A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
There is no TCM Star of the Month for June, but rather “stars.” The theme is
“Pin-up Girls,” and TCM will be featuring films starring women who became famous as pin-ups during World War II.
“Pin-up Girls,” and TCM will be featuring films starring women who became famous as pin-ups during World War II.
June 3: The fest begins at 8:00 pm with – what else? – Betty Grable in 1944’s Pin Up Girl from 20th Century Fox. Great title, but it’s not much of a picture. The plot is real thin: Betty is a USO hostess who poses as a Broadway star to snare the war hero of her dreams, played by John Harvey. Usually, the plots in musicals aren’t worth the script paper they’re written on. If the tunes are right, who cares about the plot? But Pin-Up Girl has lousy songs as well.
At 9:30 pm comes one of America’s most famous pin-ups, Rita Hayworth, capitalizing on that fame in her starring turn in Gilda (Fox, 1946). It’s the story of a triangle between Gilda (Hayworth), her old flame, gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), and the man Ford works for, casino owner Balin Mundson (George Macready) who happens to be Gilda’s husband. The film has its moments, but like an out-of-shape boxer, it fades at the end. Another problem is that I just can’t see Glenn Ford as a ladies’ man. Cary Grant, William Holden, or Alan Ladd, yes, of course, but not Glenn Ford. Watch it for one of the best moments on film – where Rita sings “Put the Blame on Mame.”
11:30 sees two pin-up girls – Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr – in Ziegfeld Girl from MGM in 1941. Judy Garland is the other star, as they needed someone who could sing and dance. It’s the story of three young women and how their lives are changed when they become Ziegfeld Follies girls. The film gets off to a good start, but later bogs down in the world of turgid melodrama. Judy, as usual, steals the show with “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and “Minnie From Trinidad.” Busby Berkeley handles the musical choreography.
At 2:00 am, it’s the beautiful Ava Gardner making quite a splash in The Killers (Universal, 1946). Edmond O’Brien is an insurance investigator looking for a recently deceased boxer’s (Burt Lancaster) beneficiaries. He soon finds more than he bargained for in this excellent noir from director Robert Siodmak with a script by John Huston loosely based on a Hemingway story. Lancaster is great as the doomed boxer, and the film marks Gardner’s big break. She had been under contract to MGM since 1941, but the studio didn’t know what to do with her, so they kept loaning her out. At one point she was the female lead in an East Side Kids movie. Those who haven’t yet seen this film are advised to record it and watch it at their leisure. It is an essential.
Finally, at the late hour of 4:00 in the morning, comes pin-up Veronica Lake starring with Alan Ladd and Brian Donlevy in Paramount’s 1942 noir, The Glass Key, a wonderfully complex tale of political corruption and murder based on a Dashiell Hammett novel. Lake is the girl caught in the middle between political boss Donlevy and his right-hand man Ladd. Heavy William Bendix, probably the most lovable psychopath in the movies, walks away with the film in a role he played more than once in different films. He gives Ladd perhaps the most memorable beating in the history of film, calling his victim “baby” in the process. Again, to those who haven’t yet seen it, record it. You will not be disappointed.
June 10: At 8:00 pm comes Esther Williams, one of the most inexplicable movie stars in history, in her debut musical: Bathing Beauty (MGM, 1944). I say “inexplicable” because she wasn’t much of a singer or a dancer, but could she swim. And she gave birth to a new sub-genre – the “aquamusical.” The only things the studio had to do was change the leading man and the water in the pool.
At 10:00 it’s the actress who popularized the sarong, Dorothy Lamour, staring with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in 1940’s Road to Singapore, from Paramount. It’s the typical Hope-Crosby nonsense, with Lamour as the object of their affections. But it is quite funny.
Following at 11:30 is a rarity, Getting Gertie’s Garter, from producer Edward Small and United Artists in 1945. The film is noted for pin-up queen Marie McDonald, nicknamed “the Body,” by press agents. Dennis O’Keefe is a medical doctor frantically trying to recover a jeweled garter he had given to one-time flame Marie. McDonald’s career never amounted to much, derailed by numerous sex scandals, seven marriages, drink, and drugs. In 1965, she committed suicide with an overdose of pills at the tender age of 42.
At 1:15 am comes pin-up model Jane Russell in one of the best bad films of all time, The Outlaw, from Howard Hughes in 1943. A crazy story about Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday, the film was made to exploit the charms of Russell, Hughes’ newest star. The low-cut blouses and dialogue she was given caused the Hays Office to threaten not to give its Seal of Approval to the film, so Hughes released it without the Seal and did great business for 10 weeks until he pulled it from release and shelved it for three years. When he reissued it in 1946, Hughes gave in to the censors and made the recommended cuts, which hurt the film’s business because without the risqué, it was just another bad film.
3:30 am sees Ann Sheridan in Warner Brothers’ Torrid Zone, a 1940 adventure co-starring Jimmy Cagney and Pat O’Brien. Sheridan is a nightclub star stranded on O’Brien’s banana plantation. She becomes involved with plantation manager Cagney and eventually helps owner O’Brien hold on to his most valuable employee. It’s a lot of fun, especially for the chemistry between the three leads.
We close at the bleak hour of 5:15 am with one of the most preposterous films ever to come from MGM: White Cargo (1942). It’s Hedy Lamarr in perhaps her most famous, or infamous, role as Tondelayo, the half-Egyptian, sarong-clad temptress whose broken English is enough to drive men mad with desire. It’s certainly not her acting, or lack of it. Set on an African rubber plantation established by the English, overseer Harry Witzel (Walter Pidgeon) warns new assistant Langford (Richard Carlson) of the danger Tondelayo poses. It seems she had destroyed Langford’s predecessor, Wilbur (Bramwell Fletcher), and will cut through unwary men as easily as a hot knife through butter. So does Langford listen? Not on your life. He’s ensnared and marries her. But after awhile she becomes bored and decides murder is far cheaper than a divorce lawyer. It’s a hoot; watching Lamarr attempt to act is worth the price of admission. And that great line, “I am Tondelayo,” will stay with one always.
FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT: “SUMMER OF DARKNESS”
The Friday Night Spotlight for June is devoted to what TCM calls the “Summer of Darkness.” And just what the hell does that mean? If you’re expecting some good horror flicks, forget about it. These are noirs and thrillers, a mixture of crime, suspense and drama. Some are great, some good, and some worth skipping altogether. For the sake of brevity, I’m just going to mention what I believe are the ones worth your time tuning in.
June 5: At 8:00 pm, it’s Nora Prentiss (WB, 1947) starring Ann Sheridan as just about the nicest femme fatale to ever appear on film. She’s a kicked-about-by-life singer who attracts Dr. Talbot (Kent Smith), a man whose wife (Rosemary DeCamp) seemingly has no use for him. So what else is left for him except to have an affair? Which he does with gusto. I’m not going to mention the rest of the plot, lest you begin to suspect I’m making it up as I go along – it’s just that looney. Directed by Vincent Sherman, who has directed many a looney flick in his career.
Dark Passage (WB, 1947) airs at 11:45 pm. Humphrey Bogart stars as a man unjustly accused of his wife’s murder. He had just undergone plastic surgery, so he hides out at Lauren Bacall’s place until he heals. And when the bandages come off he looks just like Humphrey Bogart. It sort of reminds me of Arsenic and Old Lace, where “Doctor” Peter Lorre rearranges Jonathan Brewster’s face to make him look like Boris Karloff. However, Dark Passage, despite its plot, is a good film. Anything with Bacall and Bogart is worth catching, and the film boasts one of the better gimmicks: for the first 40 minutes or so we see the world through the recently rearranged Bogart’s point-of-view.
At 1:45 am, it’s the solid Lawrence Tierney noir, Born to Kill (RKO, 1947). Tierney is a murderer and all-around nogoodnik who marries young, innocent Audrey Long only to get the hots for her older, divorced sister, Claire Trevor. Tierney is so mean and rotten in this film that he actually out-means co-star Walter Slezak, who usually plays the meanie in his films. It’s one of the great noirs and is always worth the time.
Finally, to wrap up at 3:30 am, it’s one of the few films made after 1990 that can be called exceptional. L.A. Confidential (WB, 1997), from James Ellroy’s wonderful novel of the same name, is a delicious tale of corruption and conspiracy in ‘50s Los Angeles, with Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Danny DeVito, and James Cromwell all turning in performances of a lifetime. Even Kim Basinger, who can best be said to be thespically-challenged, gives a decent performance. Why this wonderful picture airs so late is a mystery in itself.
June 12: It’s a night of great B’s, with Barry Sullivan leading off at 8:00 pm with The Gangster (Monogram, 1947), a remarkable, offbeat, character study of Shubunka, a racketeer who is becoming progressively paranoid and filled with self-doubt over the pressures applied by rival gangster Sheldon Leonard. As if that weren’t trouble enough, Sullivan is unnerved by thought of his girlfriend (Belita) two-timing him, and a gambler who is always pestering him for money (John Ireland). The supporting cast is first-rate, with such stalwarts as Akim Tamiroff, Henry Morgan, Charles McGraw, and Elisha Cook, Jr. Produced by the King Brothers and directed by Gordon Wiles, it’s a film that never fails to entertain.
The Gangster is followed at 9:45 with another King Brothers movie, Gun Crazy (UA, 1950). Though not the hit their earlier film, Dillinger (1944) was, Gun Crazy is a far better film; in fact, probably the best the King Brothers ever did. It’s the story of a troubled young man named Barton Tare (John Dall) who has a fascination with guns. At a carnival, he meets its resident sharpshooter, Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), and the attraction between the two is instantaneous, electric, and mutual. They run off together to make a fresh start, but Annie’s dreams of the good life lead the couple into a life of crime, as they pull off robberies, and at Annie’s insistence, degenerate into murder. Although the couple moves fast while on the run, the law eventually catches up with them and their fate is sealed. MacKinaly Kantor and the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Millard Kaufman) wrote the screenplay, from Kantor’s original story. Joseph H. Lewis, a stalwart of B-dom and a man who knew how to get $100 worth of product out of $1, directed. The film became a cult hit in the ‘60s, and Francois Truffaut, in the days when he was being courted to direct Bonnie and Clyde, arranged a screening of the film for David Newman and Robert Benton in the hope that its style and mood might influence their screenplay.
At 1:15 am is what some critics have labeled as the greatest B-movie ever made, Nightmare Alley (Fox, 1947). Unfortunately, as critic Clive T. Miller shrewdly points out, the film was made on an “A” budget and the result is a mishmash of styles. But never mind all that; it’s a fascinating look at the world of the carnival and its denizens; in fact, I don’t believe a better movie about carny life has ever been made, though Freaks does come close. Tyrone Power has never been better and he is ably assisted with a top-rate cast including Joan Blondell, Ian Keith, Coleen Gray, Mike Mazurki, Taylor Holmes, Helen Walker and James Burke. It shows the carny world in all its brutality, but when it shifts to the world of white tie and tails as Power’s mind-reading act goes big time, is it any less brutal? It’s a good question to ponder while watching.
Finally, at 3:30 am, it’s the excellent, underrated neo-noir, Night Moves (WB, 1975). Gene Hackman is riveting as a private detective whose martial woes and inability to face his life honestly strip him of the ability to solve what perhaps is the biggest case he has ever come across. Jennifer Warren gives the best performance of her career as the quirky femme fatale, Susan Clark scores as Hackman’s duplicitous wife, and James Woods as the suspicious mechanic is ... well, James Woods. It bombed in its initial release; Spielberg’s Jaws opened nine days later, but the movie has since enjoyed a cult status and is one film buffs should take in.
When a Jean Renoir film from the late ‘30s is aired, we are usually assured of seeing either Grand Illusion or The Rules of the Game, so it’s a nice surprise that TCM is showing La Bete Humaine, a gem from 1938, on June 5 at the benign hour of 8:00 am. Known also as The Human Beast, it’s a masterful adaptation of Emile Zola’s novel La Bete Humaine. Jean Gabin stars as Lantier, a train engineer prone to violent seizures, which he blames on his family’s past heavy drinking. Ferdinand Ledoux is Roubard a conductor with the same railroad, and man married to the much younger Severine (Simone Simon). When he learns of his wife’s affair with her godfather, the wealthy Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz) he kills him during a train journey, making sure that Severine is also present, as to make her an accomplice for the act. Lantier has witness the killing, but mentions nothing to the police, for he is in love with Severine with whom he begins an affair. For his part, Roubard becomes increasingly withdrawn and spends his free time at the gaming tables. Severine urges Lantier to dispose of her husband so they can be free. However, she is unaware of Lantier’s condition, which has disastrous consequences for both.
Renoir keeps the adaptation faithful to the original, a later novel in Zola’s 20-volume history of a single French family, the Rougon-Maquarts. Zola’s naturalistic style fits the trend French cinema was following in the late ‘30s quite well, and combined with the excellent acting by all concerned, the writing fits in quite nicely. It is the best adaptation of Zola on the screen. Watch the opening scene, where we see Lantier’s train speeding across the countryside. The photography and editing make us feel that we are in the compartment right alongside Lantier. Renoir is not just doing this to telegraph the story to come, but also to show the clash of powerful forces inside and outside of Lantier, forces he cannot control. It is simply an unforgettable film.
It’s a double feature of two of the director’s best films on June 7, starting at 2:30 am with the impeccable Rashomon from 1951, followed at 4:00 am by his equally compelling samurai drama, Sanjuro from 1962.
Rashomon, which unexpectedly won the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, recounts a grisly story, set in medieval Japan, of the murder and rape of a samurai and his wife and the trial of the accused, as told by four different observers. We are led to expect a crystal clear version of what really happened by the end, except that ending never comes and we are left ourselves to attempt to figure out what really happened that day. It’s frustrating, but ultimately compelling. For days afterward I ran over the events of the film in my mind. I even played it again to confirm any suspicions, but at the end I was still befuddled, and perhaps this is what Akira Kurosawa wanted from the beginning. The film has a dreamy quality and vagueness as the different accounts are played with and against each other. Toshiro Mifune, who plays the bandit behind the trouble, gives one of the best performances in the history of film. In each of the stories he is portrayed differently, being seen as insane, loyal, passionate and villainous, sometimes at the same time. Noriko Honma as the spiritualist who channels the testimony of the dead samurai (Masayuki Mori) comes close to walking away with film, giving a wonderfully restrained and eerie performance. The weakest performance comes from the samurai’s wife, played by Machiko Kyo, but it’s hardly enough to offset the strong current pursued by the film. Most interestingly, the film was a financial and critical failure in Japan when released. Paul Tatara, in his essay on the film for TCM, notes that many critics complained that Kurosawa took too many liberties with the source material. He also notes Kurosawa’s contention that Japanese audiences and critics distrusted the film because it was such a success with Western audiences: that it was somehow less pure if it could be enjoyed by an alien culture.
Sanjuro should be shown following Yojimbo (1961) as it is that film’s sequel of sorts, but we’ll watch no matter what. It’s not Kurosawa’s finest moment, but stands out as a well-crafted example of Kurosawa’s jidai-geki (“period dramas”), with all its violence intact: literal geysers of blood that influenced later filmmakers. But while they, perhaps, celebrated the violence, Kurosawa saw it as the necessary, and realistic, consequence of violence. Toshiro Mifune returns as samurai Sanjuro Tsubaki from Yojimbo. This time he is recruited by a group of idealistic – but very naïve – young men. The uncle of one of the young men has been framed by a corrupt administration. Though Sanjuro does not fit their image of what a samurai should be – he is dirty, scruffy, abrasive and totally disrespectful – they take him on mainly because they cannot find anyone else willing. As it turns out they made the right choice, for not only does Sanjuro possess the necessary courage, he is also wise in the ways of the worlds and helps educate his new employers in how the world really works, saving their skin, it turns out. It’s a beautifully photographed film that illustrates two of Kurosawa’s recurring themes: false perceptions and truth. It’s definitely one to catch, and look for its influence on the later Star Wars.
June is turning out to be quite the month for Japanese directors. We go from the universally known Kurosawa to the not-so-well-known (in America) Nomura. Nomura directed 44 films and was considered a pioneer of film noir in Japan. On June 14, TCM is airing two of his best noirs: Zero Focus (1961) at 2:15 am, and Castle of Sand (1974) following at 4:00 am.
Zero Focus begins with a voice over by star Yoshiko Kuga as Teiko Uhara. Her husband of all of a week, Kenichi (Koji Nanbara), was recently promoted to the company’s head office in Tokyo. However, he must return to his old office in Kanazawa to retrieve necessary papers and tie up loose ends. From the minute he boards to the train to Kanazawa he is never seen again. Concerned, Teiko sets out for Kanazawa with only a couple of photographs and a lead from his old office to go on. The deeper she digs, however, the more she comes to realize that Kenichi is not the man she married. The remnants of a secret other life begin to surface. She also meets a woman who may have had reason to murder him.
As private as Zero Focus is, Castle of Sand is much, much more public in scope. Considered by Japanese critics as one of the greatest Japanese films ever made, it’s based on a serialization novelist Seicho Matsumoto wrote for the daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. (He later turned it into the novel, Inspector Imanishi Investigates.) It’s a police procedural film, starring Tetsuro Tanba and Kensaku Morita as detectives out to solve the bludgeoning murder of an elderly man in a railroad yard. The clues are scant, but it turns out that the deceased was a retired police officer well thought of in his community. Just as they think the investigation is running out of steam, the detectives uncover a connection between the deceased and a famous classical composer with buried secrets.
Nomura (1919-85) was a popular director in Japan. Watch one of his films, however, and you risk the danger of getting so hooked you begin to search everywhere for more films of his to provide you with your fix. I know. It happened to me.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.
June 4: It’s an entire night of Bulldog Drummond and TCM airs eight films starring the dashing English hero, all but one coming from Paramount. Drummond was a popular character in England, created by writer H.C. McNeile. He was a World War I veteran who missed the action of the war and set out for adventure. Along the way he engaged in a little detective work with the crime he was solving frequently revolving around him. Think of him as a predecessor of James Bond, who was born of the espionage of World War II. His film debut came in Bulldog Drummond, a 1922 silent from Holland, with Carlyle Blackwell (a pretty neat name for a detective hero itself) portraying him. The dashing Ronald Colman played him in Goldwyn’s 1929 talkie, and English studios also got in on the fun with several films in the early ‘30s. But for TCM the night begins at 8:00 pm with Bulldog Drummond Escapes from 1937 with Ray Milland as the Captain. Following at 9:15 is Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937). I hope TCM doesn’t change this one because, not only is it from England (Asso. British Picture Corp.), but it also marks the last appearance of the gorgeous Dorothy Mackaill on the silver screen. When we next return to Hollywood we find that Bulldog Drummond is now being played by John Howard and the films have become a successful B-series. Bulldog Drummond Comes Back, from 1937 is an entertaining film made even more so by the addition of John Barrymore as Drummond’s friend, Colonel Neilson of Scotland Yard. Drummond also has a new ladylove, Phyllis Clavering (played here by Louise Campbell, and later by Heather Angel), a valet, Tenny (E.E. Clive), and a buddy in Algy Longworth (Reginald Denny).
The rest of the films following into the wee hours of the morning are in the same mold. I remember them as a kid on Mystery Theater, a series of detective movies that ran every Saturday afternoon at 1 or 1:30 pm on Channel 5 in New York. They were also my first exposure to the great John Barrymore. What, did you think I watched him in Grand Hotel back then? I was a 9-year old film nut with the accompanying short attention span and a predilection for the psychotronic. Monsters and murders and mayhem, oh my!
June 6: At 3:35 am comes a Blaxploitation classic – Black Belt Jones (WB, 1974). Given the popularity of Bruce Lee’s kung-fu epics and their popularity in the inner city, it was only a matter of time before audiences would see a Black martial arts expert who fought the forces of evil – in this case the Mafia – in his neighborhood. Middleweight karate champion Jim Kelly, whose resume included Enter the Dragon, was chosen for the lead and reunited with that film’s director, Robert Clouse. (It was probably Clouse who recommended Kelly for the role.) It mattered not that the middleweight was a lightweight in the acting department, as long as the punches landed. Unfortunately, too many of his punches landed for the comfort of his co-stars, as Kelly either forgot or intended not to pull them. According to Richard Harland Smith, stunt coordinator Bob Wall paired Kelly with heavyweight karate black belt Jim Bottoms, who told Kelly he would tear Kelly’s head off if one of his punches or kicks connected. Problem solved. The plot was a generic chopsocky one: bad guys threaten to take over martial arts school and its students come to the rescue. In this case the Mob covets the land on which the dojo sits and kills its owner, Scatman Crothers (!). His daughter (Gloria Hendry) and the students call in Black Belt Jones to help. It’s a rather entertaining film if one keeps in mind that it can’t in any way, shape or form be taken seriously.
June 7: An entertaining sci-fi double feature begins at 8:00 with Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Columbia, 1977), where the aliens are friendly, and continues at 10:30 pm with Howard Hawks’ 1951 classic The Thing From Another World (RKO), where the aliens aren’t so friendly. Both are landmarks of the sc-fi genre, but I prefer my aliens threatening and thoroughly nasty, so my vote is for The Thing. It’s also hard to beat the black humor of Hawks’ masterpiece, which actually makes it even scarier, if anything.
June 13: At midnight, it’s the unique The Mind of Mr. Soames (Amicus, 1970) with Terence Stamp as a man who has been in a coma since his birth 30 years ago until a new procedure enables doctors to revive him. Because he has the mind of an infant, a plan is quickly implemented to get him up to speed, as it were, led by the head of the neurological clinic, Dr. Maitland. Robert Vaughn is Dr. Bergen, the doctor who performed the operation and who is at odds with Maitland over the best way to bring Mr. Soames into today’s world. Watch it, though, for Stamp, who gives a wonderful performance as the childlike Soames without stepping over into the ludicrous and makes it to a compelling character study rather than let it slip into melodrama.
The Bomba series continues on June 6 with Elephant Stampede from Monogram in 1951. Bomba takes on ivory poachers who have come to decimate his favorite animals, the elephants. Look for the over-the-top performance of Myron Healey as Collins, one of the poachers. On June 13, it’s 1952’s African Treasure, also from Monogram. Bomba takes on evil diamond smuggler Lyle Talbot, who poses as a geologist. Both movies air at 10:30 am.
BAD MOVIE ALERT - JUNE 2 & JUNE 13
June 2: At 8:30 am comes the amazingly bad The Squall from Warner Brothers/First National in 1929. Based on a Broadway play of the same name by Jean Bart, it’s about a prosperous and happy family of farmers in Hungary. One night, during a strong storm (the “Squall” of the title) they take in Nubi (Myrna Loy), a gypsy girl who ran away from her “cruel” master. Nubi is obviously short for “Nubile,” because Miss Loy is certainly an eyeful in this picture. She’s also the only reason to waste your time watching this dreadful piece of celluloid. With her skin darkened and her hair curled, she wanders about in the movie barefoot and wearing little more that a skirt and loose-fitting peasant blouse. In one scene she’s wearing nothing besides a patterned towel. You certainly won’t stick around for the dialogue, which runs to very heavy shades of purple. To quote Miss Loy is one scene: “Always the gypsies, they sing. Weird and sad. When the big sun have breath of fire that burn, and when the pale moon look from behind cloud and breathe air cold as death, they sing.” And that’s one of the better lines.
As for the plot, the family takes Nubi in and gives her a job as a maid, but it isn’t long before Nubi is seducing every male within 100 miles of the place, starting with the family’s servant Peter (Harry Cording) and working her way up to the family’s son, Paul (Carroll Nye), who in engaged to the beautiful Irma (Loretta Young) and can’t wait to marry her. But after Nubi weaves her magic, it’s “Irma Who?” She eventually works her way up to the family’s patriarch, Josef (Richard Tucker).
The acting, outside of Zasu Pitts, who plays the family’s maid, Lena, is atrocious. It’s by far Loy’s worst piece of theatrics. Young is so wooden in her role she should be watching lest termites nest in her. Compared to Tucker, though, both ladies come off like Vivien Leigh. Tucker is absolutely Godawful in his role as the patriarch. Part of the problem may lie in the fact that the movie was also shot as a silent feature. That would explain the exaggerated gestures. Believe it or not, Alexander Korda, of all people, directed this mess. And one last note: Lupe Velez was up for the role of Nubi, but lost out to Loy, proving that sometimes the best roles are the ones you don’t get.
June 13: Set those recorders for 3:45 am to catch Joan Crawford in her last, and silliest movie, Trog (WB, 1970). Joan is Dr. Brockton, a caring and dedicated anthropologist (What other kinds are there in these sort of movies?) who is told about a troglodyte living in a nearby cave. (Apparently he’s a local boy.) Joan gets him out and brings him back to her institute for further study. Trog is a pretty economical monster by the standards of the day: hair around his chest and waist and a rubber monkey mask. But it doesn’t matter, for Joan loves and understands him, nicknaming him “Trog.” When Trog’s brain is examined it’s found that he “remembers” old footage from Irwin Allen’s 1956 documentary, The Animal World. The scene where Joan plays ball with him is a highlight of camp, as are the scenes where she introduces the caveman to toy robots and dolls, as is Trog’s agitated reaction to rock ‘n’ roll. Trog also has a prodigious appetite for rubber lizards. As all these sort of movies need a bad guy, one is supplied in the form of Michael Gough, a local land developer who despises Joan and the Institute and eventually releases Trog into the wild, where he runs amock. What makes Trog so precious is Crawford’s insistence on playing this thing not only straight, but entirely serious in tone. Is it any wonder she retired from movies right after this?