Thursday, August 06, 2020

50 Years Ago Tonight: Now Playing in Cincinnati Theaters

Another heartwarming reminder of the great diversity and creativity available to motion pictures half a century ago...

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The New Blogger, etc.

Your humble blogger, and the "new" Big Boy.

I can't tell you how much I hate the "New Blogger," which is presently an optional choice for its users but will become standard on August 24. Granted, it does seem to be offering some new tricks, but it's another steep slope to suddenly have to learn and it imposes a new look on Video WatchBlog that I don't find at all progressive, interfering particularly in the space between my photo captions and the text wrapped around them. This adjustment basically gives me the option of going back and "fixing" all the work I've done on close to 1500 entries, or letting it stand like I don't care. I do, but it wouldn't be worth my while - nor yours. I haven't even figured out yet how to edit. Suddenly more than a decade of work is turned topsy-turvy. I guess I should look into my redesigning options.

Sorry to have missed some days, but I've been caught up in some real life obligations - including the audio commentary I've just finished scripting for Via Vision in Australia, for DANGER: DIABOLIK. I may be recording this tonight. In case you're wondering, my most recent audio commentary releases have been for Kino Lorber: SUPERNATURAL with Carole Lombard, BRIGHTON ROCK with Richard Attenborough, Joseph Losey's SECRET CEREMONY (beware - for reasons I don't understand, Amazon appears to be selling only the UK Indicator release, which doesn't have my commentary) and John Gilling's THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. There is also Via Vision's heroic single box set of the original THE OUTER LIMITS: THE COMPLETE SERIES, which contains a wealth of additional material that didn't make it into the domestic releases, including a new commentary by me for "The Hundred Days of the Dragon," as well as David J. Schow's new track for "The Architects of Fear" and Craig Beam's for "The Man Who Was Never Born" - and much, much else. For a full breakdown of the set and ordering information, go here.

My forthcoming audio commentaries include THE BALCONY (Jean Genet play filmed with a surreal US cast by Joseph Strick), ULYSSES (1954, with Kirk Douglas), and THE CHALK GARDEN (Deborah Kerr, Hayley and John Mills, Dame Edith Evans), all for the good folks at Kino Lorber. I lost a month by working on an epic commentary track for a release that may never see the light of day; a similar situation to last year's LOST HIGHWAY imbroglio. I was paid for it, so unless I'm given specific permission from my contractor, I won't be able to share it freely online as I did before. That said, from what I've heard, the situation may not be entirely settled, so I'll let you know if and when it might become available.   

(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

New Promise Aborning in DEAD DICKS

Heston Horwin and Jillian Harris study the mysterious Thing on the Wall in DEAD DICKS.

DEAD DICKS - the unfortunately titled debut feature of Canadian director team Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer, which won the Audience Award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2019 Fantasia Festival - has a lot in common conceptually with recent cable series like RUSSIAN DOLLS and FOREVER, which probably originate with DEAD LIKE ME (2003-2004). It's a situation/existential dramody whose protagonists are dead people trying to navigate the laws and booby-traps governing their newfound non-existence.

We don't have to think too hard to figure out why scenarios such as this are becoming so popular; the world in which we're now living is such a mess, such cause for despair, that we are turning to death itself for hope. But what I find especially interesting about all of these mentioned projects is that they portray all of our horrendous problems in life as duck soup compared to the situational difficulties awaiting us beyond the veil. RUSSIAN DOLLS is about a single character caught in a post-mortem loop of events and trying to find her way out, while FOREVER tackles the issue of how messy human relationships turn even messier in an Afterlife where everything is permitted. DEAD DICKS is about Rebecca (Jillian Harris), a young woman who has just been notified of her acceptance into a college where she will train as a neurological nurse, whose big opportunity conflicts with her habitual caretaking for her adult, mentally-ill brother Rich (Heston Horwin). After hours of trying to contact him by text and phone, she goes to his apartment - where nearly the entire film takes place - and discovers his dead body hung in a closet... only to have her shock and grief interrupted by another Rich, who walks into the room stark-naked, having just been birthed - fully-grown - through an enormous vagina-like occlusion manifest on his bedroom wall.

Rich discovers himself dead yet still alive after yet another suicide attempt.
The never-explained thing on the wall (which tellingly suggests to Becca a shit-giving anus rather than a life-giving vagina) is a wonderfully curious, ambiguous image, one that recalls the titular object in Kathe Koja's 1991 horror novel THE CIPHER (written as "The Funhole"); however, the story doesn't get around to putting something back into it for transformational purposes till the very end. Instead, Rich - a depressed artist who is forever blasting doom-laden music to the torment of his downstairs neighbor (Matt Keyes) - has responded to his initial, not fully successful suicide a few more times in frustration before Becca shows up, leaving his lifeless "originals" strewn about the different rooms of his apartment. It takes Becca to realize this will pose a problem for Rich, since his landlord is coming early in the morning to respond to the downstairs fellow's complaints - though Rich has the interesting counter-argument that he is they, and they are he, and he is clearly still alive, so could they be called "murdered" or even "dead"? As the film reaches this point, we're increasingly drawn in by the characters and performances, but the narrative gets stuck for awhile in trying to figure out its own lack of forward movement as Rich's successive attempts to kill himself (in all but the "messy" ways) translate into dead identical twins and an inescapable monotony of plot, especially as Becca's involvement deepens with the systematic (largely off-screen) dissections of corpses. Then there comes a turning point it would be wrong of me to reveal.

The film begins with a well-advised cautionary card about the seriousness of depression and suicide prevention, which provides a hot-line telephone number for anyone who may feel alone and in trouble. The film too reaches a point when it finally surpasses sick situational humor and knuckles down to the serious issues underlying its central relationship. Most responsible for the film's ultimate success are its clever script (by the two directors, who initially told this story in the form of a short) and its three lead performances, which eventually delve into the innermost regrets and feelings of this helplessly self-involved and irresponsible man and the sacrifices his sister has made over a lifetime, simply to get him through each day. Her choice of profession shows the extent to which her character has been molded by supporting her brother, and the story sharpens as it hones-in on Rich's decision to take responsibility, enabling her to meet her promising future without regret. I was very disappointed that a film this vested in the reality of a serious issue would leave some of its key elements unexplained; in addition to the bedroom wall adornment there is a certain liquid in the refrigerator that somehow ties into all this, but unless I missed something, we never learn what it was or how it ties into all this, so the presence of both these things loiters at the edge of conceptual art or surrealism. Not that I'm anti-ambiguity - far from it. Remarkably for such a low-budget film, DEAD DICKS culminates in one of the genre's great ambiguous closing images, something part BEING JOHN MALKOVICH/part ENTER THE VOID, which I wouldn't feel uncomfortable comparing to the closing images of L'AVVENTURA or even 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I won't be surprised if there are essays in years to come, musing over its meaning. 

DEAD DICKS' sibling protagonists.
In the accompanying audio commentary by Bavota and Springer (as they admit, the first they've ever done and the first they've ever listened to!), their explanation of how this closing shot was achieved is hilariously simple and made me want to buy them drinks. The commentary plays much as the conversation over those hypothetical drinks would; they are both young and down-to-earth and speak humbly and clearly while recounting the warts-and-all story of how this maiden feature came together - shot in a mere ten days. The track was recorded without the soundtrack playing under their voices, so their occasional silences are more harshly felt than they should. Also noted are the presence of some Easter Eggs in the film, such as the fact that Becca's college name is an anagram for Cronenberg, and a variety of disguised "dicks" integrated into the art direction. The extras include four "video diaries" by the directors (18m) and a special effects featurette.

While I wouldn't agree with most of the hyperbolic blurb words adorning the packaging, DEAD DICKS is nevertheless a welcome, engaging surprise made by a new directorial team that bears watching. This Artsploitation Films release is available on both DVD and Blu-ray and I recommend it to anyone struggling in their search for interesting new diversions in the horror and fantasy genres.

(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

50 Years Ago Today in Cincinnati Theaters

It's fascinating to discover that these two films about transexuality opened on this same day, half a century ago. Also worth sharing is this Cincinnati ENQUIRER interview with the real life subject of the second film, in which she responds to the movie and its portrayal of her story.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Adventure Ahoy!

Yvonne de Carlo and Philip Friend on the high seas.
BUCCANEER'S GIRL (1950, Kino Lorber): Frankly, I wasn't expecting much more than a nice dose of classic Technicolor, but this candy-colored Universal International item turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Yvonne de Carlo stars as Deborah McCoy, a street-smart Boston girl who stows away on a ship that is unexpectedly overtaken by the hordes of notorious pirate Frederick Baptiste - initially believed to be the scraggly, eye-patched, old salt Jay C. Flippen. However, once she's discovered on-ship (disguised as a boy), she is taken to the real Baptiste, a handsome and intelligent military strategist played with elegance by Philip Friend. He puts her ashore in New Orleans, where she is recruited into a charm school run by a delightfully zaftig Elsa Lanchester, who sees her potential. (The Bride of Frankenstein and Lily Munster! What more could you want?) As the wily Debbie begins her groomed ascent in Louisiana society, she soon learns that the much-coveted millionaire bachelor Capt. Kingston and Baptiste are one and the same. He's engaged to another woman but she alone has the secret of knowing his double identity. 

 Jay C. Flippen and Friend.

Love ensues, naturally, along with a few terrific songs by Walter Scharf (WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), and there's also a wealth of dramatic special effects shots of ships at full sail that would later be cannibalized as stock footage in the "Video Pirates" segment of AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. Directed by Frederick de Cordova (BEDTIME FOR BONZO), the film never quite settles on whether it wants to be a romance, a comedy, or a musical, but manages to entertain on all these fronts, helped along by the sumptuous three-strip Technicolor photography of Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL, SPARTACUS) and a stellar supporting cast that boasts Norman Lloyd ("Sinister Master of Intrigue!" as the trailer hails him), Henry Daniell, John Qualen, Connie Gilchrist, Douglas Dumbrille, and Ben Weldon. There's also a dandy (if somewhat dodgily recorded) audio commentary by Lee Gambin, who addresses the facts of production and promotion, the careers of the key players, and goes into some detail about the film from the angle of gender studies. With everything else it offers, the film is proven surprisingly available to such a reading and Gambin ensures that we'll see even more in this entertainment the second time around.

VISA TO CANTON (aka PASSPORT TO CHINA, 1960) / THE SCARLET BLADE (aka THE CRIMSON BLADE, 1963; both included in the box set HAMMER VOLUME V: DEATH AND DECEIT (Indicator UK): I don't know why - perhaps it was the bland colorlessness of the outer packaging, the genre and period, or perhaps even the fact that Michael Carreras directed - but I loaded this first disc from Indicator's latest Hammer box set expecting it to be in black-and-white. When it opened with a full color Columbia logo and fanfare, I was genuinely startled and - contrary to what the IMDb reviewers say - the feeling of surprise and discovery continued, for me, for the fairly brief duration of the picture. Neither of the film's titles is all that enticing, however this film - shot back-to-back with TERROR OF THE TONGS - is as clear-cut a diagram for what would soon become the James Bond series as I have seen. Eddie Constantine's first Lemmy Caution adventure POISON IVY (La môme vert-de-gris, 1954) would be another, but this film - despite being shot entirely at Bray Studios, with some documentary rear projection - conjures up an acceptable illusion of international glamour and sexual intrigue. 

Richard Basehart gambles with Milton Reid looking over his shoulder in VISA TO CANTON.
As was Hammer's habit at the time, American actor Richard Basehart (despite his smoldering voice, an Ohio boy) was imported to play the lead, a travel agent based in Hong Kong who is recruited to undertake an espionage mission behind enemy lines in communist China to rescue a member of his adopted family. There are some preposterous Chinese makeups applied to the likes of Athene Seyler, Marne Maitland, and Eric Pohlmann, but Bert Kwouk and Bernard Cribbins pop up in welcome roles and Lisa Gastoni is outstanding as the prototypical Bond girl - and not with subservience either, as she's the most experienced and capable spy of the lot. For all this, the film's most striking ingredient is the score of ITV's Edwin Astley, whose original spy music not only anticipates his later work on DANGER MAN and THE SAINT, but - as musicologist David Huckvale very entertainingly points out in his supplement, the work later done by John Barry on the Bond series. (I would add that its use of flute also prefigures a good deal of Jerry Goldsmith's work on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E..) This was Carreras' second feature as a director, following THE STEEL BAYONET (1957), and I found it capably done, and a good deal more than merely capable when Gastoni was involved.

Oliver Reed and Lionel Jeffries in THE SCARLET BLADE.

The other films in this DEATH AND DECEIT set are THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962), THE SCARLET BLADE (1963), and THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (1965), all swashbucklers of a sort directed by John Gilling, best known for THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, THE REPTILE, and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES - and each of them also a nice showcase for Hammer's new discovery, Oliver Reed. I had seen PIRATES before, which pits Kerwin Mathews (7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, JACK THE GIANT KILLER) against a formidable Christopher Lee, and also BRIGAND, a sand-and-scimitar item that I recall as much weaker, but THE SCARLET BLADE was new to me and quite possibly the best of the lot. Set during the English Civil War, it's the story of the eponymous character (Jack Hedley) and his grass roots rebellion against the usurping Roundhead forces of Cromwell, personified by Colonel Judd (an uncommonly evil Lionel Jeffries) and intermediary replacement Major Bell (Duncan Lamont). Unknown to Judd, his own daughter (June Thorburn, previously in Gilling's FURY AT SMUGGLER'S BAY) is sympathetic to the rebels and assisting their cause, helped by the romantically ambitious Capt. Sylvester (Reed) whose betrayal she risks when she loses her heart to the Scarlet Blade. Also written by Gilling, the script is a nicely, teasingly balanced situation and the action pieces, stunt work, and so forth are all of exceptional caliber, with Hedley throwing himself headlong into much of the excitingly and dangerously choreographed action. The film's only fault is one of simple chemistry; as good as he is, Hedley doesn't have a leading man's face or aura and, even though Reed sometimes goes out of his way to look smarmy, he's ultimately on the sympathetic side and it's hard to believe there could ever be a contest between their crossed swords of charisma. Adding to the film's pleasures is Jack Asher's often extraordinary color cinematography, which encompasses a number of Bernard Robinson's set dressings from HORROR OF DRACULA and other Hammer favorites. Also, the uniforms worn here by the Roundheads surely did double duty later in the decade when Michael Reeves shot WITCHFINDER GENERAL and, though comparatively mild, this film occasionally raises memories of that later classic in other ways. You can count THE SCARLET BLADE among the company's very best ventures outside the realms of horror and fantasy.

Reed informs the rebel army of Jack Hedley (right) as gypsy Michael Ripper eyes him suspiciously.

Indicator have started including audio commentaries with this latest set, discontinuing their former talking head featurette approach. The talks for both of the films I've highlighted are by Kevin Lyons, author of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASTIC FILMS AND TELEVISION. From what I sampled of both, I found these a bit dry, being largely non-scene-specific and composed mostly of career details and trivia. This kind of material really lends itself better to the printed page, unless some measure of personal interpretation or insight is also brought to bear on the career arcs under discussion. Much more juicy are the lengthy off-the-cuff discussions of Gilling and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster that are offered respectively by Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby. The PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER commentary is ported over from a 2008 DVD release and features screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye, and moderator Marcus Hearne. THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR features a Vic Pratt commentary. The set also contains numerous other extras on each disc, and perpetuates the nice idea of having female film historians (Virginie Sélavy, Kat Ellinger, Josephine Botting, and Melanie Williams) profile the leading lady of each film, and musicologist and author David Huckvale's winning post-mortems of the various scores and their composers, which always enriches my appreciation of an oft-overlooked aspect of the filmmaking art.

At a glance, some might overlook this set or disregard it entirely because it collects work that's outside Hammer's foremost genre, but it embodies a generous helping of the work of two of the company's most interesting auteurs as well as some of their most celebrated associates. It's rewarding in unexpected ways. The set, which includes a 36-page color booklet of new essays and press kit reproductions, is Region B and strictly limited to 6,000 copies.

(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved. (c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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Friday, July 24, 2020

They Came From Beyond Taste

Michael Gough as the Master of the Moon. No, I'm not kidding. 
(1967, 85m 12s; Kino Lorber)

In my opinion, the single best critical overview of Freddie Francis' uneven directorial career is to be found in  Paul M. Jensen's 1996 book THE MEN WHO MADE THE MONSTERS, which devotes a substantial chapter to him. An articulate defender, even Jensen makes few claims for THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE, Francis' 1967 science fiction film for Amicus. 

He allows for a certain visual vitality early on (what Jensen calls "an atmosphere of dangerous uncertainty"), after which point it becomes merely "silly," as its hero Robert Hutton "spends nearly an hour of the film trying to learn what the audience already knows." (He's not much of an expert, staring at one point that "No propulsion system on Earth could get to the moon and back," not very long before one really did.) The film was apparently made back-to-back with another film by the company, Montgomery Tully's THE TERRORNAUTS, which was made first and gobbled up the greater share of the budget allotted for the pair, which left Francis in an unfortunate situation. As filmmaker David DeCoteau mentions in the audio commentary track he shares with David Del Valle, the film's real problem is that it has a lousy script. This is partly due to its literary source (a 1941 science fiction novel, THE GODS HATE KANSAS by Joseph Millard, that was naïve even by 1967 standards) and an adaptation by producer Milton Subotsky that was, intentionally or unwittingly, aimed at eight year-olds.

Believe it or not, these are the good guys.
Hutton plays Dr. Curtis Temple, the director of a scientific unit studying the possibility of extraterrestrial life - which, in itself, is kind of silly. He and his associates work in a spacious and largely empty room where is taped to the wall a poster of the Solar System that I had on the wall of my own room as a child, and the impressive floor is a mosaic interpretation of space that makes the operation site seem a repurposed Turkish bath house. Temple works closely with his fiancée Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne, an actress with a strange auburn bouffant and an endlessly jutting lower lip that seems to lead her from place to place). By a strange coincidence, just as we are getting to know them, they pick up a sighting of a series of what appear to be meteorites coming down to Earth, but they are in fact flying in a V formation. Just as it's casually mentioned that Temple has a steel implant covering part of his brain from an old war injury, Lee and some others visit the Cornwall site where the meteorites have fallen. As an attempt is made to take a sample of them, Lee is "taken over" by something within, and she commands the other meteorites to seize the other men in the group similarly. ("The brains of these primitives seem quite suitable for our purposes; we have made a most excellent choice," says one, staring dully into camera.)

Jennifer Jayne as Lee Mason - programmed by the Moonies.
What follows then for awhile is a fusion of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1955) and QUATERMASS II (1957), as the men and women possessed by alien intelligence set up a base to serve as headquarters to an imminent invasion - not from another planet, but from our own Moon. It is quickly learned by the Moon people that Temple is exempt from their takeover tactics thanks to his steel plate, and when he belatedly figures this out, he pays a visit to the only man he can still trust, his brilliant colleague Farge (Zia Mohyeddin), with whom he designs and creates a colander-like helmet (melted down from Farge's beloved loving cup awards from dog shows!) to protect him, a pair of bizarre Cronenbergian goggles with the ability to see through the Moonies' earthly disguises, and a special ray gun - all in what seems the space of an afternoon. Then they proceed to invade Earth's first Moonbase and take on none other than the egomaniacal Master of the Moon (Michael Gough, in a role he was obviously born to play), attended by shirtless, pot-bellied servants dressed like Mickey Hargitay's Crimson Executioner in BLOODY PIT OF HORROR. Since I've told you most everything, I'll say no more of the story except that Temple's climactic meeting with the Master of the Moon aspires to a note of corny, wiser-than-thou irony; it might have played that way on the page in 1941 (pardon my skepticism) but onscreen it's just a chorus of raspberries.

Luanshya Greer - an interesting character who deserved a better film.
Francis is on record as having said that he really wasn't all that keen on horror, and THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE argues that he had even less affinity for science fiction. It seems he took Subotsky's script and simply carried on (a la Nurse, Teacher, Constable, Cabby and Cleo), doing what he could with what little he had.

Despite the director's cavalier handling, I was still able to find a meager measure of enjoyment in the film by approaching it as an unexpected adjunct to what I've called "Continental Op/Pop" cinema. Consequently, the film can be approached as a demonstration reel of visual solutions to various problems.

Once our heroes penetrate the Moonbase, Don Mingaye (Hammer's resident art director) gives the film some scenic panache that evokes Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK, made around the same time. (The scale model special effects by Les Bowie, however, find the budget pinching badly.) DP Norman Warwick's pictorial interaction with the minimal sets, often from oblique and exaggerated angles that wisely stress form and geometry over content, complemented with quick cutting during action sequences and a wildly jazzy score by James Stevens, lends the proceedings a certain comic-book dynamism. Indeed, the Stevens score alone would relate this film in a fraternal sort of way to Amicus' later film SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970), with its Edgar Wallace krimi-inspired jazz score by David Whitaker.

This film has had previous releases on VHS and DVD, but the new Kino Lorber release is its first appearance on Blu-ray (85m 12s). This 1.85:1 presentation sourced from Studiocanal is undoubtedly an all-time best; the colors are bold, the image sharp, and it has a decent mono track. The Del Valle / DeCoteau commentary is pretty much a lively bull session about a film neither of them likes very much; each makes worthwhile observations, and there's a personal reminiscence by Del Valle of a backstage encounter with Michael Gough. As it's all improvised, there are occasional whoopsie-daisies (Honor Blackman played Emma Peel, "Freddie Fisher," etc) but if you're feeling forgiving and a need for some sassy solace after watching the main feature, here's your ticket. There's also a theatrical trailer. Available on Blu-ray and DVD at a persuasive price. 
(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Going Ape With Scream Factory, Part 3

Acquanetta is examined by new mad doctor J. Carrol Naish in JUNGLE WOMAN.
The second film in the Paula the Ape Woman series is JUNGLE WOMAN (1944), directed by Reginald LeBorg. LeBorg is best remembered for a handful of later horror films, including THE BLACK SLEEP and DIARY OF A MADMAN. JUNGLE WOMAN has the reputation of being one of Universal's most disposable chillers because it's almost entirely told in flashbacks as Dr. Carl Fletcher (J. Carrol Naish) is tried for Paula's murder in a judge's (Samuel S. Hinds) private chambers, with the now-married principals of CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Milburn Stone, Evelyn Ankers) occasionally chipping in their recollections, prompting more stock footage from CWW and THE BIG CAGE than seems quite decent. As noted in my last installment, there are no transformation scenes; in fact, the only view given of Paula in her half-ape form is withheld for a single shot at the end of the picture. Laid out in synopsis form, it doesn't sound very promising - and yet I personally find JUNGLE WOMAN to be the most interesting of the three films in terms of its approach to generating horror scenes. LeBorg wasn't a first rank horror director, but you can see him turning the disadvantages of this production to their best advantage with a series of interesting and sometimes very effective set pieces - the opening attack (staged with doubles in silhouette), the attempted development of Acquanetta's Paula - now with actual lines to speak - into a kind of B-movie version of Simone Simon's Irena in Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE (1941), and especially a sequence in which a swimming Paula sets out to avenge her hair-trigger jealousy against this film's romantic couple (Lois Collier, Richard Davis) as they enjoy a moonlit boat row. The single shot of the submarine Paula's arrow-like wake closing in on the rear of the rowboat is one of Universal's most effective frissons of the 1940s, looking ahead to a special form of aqueous horror that would not come fully about until CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) or JAWS (1975).

Vicky Lane in Paula makeup by Universal's resident genius, Jack Pierce.
THE JUNGLE CAPTIVE followed its troubled predecessor by a full year, and its release was muted by placing it in many theaters as the co-feature on double bills with Universal's latest Inner Sanctum picture THE FROZEN GHOST, both films directed by Harold Young (THE MUMMY'S TOMB). At least it had display ads in newspapers - a prowl through newspaper archives indicates that Universal hadn't wished to draw undue attention to JUNGLE WOMAN. The script takes a horror pulp premise, a standard romantic back story (Amelita Ward, Phil Brown) and wedges Paula's rocky legacy into it. She is now played by 18 year old Vicky Lane, born to an American mother in Dublin, who - in a disclosure that must have mortified Universal's publicity department - described herself to reporters as "Black Irish." She was also, already at her young age, the wife of actor Tom Neal, the star of Edgar Ulmer's DETOUR. She does not in the least resemble Acquanetta, looking like an all-American sweater girl than and exotic import, but the makeup and hair department did their best to emulate her predecessrors' distinctive coiffure. Lane had actually appeared uncredited in a few earlier films (including Douglas Sirk's HITLER'S MADMAN), but this was her first credited film role - and her last.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 29, 1945.
Lane's inheritance of Acquanetta's duties is lacking in a convincing feral nature in either of her personas, and Universal seems to have deliberately deprived Paula of central attention by casting their "monster without makeup" star Rondo Hatton as Moloch, the henchman of the film's mad scientist, who is always firmly addressed as Mr. Stendhal (DRACULA'S DAUGHTER's Otto Kruger). Usually cast in silent roles, Hatton gets a surprising amount of dialogue and an even more surprising amount of lip from Stendhal, who lambastes the poor man's moonstruck reactions to heroine Ann Forrester (Ward) with unbelievable lines like "you're not exactly a Casanova, you know," and adding with a glance at the nearby Ape Woman, "that's more in your line." Harold Young, whose specialty seems to have been movies like BACHELOR DADDY and JUKEBOX JENNY, doesn't come near the atmosphere his cameraman George Robinson gave to THE MUMMY'S GHOST; his cameraman here was Maury Gertsman, a longtime Universal DP who was dealt this as his first horror picture. The studio was pleased enough with his Rondo Hatton scenes to place him in charge of the visuals on the rest of the films Hatton would make for the studio: HOUSE OF HORRORS and THE BRUTE MAN (both scripted by this film's author, Dwight V. Babcock), as well as the relatively woebegone one-shot, SHE WOLF OF LONDON.

In many ways, it's the audio commentaries that raise UNIVERSAL HORROR COLLECTION VOLUME 5 to the level of a reference necessity, especially for anyone who doesn't already own Tom Weaver's UNIVERSAL HORRORS or Greg Mank's WOMEN IN HORROR FILMS two-volume set. As always, Weaver's THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL and CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (he's assisted by Steve Kronenberg on the former) are smart, feisty, often amusing talks that succeed as entertainment as much as production studies. He imports vocal performances by Larry Blamire and Lucy Chase Williams to fill in for Edward Dmytryk and Acquanetta, and pokes his nose into all sorts of production trivia and data - including a TMI explanation for John Carradine's aversion to white pants. Mank's JUNGLE WOMAN commentary is impeccably snappy, detailed, and expressive, its every shift and silence perfectly timed to the onscreen action; it's about as perfectly and tightly (yet smoothly) executed a commentary as I've heard. Scott Gallinghouse's JUNGLE CAPTIVE commentary is a bit dry by comparison, with some unannounced gaps, but there is no faulting his documentation, an exhaustive report on the making of the picture with special attention reserved for Rondo Hatton.

(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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