Friday, September 27, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual

Of Lost Three Stooges, Kitty O’Day, Gangsters, Zombies, and Nazi Mad Scientists

By Ed Garea

Hello Pop!, a two-strip Technicolor short starring the Three Stooges long believed lost, will be shown at New York City’s Film Forum, with showtimes on Sunday at 3:00 pm, and Monday at 3:00 and 6:00 pm.

Following a devastating 1967 vault fire at MGM in which its negative and all existing prints were destroyed, Hello Pop! was long believed to be the sole lost Three Stooges short. However, in December 2012, a film collector in Australia contacted The Vitaphone Project, a group devoted to restoring early sound vaudeville and music shorts. It seems he had rescued a print of the 1933 short years ago from a landfill. The collector, in his mid-eighties, had owned the print for years and wanted to ensure that it went to the right people for restoration.

Though it’s usually from countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain that most films thought lost are re-discovered, many films as of late have been popping up in Australia and New Zealand. The reason for this is that once prints were shipped to theatres from Hollywood, it was too costly or troublesome to ship them back. So they were simply kept by the theaters or distribution offices.

In the early ‘60s competition from television caused many theaters to close. This, in turn affected most of the Hollywood film exchanges in Australia and New Zealand, and they, too, began to close or downsize. As demand at the time for silent films and early talkies was negligible, it was cheaper simply to pay to have them hauled to the landfill. Collectors, having gotten word of what was taking place, paid the haulers to divert their loads to their homes instead; in effect saving some of the titles lost to posterity in that MGM fire. Other films that have turned up include a reel from the 1929 two-strip Technicolor musical, Gold Diggers of Broadway, and part of the 1928 Technicolor feature, The Patriot. The most famous of the films destroyed by the 1967 fire, Tod Browning’s London After Midnight, with Lon Chaney, so far hasn’t yet appeared, but hope remains eternal.

Also on the weekend’s program is a new 35 mm print of a rarely seen Robert Benchley short, Your Technocracy and You, which parodies faddish economic theories of the time; Gobs of Fun, a 1933 Vitaphone short with an early, uncredited appearance of Shemp Howard; and two restored Vitaphone shorts from 1928: Sharps and Flats, starring the husband and wife team of Jimmy Conlin (later a regular in Preston Sturges’s stock company) and Myrtle Glass, and The Beau Brummels, starring the vaudeville comedy team of Al Shaw and Sam Lee.

The Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston St. (between 6th Ave. and Varick St.) in New York City. For further information, telephone the box office at 1-212-727-8110 for showtimes and prices, or visit their website at 

It’s on to the selected films of the week. Both are on Saturday, and while one is a so-so sequel, the other is one of the great psychotronic classics.

Creature With The Atom Brain (Columbia, 1955) – Director:  Edward L. Cahn. Writer: Curt Siodmak (story & s/p). Cast: Richard Denning, Gregory Gaye, Angela Stevens, S. John Laurer, Michael Granger, & Tristam Coffin. B&W, 69 minutes. Airing at 9:30 am.

Now we’re talking! Leave to schlockmeister Sam Katzman to give us the first atomic zombie movie. Made by Katzman’s Clover Productions and released (escaped?) by Columbia, this film has everything for the psychotronic fan: gangsters, mad scientists, Nazis, and (of course) zombies. Mob boss Hennessy is murdered after a man breaks into his home, strangles him, and escapes despite taking several shots to the torso from Hennessy’s henchmen. Enter police scientist Dr. Chet Walker (Denning) and his partner, Capt. Dave Harris (Launer). It seems the killer left fingerprints behind, but they not only belong to a recently deceased man, they are also radioactive. In addition, eight other bodies have been stolen from the city morgue. Hmmm.

As the film moves at a wonderfully fast clip, with no time for unnecessary scenes, shots, or explanations, we discover who’s behind the killings. Exiled mobster Frank Buchanan (Granger), while in Europe, made the acquaintance of ex-Nazi mad scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gaye). Gaye has this plan for the reanimation of the dead through the use of atomic energy, which not only brings them back to life, but also gives them superhuman strength. Buchanan gives him the necessary funding; after all, this is an excellent way for revenge on the former business partners that framed him, and together they sneak into America. The zombies are directed by remote control and have a video camera planted within so Buchanan (and us) can see what’s going on.

Once DA MacGraw (Coffin) is murdered, things fall into place. But along the way, Capt. Harris is captured by the baddies and turned into a zombie. His visit to the Walker home, post-mortem, is the most hilarious in the picture. Speaking now mechanically, he asks Mrs. Walker as to the whereabouts of her husband. She asks why he’s so formal. Never mind the huge scar and stitches in the middle of his forehead. Walker’s daughter, Penny, bring in her favorite doll to show “Uncle Dave,” who promptly dismembers it as Penny cries. As Dave leaves, he runs into Chet who drives with him and who also doesn’t notice anything wrong. He’s the guy’s partner and doesn’t even notice the big ass scar and stitches on Dave’s forehead?

The climax comes when Chet, finally realizing his partner is a zombie, trails him back to the lab, where he must replenish his energy. The cops surround the place. The zombies come out to attack and the fight is on. No matter how much lead is pumped into them, they still keep coming. The battle only ends when Chet destroys the atomic equipment, causing the zombies to revert to their former corpse selves. What a film.

Wait For It: The scene where the TV newscaster address his audience as follows: “...with the murder of Jason Franchot last night I must apologize for my recent skepticism regarding these radioactive creatures. It seems they do exist and are prowling the street."

Trivia: Wrestler “Killer” Karl Davis plays the first zombie. Method acting.

Adventures of Kitty O’Day (Monogram, 1945) – Director: William Beaudine. Writers: Tim Ryan (s/p), William Hammond (s/p & orig. story). Cast: Jean Parker, Peter Cookson, Tim Ryan, Lorna Gray, Jan Wiley, Ralph Sanford, Bryan Foulger, & Shelton Brooks. B&W, 63 minutes. Airing at 10:45 am.

Leave it to Monogram to make a sequel with scant resemblance to the original. Kitty O’Day (Parker) is now a nosy switchboard operator at a hotel; boyfriend Johnny Jones (Cookson) is a travel agent; and Sgt. Clancy (Ryan) is now chief of detectives. Anyway. Kitty hears shots; she, Johnny, and night porter Jeff (Brooks) investigate and find a body. Enter the police, but the body keeps disappearing and re-appearing. Kitty and Johnny are arrested for murder when the corpse’s wallet is found in Kitty’s room, but later released when evidence points to their innocence. Eventually, Kitty and Johnny solve the murder, which is about a jewel robbery gone bad. Murder solved, Kitty and Johnny return to their old jobs. Fade out. Watch it anyway, it’s from Monogram and it’s on TCM.

No comments:

Post a Comment