1930S, CLASSIC, Classic Hollywood, crime drama, cult, dvd, fantasy, film, Fox, genre, ghosts, Horror, magic, obscure, rare, Theatre, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, wierd, William Cameron Menzies

THE SPIDER (1931)

the-spiderTHE SPIDER (Fox Film Corporation, released September 27,1931) b&w. 59 minutes.  $15.00  DVD-R from 16mm print offered by John Carpenter. Contact him via email at pixthatmove@gmail.com .

THE SPIDER is a film that deserves to be better known. Released after DRACULA (Universal, February 12,1931) but before FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, November 21,1931), this film, while in the end a murder mystery, has several strong supernatural elements.thespidertc

The film was co-directed by Kenneth MacKenna and William Cameron Menzies. MacKenna was an actor who also directed several mostly forgettable films between 1931-1934. mackennaMacKenna, born Leo Mielziner, Jr, is today mostly remembered for sponsoring and helping his brother Jo Mielziner (Tony and Academy Award winning set designer). He also was an early “angel” (theatrical financial backer) who introduced his friend Richard Rodgers to the James A. Michener’s book “Tales of The South Pacific” (MacMillian, NY,1947), feeling it might make a good musical. He was right. It became the 1949 musical SOUTH PACIFIC (Majestic Theatre, April 7,1949).tales_of_the_south_pacific_michener

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The real visual director of THE SPIDER would be Menzies. Menzies entered films in 1919, after his service in WWI. Training in effects and 004_thiefstaircasefilm design, within a few short years he was the art director and production designer of classics like THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (United Artists, March 18,1924). Pictured above his sketch and the fully realized design in the film. He is perhaps best known for his design of GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, December 15,1939). Not only did he design the look of the film, he even designed some of the famous shots like the massive pullback shot at the train station.

He also later directed the 3D horror film THE MAZE (Allied Artists, July 26,1953) and the classic science fiction film INVADERS OF MARS (20th Century Fox, April 22,1953). He was a visual stylist who made the most of his budgets, big or small.

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(Menzies ,as photographed by Karl Strauss)

 

The screenplay was written by Barry Conners. Conners was a former stage actor who was blacklisted when he tried to unionize actors against corrupt producers.barry-conners He turned to playwriting and had a few Broadway successes, including HELL’S BELLS (Wallack’s Theatre, Jan 26, 1925 – May 1925)which was the Broadway debut of both Humphrey Bogart and Shirley Booth.

He used his success to become a screenwriter for MGM and then Fox Films (later to merge and become 20TH Century Fox). Among his screenplays were an adaptation of his play THE PATSY (MGM,April 22,1928 ). At Fox, he exhibited a strong ability with mysteries, writing the screen adaptation of several of the early Charlie Chan films (including two “lost “Chan films (…Carries On, (Fox, April 12,1931), …. Chance (Fox, Jan 24,1932), as well as THE BLACK CAMEL (June 21,1931).

 

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Later, he would be one of a team of writers who adapted the radio series into CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox, August 4,1932), another mystical adventure directed by Menzies and best known for starring Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor. Starring as Chandu was Edmund Lowe. Lowe had already gotten his magical bona fides, starring in THE SPIDER as the film’s star, magician Chatrand. Lowe had begun in vaudeville before getting into silent films. When sound began, his good looks and voice established him as a reliable leading man in the thirties and forties, right up to THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (Monogram, Jan 12,1946), wherein he starred as—a magician!!!!mv5bytu5yzhkogitngewns00yjy4ltk0nzgtmdqxyzc4zjg2mju0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi2mdewna-_v1_

THE SPIDER was adapted from a stage play by Lowell Brentano and Fulton Oursler that played Broadway at Chanin’s 46th St Theatre (3/22/1927- 5/28/1927) before moving to the Music Box Theatre (5/30/1927-12/17/1927) for a successful run of 319 performances. THE SPIDER: A Play of The Varieties, to give it its full title, was a three act Mystery Melodrama. The setting was the fictional Tivoli Vaudeville Theatre, where the action takes place. The play starred Broadway actor john-halliday(John Halliday )

John Halliday as Chatrand, and featured a lot of vaudeville performers Mack & La Rue, billed as The Skating Marvels of The Century, and Lytell & Fant, listed, intriguingly as The Chocolate Cake -Eaters.0002334_spider_the_300

Oddly, the play had several lawsuits brought against it for plagiarism, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1933 before it was dismissed.

Writer Brentano worked on Broadway writing thrillers as well as musicals, including the intriguing thriller ZEPPELIN (National Theatre, Jan14,1929-March ,1929), set aboard the cabins of the air vessel. He also worked in Hollywood on films like THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO December 9,1932).

 

 

 

Fulton Oursler was a magician who wrote for several pulp magazines. He joined Harry Houdini in discrediting fake mediums in the 1920s, going so far as to write an expose Spirit Mediums Exposed (New Metropolitan Fiction) under the pseudonym Samri Frikell. fulton_oursler_magicianoursler-a-spirit-mediums-exposed

After converting to Catholicism in the 1940s, he wrote THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (Doubleday,1949). It was later adapted into the 1965 movie by the same name.

The film of THE SPIDER obviously cut the play down to its barest storyline, as a three-act play would have run at least 90 minutes. With many of the within the show vaudeville routines cut, time was filled by adding the comedy of Elmer Goodfellow Brendel, better known as El Brendel. Born to an Irish mother & German father who entered vaudeville as a German dialect comic but when anti-German sentiments grew during WWI, he became a simple Swede, often named Ollie, Oley, or Ole.

He began working in films, appearing in the classic silent WINGS (Famous Players/Paramount, August 12,1927). After a brief return to vaudeville, he signed a contract with Fox Studios, taking advantage of the innovation of sound movies. His biggest starring role was in the musical/science fiction film JUST IMAGINE (Fox, November 23,1930). He was billed as the most popular comedian at the time but he soon was reduced to supporting roles and starring in B-comedies. To be honest, to modern audiences, a little El Brendel goes a long way. However, it was probably thought getting El Brendel for THE SPIDER was a good idea at the time.39

The film takes place in the Tivoli Vaudeville House, where the Great Chatrand (Edmund Lowe) is packing them in. Chartrand’s show is being broadcast, and he announces that assistant whom he calls Alexander (Howard Phillips, making his film debut. He only made 11 more films up to 1938, none of which was as good as THE SPIDER. ) is an amnesiac whom he found two years earlier. However, he seems to have lost his memory but developed psychic mind reading powers which they use in the act.vlcsnap-763909

Beverly Lane (Lois Moran, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character “Rosemary “in  F.Scott Fitzgerald’s TENDER IS THE NIGHT (Charles Scribner’s Sons, April 1934 ) has been looking for her brother Paul who disappeared about the same time ,but her uncle John Carrington (Earle Foxe ,who began in silent films back in 1912.He had starred in an odd silent fantasy feature LAST MAN ON EARTH (Fox, November 2,1924) as well as the lost early talkie THE GHOST TALKS (Fox, February 24,1929 ) says it is only a publicity stunt and that it cannot possibly be Paul. However, she insists that they go to see the next performance and Carrington begrudgingly agrees.mv5bngq4nwi4ngitngyyos00mdnllwfly2mtmznindm3n2mymzfmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtq2mjqyndc-_v1_

During all this, we have comedy where Ole (El Brendel) and his young charge (Kendall McComas, who started in the silent Mickey McGuire comedy shorts and in 1932 appeared in some of the Our Gang comedy shorts) are considering what type of tickets to purchase. The ticket taker, by the way, is a cameo by co director MacKenna. When they finally do, and go to their seats, it ends with El Brendel putting a hole through the top of his bowler.48

Chatrand peers through the curtains and recognizes Beverly from a photo that Alexander has. The act begins, and Alexander is blindfolded as Chatrand walks though the audience and holds up various objects. When Chatrand holds up Beverly’s locket, which is like the one Alexander has, Carrington begins to try and take it away from Chatrand. The lights go out, and a someone shoots Carrington. The staging of this scene is quite well done, with rapid cutting between all the parties, and Alexander acting as if possessed, finally ending with the shooting, and Alexander collapsing.vlcsnap-763749

The police arrive and find a gun by the unconscious Alexander. Beverly recognizes Alexander as her lost brother. Now revived and out of his trance, Alexander/Paul blurts out: ‘He tried to kill me! I had to do it.” That’s all the police need to hear, and arrest Alexander. Chatrand escapes via a magic trick, and the police seal off the theatre. No one can leave. Can Chatrand, with his magic skills, find out who the killer is?72

The film moves along at a good pace, and it is a fun movie worthy of rediscovery. The highlight of the film is towards the end during a superbly staged séance sequence.32

The movie is a rarity, and as far as I know, it has not aired on any television stations for decades (indeed, there is hardly anything about it on the Turner Classic Movies site), and it is a shame.img259

It is a short, fast paced little thriller with supernatural elements that deserves to be better known.

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(announced but unmade version)

John Carpenter (no not the director, but this one is known as “The Movie Man” due to his extensive movie collection) is offering a special deal to SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE readers .The sound and picture quality is good, especially when you consider how truly are this film is . John will make a DVD-R of this rare film from his own 16mm print. Cost $15.00 within the continental U.S.A. Contact John directly at pixthatmove@gmail.com . Let him know that SCARLET sent ya!img258

Recommended.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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VAMPIRES (1988)

VAMPIRES (1988)- released May 10,2016 by FILM CHEST-DVD -80 minutes-color -$17.98.

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http://www.amazon.com/Vampires-Duane-Jones/dp/B01DMV2ZUG/ref=sr_1_3?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1462900471&sr=1-3&keywords=duane+jones

‘Wouldn’t you like to live forever? Are you sure? You see, I thought so too. Until I began-to live- forever.” That opening line sets up the soul weary vampire’s angst for the film VAMPIRES (1988) starring Duane Jones (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Continental,1968) fame. Sadly, things go quickly downhill from there.

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The obscure film is set at a prestigious art school in New England that has seen better days and restorations are underway. Supernatural forces are unleashed and students start to disappear.

Two young students after making love (providing required nudity) experience a supernatural vortex, which, due to the sound, makes them seem to be pulled into the toilet, as a deep voice intones “iiiiitttt woooorrrkkks”!

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Dr. Harmon (Duane Jones, looking very dapper in his mustache and Billy Dee Williams style clothes) drives foreign student Ione (Orly Benyar, NINJA ACADEMY) to the school, and tells her ominously should she need anything to call him.

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It is good advice as more and more fellow classmates vanish, she takes it upon herself to investigate. The head mistress, Madeline Abadon (Jackie James) explains that the school has been in the Abadon family for centuries ad was nearly destroyed by fire some time back. The students are warned never to go down into the basement. Of course you know that is where everyone seems to head.Fright House_aging

The film seems to be influenced by Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (International Classics,1977) with its art school setting and stylish photography (courtesy of the great Ernest Dickerson, who lensed several of Spike Lee’s classics, as well as being a director in his own right on such projects as TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT (Universal,1995). This film is not listed on his IMDB credits. Some of the film was also lensed by Larry Revene (spelled as Revine in the credits) who toiled on such films as DOOM ASYLUM (1987, Academy).

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This is an indeed a true rarity, not even mentioned in the majority of film reference books. It seems to have been originally shot as a film called NEGATIVES in 1988 starring Debbie Rochon and Duane Jones. The film was nearing completion when the crew discovered that their checks had bounced and so walked off. The director, Len Anthony, somehow cobbled footage together to make the film into a part of an obscure horror anthology FRIGHT HOUSE (release on video in 1989 by Studio Entertainment Films). That film has Al Lewis (“Grandpa” of Munster’s fame!) as a Captain Levi in a sinister tale of summoning demons. The second part is called “Abadon”, and is I assume an edited version of VAMPIRES. FRIGHT HOUSE is listed as running at 110 minutes. Debbie Rochon is no where to be seen in any of the existing variations.

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(FRIGHT HOUSE ,not currently available.Al Lewis)

 

Mr. Anthony seemed to feel he could get more mileage out of his work, and so seems to have cobbled together the film VAMPIRES. That title is a bit misleading, as there are no traditional fanged vampires at work are vampiric in that they drain life force from their victims due to some obscure machine that has caused Duane Jones and Jackie James to become immortals, a reason that is never made clear.

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The acting, except for Duane Jones, is risible at best. The scene in the acting class nearly had me howling with laughter, as I felt that an acting class was just what was needed by all involved. Jones rises above the material and one wishes that he had been cast in projects more challenging of his notable talent. His scenes make this movie worth watching. It is a shame that this marvelous actor passed away July 22,1988 at age 51 shortly after completing his footage. He would also appear posthumously in Academy Entertainment’s vampire film TO DIE FOR (1989).

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The film obviously had footage missing though the sound remained. To replace the gap, shots of tarot cards are shown as the sound plays out. The print used appears to be from a video tape master, and thus looks more like VHS tape quality. Perhaps though, that is fitting, as this would have been one of those films that lined local mom and pop video store shelves.

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     (mummies?what mummies? lost in the edit?)

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The soundtrack is very 80s, so expect to hear a lot of synth music. Also, some sub-par imitation TEARS FOR FEARS songs. Supposedly there was to have been a soundtrack to FRIGHT HOUSE, which advertised a lot on MTV and VH1 upon that video’s release. One wonders were that album ever released? Also beware of some very frightening 80s fashions.frighthousead (1)

One wishes that someone had tracked down the mysterious Mr. Len Anthony to discuss the history of how one unfinished movie became two. His commentary would probably be a film class for indie filmmakers on the struggles of movie making and getting your product released. As it is, this is a bare bones DVD release, with no extras.

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Still kudos to FILM CHEST MEDIA for saving this rare Duane Jones film. Now maybe they can search the film vaults for another 80s obscurity that I worked on that was ever released called MIDNIGHT RENDEVOUS ……

-Kevin G Shinnick

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  (an out of print DVD of Len Anthony’s FRIGHT HOUSE and an action film MURDEROUS INTENT )

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