (1943), which also featured a young Ava Gardner! It was also rinsed out and repurposed as ‘Crazy Knights’ (1944) with Shemp Howard and Billy Gilbert.

Boys of the City (1940)

The Ice Bucket Challenge is older than you think…

It is noticeable here, however, that the gang’s usual schtick isn’t wholly present and correct. Here, they are still definitely an ensemble, even if Jordan and Gorcey get a greater share of the screentime. Later on, after Jordan had departed and Huntz Hall (one of the original Dead End Kids) had returned to the fold, the films became more of a showcase for the Gorcey and Hall double act, with the other members relegated to supporting roles.

Some movie fans can’t bear five minutes in the company of these scene-stealing schlubs, and that’s pretty understandable. This is a weak, thin comedy that offers only the occasional moment of enjoyment.

 

Pacto diabólic/Diabolical Pact (1969)

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)‘Will it be necessary to maintain a supply of potential victims?’

An ageing scientist searches for an elixir of youth so that he can carry on his scientific researches long into the future. His quest results in a formula derived from a substance found in the human eye, but his decision to experiment on himself has unfortunate consequences…

Late 1960s ‘South of the Border’ horror flick with horror icon John Carradine taking the lead. The direction is in the hands of experienced filmmaker Jaime Salvador, who had more than 30 years of work behind the megaphone. The fact that the results lack imagination, chills and quality are probably not that much of a surprise, but there’s also an absence of the more outlandish elements that make much of Mexican cult cinema of the period so enjoyable.

The film opens in the way that all movies, of whatever genre, should begin; with John Carradine seated behind a desk, introducing the film to the audience, accompanied by a skull named Jack. It’s a brilliantly pointless prologue as it doesn’t inform the story in any way, or even serve to pad the running time for more than a minute. It does provide Carradine with an opportunity to play to the gallery a little, which, of course, makes it essential viewing for anyone with a love of cult cinema. From there, we meet the veteran star in his role as scientist Dr Halbeck, busy at the operating table with his young assistant, Alfonso (Andrés García).

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

‘Never fear, Yorick, we’re doing ‘Hamlet’ next week…’

What are they up to? Noting special; just extracting the eyes from a condemned woman (Silvia Villalobos) who is about to be executed. How Carradine has permission to do this, I don’t know, but it is nice to see García following correct surgical protocol by lighting up a cigarette the moment they finish. It’s also good to see the guillotine employed as the chosen tool of state justice. To be fair to the filmmakers, it’s never clearly established where and when the film is supposed to be taking place, but I’m reasonably sure it’s not during the French Revolution.

Carradine needs the eyes because they obtain a substance vital to his experiments into an elixir of youth. As he explains to Garcia, it’s essential to the advance of science, and the human race in general, that he can carry on his great works for as long as possible. However, the sudden return to the household of his pretty young ward Miss Dinora (Regina Torné) makes us suspect that his motives may not be entirely selfless, after all. The girl has been brought up in Carradine’s care after the death of her father, and he’s enrolled her at a local science college. She’s also engaged to the handsome García.

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

‘Perhaps it was time for another manicure…’

Then, in the space of a minute, director Salvador tips his hand and tells us exactly how the rest of his story is going to pan out. Firstly, we discover that Torné’s father was Carradiune’s old mate, Dr Jekyll! Then, Carradine tells his butler that a previously unmentioned nephew is coming to stay and ‘he’s to have full run of the house.’ Yes, it’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale all over again, with only a few and very minor, variations.

Exhibiting the usual sound sense of scientific procedure, Carradine experiments on himself and transforms into the young and handsome Frederick (Miguel Ángel Álvarez), allowing the veteran character actor to disappear from proceedings for almost the entire rest of the movie. Now, you might assume that Álvarez is merely a younger version of Carradine’s character, but that appears not to be the case at all. Instead, we allegedly have two separate personalities in the one body with Carradine able to berate his youthful incarnation via the somewhat ineffectual medium of the off-screen voiceover.

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

He always preferred an eyeball with his Martini…

There’s plenty for him to complain about too because Álvarez is driven to kill! Yes, after an hour of passion with a burlesque dancer, he starts to develop the old ‘hairy hands’! It is an original excuse not to hang around afterwards, I suppose, but he returns almost at once to harvest her eyes when he realises his transformation into a monster is out of control. How he gets her eyes home in a medically hygienic manner, I have no idea. I guess he just pops them into his pocket. And why is he turning into a monster, anyway? Was that possible side-effect listed in the accompanying documentation from the pharmacist? And did he contact his professional healthcare specialist to report it?

Carradine’s continued absence from proceedings begins to worry the rest of the cast (as well as the audience) and Torné is especially suspicious when she discovers that the old professor has rearranged his bookshelves! A sure sign of dastardly intent, if ever there was one. A quick trip to the attic turns up some of her father’s old papers and, all of a sudden, García has worked out exactly what’s going on. Without any basis for his conclusions whatsoever. But his immediate elevation to the status of ‘world’s greatest detective’ is short-lived as five minutes later he is completely clueless again. Not to worry, he’s arrived at the solution (again!) by the end of the following scene. All this is news to Torné who blithely leaves a visiting friend alone in the professor’s library to go and fetch ‘a sample.’ Álvarez attacks and drugs the girl, removes her eyes, make his potion, drinks it and disposes of her body in the furnace all in the time it takes Torné to get back! Smart work, that. Álvarez is on form later on, too, when the missing girl’s sister turns up to make enquiries. He offers her a lift to the local cop shop and on the way suavely declares that he’s going to kill her. Never mind the coachman!

Pacto diabólico/Diabolical Pact (1969)

‘If only I hadn’t put the last leg of that accumulator on the 3:30 at Market Rasen…’

If this all sounds ‘so bad it’s good’ then the film certainly does have some wonderful moments. Unfortunately, with Carradine MIA for long periods, it also drags a lot through most of its length. There are also some questionable aspects to the monster makeup, which becomes progressively more ugly and ridiculous as time passes. In certain scenes, Álvarez is undoubtedly performing in ‘blackface’, something that rings more than a few alarm bells in this more enlightened era. There’s also a constant hum and squeaks of electronic equipment in all the laboratory scenes, which quickly becomes quite aggravating. It’s also somewhat curious, considering that Carradine’s entire scientific apparatus is a table full of jars, beakers and test tubes.

The highlight of the entire picture is a brief scene just before the hour mark when Carradine momentarily regains control of his body. Waving his hairy hands about like a manic windmill, he delivers a subtle examination of a soul in torment through a combination of very silly faces and flinging pieces of half-chewed scenery into the back row of the auditorium. It’s a tour de force of ham, and over far too quickly. Much in the manner of the late Boris Karloff, Carradine signed on the dotted line for a bunch of low-budget, Mexican productions in the late 1960s, so perhaps his lack of screen time here meant that he was off shooting another project at the same time. Although it’s more likely, he was putting in some work at a local bar or out at the track. By his own admission, he took a lot of work because he liked ‘liquor, women and playing the ponies.’

A little Carradine goes a long way, but unfortunately, there’s not quite enough to go around here.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)‘Bombs exploding, men falling dead, drugged cigars, what kind of place is this I’d like to know? A gentleman’s house or a chamber of ‘orrors?’

Private detective Sexton Blake receives a coded message from Hong Kong. The courier is killed before he can speak, but the crime fighter identifies the culprits as the secret criminal organisation known as the Black Quorum. He determines to smash the organisation, but finds his efforts complicated by the presence of a glamorous French agent…

The adventures of Sexton Blake featured in a wide variety of British and international publications from 1893 to 1978, comprising more than 4,000 stories by some 200 different authors. The first was by Harry Blyth (writing as Hal Meredeth) who cast Blake as a generic 19th Century sleuth, but it was not long before other scribes turned him into a cut-price Sherlock Holmes, even giving him lodgings at Baker Street! His first big-screen appearance was in a 12-minute short film in 1909, and there were more than a dozen further appearances in the silent days, all of which appear to be lost.

British producer George King acquired the film rights in the 1930s with the plan of making a series of pictures around the character. He’d gained notoriety, and a measure of wealth, through the efficient delivery of low-budget films and was mainly known for the melodramas starring theatrical actor Tod Slaughter, most notably ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ (1935). However, this particular project was cut from a distinctly different cloth, having only a little in common with the theatrical ‘barnstormers’ that had been the stock in trade of the director and star.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)

‘I say! This ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is jolly racy stuff!’

Englishman in Hong Kong, Granite Grant (David Farrar), has a problem. His activities have come to the attention of the Black Quorum, the ‘greatest crime organisation of the century’. It’s a puzzle how they managed to identify a top agent like Farrar when his undercover methods include sitting in a hotel lobby behind a raised newspaper and talking out of the corner of his mouth. But identify him they do, and an assassination attempt leaves him forced to entrust a vital communique to associate Duvall (Billy Watts). This coded message is directed (for some reason never adequately explained) to a private detective in London, Sexton Blake (George Curzon).

Meanwhile, back in old Blighty, Curzon is taking a break from his crime-fighting activities to attend a sale of postage stamps at a local auction house. Somewhat bizarrely, this gathering of seemingly harmless philatelists proves to be a cauldron of intrigue and villainy and the place where the hierarchy of the Black Quorum meet. Calling the shots is the fabulously wealthy Michael Larron (Slaughter) who only has eyes for the pretty Mademoiselle Julie (Greta Gynt); the plus one of his lieutenant and all-around ‘bad hat’ Max Fleming (Charles Oliver). Coincidentally, Gynt and Curzon have crossed paths in the past, and he immediately suspects she is on an assignment of some kind. How a private detective happens to know all these secret agents is something that A R Rawlinson’s screenplay completely fails to explain.

‘There’s a lot of people here. Shall we talk a bit louder?’

Curzon and Gynt proceed to discuss Watts’ imminent arrival in London with his important message, Curzon even providing the details of when the spy is expected at his rooms. Carrying out this conversation openly in the middle of a crowded auction room exhibits some of the finest traits of discretion and spy-craft I’ve ever witnessed, but somehow they are overheard. As a result, Watts is assassinated by blow dart within moments of his arrival, leaving behind the coded message from Farrar. The murder allows us to get acquainted with the local plod: Inspector Bramley (Norman Pierce), whose investigations make Dennis Hoey’s Inspector Lestrade from the Rathbone-Bruce ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series look like a positive Einstein. Still, Curzon’s not much better; setting fire to the coded message to light his pipe!

Decoding the message due to a brilliantly contrived (and completely ridiculous) coincidence, Curzon is off to the Quorum’s secret headquarters in Caversham Square, along with tiresome sidekick Tiinker (Tony Sympson). He functions as comedy relief and feeds stupidly obvious to questions to Curzon so he can answer them in a suitably dramatic manner. At Quorum Central, Curzon falls into the most elaborate, and strangely specific, trap in cinema history; a hidden hatch in the floor of a room full of waxworks posed as if they were gamblers in a casino. I have no clue as to what other function this room could serve. From there, it’s the usual heroic struggle against the machinations of the Quorum’s head man ‘The Snake’ (just who could he be?) and a race against time to save Gynt from a roomful of lazy slithering reptiles.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)

The initiation at the Rotary Club was more hardcore than he had expected…’

Regarded as part of the cinematic journey of Slaughter and producer-director King, this film is certainly the odd one out, and the reason was probably economic. The duo’s first collaboration, ‘Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn’ (1934) had been made at a time when investment wasn’t hard to find. The British government had introduced a ‘quota’ system to stimulate the homegrown industry and films such as Alexander Korda’s ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ (1933) had enjoyed great success on other shores. Unfortunately, that kind of popularity proved to be the exception rather than the rule and, by 1937, the money was starting to dry up.

It was in these conditions that the partnership chose to abandon their usual (and very British) melodramas in favour of something with more of an American flavour. The finished article shares some DNA with the Hollywood serials of the time, even if the feature format doesn’t allow for a lot of cliff-hangers. Still, there is an attempt to present the villain as a masked criminal with a secret identity, decking him out in robes with a silver reptile emblazoned on the front. His co-conspirators also have their faces hidden under black hoods, TV screens keep track of the street outside the secret HQ, and there’s a ‘death chamber’ of deadly snakes. Yes, it is all a bit half-hearted, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)

‘Suspicious? Me?’

Slaughter’s performance is also interesting. Gone is the gibbering madman and the histrionics of his previous villainous portrayals. Instead, he favours a sly, creepy efficiency that is far more business-like than usual, even if flashes of his old excesses do peek out from time to time. This was probably Slaughter tailoring his performance to fit the material; after all, he returned to his cackling ways in his subsequent films. However, during the break after his last collaboration with King, ‘The Ticket of Leave Man’ (1937), Slaughter had acted for two other directors. Although ‘Darby and Joan’ (1937) is a lost film, John Baxter’s ‘Song of the Road’ (1937) has survived. Unfortunately, Slaughter’s typically over the top performance as a lecherous gypsy stands out like a sore thumb in what is otherwise a low-key celebration of the simplicity of rural life. That experience may have played on his mind.

Despite the general restraint and an absence of serious action, there are still some wonderful (and often very British) anachronisms to enjoy. The Quorum all wear hoods at their meetings, which you might reasonably assume is to keep their identities hidden from each other, until they just remove them about half a minute into the scene! Their disguises serve absolutely no purpose, other than to justify the film’s title, and provide some suitable dramatic ‘unmasking’ moments.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)

‘We’ll have tea and biscuits, and then perhaps you would care to see the Death Chamber?’

Curzon warns Gynt that she needs to be very careful taking on an international crime syndicate; explaining that he’s ‘a very busy man’ and ‘may not always have the chance to come to your rescue.’ How very 1930s you might say, but, in one of the story’s few surprising developments, it’s actually Gynt who saves Curzon, and ribs him about it afterwards! Although he does return the favour later on, of course. Sympson’s sidekick is written as an eager, overenthusiastic youngster who tries hard but often gets things wrong due to his painful inexperience. Shame the actor was more than 30 years old at the time of filming!

King’s plans to turn ‘Sexton Blake’ into a series never materialised, and he and Slaughter returned to their melodramatic roots. The character featured in further movies and appeared on British TV in the 1960s and 1970s. The most notable projects were probably the films ‘Meet Sexton Blake!’ (1945) and ‘The Echo Murders’ (1945) if only because the title role was taken by Farrar, who appears here in the first act as wounded spy Granite Grant.

Farrar went from strength to strength after that, and he’s best remembered these days for his work with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger on the classic ‘Black Narcissus’ (1946) and as the lead in their low-key bomb disposal drama ‘The Small Back Room’ (1949). Norwegian actress Gynt also had a long and successful career, her most notable appearance to fans of cult cinema being opposite horror icon Bela Lugosi in ‘Dark Eyes of London’ (1939).

An old-fashioned and mildly enjoyable criminal enterprise, but without Slaughter at full throttle, it feels more than a little muted.

 

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit (1969)

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)‘A humble person like me gets very confused in front of a goddess.’

On his first night in Los Angeles, a young Italian reporter is beaten up in his hotel room by two men. They are looking for an old friend of his who has become the public face of a multi-national chemical company since arriving in America. When the friend subsequently dies in a car wreck, the reporter does not believe it was an accident and begins to investigate…

Borderline Giallo thriller that resembles more of a Film Noir at times, with lone wolf Robert Hoffman investigating a pool of suspects in his late friend’s death and stirring up a hornet’s nest in the process. Director and co-writer Alberto De Martino was more experienced in Westerns, and war pictures and his debut in this new arena is sadly nothing to write home about.

Handsome journalist Paolo (Hoffman) arrives in L.A. following old friend Giulio (Roger Fritz) who has made quite a splash Stateside, becoming a media celebrity as the spokesman for Chemical International. On his first night, he’s beaten up by two goons in his hotel room. They are looking for Fritz and push the unfortunate reporter’s face into a pool of his own vomit. Not long afterwards, Fritz is burned to a crisp when his car goes off-road. Hoffman investigates with the help of his editor (John Ireland) and soon finds out that Fritz was on the outs with his corporate sponsors. As he pieces together the details of his late friend’s life, all the managing directors seem to have a motive for wanting Fritz out of the way.

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)

‘What do you mean this film isn’t in 3-D?’

From this basic setup, De Martino chooses to provide two main story threads; Hoffman’s investigation on the one hand and extended flashbacks to Fritz’s life in America on the other. We learn that Fritz was a union activist back in Italy with a wife Luisa (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and daughter back home. However, Fritz was soon corrupted by his American success, enjoying sexual relations with company boss Victoria Brighton (Dorothy Malone), her promiscuous daughter Gloria (Romina Power) and executive secretary Mary (Luciana Paluzzi). These frequent flashbacks are introduced in a ‘puzzle-piece’ type structure, but amount to little beyond showing Fritz’s moral deterioration in the wake of his sudden success.

Meanwhile, Hoffman wanders about from place to place and suspect to suspect; clashing with gay executive Frank Donovan (Frank Wolff) and beating up his goons, one of whom gets his face shoved into a cat litter tray as payback for the vomit incident earlier in the film. He also attends an endless hippie orgy with Power and flirts with the unhappy Malone. Fritz’s diary goes missing, and a dubious tip-off ends with Ireland getting fatally sideswiped by a speeding car. It all ends with an utterly unsurprising revelation and a moral lesson that comes over as simplistic and trite. The weak resolution could have been forgiven if the film was an exciting and fun ride, but those are two qualities that are entirely lacking.

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)

‘You couldn’t pick up my laundry, could you?’

The one bright spark here is the performance of Malone. She’s terrific as the middle-aged fashionista still vulnerable and looking for love, but hardened and cynical from life experience. If only the film has been centred on her, things could have been very different. Unfortunately, her screen time is limited, and we’re left in the presence of the robotic Hoffman, who is about as charismatic as wallpaper paste. Elsewhere, Ireland and Paluzzi are wasted in nothing roles and Power’s hippie chick is trying way too hard to be cute. Yes, De Martino is trying to show us the cold, superficial world of wealth and success, but the audience needs to retain some sympathy and engagement with at least one of the protagonists. It also doesn’t help that the film asks us to invest in a half-baked romance between Hoffman and Paluzzi when the two performers stare at each other like they’re looking at yesterday’s furniture.

The film has also dated a little, what with Bruno Nicolai’s overdone score and De Martino’s over-busy camera. The director was already credited with peplum adventures like ‘The Invincible Gladiator’ (1961)Perseus Against The Monsters’ (1963) and Hercules vs The Giant Warriors/Il trionfo di Ercole’ (1964). He also tried his hand at Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospys such as Upperseven, l’uomo da uccidere/The Spy With Ten Faces’ (1966) and Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966). There was Exorcist rip-off L’anticristo/The Antichrist’ (1974), Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) (with Kirk Douglas!) and, best of all, bad movie classic ‘The Pumaman’ (1980).

The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili (1969)

The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis reunion wasn’t working out…’

It seems that every film made in Italy in the late 60s featuring a little nudity, imported American stars and a mystery plot is considered a Giallo film by some. This example is a marginal case, indeed, coming over as more of a conspiracy thriller, but without the thrills. Or much of a conspiracy. At times, it seems little more than an extended Network TV episode or a pilot show.

If you are a Giallo completist then, by all means, check this out. But don’t expect very much.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)‘Put on your show in a place like Gorgonzola. They won’t mind the smell.’

Two washed-up fight promoters overhear a scientist talking about his time machine. Seeing a chance to clean up by betting on future sports events, they use the device, only to end up in Ancient Greece where they tangle with sorcery and legendary heroes…

Silly, knockabout comedy which may not quite qualify as an outright spoof of the muscleman craze ignited by Steve Reeves’ ‘Hercules’ (1958) but certainly takes some affectionate jabs at the genre. It’s a measure of how popular these pictures
had become in such a short time that the Italian public was obviously prepared to accept their legendary heroes getting the same treatment that Abbott and Costello dished out to the iconic Universal Monsters in the post-war years.

Things are not going well for wheeler-dealers Rusteghin (Raimondo Vianello) and Comendatore (Mario Carotenuto). Local investors are more than a little unimpressed by their latest venture: an evening of midget wrestling. Facing mounting debts, and some angry dwarfs, the hapless team seem out of ideas until they overhear a conversation in the street about a time machine. A little housebreaking later and they’re going ‘back to the future’ to check out next week’s race results. Unfortunately, the resulting trip plunges then into the dim and distant mythological past. Oh, and it also sends them a few hundred miles from Milan to Mycenae in Greece!

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

‘I’m not sure about the flux capacitor on this…’

Landing outside the Imperial Palace, they are immediately arrested and taken before King Eurysteus (Gino Buzzanca). This monarch is more concerned with marrying Princess Dejanira (the lovely Liana Orfei) than anything so inconvenient as ruling the kingdom and fancies his chance now that her boyfriend Hercules (Frank Gordon) is missing in action. The legendary strongman is off dealing with a pesky cyclops who has been ravaging the countryside and has kidnapped two bumbling fishermen (Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia) to be a light snack before lunch. Thinking that the time travellers are friends of the legendary hero, Buzzanca orders them thrown in the alligator pit, but Orfei rescues them in the nick of time.

After a failed escape, our less than dynamic duo are set to be human torches but win the King’s favour by curing his toothache and teaching his prim and proper dancing girls the Cha-Cha-Cha! (One of the film’s few amusing moments). The downside to their sudden success is that our merry monarch wants a champion who can defeat the returning Gordon and thinks that they can deliver one. After failing in their efforts to train the local talent, Vianello and Carotenuto go on the lam where they run into the sulky Maciste (Kirk Morris) who is trying fight off the unwelcome attentions of bumbling sorceress Circe (Bice Valori). Our heroes hatch a cunning plan to match the two strongmen against each other in the ring and regain their time machine during the fight but, predictably enough, things don’t go according to plan.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

Don’t get too excited, there’s less than five minutes of the film left…

This knockabout farce is a harmless enough experience, but the negative aspects on display do outweigh the positives by quite a wide margin. There just aren’t many laughs in Marcello Marchesi and Vittorio Metz’s predictable script with few surprises and little invention. The central conceit of a battle between the two legendary heroes is barely realised at all. Morris is almost wholly sidelined, which is ironic considering that he’d just played the role in to box office success in ‘Il trionfo di Maciste/The Triumph of Maciste’ (1961). More outings in the part followed for Morris over the next couple of years, as well as starring appearances as both Samson and Hercules in other projects!

The film’s only real energy and fun comes from Valori’s turn as the amorous (but incompetent) sorceress who has a serious complex about being shorter than her slave girls. There are occasional other amusing moments, such as Vianello and Carotenuto re-inventing the wheel (the Greeks having favoured a ‘square’ design) and the occasional cut to a ‘newscaster’ (Riccardo Paladini) who keeps us up to date with the hot stories in the empire. It’s is a pleasantly surreal touch, if a little out of place.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the tallest of them all?’

Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia went onto comedy superstardom as ‘Franco & Ciccio’ in their native Italy with the result that this film is often referred to as one of their comedy vehicles, but that’s not the case, despite their top billing when the film was reissued. This was only their fourth film together, and they are strictly supporting characters here, with their familiar schtick not quite perfected. In other words, Ciccio hadn’t watched quite enough Jerry Lewis movies yet. The duo went on to face off against Vincent Price in Mario Bava’s ‘Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs’ (1966) and a joint film career that stretched right the way until 1984 and eventually comprised over 100 features!

A weak attempt at mining comedy gold from the Italian muscleman genre that manages a couple of mildly amusing moments.

Alas and Alack (1915)

Alas and Alack (1915)‘While Fate keeps guard at her crystal gate, and her tears are the pearls of the ocean grey.’

An unhappy fisherman’s wife tells her young daughter a fairytale of thwarted love while the two sit on the rocky shore, staring out to sea. A rich man overhears the story and reflects on his own romantic troubles…

Short, silent subject that remains as a two-reel fragment of approximately 13 minutes, with approximately the last 6 minutes being lost. That’s quite unfortunate as it remains the first surviving appearance of future horror icon, Lon Chaney in one of his grotesque makeups, albeit in what is essentially a dream sequence. The story, written by Ida May Park, also has points of interest and it’s frustrating not knowing how it was resolved.

Fisherman’s wife Cleo Madison isn’t happy with the cards that life has dealt her. Living on a barren shore by the ocean, her one joy appears to be her fresh-faced infant daughter (Mary Kiernan). The days are long and uneventful while husband (Chaney) is out in his boat, and she longs for something more. When Kiernan asks her what makes the noise inside a sea shell, Madison begins to tell her a story of a Princess (Madison, again) who meets and falls in love with a handsome Prince (Arthur Shirley). Although he reciprocates her feelings, they are separated by a wicked fairy who summons the hunchback, Fate (Chaney, again). He kidnaps Madison and imprisons her inside a giant seashell.

Alas and Alack (1915)

🎵 I wish I was a fisherman, tumbling on the sea…🎶

Madison’s tale has been overheard by a rich man out for a stroll (Shirley, again) who is captivated by the tale and, more particularly, by the storyteller. When they meet, the attraction is obviously mutual and she give him some flowers before they part. Back on his offshore yacht, we discover that Shirley is also unlucky in love; married to a bored, indifferent woman, played by Margaret Whistler. The footage ends with Chaney returning from his day’s toil on the waves and Madison mending one of his nets, her mind obviously on other things.

Given the vintage of the film and the moral climate of the time, it’s hard to believe in a happy ending for Madison and Shirley – after all, they’re married to other people! – but it’s fascinating to see an early film like this address these kinds of issues. Madison’s story of the Princess being trapped in the shell is an obvious parallel of her own circumstances and, although Whistler is not a sympathetic character, she’s similarly stuck in an unfulfilling rut, albeit surrounded by the trappings of wealth. Ironically, the missing part of the film may well have settled these questions in an obvious and disappointing way. Perhaps the fisherman’s wife just misses her husband when is away and it’s all hearts and flowers when he walks through the door, thus reinforcing the sanctity of the family dynamic? On the other hand, perhaps he is a total blackguard, abusive and violent, and she is rescued by Shirley on a metaphorical white horse? The likelihood is we’ll never know, but it’s interesting to speculate.

Alas and Alack (1915)

‘Can you tell me the way to the nearest cathedral?’

At this point in his career, Chaney was slowly working his way up the film industry ladder. Although distributed by Universal, projects like this were still made by independents, this one a production of the Rex Motion Picture Company. Chaney had also been trying his hand at directing, turning out half a dozen short subjects that year, even penning the scripts for two of them, ‘The Oyster Dredger’ (1915) and ‘The Chimney’s Secret’ (1915). Although all of these films are unfortunately lost, the synopsis of ‘The Chimney’s Secret’ (1915) has survived, and it makes for interesting reading. Chaney crafted a leading role for himself that involved the use of his makeup skills, and it’s highly probable that the climax was a stab at the kind of ‘big reveal’ that made him a star four years later in ‘The Miracle Man’ (1919).

This film’s leading lady, Cleo Madison, was a product of the stage who found work at Universal in 1913 and became a star thanks to her leading performance in serial ‘The Trey o’ Hearts’ (1914) where she played the heroine, her evil twin sister and their mother! She began directing her own short pictures in 1915 and graduated to features, helming ‘Her Bitter Cup’ (1916) and ‘A Soul Enslaved’ (1916), both of which are well-regarded by modern critics. Rather than carrying on behind the megaphone, it seems she diverted her efforts into trying to form her own production company while still pursuing an acting career in films such as ‘The Romance of Tarzan’ (1918), a movie which is unfortunately lost. It’s rumoured that she suffered a nervous breakdown in 1922 due to overwork and, after a brief return two years later, she retired from the business. Madison was very vocal about the creative role of women in the film industry, which does make it interesting to speculate on what drew her to this film and how her participation might have influenced how the story turned out. Having noted that, the film was directed by a man, Joseph De Grasse.

Alas and Alack (1915)

‘Petrificus Totalus!’

As for Chaney, it was probably just another job, although one suspects that he relished the idea of delving into his makeup box to create the hunchback. Unfortunately, it’s hard to comment on the effectiveness of his work here as we don’t see the character close up. The film was released in October 1915, a few weeks before Chaney’s marriage to the former chorus girl, Hazel Hastings. This change of circumstances finally allowed him to provide a stable home environment for son, Creighton, who had spent much of his childhood at boarding school due to the problems between Chaney and his first wife, Cleva. So, regular work for Chaney was a must at this point in his life and his credits over the next few years reflect this, with over 40 productions before his breakthrough in ‘The Miracle Man’ (1919).

A must-see for Chaney completists, of course, but also an unusual relic of its time that reflects a more modern sensibility than might be expected.

Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters/Yôkai hyaku monogatari (1968)

Yokai Monsters 100 Monsters (1968)‘An umbrella monster licked my cheek with its long red tongue.’

A wealthy businessman plans to have a shrine torn down so he can build a brothel in its place. Opposition from local villagers is silenced by bribery and violence, but it is not only the human population that takes exception to his plans…

Unusual spook shenanigans from Japan, courtesy of director Kimiyoshi Yasuda and the Daiei Production Company. This strange mixture of folklore and samurai film was successful enough to spawn a trilogy, with bizarre sequel ‘Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare/Yôkai daisensô‘ (1968) followed by the somewhat underwhelming conclusion of ‘Journey with Ghost Along Yokaido Road/Along With Ghosts/Tôkaidô obake dôchû’ (1969).

Caretaker Gohei (Jun Hamamura) is outraged when a group of thugs led by Jusuke (Yoshio Yoshida) turn up at his village shrine and announce that ownership has fallen into the greasy hands of businessman Tajimaya (Takashi Kanda). He plans to demolish the monument, along with the adjoining tenement house and replace them with a brothel. Hamamura objects and is beaten to death. This act angers masterless samurai, Yasutaro (Jun Fujimaki), especially when he learns that Kanda has blackmailing former owner Jinbee (Tatsuo Hanabu) so he can get his paws on the older man’s daughter Okiku (Miwa Takada).

Yokai Monsters 100 Monsters (1968)

‘Looking for a good time, dearie?’

Eager to cement his relationship with the local officials he has bribed, Kanda holds a celebratory dinner. Entertainment is provided by a storyteller (Shôzô Hayashiya), who tells 100 tales, including one that involves a fisherman’s wife who turns into a demon with a long, snake-like neck. When the stories are completed, tradition dictates a cleansing ritual to ensure that Yokai (apparitions) do not appear afterwards. When Kanda discovers that the mysterious Fujimaki has attended the dinner, the ceremony is forgotten and things begin to get seriously weird.

Kanda’s idiot son, Shinkichi (Rookie Shin-ichi) begins drawing a strange, umbrella creature on the walls of his room and is more than a little surprised when it comes to life and licks his face. Soon, the house is filled with strange, otherworldly spirits and Kanda and his associates find themselves lost in a world of illusion and terror. Meanwhile, Fujimaki is also waiting to dish out some righteous justice with the edge of his blade.

Yokai Monsters 100 Monsters (1968)

‘Spare a few talents for an old ex-leper?’

By far, the most accomplished aspect of this odd tale of ghouls and ghosties are the monsters themselves. Realised through a mixture of outlandish, full-body costumes and puppetry, they have a grotesque, old-world charm and the scenes of their eerie, slow-motion dances are the highlights of the film. These FX are about as far from modern CGI as you can get, but their very practicality lends them a wonderfully bizarre reality that makes them both effective and memorable. Unfortunately, they only arrive in numbers with about 20 minutes of the film remaining.

Up until their appearance, what we have is a relatively standard Japanese drama, with the forces of an evil tyrant opposed by a single, heroic swordsman. The fight scenes and competent but nothing special, and the human characters are drawn in broad, simple strokes that are never developed. It’s also unclear as to why the spirits enact their revenge. Are they angry because of the damage done to the shrine or the lack of the cleansing ritual after the storytelling episode? 

Yokai Monsters 100 Monsters (1968)

‘Peek-a-boo!’

Of course, it’s always tricky to comment on a film that’s a product of an unfamiliar culture and mythology. There are almost certainly aspects of the story that are lost in translation. However, the film is still an entertaining experience, and the Yokai themselves are intriguing and visually striking.

Director Yasuda made several entries in the long-running series of films featuring the blind swordsman, Zatoichi, which was one of the Daiei Studio’s most successful properties from1962 to 1989. Several of the cast who appear here featured in one entry or another. Fujimaki and Takada played the human leads opposite one of Daiei’s other big stars; the stone giant Daimajin’ (1966) and Kanda performed in sequel ‘Return of Daimajin’ (1966) as well as in the sequel to this film: Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare/Yôkai daisensô‘ (1968)Yoshida played the Eskimo Chief in ‘Gamera the Invincible/Daikaijû Gamera’ (1965).

A supernatural tale that may try the patience a little, but comes up trumps in the final act. 

The Vampires Night Orgy/La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)‘In no other place can you find a roast like this.’

A group of domestic staff on their way to a job get sidetracked when their bus driver dies of a heart attack. They stop for the night in a remote town that seems to be empty but find it fully occupied the next day. However, they sound become suspicious of their hosts and, when they go to leave, their bus won’t start…

Disappointing Euro-Horror that combines cannibalism and the undead to little effect. Despite an impressive location, complete with cemetery, there is little in the way of atmosphere, suspense or chills in the final results with a lot of the blame resting at the door of the jumbled, poorly developed script by writers Gabriel Moreno Burgos and Antonion Fos.

Travelling by coach to their new jobs somewhere or other, a team of domestic staff are somewhat inconvenienced when their driver drops dead at the wheel. Wrapping him up and putting him on the backseat, they contemplate their next move. During this process, Raquel (Charo Soriano) is happy for her young daughter (Sarita Gil) to play outside, so she’s not traumatised by what’s happened. On the roadside, Gil meets a young boy (Fernando E. Romero) who says nothing and suddenly disappears when it’s time to get back on the bus. The group travel on with Chauffeur, Ernesto (Gaspar’ Indio’ González) driving, but decide to stop at a nearer town that’s off the grid, rather than pushing on to their destination.

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

‘I’ve been waiting for ages to get served too.’

Arriving at the old world mountain community of Tolnia, they find it apparently occupied, but empty of people, apart from Luis (Jack Taylor) who is just passing through. Romantic sparks fly immediately between him and ladies maid Alma (Dyanik Zurakowska), and they take rooms next to each other when the group decide to spend the night. This proximity is particularly handy for Taylor as it turns out there’s a spyhole in the back of his closet which he uses to perv on Zurakowska as she gets ready for bed. This doesn’t affect the plot in any way and provides no real insight into Taylor’s character (and, yes, he is our hero!), but it does provide an excuse from some casual nudity early in the film.

The next morning when they come down for breakfast, the tavern is jumping with a full complement of staff and customers. The explanation for their absence is entirely feasible: they were all at a funeral. I guess they take place in the middle of the night in this part of the world. Taylor and Zurakowska are introduced to the town Mayor (José Guardiola) who is only too keen to share the local cuisine. We have a pretty good idea what’s on the menu by now, and the grub doesn’t disappoint, particularly when Zurakowska finds a human finger on her plate at a later sitting.

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

‘It’s all right, you’ve just got something on your neck…’

However, Guardiola isn’t running the town; that role’s taken by the beautiful Countess (Helga Liné), whose family have been the local aristocrats for many centuries. She’s happy to invite our role call of victims up to the big house for a spot of tea and buns and takes a particular fancy to tutor Cesar (David Aller). She invites him to stay behind for some Shakespeare recitation which naturally ends up with the two of them between the sheets before Aller ends up on the pointy ends of Line’s dentalwork. Meanwhile, back down in the village, the residents are closing in on their supper. Understandably, Taylor and Zurakowska decide to get the hell out of dodge.

Ok, where to begin? Well, from a technical point of view, the film is perfectly adequate. The cast is fine, and the location is impressive, even if director Leòn Klimovsky doesn’t manage to conjure much suspense or atmosphere from the town’s narrow streets or the bleak mountain slopes that surround it. The soundtrack’s composer is uncredited, which may mean that the musical selections were lifted from a library, which would go some way to explaining why the cues often feel inappropriate and distracting. But the biggest problem here is the story. Boy, does it raise a lot of questions.

The Vampires Night Orgy:La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

‘Are we there yet?’

The concept of a ‘Vampire Brigadoon’ is not necessarily a bad one, but the film fails on its own terms due to a complete lack of logic and clarity. Are the entire population of the town supposed to be vampires, or are they merely cannibals serving Line’s undead queen? In both cases, why don’t they overwhelm our vastly outnumbered heroes as soon as they arrive? Why string them along? Is it because they like to play with their food? And if they are only cannibals, then aren’t they going to run out of food pretty quickly in a remote village with an infrequent tourist trade? After all, we see them cutting each other up so they can put something on the plate for the travellers at the tavern. Why would they do that? And who is the young boy supposed to be? Is he a ghost? Why does he try to protect the young girl, and what happens to him in the end? So many questions….

There are also other problems with the script that display a distinct lack of care and attention. As the film opens, the fact that someone needs an entire team of new domestic staff would seem to be highly significant. Who is this mystery new employer and do they have sinister reasons for replacing their complete household? Well, don’t worry about it, because we never get to find out. It’s just an excuse to put some people on a bus so they can get lost in the mountains and become food for the undead. There’s no character development for any of these individuals either; we never find out the first thing about any of them. They are only defined by their jobs: the gardener, the teacher, the cook, the chauffeur, etc. etc.

The Vampires Night Orgy/La Orgia Nocturna De Los Vampiros (1973)

One moustache to rule them all.

There are several possible explanations for all these shortcomings. The most likely is that the film was rushed into production and begun without a finished script. It’s also possible that the film ran out of money during production or that it was poorly edited for a Stateside release, although there are none of the telltale signs of those kinds of issues. The story progresses logically enough; it just fails to tie anything up in a satisfactory way, the oh, so predictable ‘twist ending’ providing no significant closure at all. Of course, it could also be down to this being two separate scripts that were smashed together, one involving a town of vampires, the other a town of cannibals. That possibility makes more sense than the finished film.

Taylor was a stalwart of the Euro-Horror scene for many years with an impressive resume of credits in the field. He began his career in the Mexican film industry under the name Grek Martin before moving to Europe in the mid-1960s and landing the title role in excruciating Eurospy adventure ‘Agente Sigma 3 – Missione Goldwather’ (1967). But it was his role in Jess Franco’s ‘Succubus’ (1968) that turned the tide in his favour. More work with Franco followed including ‘Count Dracula’ (1970) with Christopher Lee, and ‘Female Vampire/La Comtesse Noir’ (1973). He also took one of the title roles opposite Paul Naschy in ‘Dr Jekyll vs the Werewolf’ (1972). Other projects include Javier Aguirre’ Giallo thriller ‘The Killer Is One of 13’ (1973), Amando de Ossorio’s ‘Blind Dead’ episode ‘The Ghost Galleon’ (1974), further films with Naschy and titles such as ‘Exorcismo’ (1975) and ‘Swedish Nympho Slaves’ (1977). He even graced more mainstream projects such as ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1981), Ridley Scott’s ‘1492: The Conquest of Paradise’ (1992) and ‘The Ninth Gate’ (1999) for director Roman Polanski.

Liné probably deserves the title of ‘the hardest working actress in Europe’ in the 1960s and 70s, appearing in almost too many cult titles to count. Although she could shine given the opportunity, her roles were often of the same kind of quality she gets in this film. There’s one dialogue scene when she chats with the travellers, one nude scene and a handful of others where she wanders around in fangs and old-age makeup. If her decision to take roles that were obviously beneath her abilities seems a little puzzling, then the explanation is simple. It was all about the paycheck. She was a single mother bringing up two children at the time, and she needed the money. She’s probably best remembered for her starring roles in the films featuring the evil mastermind ‘Kriminal’, and ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. She also took the title role in Armando de Ossorio’s ‘The Loreley’s Grasp’ (1972), even though, by her account, she did not enjoy that particular experience.

A weak and poorly developed Euro-Horror with a lot of story issues.

The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)‘Quick, give me five of your flimsies!’

An honest young bank worker is framed by a criminal mastermind who has designs on his young fiancé. When he gets out of prison, he finds it hard to get honest employment and his diabolical nemesis has other plans for his immediate future anyway…

British horror pioneers Tod Slaughter and producer-director George King are up to their old tricks again, wheeling out another ‘blood and thunder’ melodrama for the delight of pre-war audiences in old Blighty. This time they’re adapting an old theatrical warhorse by Tom Taylor, mixing a cocktail of murder, crime and rotten skulduggery in the underworld of Ye Olde London Town.

After letting mysterious arch-criminal The Tiger slip through his fingers at the cost of the lives of two his men, Hawkshaw the detective (Robert Adair, with impressive facial hair), drops into the Belle Vue Gardens for a drink. If this seems a little insensitive, to be fair, he is mainly there to check with one of his undercover men. Why this officer is staking out a beer garden is a little puzzling (as it seems an eminently respectable establishment), but it turns out to be a shrewd move. At a nearby table, the Tiger (Tod Slaughter) is plotting with counterfeiter Melter Moss (Frank Cochran), and there’s also May Edwards (Marjorie Talyor) singing ‘from the rotunda’. You won’t want to miss that.

The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

‘Look up there! In the rotunda!’

Slaughter is there to buy forged banknotes from Cochran, but in typical Slaughter fashion, he’s much more interested in lusting after songbird Taylor. I mean, who could resist a pretty gal who sings from the rotunda? But, of course, she’s already spoken for; making wedding plans with the handsome Robert Brierley (John Warwick) between numbers.

Also present at the evening’s festivities is banker Joshua Gibson (Peter Gawthorne) and the onsite cigar concession is run by Mrs Willoughby (Jenny Lynn, the real-life Mrs Tod Slaughter) and her young son, Sam (Arthur Payne). Add the Gardens’ proprietor, Maltby (Norman Pierce), and you have the entire principal cast all in one place at one time! How convenient. I guess it’s a small world, after all. Warwick and Taylor are planning to use his savings to buy furniture, but Slaughter cunningly switches the cash for some of Cochran’s ‘flimsies’. A quick word in Adair’s ear later and Warwick is arrested as the notorious ‘bank forger.’ End of Act 1.

Some time has passed (how much we don’t know) but Slaughter is now installed as Mr Pybus, head of ‘The Good Samaritan Help Society’, complete with the obligatory hidden passage behind a revolving bookcase. This is a supposedly charitable institution that helps ‘ticket of leave’ men into employment after they get out of prison. The stigma of jail time means these early versions of parolees either can’t get work or are dismissed as soon as their past is revealed. So it’s hard to see how the society can help anyone without lying to prospective employers, but Slaughter’s only running it so he can recruit a network of criminals, so I guess it doesn’t matter too much.

The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

‘Oh, Roger! Must you?’

Of course, Warwick’s file comes across his desk (apparently, being the notorious ‘bank forger’ doesn’t carry a significant custodial sentence). While he’s been away, Taylor, Lynn and young Payne have moved in together, lodging in a property owned by Gawthorne. Taylor and Warwick have to pretend to be brother and sister, and he gets a job working at Gawthorne’s bank by being less than honest with his application. Slaughter has designs on the assets of this financial institution, of course, and has already ingratiated himself with Gawthrone. Told you it was a small world!

Although it could reasonably be assumed that after four previous such projects, that the familiar Slaughter-King formula might be getting a little tired by now, the opposite proves to be true. This is their most fully realised film to date, and, given that these were low-budget productions made to fill a quota imposed on the industry by government legislation, King manages to inject proceedings with a much larger feeling of scope. For once the story seems to be taking place on a wider stage, even if the story hangs on a lot of convenient coincidences and the action takes place over a limited number of indoor sets.

Sure, the principal character dynamics are the same as ever, what with the predictable love/lust triangle between Slaughter-Warwick and Taylor. However, this conflict does provide proceedings with some of its delicious highlights. Slaughter carries Taylor from the Belle Vue Gardens to cover his escape after she’s fainted, but can’t resist stealing a kiss or two while she’s still unconscious! What a cad! Later on, he catches the supposed brother and sister in an intimate liplock. ‘I had no idea relatives were so affectionate,’ he purrs. The familiarity does have its downsides, though, with banker Gawthorne just filling in for the absent D J Williams. The script may not cast him as Taylor’s actual parent, but his character serves precisely the same purpose.

Ultimately, what we’re here for is Slaughter, though, and he’s as wonderful as ever. He can’t even walk through a door without looking suspicious, and the script by H F Maltby (adaptation and dialogue) and A R Rawlinson (scenario & additional dialogue) provide plenty of opportunities for him to strut his stuff.

The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

‘You mean I’m a suspect? That’s ridiculous!’

There are weaknesses, of course. There’s a hurried feel at times with a lack of transitions giving no idea how much time has passed at various points along the way. Gawthorne gives Warwick a job in his bank at the bottom of the ladder and less than five minutes later is promoting him to the position of his personal, confidential clerk. Similarly, events crowd together in the last ten minutes for a helter-skelter climax that includes murder, arson (with murder), a bank job, a detective in disguise and Slaughter’s inevitable descent into cackling madness.

Since his last film with King, Slaughter had taken on a couple of other big-screen gigs; as a lecherous gypsy in countryside ramble ‘Song of the Road’ (1937) and as Mr Templeton in the lost film ‘Darby and Joan’ (1937). Slaughter hadn’t adapted his acting style for the former, an otherwise gentle celebration of simplicity and rural life, and his turn had been distinctly out of place. He was to stick to melodrama for the rest of his brief screen career.

This is a highly enjoyable melodrama that takes the familiar elements of the King-Slaughter output and delivers them in a neater and tidier format, providing plenty to chew on for fans of the charismatic lead.

Tod Slaughter would return in ‘Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror’ (1938).