Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 1-7

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea 

Ah, it’s October. The leaves are turning, the days are growing cooler and shorter; football is totally in the air. And on TCM it’s the month the station features horror and sci-fi movies – you know, the Halloween thing. So before we get to the “can’t miss” films of the week, let’s look at the month itself.

The Story of Film, continues on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the accompanying seldom-seen classics following or preceding. Of particular interest among these classics is Pather Panchali (Oct. 7, 8:00 pm), the great Satyajit Ray’s directorial feature debut from 1955; Luis Bunuel’s 1950 opus, Los Olvidados (October 8, 3:00 am), about juvenile delinquency in the slums of Mexico City; Agnes Varda’s mesmerizing Cleo From 5 to 7 (October 14, 2:15 am), about a superficial woman’s meandering about Paris while she waits for the results of a cancer test. This is a beautiful film that transcends its subject from a constricted and distressing present to a sense of openness that can free her. I had the good fortune to view this film and strongly recommend it.

Also noted this month is Roman Polanski’s breakthrough film, Knife in the Water (October 21, 10:00 pm); Shohei Imamura’s brilliant 1964 drama, The Insect Woman (October 15, 10:00 pm), concerning the pervasiveness of corruption in Postwar Japan; and Charles Burnett’s insightful Killer of Sheep (October 29, 5:30 am), a look at a father of a family in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

As October is the month for horror, TCM gives us Vincent Price as the Star of the Month, with 35 of his films being screened. Among them the popular horror fare for which he became famous including: House of Wax (October 24, 8:00 pm), The Tingler (October 24, 2:15 am), House on Haunted Hill (October 24, 3:45 am), The Pit and the Pendulum (October 31, 8:00 pm), and The Masque of the Red Death (October 31, 11:15 pm). Add to these his two camp classics, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (October 31, 1:00 am) and Theatre of Blood, which will be seen on November 1 at 8:15 am, sort of a hangover from Halloween as it were.

Based on what I just described, one might come to the conclusion that Price did nothing notable outside of horror films, or that Yours Truly thought that was all he did. It’s “no” on both counts. While Price was best known to the general public for his horror films – an image he not gladly accepted, but actively reveled in – he actually compiled quite a varied resume beginning in the late ‘30s. He played Raleigh in the Bette Davis costumer The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (October 3, 8:00 pm), and a newspaper publisher in Fritz Lang’s crime drama, While the City Sleeps (October 17, 8:00 pm). His best performance of the month comes in Sam Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona (October 10, 8:00 pm). It’s based on the real-life antics of con artist James Addison Reavis, who nearly pulled off a scam that would have ceded him the rights a large parcel of land in the central Arizona Territory and the western New Mexico Territory during the 1870s and ‘80s.

As for non-horror hammy performances, viewers should watch His Kind of Woman (October 10, 9:45 pm), with Price giving an over-the-top performance playing – of all things – a ham actor. He plays the Devil in Irwin Allen’s laff riot, The Story of Mankind (October 17, 9:45 pm), arguing with Ronald Colman’s “Spirit of Mankind” as whether or not to pull the plug on civilization. If bad movies are your thing, this is the mother lode, with Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Dennis Hopper as Napoleon, Harpo Marx as Sir Isaac Newton, and bubble-headed blonde comedienne Marie Wilson as Marie Antoinette. And last, but certainly not least, Price stars with none other than Elvis himself in The Trouble With Girls (October 17, 5:15 am), a film that features Presley’s most lackadaisical performance in a film as the manager of a tent show.

For October, “Friday Night Spotlight” becomes “Friday Night Spooklight,” hosted by Bill Hader (who previously hosted this summer’s Essentials, Jr.). Each Friday a double feature will be spun around such topics as Zombies, Mad Doctors, Vampires, Spooky Houses, Bewitching Tales, Satan Worshippers, Maniac Criminals, and Scary Sisters. Notable films shown during this festival include The Testament of Dr. MabuseThe Bride of FrankensteinHorror of DraculaDead of NightThe HauntingThe Seventh VictimThe Curse of the DemonDementia 13, and Sisters.

Also featured during October is a night devoted to Tyrone Power (October 16). Films to be shown include Rawhide (8:00 pm), Nightmare Alley (9:45 pm), The Mark of Zorro (11:45 pm), The Black Swan (1:30 am), and Marie Antoinette (3:00 am).

Last of the month’s highlights is a night of director Tod Browning’s films on October 19. Scheduled for viewing are Freaks (8:00 pm), Mark of the Vampire (9:15 pm), The Devil Doll (10:30 pm), the rarely seen Miracles for Sale (12:00 am), and the legendary “lost” film, London After Midnight (1:15 am), which in reality is a compilation of stills that follow the film’s story, as the film itself has not been yet found.

Onto this week’s featured films:

October 5 (2:00 am): Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (Embassy, 1966) – Director: William Beaudine. Writer: Carl K. Hittleman. Cast: John Carradine, Chuck Courtney, Melinda Plowman, Virginia Christine, Harry Carey, Jr., & Roy Barcroft. Color, 73 minutes.

Carradine, decked out in a top hat and goatee, plays Count Dracula for the first time since 1945. He should have quit while he was ahead.

The Count comes to the small Southwestern village of Wickenburg, posing as the uncle of Betty Bentley (Plowman), who owns the Bar-B Ranch right outside town. But “Uncle” arouses the suspicions of ranch foreman Billy the Kid (Courtney), who is now a reformed outlaw. While Billy sets out to expose “Uncle,” he has no idea that Dracula has Betty in his power. Things go from bad to worse before Billy and the sheriff track Drac to the always handy nearby silver mine. As bullets are of no use, Billy dispatches Drac by stabbing him in the heart with a doctor’s scalpel. Viewers might want to take notice of Christie, who plays fearful but resourceful immigrant Eva Oster. She went on to gain fame in Folger’s coffee commercials as pitchwoman “Mrs. Olsen.” Carradine said in interviews that this was easily his worst film, which is really saying something considering all the dogs he’s been in over the years. One critic noted that Carradine was miscast; his performance “too nervy and agitated.” That could be due to the fact that during production, Carradine hauled himself in full Dracula regalia to a bar on Melrose Avenue, where he enjoyed a hearty liquid lunch before returning to the set. In his later interviews, he remarked that he didn’t even remember making the film. Now we know why.

October 5 (3:15 am): Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (Embassy, 1966) – Director: William Beaudine. Writer: Carl K. Hittleman. Cast: John Lupton, Cal Bolder, Narda Onyx, Stephen Geray, Jim Davis, Nestor Paiva, Estelita Rodriguez, Felipe Turich, & Rosa Turich. Color, 82 minutes.

If you thought the former film was terrible, well, in the words of Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothing, yet.”

A small, unnamed town in the southwest has suddenly gained two new citizens. Dr. Maria Frankenstein (Onyx) and her brother Rudolph (Geray) have come to live, attracted by the frequent electrical storms in the area, which are necessary to power their brain experiments. Maria is not the daughter, but the great-granddaughter of Dr. Frankenstein. Armed with this information, critics have loved pointing out that the film’s title is wrong. But think about it – does it really matter?

Anyway, soon the Frankenstein siblings run out of brain donors – mainly local children they kidnapped – and turn to a new victim in the persona of Hank Tracy (Bolder), a sidekick of Jesse James who comes to see the doc to heal injuries sustained in a gunfight. While Jesse’s away, sent by the doc to get necessary “medicine,” Hank is at Maria’s mercy. Fresh meat, thinks the doc, who transforms Hank into a mindless slave she names Igor and who will do anything the doc tells him. But the doc is about to have a couple of bad days once Jesse returns. Maria tries to seduce him. No soap, he seems to prefer his horse to both Maria and pretty local villager Juanita (Rodriguez).

Cheesed off by rejection, Maria sics Igor on Jesse and Igor knocks his former friend cold. (Igor had earlier been sicced on Rudolph, who Maria caught sabotaging her experiments.) As she’s about to pull the lever to send Jesse to Zombieland, Igor attacks and kills her. Again he turns on Jesse, who was revived by all the ruckus. Enter the Sheriff (Davis), tipped to Jesse’s presence by the pharmacist. He kills Igor and takes Jesse into custody. Juanita promises to wait for Jesse. The end.

This was Beaudine’s 199th – and last – movie. It was made right after Billy the Kid vs. Dracula as part of a drive-in double feature by producers Carroll Case and Sam Manners. As was usually the case with B horrors, the titles came first and the scripts were tailored for them.

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