Master Minds (1949)

Master Minds (1949)‘There’s only one thing to do; better declare a mortuary and look for him at the dentist.’

A young New Yorker suddenly develops the ability to predict the future. Sensing a financial opportunity, his friends set him up as an act at a local fairground. His abilities attract press coverage but also bring him to the attention of an eccentric scientist, who is experimenting with mind swapping…

Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall got their big break as part of the gang of neighbourhood delinquents in William Wyler’s big hit ‘Dead End’ (1937) which also provided an early role for Humphrey Bogart. From there, they moved through a series of second feature comedies in various screen ‘gangs’ including the Dead End Kids, the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys (although Gorcey passed on them, handing the reins to his brother, David!) The boys also jumped from studio to studio (allegedly due to bad behaviour) and, although membership was via a revolving door, Gorcey and Huntz remained fairly constant participants.

By the early 1950’s, the duo were working for legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman but, after a dispute over money (no surprise there!), Gorcey walked and took Huntz with him. They formed their own production company and, despite being in their late twenties by this time, carried on regardless as ‘The Bowery Boys’, releasing an incredible 48 pictures in just 13 years! Originally, the ‘boys’ contained several of players from previous groups, mostly notably Bobby Jordan. However, by the time this film rolled around, Gorcey and Huntz were essentially a double act, here backed up by William Benedict, Bennie Bartlett and (inevitably) David Gorcey.

Hall is the hapless ’Satch’ who suddenly develops the power of foresight thanks to a bad toothache! ln what is probably the film’s only original idea, the boys feed him lots of candy to bring on his hypnotic trances. Unfortunately, in the crowd at a show one night is mad scientist Dr Druzik (Alan Napier) and his sidekick Otto (William Yetter). Napier is keeping a prehistoric man (Glenn Strange) in his spooky mansion and decides a mind transfer with Hall is just what the big lug needs. Essentially, this is a formulaic ‘old dark house’ mystery with a little bit of horror and science-fiction thrown in for good measure. The plot owes more than a slight debt to Universal Studios’ hit comedy ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948), especially as Strange appeared in that film as the Monster.

Actually, for the first twenty minutes or so, this is surprisingly entertaining for what it is. Gorcey’s spouts his trademark malapropisms, Huntz is the willing clown, and the action moves at a fair clip. Unfortunately, after the gang reach Napier’s dusty old mansion, the film simply runs out of plot and resorts to lots of predictable genre clichés. The cast creep around in dark passageways, get hit over the head in cases of mistaken identity, and are constantly confused by Hall’s weird ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ like behaviour. The only real surprise is that no-one pops up in a gorilla costume! Perhaps Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan was busy that weekend.

There are compensations in the supporting cast, however. Napier was a distinguished British stage actor who had worked extensively with Orson Welles and found fame late in life as Adam West’s butler Alfred on the classic ‘Batman’ TV show. Here, he genuinely seems to be having fun as the mad doctor, although it could be that he was just acting, of course. Still, what a surgical team he has! Nurse Jane Adams had previous form passing the forceps for mad doctor Onslow Stevens in Universal’s ‘House of Dracula’ (1945) and Skelton Knaggs brought the chills to dozens of low-budget horror and mystery programmers with his unforgettable face and line delivery.

Master Minds (1949)

The new musical number needed some work…

Also slumming it after his Universal glory days is makeup genius Jack P Pierce, who uses a variation of his work on Lon Chaney Jr’s ‘Wolf Man’ to deliver Strange as the caveman. There’s more of a full-body vibe to his work this time around too; with Strange getting a good amount of hair on his naked torso. No doubt it was done on a small budget, but it’s still far more effective than you would expect in this kind of enterprise.

The billing here is ‘Leo Gorcey & The Bowery Boys’, leaving little doubt as to who was in charge of things. As well as brother David, we also get their father, Bernard Gorcey, who makes an extended appearance and gets plenty of screen time. The series as a whole might have lasted even longer if Bernard hadn’t passed away in a car accident in 1955. Apparently, Leo took it very badly indeed, hit the bottle with a vengeance and left the series shortly afterward. Hall stayed with it for the last half-dozen or so films, but things wrapped up with ‘In The Money’ (1958).

A painless way to spend an hour or so, and classic horror aficionados will get some pleasure out of the supporting cast and seeing another off Pierce’s classic monster makeups.

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The Murder Clinic/La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)‘Watch out, Robert! I’d be a difficult corpse.’

In the 1870s, a young nurse takes a new job at a private psychiatric clinic in the countryside. lt’s not long before she realises that the rambling old building holds a mysterious secret, and that the handsome doctor in charge may be involved with murder…

Much like Film Noir, it can be quite a challenge to provide an exact definition of the Italian Giallo sub-genre. Sure, there are some common touchstones; the hooded/masked killer whose identity is revealed at the climax, the beautiful women meeting graphic and bloody ends in the grip of his black gloved hands or at a slash from his wicked blade, and the psychological motivation behind his actions that often involve a flashback to a traumatic past or a perverse sexual hang-up. On the technical side, they usually mix sumptuous colour photography with striking interiors, props and set dressing. However, the plots don’t always stand up to close scrutiny and the casts were not usually required to portray a lot in the way of character development.

But the original definition of the phrase was somewhat broader. ‘Giallo’ is simply the Italian word for yellow and, in this instance, refers to a series of cheap paperbacks released nationally from 1929 by the Mondadori publishing company. They were such a hit with the public that many other houses joined in, mimicking the predominantly yellow cover designs. The Giallo was born. But if you’re getting excited about an obscure, radical and advanced branch of European literature, then l’m afraid you’re in for a big disappointment. These were not original works by forgotten authors, but simply re-prints of famous titles by American and British writers such as Raymond Chandler, Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie! So, originally, the term ‘Giallo’ simply meant a ‘murder-mystery’ and this early example of the type still has a foot in that camp, although it is leaning towards the later films that we associate with the sub-genre today.

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

She wasn’t going to bed until he’d killed that spider in the corner of the ceiling…

The story begins with pretty young blonde Mary (Barbara Wilson) taking a new job as a nurse at the remote psychiatric clinic run by Dr Vance (William Berger) and his wife (Mary Young). Although once seemingly destined for big things, a mysterious event in the past has condemned him to rural obscurity. Unsurprisingly, it’s a spooky old place and it’s not long before our young heroine is surrounded by strange events.

A hooded figure prowls the dark corridors, a mute patient checks out overnight (in more ways than one!) and there are heavy footsteps coming from the upper floors where only the doctor is allowed to go. Things get even more involved with the arrival of bad girl Giselle (Francoise Prévost), who tells an unlikely tale of getting lost in the woods after a coach accident. Matters quickly escalate into murder but just who is responsible and why?

Despite some solid and even mildly impressive aspects, this proves to be a somewhat half-baked concoction from director Elio Scardamaglia (hiding under the more American-friendly name of Michael Hamilton). On the positive side, we have the usual impressive interior locations, which were a distinct feature of European cinema at the time. Although underwhelming from the outside (a different location perhaps?), the clinic’s rambling maze of passages and chambers make a fine backdrop to the action. There’s also excellent cinematography from Marcello Masciocchi, whose muted colour palette may not possess the lush tones and shadings of a Mario Bava production but still helps to create a few memorable images.

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

‘Don’t be a cad, Roger! Not until we’re married…’

Unfortunately, the film has problems, and these can mostly be laid at the door of the underdeveloped script by Ernesto Gastaldi. The story may just about hang together, but not all that much happens over the course of the 90 minutes, and the cast are often left simply creeping or running around the old house to little obvious purpose.

Berger only has a tiny handful of patients and we get zero insight into any of their problems or the treatment he provides. They include a man who sleeps a lot, another who is prone to bouts of violence (could he be the killer?) and an old woman who cuddles a stuffed cat (probably not a viable suspect). Also, Prévost may not have wanted to go ‘to the coast’ with her mysterious coachman but it hardly seems sufficient reason to knock him unconscious and watch as he’s trampled to death by horses. Why does she do it? The movie never tells us or explains who she is, and the inevitable conclusion is that she there as another pretty face and to pad the running time. There’s also a rather ridiculous ‘love story’ sub-plot which comes almost completely out of left field and is never remotely convincing. The rather slapdash approach is a bit of a surprise, given that scriptwriter Gastaldi was fast becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for this sort of thing, and had provided both direction and screenplay for the far superior ‘Libido’ (1965).

Modern fans of the Giallo are also likely to be disappointed by the obvious absence of two of the sub-genre’s most obvious fundamentals. Despite being carried out with a straight razor, the kills are almost bloodless, and there really aren’t that many of them. Similarly, the fairer members of the cast get to keep their clothes on, which is quite a change in this type of endeavour. These choices probably reflect notions of morality and the censorship that was in place on the continent at the time, but it does make things seem rather tame by today’s standards.

A project with some merit but let down by a weak and uninspired script that gives the cast little to work with, and short changes its potential audience.

The Murderous Corpse/Le Mort Qui Tue (1913)

The Murderous Corpse (1913)‘The following morning at the Anthropometry Department.’

After his last minute escape from the forces of law and order, criminal genius Fantômas resumes his nefarious schemes, framing a young painter for murder. The innocent man later commits suicide in police custody but his body disappears and his fingerprints keep turning up at subsequent crime scenes…

Louie Feuillade’s third silent film about Gallic super-criminal Fantômas (Réné Navarro) finds our anti-hero up to his neck in the usual shenanigans of fabulous jewellery robberies, impenetrable disguises and secret identities. I do wonder how on earth he had the time to set up all these other obviously very well-established personalities though! Perhaps it was a simple matter of murdering the original people and replacing them without anyone noticing? We never find out for sure.

At least on this occasion, he gets 90 minutes to put his plans into action as opposed to the much shorter length of the previous films. They both clocked in around the hour mark and often seemed a little like edited highlights of the source material. The more familiar feature length allows for a more faithful adaptation of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s third novel and a better presentation all round. There’s also a different character dynamic as Navarro’s nemesis Inspector Juve (Edmund Bréon) is missing, presumed dead, after the explosive climax of the last film. Instead, investigations are in the hands of his grieving friend, handsome reporter Jules Fandor (Georges Melchior). He may only be a journalist but he seems to have as much official clout in police matters as a member of the regular force, even though he acts alone. Also returning is Princess Sonia Davidoff (Jane Faber) whose gems get lifted again with a tell-tale fingerprint left behind on her neck. The robbery occurs ‘off screen’ in the novel but Feuillade makes the decision to show it, consequently sacrificing the mystery of Navarro’s last disguise well in advance of the climax.

Another curious decision is to feature the anthropometric department of the Sureté, headed up by legendary, real-life criminologist Alphonse Bertillon (Armand Dutertre). He invented what was called the ‘Bertillon System’; a series of five measurements that, combined with a photograph, supposedly provided a unique physical profile for any individual. It was in wide use by law enforcement agencies all over the world by the 1880s and was even preferred as a means of identification to fingerprints! Unfortunately, a widely-publicised 1903 American case involving two unrelated criminals with an almost identical appearance and measurements shook faith in his work. Further problems followed when his handwriting analysis in the infamous Dreyfus trial was completely discredited. So it’s a little strange to see Feuillade still going to bat for him all these years later, even if he was largely responsible for some of the important first steps in the world of forensic criminology. If nothing else, he did invent the mugshot!

The Murderous Corpse (1913)

He could never concentrate when someone was looking over his shoulder…

It is pleasing to see Navarro at his old tricks again, even if his ambitions never extend beyond mere financial gain and his plans never approach the complexity of greater masterminds such as Dr Mabuse. His criminal organisation is also far more limited in size and scope, and its member utilise nothing more sophisticated than guns, fists and the motor car. There are a few more outlandish touches, such as the method for leaving a dead man’s fingerprints at a crime scene, but these are little more than passing details.

Well-executed example of silent filmmaking and a significant step toward the feature film format as we know it today. The entire 5-film series has been lovingly restored and made available on a double DVD set from Artificial Eye and it is recommended if you’re interested in cinema history and the evolution of the crime genre.

The Secret of The Telegian (1960)

The Secret of the Telegian (1960)‘Objects can be transmitted; sent through space, and all the world’s scientists firmly believe this is one of the greatest mysteries ever demonstrated by the advanced yogis in India.’

At the end of the Second World War, a small troop of Japanese soldiers are taking one of their top scientists to safety when they discover that he’s carrying a fortune in gold, as well as all his research materials. Not surprisingly, the boffin is never heard from again. Fifteen years later, the soldiers begin dying one by one…

Science-fiction murder-mystery that initially looks intriguing, before descending into a familiar, well-trodden formula. The action starts with a mysterious killing in the ‘cave of horrors’ at a low-rent amusement park. Witnesses seem confused by events, and the police aren’t much better off. Enter the local newspaper’s science correspondent Kôji Tsuruta, who teams up with policemen Yoshio Tsuchiya and Akihiko Hirata to try and crack the case. Tsuruta and Tsuchiya are old college buddies, which seems to give the journalist some kind of unofficial detective status, which turns out to be a good job, because….science!

Yes, our heroes go off to see old Professor Cliché to get the lowdown on the missing scientist and what he was working on. Turns out that it was matter transmission, which is all perfectly plausible ‘as space travel was thought improbable only a few years ago’ etc. etc. Although this old egghead does seem to believe that all the scientists in the world believe in telepathy, so he may not be the most reliable source of information. Anyway, Tsuruta is a bit distracted because he’s balancing his new police ‘duties’ with an awkward romance with pretty salesgirl Yumi Shirakawa. She works for a company that sell ‘cooling units’ and she’s had a visit from a very strange customer. Our intrepid hero suddenly realises that this is connected with the case, because…science!

From here, we’re treated to a mildly engaging mix of thrills and action, but with few surprises. Despite the central hook of murder using matter transmission, we’re firmly back in well-explored territory; specifically that of H G Wells’ Invisible Man. Only without the floating cigarette and the sinking seat cushions. He first arrived in Japanese cinema in ‘The Invisible Man Appears’ (1949), a film which is generally regarded as the nation’s first foray into science fiction. Similar projects played with the concept over the next decade, such as ‘Invisible Avenger’ (1954) and ‘Invisible Man Vs Human Fly’ (1957). However, this project returned to the concept’s roots; the madman using his unusual abilities  for criminal purposes. The drama is played completely straight, which is refreshing, but it’s not exactly original.

The Secret of the Telegian (1960)

HIs new tanning booth needed work…

The director was Jun Fukuda, cutting his teeth in the world of fantastical film before chumming up with our scaly old pal Godzilla in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was in the canvas seat for several of the Big G’s rumbles; including ‘Ebirah Terror of the Deep’ (Godzilla vs The Sea Monster) (1964), ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), ‘Godzilla vs Gaigan’ (1972) and ‘Godzilla vs Megalon’ (1973). He also delivered science fiction spies in ‘ESPY’ (1974) and worldwide apocalypse in ‘Virus’ (1979).

Several of the cast also had links to the giant lizard; Tsuchiya appeared in ‘lnvasion of the Astro-Monster/Monster X’ (1965), ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), ‘Destroy All Monsters’ (1968) and even ‘Godzilla vs King Ghidorah’ (1991) almost a quarter of a century later. Hirata was also a regular player, with roles in the original ‘Godzilla’ (1954), ‘Ghidorah, the 3-Headed Monster’ (1964) and several others in the series. Shirakawa, on the other hand, does seem to have avoided such shenanigans, instead going up against ‘The Mysterians’ (1967), another slice of everyday Japanese life from Toho Studios.

If this film has a problem, it’s that some things have been lost in translation. One of the main characters seems to have been brought back from the dead somehow (it’s never explained) and it looks like he hasn’t aged a day in 15 years. And what is a Telegian anyway? The English dialogue never even mentions the word, let alone explains it. I guess it’s supposed to be a term that describes the main villain and his special powers.

This isn’t a bad film. The SFX are dated in some aspects, and the story gives up its secrets too early, but it’s a decent way to spend 90 minutes if you’re not too critical.

On the other hand, does the smoking volcano always have to erupt at the end of the movie?

Jungle Jim In The Forbidden Land (1952)

Jungle Jim In The Forbidden Land (1952)‘That sounds like a lot of rifles being shot.’

The new Government Commissioner tries to engage Jungle Jim to take him to a valley cut off by flood waters, so he can liberate the elephants stranded there. At the same time, an anthropologist wants to use him as a guide to the forbidden land of the giant people, which is close to the isolated valley. But a group of renegade ivory hunters plan to exploit the situation to their own advantage…

The 8th film in Columbia’s cut-price jungle adventure series finds ex-Tarzan Johnny Weismuller back in the safari suit as the title character, accompanied by Tamba (the talented chimp) and legendary skinflint producer Sam Katzman. As ever, Weismuller needs to negotiate the usual dangerous combination of untrustworthy bit part actors and wild animal stock footage while taking a stroll around the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

In this particular effort, he’s up against the machinations of ivory hunters Jean Willies and William Tannen, who are hoodwinking Commissioner Lester Matthews and planning to cash in on the bonanza offered up by the trapped elephants. Their plot revolves around a cave that connects the land of the giant people with the flooded valley. Matthews wants to use it to lead the elephants to safety, but Willies plans to trap the animals beneath the guns of her men instead.

Unfortunately, this is all a bit of a problem when we see what’s up on the screen. We’re repeatedly told about this cave but it actually turns out to be more of a canyon. Easy mistake to make, I guess. And the ‘giant people’ are solely represented by just one couple (Clem Erickson and Irmgard Helen H Raschke), they’re only peripheral to the action and it’s only too obvious they are not giants! Sure, Erickson is a head taller than Weissmuller (in one shot anyway) but that hardly makes him a giant. Instead, this savage couple actually appear to be werewolves! Yes, cheap ‘Lon Chaney Jr’ face fur seems to be a more important attribute for a giant than height!

Jungle Jim In The Forbidden Land (1952)

In the Land of the Giant People, the Werewolf is King!

Why the script wasn’t tweaked so that  the ‘cave’ was replaced with a ‘canyon’ and the ‘giants’ with ‘beasts’ (or something similar) is not recorded. I guess the most probable explanation is that all the film’s early scenes were in the can already when Katzman realised that: a) there wasn’t any stock footage of elephants running through a cave; and b) there weren’t any giants on the books at central casting. Or, perhaps more likely, no-one really cared. The important thing was to get the film finished on time and on budget and out into theatres to earn money for the studio as soon as possible. It wasn’t as if anyone would ever be watching it again, right?

Additionally, it’s obvious that anthropologist Angela Greene has just been crowbarred into the story to give Weismuller a pretty girl to save. She does rescue herself early on by swimming to safety after her canoe is capsized by an unconvincing hippopotamus, but after that she’s simply there to be the damsel in distress. Weismuller rescues her from the water when she’s dunked by a hippo again (presumably, Katzman wanted to get full value out of this rather unconvincing prop!) and then saves her when she almost falls off a cliff for no good reason at all. Later on, he wrestles a ferocious black panther on her behalf (or a stuffed toy to be more accurate) before arranging an elephant taxi when she falls out of a tree and sprains her ankle (women, eh? Useless!) Actually, this sequence seems to exist entirely for the purpose of proving that the production had access to at least one real live elephant as Greene is skipping about again within a few minutes!

🎶When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace…🎵

Actually, Greene’s main role in the picture seems to be dealing with the persistent attentions of an over-affectionate Tamba! These interactions look unrehearsed but she deals with his enthusiasm very efficiently while still delivering her dialogue. She’d probably had plenty of experience in this regard when dealing with Hollywood producers. At one point her and Tamba actually seem to be forming some kind of a comedy double act, which would likely have been a lot more entertaining than the film we do get!

Subsequently, Greene became a familiar TV face with guest roles on big hit shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Wagon Train and Perry Mason, with her most famous being half a dozen or so appearances as Tess Trueheart opposite Ralph Byrd as ‘Dick Tracy’. She also enjoyed a somewhat less than impressive film career, starring opposite the Bowery Boys in ‘Loose In London’ (1953), John Carradine in ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1958) and some very cheap looking SFX in the dire ‘Night of the Blood Beast’ (1958).

Elsewhere in the cast, Willes is best remembered for her role as the nurse in the original ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) and Matthews was a veteran with a long list of credits, including appearing in Lugosi-Karloff classic ‘The Raven’ (1935). That picture had been directed by Lew Landers (as Louis Friedlander) and he’s also behind the megaphone here, his career having become trapped in the (very) low-budget arena in the late 1940s.

One point of interest to modern viewers: early on Weismuller actually retrieves a pair of elephant tusks after they are stolen by natives and gives them back to the ivory hunters! This is apparently fine because the hunters have not exceeded their export quota. It’s only when the villainous Willies plans to act outside the rules that Weismuller takes any kind of a position against her.

The ‘Jungle Jim’ features were cheap, conveyor belt fodder aimed squarely for the bottom half of the bill on the out of town theatre circuit. But this is quite definitely a candidate for the feeblest one in the entire series.

A…Come Assassino/A…For Assassin (1966)

A Come....Assassino (1966)‘Nonsense is the pillar of any investigation.’

The last will and testament of a murdered rich businessman stipulates that all his greedy relatives must live in his gloomy old mansion for one month. At the end of that time, three of them will get an equal share of his fortune but no-one will get anything if a greater number make a claim…

Italian murder-mystery from director Ray Morrison (real name Angelo Dorigo) that takes a concept as old as silent cinema and attempts to refresh it with a more contemporary spin. We’re all familiar with the setup, of course; the dark, gothic house, the reading of the will, the unknown killer, the cast disappearing one by one. It was most successfully presented on the movie screen for the first in various versions of stage play ‘The Cat and the Canary’ although the general format was further popularised by the various incarnations of Agatha Christie’s novel ‘And Then There Were None’.

Our cast of characters here could most accurately be summed up as ‘the usual suspects.’ There’s the promiscuous ex-stripper (Aliché Nana) and her weak-willed husband (lvano Staccioli), the beautiful niece (Mary Arden) and her suave boyfriend (lvano Davoli), and the old man’s embittered sister (Giovanna Galletti), who’s spent the best years of her life looking after him in the role of a housekeeper, and taking care of his only direct descendant; idiot son Julian (Charlie Charun). Finally, there’s the cool and handsome secretary (Sergio Ciani) who looks no more trustworthy than the rest of them. Unusually, the film makes no real effort to present any of them in a positive light, choosing to engage the audience in the puzzle of the plot rather than encourage emotional investment in any of the characters. So, there’s the requisite number of crosses, double crosses, and hidden loyalties exposed, as the plot twists and turns, and the players manoeuvre around each other, each seeking an edge in their struggle for the inheritance.

Unfortunately, the story developments aren’t that gripping or particularly inventive, with one big exception that the film surrenders far too early on. The will isn’t real. It’s been tweaked by inspector Gilberto Mazzi to flush out the old man’s killer. Now, leaving aside the question of whether anything gained from such a strategy would be admissible in court, I doubt that this can be approved police procedure. After all, he’s encouraging all his suspects to kill each other! It’s an intriguing premise on which to hang the story, but hardly a plausible one.

A Come....Assassino (1966)

‘I know a good wig man if you’re interested…’

There’s still a fair level of entertainment available, though. The cast give it that their best, even though their roles are fairly generic, and the stand out is American actress Arden. She’d played a major role in Mario Bava’s ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964) – both as actor and interpreter! – a movie often cited as the first in the Giallo genre.

This effort is also categorised in that way by some commentators but really the links are a little tenuous. Sure, it’s an ltalian movie from the mid-1960s with a series of murders, but the deaths are bloodless, bullets are used as much as a blade, and our mysterious killer is not masked. There’s also a distinct lack of a suspenseful lead-in to each of the kills. If you must label the film, it’s more of a murder-mystery. The story did originate with writer-director Ernesto Gastaldi, though, who was behind the far superior, but similarly themed, ‘Libido’ (1965) and did go on to direct a number of Giallo pictures.

Probably the most interesting cast member is the chiselled Ciani, who remains best known for several outings at the start of the decade as Maciste (‘Hercules’ to you and me). These included ‘Hercules Against The Moon Men’ (1955), ‘Hercules and the Black Pirates’ (1964) and ‘Samson and the Seven Challenges’ (1964).

A decent, if somewhat anonymous, thriller that will probably entertain mystery fans without lingering too long in the memory.

I Saw What You Did (1965)

I Saw What You Did (1965)‘How on earth can you play outside with a thermometer in your mouth?’

Two teenage girls home alone make a series of prank telephone calls. One of the recipients is a man who has just stabbed his wife in the shower, and believing that the girls have somehow witnessed the act, he sets out to eliminate them…

Peculiar misfire from producer-director William Castle that seems to be aiming for dark comedy but struggles with its tone throughout. Initially, the story is split into two separate strands; on the one hand, we have high schoolers Andi Garrett and Sarah Lane enjoying a surprise night off from adults after a last-minute babysitter malfunction. The downside is that they’re stuck in Garrett’s isolated family home along with her annoying cutesy-pie younger sister Sharyl Locke. Looking for something to do, they start picking names at random out of the phone book and making hoax calls.

These early scenes in the family home almost have the feel of a TV sitcom, which is reinforced by the fact that the production is completely confined to small studio sets. The girls giggle, Locke spills peanut butter and jelly everywhere and there’s an adorable family pooch acting up. Even the calls are little more than innocent wind ups. ‘I saw what you did, and I know who you are,’ Garrett breathes sexily into the mouthpiece while the others try to stop laughing. Unfortunately, on one occasion, she’s talking to John Ireland and he is not amused, given that he’s busy trying to work out how to dispose of his wife’s dead body. He’s also having a hard time fending off a rather over-enthusiastic Joan Crawford who lives next door but would much rather put her slippers under his bed.

I Saw What You Did (1965)

‘I’ve had just about enough of your stories about Martians in the back yard…’

And here’s the problem. These ‘darker’ scenes are played totally straight. There is absolutely no humour; black or otherwise. We’re also given no backstory to any of this, so the audience gets no context at all, and the adult stars have nothing on which to base a performance. Ireland is nasty, Crawford is randy. That’s it. The talents of veteran character actor Leif Erickson are also wasted in the thankless role of Garrett’s vaguely irresponsible father.

There are more problems with how the story develops. Intrigued by Ireland’s voice, Garrett puts on her best frock and convinces Lane to jump in the family car with her and go visit him. They can’t leave moppet Locke behind, so she goes with. The only way this could be remotely plausible is if Garrett was already established as a reckless risk-taker, but we’re given no reason to think that. She’s just comes over as an ordinary all-American ‘good girl’ who likes a little bit of mischief. It just doesn’t ring true. Even if we can give that a pass, Garrett and Ireland end up sharing screen-time for two brief scenes only, and the film’s climax is incredibly brief and the resolution far too convenient. Further tonal problems are caused by Van Alexander’s music, which often sounds more appropriate to something like an episode of ‘The Munsters’. The film might have been going for a kind of comedy, but it certainly wasn’t slapstick!

Even Castle himself didn’t seem too impressed with this one, devoting only about a page and a half to it in his highly entertaining (but factually rather dubious!) autobiography ‘Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America!’ He’d begun his directing career with halfway decent Film Noirs in the low-budget ‘Whistler’ series before graduating to horror pictures in the late 1950s, most of which were more remarkable for his over-the-top marketing campaigns than the films themselves. These including wiring theatre seats up for showings of ‘The Tingler’ (1959) with Vincent Price, so that patrons would get a real electric shock! Having said that, he did deliver a couple of genuinely decent films; the unusual ‘Mr Sardonicus’ (1961) and midnight movie favourite ‘The House On Haunted Hill’ (1958) with Price again. All he had to say about this film was to refer to its publicity gimmicks; placing giant telephones outside movie houses and encouraging teenagers to make prank calls to a special number. This latter idea didn’t amuse the phone company, who threatened to cut off Castle’s personal number in retaliation. At least according to him…

I Saw What You Did (1965)

‘Is this Miss Davis? I’ve got a message from Joan…’

Robert Aldrich’s classic ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?’ (1962) was a massive critical and commercial success and kick-started a mini-renaissance for Hollywood icon Bette Davis, leading to a series of interesting late career projects, including work for Hammer Studios. The fortunes of co-star Crawford, however, headed in the opposite direction.

Apart from a handful of TV appearances (including one for a young Steven Spielberg on ‘Night Gallery’) she appeared in just 5 more films after ‘Baby Jane’. These included another Castle production; the decent psychological horror ‘Strait-Jacket’ (1964). According to him, she agreed to do this film as a personal favour so he could sell it on the value of her name. Given that her appearance is little more than an extended cameo, that’s quite possible. Her last two big screen appearances were also favours, apparently; this time for producer Herman Cohen. Circus murder mystery ‘Beserk!’ (1968) was poor, but it’s her final appearance opposite Neanderthal monster man ‘Trog’ (1970) that tends to be remembered. And not for the right reasons. Apparently, she got through the shoot by dosing her Cola with liberal quantities of vodka and was so depressed about the whole thing afterwards that she considered suicide.

lt’s a shame that Crawford’s career finished on such a poor note, as she’d exhibited real talent in her early career, particularly with her starring role in ‘A Woman’s Face’ (1941). Unfortunately, the variety, and the quality, of her performances declined significantly after she became a ‘movie star’ rather than a working actress. Perhaps that explains why Davis was able to exploit their success in ‘Baby Jane’ and Crawford was not.

Overall, this is a poor picture in many ways. An implausible script, seriously underdeveloped characters and an uncertainty of tone consign it to the status of a forgotten curio. Only hardcore fans of Crawford need apply.