Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for March 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Staff writer Jon Saia informs us that Glam Masters, a show he produced, is set to begin airing Wednesday, February 28, at 9 pm on the Lifetime network. The show is a weekly competition series where make-up artists go head-to-head to prove they have what it takes to be the next big name in the beauty world.

Should you miss the first show, it will be repeated on the following days and times: February 28, 10 pm; Thursday, March 1, 1:05 am; Thursday, March 1, 2:05 am; and Thursday, March 1, at 9 pm. The series looks like a lot of fun and should prove to be quite enjoyable. We hope you tune in.


March 4: TCM is dedicating the evening to Anna May Wong with four of her films. She is considered to be the first Chinese-American movie star and also the first Chinese-American actress to gain international recognition. During the course of a long career she starred in silent film, sound film, stage, radio and television.

Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles to second-generation Chinese-American parents on January 3, 1905, Wong became mesmerized by the movies and began her film career at an early age, making her uncredited debut in the 1919 drama, The Red Lantern. One of the films she starred in, The Toll of the Sea (Metro, 1922), written by Frances Marion, was one of the first films made in color. In Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad (UA, 1924) she played a treacherous Mongol slave. The role not only boosted her to international stardom, but also made her something of a fashion icon, as her costumes in the film were copied for wear by women all around the globe. 

As the ‘20s progressed she became frustrated by the stereotypical roles she was offered and left for Europe. She spent the first half of the 1930s shuttling between the U.S. and Europe for stage and film work. In 1935 she was considered for a role she coveted, that of the Chinese peasant O-Lan in MGM’s adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, but the role ultimately went to Austrian actress Luise Rainer. Wong spent the next year touring China where she studied Chinese culture and visited her family’s ancestral village. Returning to the U.S. she signed on with Paramount for a series of B-pictures that portrayed Asian-Americans in a positive light. She was loaned to Warner Bros. for the unusual mystery, When Were You Born? (1938) where she played astrology expert Mei Lei Ming. Suspected of murder after telling one of her fellow passengers on a ship that he will die, she uses her skills in astrology to catch the real murderer. Although it’s not showing this evening, the movie appears on TCM from time to time and we will let you know the next time it’s scheduled.

During World War II she appeared on behalf of and donated money to United China Relief, including the proceeds from a cookbook she wrote in 1942 titled New Chinese Recipes, one of the first Chinese cookbooks published. She also made the propaganda films Bombs Over Burma and Lady From Chungking in 1942 for Poverty Row studio PRC, donating her salary to United China Relief. After the war she invested heavily in real estate, owning a number of properties in Hollywood. She also starred in a television series for the DuMont Television Network titled The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, playing a Chinese art dealer whose career involves her in detective work and international intrigue. She also did several guest shots on series such as Adventures in ParadiseThe Barbara Stanwyck Show, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.   

She was scheduled to play the role of Madame Liang in the film production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, but was unable to take the role due to ill health. On February 3, 1961, she died of a heart attack as she slept at her home in Santa Monica. She was only 56 years of age. Her death occurred only two days after her final screen performance on The Barbara Stanwyck Show

Overlooked and unjustly neglected for years, a re-examination of her life and career took shape as the centennial of her birth approached, with comprehensive retrospectives of her films being held at both the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Two major biographies were published: Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905–1961), by Anthony Chan (the first major work on the star) and Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend by Graham Russell Hodges. Philip Leibfried and Chei Mi Lane authored an exhaustive examination of Wong's career, Anna May Wong: A Complete Guide to Her Film, Stage, Radio and Television Work. All are available at Amazon.

The evening devoted to Wong kicks off at 8:00 pm with Paramount’s 1931 crime drama, Daughter of the Dragon. Wong is a Chinese princess who gets caught between the ruthless warlord Fu Manchu (Warner Oland) and Scotland Yard detective Ah Kee (Sessue Hayakawa). After being mortally wounded in a gun battle, Fu Manchu summons his daughter, dancer Princess Ling Moy (Wong) and makes her swear to avenge him. A true Hollywood rarity, featuring two Asian-American stars, and well worth seeing.

At 9:30 pm Wong stars with Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Warner Oland in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (Paramount, 1932). Set in 1931 during the Chinese Civil War, Dietrich is the notorious “Shanghai Lily,” the long-lost love of Captain Donald Harvey (Brook). Meeting on a train they rekindle their love but Harvey is appalled by Lily’s new trade while he was away. Wong is Hui Fei, like Lily, a “coaster” (a woman who, while not a professional prostitute, lives by her wits).

Piccadilly (British Int’l, 1929), following at 11:00 pm, finds Wong as Shosho, an ambitious scullery maid working in the kitchen of a London dance club. One night the club’s owner, Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) sees her dancing on a table in the kitchen and as immediately smitten. He makes her the star of the club, replacing the team of Mabel and Vic (Gilda Gray and Cyril Ritchard) on stage and Mable in his bed. Mabel, understandably, wants revenge. Leonard Maltin calls this “Slick, oozing with atmosphere, but supremely silly, this silent film is redeemed by Wong, who is an unforgettable presence in her all-time best part.” Look for Charles Laughton in a memorable part as an irate diner and Ray Milland as one of the club’s patrons.

Finally, at 1:00 am Wong has a minor role as Loo Song in MGM’s Mr. Wu, starring Lon Chaney as both Mr. Wu and his grandfather in this 1927 drama about a Chinese patriarch who goes bonkers when his daughter, Nang Ping (Renee Adoree) falls in love with young Englishman Basil Gregory (Ralph Forbes)


March 4: In addition to the evening honoring Anna May Wong, another unjustly forgotten star, Josephine Baker, is the focus of a double feature beginning at 2:00 am. First up is The French Way from 1945, a light piece of fluff that takes place during World War II.  Parisian neighbors M. Dalban (Saturnin Fabre) and Mme. Ancelot (Gabrielle Dorziat) are still feuding over his claim in his biography of Napoleon that her great-great-grandmother did not sleep with the Emperor! Their underage children Claire (Micheline Presle) and Bernard (Georges Marchal) are in love, but cannot marry due to their parents' opposition. Dalban enlists beautiful cabaret star Zazou to divert Bernard's attention. But Zazou has her own ideas about young love and takes charge. The film was made in 1939, during the “phony war,” but not released until 1945. Not having seen it I can’t really comment, but from the synopsis it looks as if the only thing the film has going for it is the fact that it is so rare. That alone is enough to make me watch, aside from my huge crush on Ms. Baker.

At 4:15 am Baker stars with Jean Gabin in Zouzou (1934). Leonard Maltin describes it as 42nd Street meets Footlight Parade French-style. Baker is a Creole laundress raised in the circus along with her foster brother, Jean (Jean Gabin). Now in Paris, he’s a music hall electrician, and she's a laundress who delivers clean underwear to the hall. Two passions drive her – a longing to star on the stage, and her love for Jean, who disappoints her when he falls for her best friend, Claire (Yvette Lebon). To help Zouzou achieve her dream, Jean schemes to get the show's star out of town and for the theater manager to see Zouzou perform. When Jean is later accused of murder, and Zouzou needs money to mount his defense, she pleads to go on stage. She becomes an overnight sensation, but is it in time to save her beloved Jean? Tune in and find out. I saw this many years ago at a Baker revival and not only was entranced by the star but also by Gabin’s performance. Zouzou was the first picture to star a Black actress in the lead role.


March 11: A double feature from director Eric Rohmer begins at 2:00 am with his 1972 drama, Love in the Afternoon. It’s followed at 3:45 am by Claire’s Knee (1970), starring Jean-Claude Brialy as a thirtyish diplomat about to be married, who takes a holiday at French resort and finds himself infatuated with two teenaged sisters, Claire and Laura, particularly the sight of Claire’s knee on a ladder. Though it sounds somewhat strange it is a delightful comedy, with outstanding performances from Brialy as Jerome and Batrice Romand as Laura.


March 8: The seldom shown silent epic Tide of Empire (MGM, 1929) kicks things off at 6:00 am. Starring Renee Adoree and George Duryea (Tom Keene), it’s about about gold seekers and bandits disrupting the lives of peaceful Spanish ranchers in old California.

At 7:30 comes the musical Children of Pleasure (MGM,  1930), starring Lawrence Gray as a songwriter who overlooks the faithful attentions of his constant pal Pat (Judith Wood) in favor of a glitzy playgirl (Wynne Gibson). He wins the playgirl, only to discover the night before their wedding that she has no interest whatsoever in remaining faithful.

Beauty For Sale (MGM, 1933) follows at 8:45 am, a soaper about a high-society beautician (Madge Evans) who thinks she’s landed the man of her dreams Otto Kruger) only to discover that he has no intention of divorcing his wife. Don’t worry, it all works out in the end. Reason to watch: Una Merkel as Madge’s gold digging roommate.

Finally, there’s Laughing Boy (MGM, 1934) a tawdry tale of a young Navajo (Ramon Novarro) who defies tribal custom to marry outcast Slim Girl (Lupe Velez) to his later grief. 1934 must have been some year for the American Indian, as Warner Bros. released their socially conscious film, Massacre, starring Richard Barthelmess, earlier in the year.

March 8: Ann Harding gets a surprise when she travels to Malaysia to be with fiancee Melvyn Douglas in Prestige (RKO, 1932), at 6:45 am. Later, at 8:00 am MGM argues both sides of the Prohibition argument in The Wet Parade (1932).


March 7: In a salute to actress Anne Jeffreys, TCM is airing 1945’s Dick Tracy, at 8:00 pm. Anne is Tess Trueheart, who stands by her man Tracy (Morgan Conway) as he goes up against villain Splitface (Mike Mazurki). Lots of fun. Later, at 10:45, Anne stars with Lawrence Tierney in Monogram’s Dillinger, also from 1945. 

March 9: At 2:00 am, three Yankee kids, accused of a murder they had nothing to do with, are hunted by a sheriff in 1953 Georgia in Macon County Line (1974), a surprise hit from producer Max Bear, Jr. (Jethro in The Beverly Hillbillies) and AIP. Following at 3:45 am is the inevitable sequel – of sorts – Return to Macon County (AIP, 1975), featuring none of the original stars, or plot. This time out, two late ‘50s Georgia guys want to take their hot rod to California for a drag race. On the way they pick up a pretty waitress who gets them into trouble. Starring Don Johnson and Nick Nolte (his film debut).

March 12: A morning of classic horror films, starting with White Zombie (1932) at 6:00 am and ending with Mad Love (1935) at 2:45 am. Best bets are The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) at 7:15 am (read our essay on it here) and Freaks (1932) at 8:30 am.

March 14: A trio of classic MGM Tarzan films begins with Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939) at 6:00 am, followed by Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) at 7:30 am and Tarzan’s New York Adventure(1942) at 9:00 am. The latter was the last of the Tarzan films made by MGM, much to the relief of Maureen O’Sullivan, who was tired of the chimps playing Cheetah taking a bite out of her. The franchise moved over to RKO and producer Sol Lesser for cheaper – and funnier – sequels.


March 14: At 6:30 pm comes a film considered to be the worst of the Tarzan series until Bo Derek came along – MGM’s 1959 remake of Tarzan the Ape Man. Produced by Al Zimbalist, the man who gave us Robot Monster and Cat Women of the Moon (both in 3D, yet), this atrocity stars ex-UCLA basketball player Denny Miller in his debut as Tarzan. (He was paid $175 a week.) The film features endless footage from the original, Tarzan and His Mate, and King Solomon’s Mines. That the footage from the 1930’s Tarzans is in B&W and the rest of the film is in color didn’t faze Zimbalist at all. He just had it tinted. When we watch Tarzan fighting the crocodile we can see clearly that it’s Weissmuller (from Tarzan and His Mate). Also watch for the burning village, Tarzan fighting a stuffed animal, and the spider on top of the mountain. By the way, Jane’s dad shoots Cheetah early on, killing him, and the “pygmies” are from a L.A. high school. To quote critic Michael Weldon, “A laugh riot.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for March 1-7

March 1–March 7


THE GREAT DICTATOR (March 2, 12:45 pm): Charlie Chaplin brilliantly portrays the film's protagonist, known as "a Jewish barber," with great empathy and humility while still being funny. And when you mention funny, his impersonation of Adolf Hitler – the character in the film is named Adenoid Hynkel – is spot-on and highly entertaining. The film, made before the United States was at war with Nazi Germany, has several iconic scenes, including Hynkel playing with a bouncing globe, and a chase scene between the barber and storm troopers. Chaplin's brilliance lied in his ability to make people think about the world while making them laugh. There is no finer example of that than The Great Dictator. The ending is beautiful. It's too bad life rarely turns out to have a happy Hollywood ending, but that doesn't diminish from the entertainment and importance of this landmark film.

CAPTAIN BLOOD (March 3, 7:15 am): The movie that launched the career of Errol Flynn as a swashbuckling icon is not only historically important, but is an excellent film. The cast is top-notch with Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee and Lionel Atwill. Flynn is Dr. Peter Blood, condemned to a Jamaican plantation to serve out a sentence for treating an English rebel. When the Spanish invade Jamaica, the fun and the action begins. Blood leads a prison rebellion with the men stealing a Spanish ship – the Spaniards are busy looting the town – and later the French on his way to becoming a hero when England is overthrown by William of Orange. Flynn is as dashing as you'll see him on screen showing great charisma during the fight scenes.


FIVE STAR FINAL (March 2, 6:00 am): Edward G. Robinson is excellent as the editor of an unscrupulous, sensationalist tabloid whose headline seeking tactics ruin the lives of a family when it resurrects a 20-year old murder case. Eddie G. goes against his better instincts in the case under pressure from the publisher and comers to regret it when things explode at the end. Strong supporting performances from Aline MacMahon, Robinson’s secretary and conscience who is secretly in love with him, and Boris Karloff as a veteran sleazeball reporter who will stop at nothing to get a story. It’s based on the hit Broadway play by Louis Weitzenkorn, former managing editor for the New York Graphic, one of the sleaziest newspapers of its day.

BEDLAM (March 6, 3:00 am): Excellent period piece from producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson about the horrors taking place at Saint Mary’s of Bethlehem, an asylum for the insane better known as “Bedlam,” and the insensitive people from the upper classes who pay the evil head of the place, Master Sims (Boris Karloff), to visit and gawk at the inmates, who Sims makes perform shows for their amusement. But on one such visit actress Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) becomes so appalled at the goings-on that she joins forces with the pious Quaker Hannay (Richard Fraser) to expose Sims’ dirty doings. Nell ends up being committed herself by a rigged board of inquiry and it is up to Hannay to rescue her. A literate, intelligent look at the ills of English society in 1761.


ED: A+. During the early ‘50s the Freed Unit at MGM made three classic musicals: Singin’ in the RainThe Band Wagon, and this one. Made when star Gene Kelly was at the top of his creative powers with the studio, it was flawlessly acted by its cast, and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kelly is Jerry Mulligan, an ex-GI and struggling American artist who stayed in Paris after the war ended. He is “discovered” by a socially connected heiress (Nina Foch) with an interest in more than Jerry’s art. In turn Jerry falls for Lise (Leslie Caron), a young girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. In addition to the two women, Jerry is entertained by Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), a would-be concert pianist. Fans of the musical form know that plot is the last thing they need worry about. It’s the music and the dancing. Both are well represented here, with the Gershwins supplying the music, and Kelly and Caron the dancing. The film is built around a simple idea: Kelly wanted to make a film with a lengthy ballet scene based on Gershwin’s tone poem. Freed and Minnelli took the idea and ran with it, adding plot complications plus some stunning backgrounds that bring to mind the works of the French impressionists. This is definitely a move for the eyes as well as the ear. Levant adds a safety valve of acerbic wit whenever the romantic complications threaten to become leaden. He does this simply by playing Oscar Levant, which he does in every film he’s in. However, his performance here tops all the others. Nina Foch provides a solid support, proving she’s come a long way since her B-ingénue days at Fox, and Leslie Caron, a discovery of Kelly’s, provides the eye candy as well as an underdog to root for along with Kelly. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about, while to those that haven’t, I recommend this as a definite Must See.

DAVID: B-. Gene Kelly is among the two best male dancers in the history of cinema with Fred Astaire, of course, being the other. Kelly was more physical and muscular than what most people think of dancers. He was quite charming and how can anyone hate that wonderful smile? During his career in Hollywood, Kelly fancied himself a visionary. An American in Paris is a perfect example. Kelly wanted a lengthy ballet-heavy dance performance that showcased Paris through the works of French impressionist paintings so that's what he did in the final number leading to the conclusion of this film. The concept is admirable, but the implementation is quite frankly boring – and it goes on for 16 minutes. I'm not a fan of musicals though there are some I greatly enjoy including Singin' in the Rain with Kelly (which also at one point spends more than 20 minutes on a daydream/dance that has little to do with that movie's plot). An American in Paris is a good film. Why else would I give it a B-? But it's certainly not a classic. Also, unfortunately it was a leader in Hollywood's move away from film noir toward lighter movies in the 1950s. The plot is basic as are the characters in the movie. Kelly wants to be a great painter, but is offended when a rich socialite takes an artistic and sexual interest in him. Kelly has two buddies: one wants to be a concert pianist and the other a cabaret singer. There's a simplistic love triangle with a happy ending. Leslie Caron, the female lead and the girl Kelly wants, could dance, but was a lousy actress. I've never understood her appeal as she always seemed way too young for her love interests. Her characters never have any depth, which is probably why she was in this film. I don't buy for a second the contention that a musical doesn't need to have a plot, and that we should primarily concern ourselves with the singing and dancing. When the music stops, why should our enjoyment or interest stop with it? The songs are good, the dancing – except the final one – is also entertaining, the scenery is magnificent and, as usual, MGM spared no expense when it came to the color of its big-time productions. It's good, but it's not a movie I'd ever seek out to watch.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Paddington 2

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Paddington 2 (WB, 2018) – Director: Paul King. Writers: Paul King & Simon Farnaby (s/p). Michael Bond (book). Stars: Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Marie-France Alvarez, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ben Miller, Jessica Hynes, Peter Capaldi, Robbie Gee, Nicholas Woodson, Samuel Joslin & Alex Jordan. Animated, Rated PG, 104 minutes.

Though the CGI animation is excellent, the movie is nowhere near as good as the first one in 2014. The original had a gross scene where Paddington cleaned out his ears with one of the Browns’ toothbrushes, which was bad enough. In this movie he does his ears, his nose and (amazingly) his teeth. Where does it say that making something more disgusting is funnier? There were a few chuckles, but most of the film’s source of humor is sight gags geared for children only. It’s like Mary Poppins, but without the great songs and music and without the great cast.

At least we get some background. At the start, Uncle Pastuzo (Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Staunton), two Peruvian bears, are apparently vacationing in Argentina when they spot a small bear cub struggling in the rapids and clinging to a log. They save him and raise him as their own. The rest of that story was told in episode one.

Paddington (Whishaw) lives in Windsor Gardens, London with the Brown Family: Jonathan (Joslin), Judy (Harris), Mary (Hawkins), Henry (Bonneville) and Mrs. Bird (Walters) and is a permanent fixture there with the whole population. Mademoiselle Dubois (Alvarez) depends on him for her breakfast on the run, another neighbor relies on him to remind him to get his keys before he locks himself out of his home, the trash man needs him to help study for his exams, etc. Everybody loves him except Mr. Curry (Capaldi) and Colonel Lancaster (Miller) who both believe he “doesn’t belong.”

Aunt Lucy will be celebrating her 100th birthday (a first for any bear, any species) and Paddington wants to get her a special gift, which he finds at Mr. Samuel Gruber’s antique shop, a pop-up book of the main tourist sites in London. However, the book is too expensive, so Paddington decides to get a job. His one and only day in the local barbershop is a complete disaster (and the only really funny scene) when Judge Gerald Biggleswade enters and demands he give him a haircut. This results in a reverse Mohawk which Paddington tries to patch up with marmalade. Paddington switches to window washer and almost makes enough money to buy the book.

Kozlova’s Steam Fair arrives in London and is opened by second-rate actor Phoenix Buchanan (Grant). The Browns attend and Paddington is invited up on stage to help push the button which will light up the amusement area. The pop-up book comes up in the discussion and Phoenix knows he must get it to find the Kozlova hidden treasure (the book leads to clues at each site). There is a break-in at Gruber’s shop and Paddington tries to stop the thief in a crazy chase while riding a local hound named “Wolfie,” but he’s arrested for the theft when Phoenix vanishes and is brought before the court for sentencing. Judge Biggleswade recognizes Paddington as the one who gave him a two-inch wide part up the back of his head and sends him to prison.

Paddington gets laundry duty at prison and though he uses four washing machines, a single red sock makes all the prison uniforms pink. This doesn’t help his popularity with the inmates. But Paddington goes by his Aunt Lucy’s maxim “If we’re kind and polite the world will be right.”  He befriends the meanest, nastiest resident, the cook, Knuckles McGinty (Gleeson) when he teaches him how to make marmalade and changes the whole menu in the prison.

Meanwhile, the Browns learn about the book’s purpose from Madame Kozlova at the fair and try to find the thief, who by the way, changes costumes with every site he visits. At St. Paul’s cathedral, he’s a nun. But when he destroys a statue in the dome area a guard sees him and puts out the ridiculous alarm, “An unusually attractive nun is causing mayhem in the cathedral dome, Activate emergency protocol, Stop that stunning sister!” Phoenix reverses the costume and becomes a bishop and escapes.

When the Browns miss a visitors’ day at the prison, Paddington believes what the other prisoners tell him and assumes he’s been forgotten and agrees to participate in a break-out to clear his name. He winds up on his own when his three fellow inmates (including Knuckles) decide to hop a plane to leave the country.

Paddington 2 has all the elements of fantasy except the hint of believability. It’s a wonderful romp through nonsense that kids will love. Most of all, the star is a cuddly, well-mannered bear. The soundtrack is forgettable except the song “Love Thy Neighbor” written by Roaring Lion. I really must check with my niece, who read the Paddington books and thoroughly enjoyed them as a child. The best scene in the film and the only one with sensitivity is at the end.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Antique Garage
313 Church Street, New York

When I see a restaurant on listed as “reviews yet to come” it piques my curiosity. That, plus the name, the photo and the promise of Mediterranean cuisine got me to make my reservation. Sister to a restaurant of the same name in Soho with fourteen years of service, Antique Garage has been serving for nine months. 

The name is engraved on the front window in gold and swings from the metal sign hanging above. Inside, low lighting comes from a dozen or so varied crystal chandeliers, floral-shaped sconces on the walls and candelabra with real lit candles on several of the larger tables. Large antique mirrors grace the walls while patrons occupy every table in sight. Be sure to make a reservation here, you’ll need it.

The food menu and the drinks menu are conveniently either side of the same plastic-protected card. A young man asked if I wanted to order a cocktail and I was ready. Since I already have a real garage that needs cleaning I ordered the Dirty Garage, basically a dirty martini with Tanqueray gin with olive juice and garnished with mixed Mediterranean olives. The drink was great but the gorgeous lead crystal glass it was served in was jaw-dropping.

My server was extremely helpful in choosing my dishes right down to pointing out the similarities and differences between them. Another server brought the bread basket filled with a fluffy, golden brown version of pita bread and olive oil for dipping.

My first course was the Sea Bass Ceviche – sashimi grade imported branzino with red, green and yellow bell peppers and lime zest, in a Dijon mustard and basil sauce. It was as beautiful to see as it was a pleasure to eat. For those unused to ceviche (pronounced say-vee-chay), it is a dish best served cold.

When I finished my cocktail my wine appeared, a 2014 Denis Race Premier Cru Chablis from Burgundy, France. I remember when Chablis was not chic. This wine was crisp and well chilled, light on the tannins and refreshing with the remainder of my ceviche.

The next dish recommended was the Aegean Sarma – grilled Halloumi cheese slices and tomatoes seasoned with thyme and wrapped in grape leaves, then grilled with lemon slices. It was delicious once I got a knife that would cut the grape leaves. They were a bit on the tough side but chewable when cut bite-sized. Halloumi cheese is normally served alone as Saganaki. It’s a little salty and has an al dente texture. Grilling it gives it a smoky quality and wrapping it in grape leaves adds an herbal accent.

My main course was the Spicy Beyti – hand chopped grilled lamb on a skewer wrapped in flatbread and topped with a tomato and yoghurt sauce. It was crunchy, savory, tart and sweet in every bite and the long green chili pepper at its side gave it the “spicy” quality. At this point I would like to note that none of the “spicy” dishes were jarringly so. Just tantalizing. And, good thing for me, the chef removed the skewer before I started eating the dish (unless that was the crunchy part).

The only dessert that caught my attention besides the Turkish apricots was one called Midnight Express – a bewitching combination of “silky dark, milk, and white chocolate creams with a layer of hazelnut crunch and topped with a single raspberry. Afterward, the Double espresso was almost an afterthought.

From my table at the base of the rear stairway I had a great perspective of the beautiful décor of Antique Garage. Between dishes there was always something to admire that I missed the last time I looked. My marble-top table needed no cloth, it was so elegant. I was charmed. I would definitely make a return visit to Antique Garage and make sure to visit their nearby sister.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Corpse Vanishes

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

The Corpse Vanishes (Monogram, 1942) – Director: Wallace Fox. Writers: Harvey Gates (s/p). Sam Robins & Gerald Schnitzer (original story). Cast: Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tristram Coffin, Elizabeth Russell, Minerva Urecal, Angelo Rossitto, Joan Barclay, Kenneth Harlan, Gwen Kenyon, Vince Barnett, Frank Moran & George Eldridge. Black & White, 64 minutes.

Like all of Bela’s Monogram quickies, a must” – Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.

The early 40s saw the return of the horror picture after having been out of fashion for about 5 years, a good thing for Bela Lugosi, whose career prospects had diminished over the years from leading man to character roles. In addition to working for Universal he also signed on at Poverty Row studio Monogram for a series of bizarre low-budget horrors.

The Corpse Vanishes was the fifth film out of ten total that Bela made for the company. Produced by the amazing Sam Katzman, the film seems to set new lows for cheapness, looking like Sam was trying to save on his electrical bill. The acting was about what one would expect in a Poverty Row production and the direction by B-movie veteran Wallace Fox also meets low expectations. However, a big difference between the films Lugosi made for bigger studios and the ones he made on Poverty Row was that in most of the films made for the major studios he was usually cast as a red herring. On Poverty Row, he got to be the villain.

In The Corpse Vanishes, one of the more gruesome films he made for Monogram, Bela is at his villainous best. As the film opens a mystery is plaguing the city. Brides are suddenly dying at the altar. Even worse, their bodies are disappearing on the way to the funeral parlor. This being a rock bottom horror flick, we know who is behind this villainy. Right from the start Bela makes his appearance as the person behind the kidnappings. Our only question now is to wonder what he’s up to.

There are also two other spectators at the weddings. One is Our Heroine, society reporter Patricia Hunter (Walters), yet another in a series of wise-cracking reporters. Accompanying her is photographer Sandy (Barnett), the ostensible Comic Relief who is not really given enough screen time to be a proper Comic Relief. 

Our Heroine is chomping at the bit to leave the society pages for a regular job on the investigative beat, seeing herself as the next Lois Lane. But her editor, Keenan (Harlan) has her firmly planted on the society pages, covering weddings and such. Her  big break comes when she covers the society wedding of Alice Wentworth (Barclay). Alice and her mother have been personally assured by the DA that nothing will go wrong and there will be a strong police presence. But Alice meets the same fate as those before her, including having her body kidnapped by Bela.

As Pat and Sandy leave the scene Sandy spots an orchid that fell from Alice’s dress when she collapsed. He gives it to Patricia who is puzzled that it has a strange, pungent scent. As she sniffs the flower she suddenly becomes dizzy. This should alert her to the fact that something’s wrong with that orchid because orchids do not have scents. Some reporter. Her photographer finds the key clue and she can’t put two and two together.   
Back at the paper, Keenan lambastes Patricia for the awful story she turned in on the wedding, but she waves this away, exclaiming excitedly that she has a real lead. She shows Keenan the orchid, noting that not only did none of the wedding-party send it to Alice, but that all the abducted brides wore one just like it. Keenan grudgingly allows her to follow her lead, but gives her the standard ‘40s B-movie warning that she’ll be fired if she doesn’t bring something back.     

Meanwhile, at the country estate of Dr Lorenz (Lugosi), the body arrives. Bela and Mike the chauffeur (Eldredge), along with housekeeper Fagah (Urecal) and her son Angel (Moran), take the body into a laboratory, where we hear Dr. Lorenz’s wife, the Countess (Russell), pissing and moaning, demanding that Bela hurry as she hides her aged face. Using a syringe, Bela extracts glandular fluid from Alice, mixes it with something from his Junior Chemistry Set, and voila, instant fountain of youth serum. He shoots it into the neck of the Countess, transforming her into a more middle-aged edition. We also learn that the brides, far from dead, are actually in a cataleptic state thanks to Lorenz’s magic orchids. Following the traditions of the horror film, the serum has to come from brides, because they are presumed to be virginal.

Like any other self-respecting mad scientist, Bela has his assistants. They are Fagah and her sons, Angel and Toby (Rossitto). Angel, the handyman, is retarded, disfigured, and possibly a necrophiliac. He likes to sneak into the secret mausoleum next to the lab to stroke the hair of the victims. The Countess is worried lest his antics bring the house down on them one of these days. Toby the butler is a sadistic midget, proving that not only is good help hard to find, but also making us wonder about the depth of Fagah’s gene pool. When the latest bride arrives Angel begins stroking her hair. This leads Lorenz to savagely beat him with a whip, a case of spare the rod, spoil the idiot. Fagah can only ask, “Why do you beat my son so hard?” To which he replies, “Because he's at best an animal, and some day I shall have to destroy him.” Comforting words, indeed. Fagah can only say wth a resigned voice, “My poor son! . . . Why was he ever born?” 

Meanwhile, intrepid reporter Pat takes the orchid to a florist, who informs her that it is a rare hybrid, and that the only person the florist can think of who might know anything about is the botanist who first bred it  Guess Who? Why, Dr. Lorenz, of course.

The next thing we know, Patricia has taken a train to the little hamlet. When she asks the local cabbie to take her to the Lorenz place, his response follows the horror film tradition. No way in hell is he going anywhere near the Lorenz estate. Instead he directs her to Mike and Toby, who have just come to the train station to pick up a package (a crated-up coffin) for their boss. Patricia tries to hitch a ride with them, but they refuse. So what does Our Heroine do? She jumps on the back of the truck when they’re not looking, taking her luggage with her. Anyone with any brains would first have checked into a local hotel and worried about a ride later. 

She doesn’t get far before Toby spots her hiding in the back, and Mike pulls over to dump her by the roadside. Again, this is a B-movie with a short running time, so it isn’t long before another car ambles down the lonely road, driven by Dr. Foster (Coffin), who just so happens to be on his way to the mansion. As they travel, Foster tells her he has been helping Lorenz treat his wife for a rare glandular disease.

At the house she finds Lorenz has been expecting her, as she conveniently left her luggage and handbag aboard the truck. The Countess, for her part, welcomes her with a slap across the puss, telling her she isn’t welcome here. Lorenz apologizes for his wife as she retires upstairs.

One would assume that because neither Pat nor anyone else suspect Lorenz of being the kidnapper, he would do well just to answer her questions and send on on her merry way. But no, this is a Sam Katzman picture, and with a thunderstorm brewing Lorenz invites Pat and Foster to stay the night, telling her he will answer her questions in the morning, although he adds that he is out of the orchid business. 

After Pat and Foster exit upstairs, a hidden panel under the staircase swings open and out pops the Countess, who we saw going up the stairs just a few minutes before. She asks Lorenz why he invited her to spend the night. His answer? “For a very special reason.

An overnight stay gives Pat a chance to scope out the place. She locks her door carefully, but no sooner has she done so than the Countess comes up behind her. Pat asks her how she got in, but all the Countess can reply is “You are beautiful! So young! Such lovely skin!” You’d think Pat is lucky the way the Countess is talking. So round. So firm. So fully-packed. So easy on the draw. 

Later that night Lorenz pays a visit to watch her sleep. A while after he leaves Angel sneaks in to stroke Pat's hair as she sleeps. (A hot dog stand would clean up here.) She awakens, screams and runs out to find Foster. Looking for his room, Pat finds the master bedroom, where Lorenz and his wife are asleep in coffins. (Katzman’s subtle way of cashing in on Lugosi’s role as Dracula.) Pat finally finds Foster and tells him what happened, but he’s convinced she had a nightmare and tells her to go back to sleep. Meanwhile Lorenz, eavesdropping again, informs the Countess that Angel has disturbed Pat. The two of them agree that he may have outlived his usefulness.

Returning to her room she finds a passageway in the back of the closet that leads to a network of similar passages that riddle the mansion. (I’ve often thought there was a rule in the local building codes that required mad scientists to have such a network of passageways.) As she walks down the passageway for what seems like an eternity she senses she is being followed. She is – by Angel. After she finally looks back and sees him, she hides in a darkened corridor as he passes by.

Pat watches as Angel presses a lever, opening the door to a morgue. He pulls out a drawer, revealing one of the catatonic brides and begins stroking her hair. Pat looks on and sees the woman is the missing Alice Wentworth. Suddenly, Lorenz appears, and as Pat watches from her hiding place he fulfills his promise to Fagah by strangling Angel. This causes Pat to faint dead away.

The next morning she wakes up in her bed and none the worse or wiser. Telling Foster about her experience only leads him to dismiss it as a bad dream. He also tells her that he does not recall having been awakened by her during the night. When she finds an orchid by her bedside Pat decides the best course is to get the hell out of Dodge and she has Foster drive her to the train station, confiding her suspicions before leaving for the city.

Foster comes to the newspaper’s offices a few days later to back Patricia up as she recounts the story to her incredulous editor. He tells Pat and Keenan that he was initially skeptical at first, but when he later witnessed some strange happenings himself, he began to think that Pat might have actually seen something. He decided to investigate further and at the station found a shipment of moss, which is used exclusively to grow orchids. Further investigation revealed it was ordered by Lorenz. 

Foster, Pat and Keenan now set a trap to catch Lorenz. Pat’s friend, aspiring actress Peggy Woods (Kenyon), will pose as a bride in a staged high-society wedding designed to lure Lorenz into striking again. When an orchid is delivered, they know Lorenz is present, and proceed with the wedding. However, what everyone has failed to take into consideration is that Peggy won’t be the only good-looking young woman at the church. Pat will also be there and her glands are as good as anyone’s.     

Lorenz kidnaps Pat during the ceremony, and while making his escape, gets into a gun battle with the police, during which Toby is mortally wounded and left at the scene by Lorenz. At his laboratory, Lorenz prepares to use Pat to whip up a batch of his youth juice. Fagah, enraged at the killing of both Angel and Toby, stabs him in the back, gloating, “You betrayed me, master! You shouldn’t have done it!” Lorenz, though, has enough strength to kill Fagah before he collapses. The police arrive before the Countess can attack Pat, with Foster coming to her aid. 

We now cut to another wedding, where Keenan is grumbling about having gone to all that trouble to make a reporter out of Pat, only to have her quit on him. The film ends with the typical dumb and unfunny punchline ending so common in these sorts of movies: Sandy sniffs an orchid and keels over.


The Corpse Vanishes is pure poverty-row gold. Next to 1943’s The Ape Man, also with Lugosi, it’s perhaps the screwiest horror flick of the 1940s. Give the credit to screenwriter Gates and producer Katzman. Right from the start Katzman’s Monogram horrors always favored sheer outrageousness over coherence. Coherence takes time and costs money, anathema to the likes of Katzman. 

While the plot isn’t quite as perplexing as those of other Katzman gems such as The Invisible Ghost or Black Dragons, the movie comes mighty close with its Old Dark House-full of wackos and a plethora of perversions and human deficiencies that, according to one blogger, “would not be matched until the deliberately campy Spider Baby more than twenty years later.”

However, while Spider Baby is more on the tongue-in-cheek side, The Corpse Vanishes comes across as a carelessly slapped together concoction of genre cliches with nary a care as to whether or not it made any sense. 

And when it comes to bad plotting, we need look no further than the role of Dr. Foster. As played by Tristram Coffin, Foster has a pivotal part, but in what sense? When he plays the good Samaritan by giving the stranded Pat a lift to the Lorenz place, he casually mentions that he has been working with Lorenz, describing him as “A doctor himself, but has no license to practice.” He goes on to say that he is assisting Lorenz in finding a cure for his wife, whose problem seems to be glandular. Foster goes on to tell Pat that she will find the couple “very interesting,” describing Lorenz as a man of “unusual accomplishments” while noting that his wife is “rather peculiar,” further describing her as “eccentric.”

The character and motivations of Dr. Foster are ambiguous at first. It seems from what he’s telling Pat that he is Lorenz’s accomplice and the reason he’s so chatty is because she will never leave the Lorenz house alive. But later he not only comes to her aid, but falls in love with the plucky sob sister. The best explanation for this ambiguity is that in the original script he was the henchman of Lorenz, which would have made Pat’s escape all the more dramatic. Then, perhaps, Katzman, looking over the finished script, noted there was no love interest. Vince Barnett’s photographer, Sandy, is a tad too goofy to take on the role so, lacking a knight in shining armor, the script was revised to change Foster’s character from that of a devious accomplice to that of a naive scientist. 

To make things even worse, Gates’ idea of distracting us from the obvious plot anomalies is to come up with some of the most dreadful dialogue and situations ever found in a horror film. For instance, when incredulous reporter Pat asks Dr. Lorenz if he makes a habit of collecting coffins, he replies: “Why, yes, in a manner of speaking. I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed. Many people do so.” (By the way, on that point, it’s difficult for us to believe that someone so obsessed about growing old as the Countess would have no qualms about sleeping in a coffin.)

Director Wallace Fox doesn’t help matters any with inept blocking (the technique a director uses to plan the details of an actor's moves in relation to the camera) and editing. In the scene where Foster and Pat arrive at the Lorenz place, Fox’s inept blocking of the scene leads to confusion of who is speaking to who. 

The scene where Pat finds the hidden passageway is an example of Fox’s terrible editing, although one blogger mistakenly attributes it to bad blocking: “Here the awful blocking really begins. As a panel slides back to reveal Pat, Angel gapes in delighted astonishment. He, apparently, is looking straight at her – but she, apparently, can’t see him.” Rather than a case of bad blocking, it’s a case of terrible editing as the director is trying to insert some element of danger into the proceedings. The scene is so dark in any event that even after Angel lights a candle he still can’t find her.

When all else fails (and it has) it’s time to pull out that old tried and true element – the over-the-top performance. The movie is loaded with them, even down to the extras attending the various weddings. It’s almost as though they’re auditing for larger parts in the next awful movie.

But of all the zany performances, one goes above and beyond all others – that of Elizabeth Russell as the Countess. Russell pulls out all the stops to make her character the most high-strung, demanding and bitchiest in the movie. It’s not an easy task to steal a scene from Bela Lugosi and Angelo Rossitto, but Russell comes through with flying colors several times in the course of the film. It’s yet another example of a decent actress earning a paycheck in the absence of other offers. She is best known for her work in several Val Lewton movies, including Cat PeopleThe Curse Of The Cat PeopleYouth Runs Wild, and Bedlam. She also had a supporting role in Douglas Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. 

As for Lugosi, he, too, is at his hammy best, whether explaining his love of coffins or trying to convince Pat that everything she saw was a bad dream. Though his performance is a couple of degrees lower on the ham index than that of Russell, he still manages to entertain us as only he can in these sorts of pictures. An excellent example is when Lugosi returns with the kidnapped Alice Wentworth. He finds himself surrounded by Toby, Angel, Fagah and chauffeur Mike. He looks at them and beams: “My little family! You’re all so very faithful!”

As for the other performances, Luana Walters as Pat and Tristram Coffin as Dr. Foster acquire themselves as best they can given the parameters of the film. Walters was a mainstay of B-Westerns, acting alongside the likes of Gene Autry, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Charles Starrett, and Bill Elliott. After husband Max Hoffman, Jr. died in 1945, Walters took to the bottle and died from the effects of alcohol in 1963. She was 50.

Coffin was another actor who started in the Bs and stayed there, transitioning to television in the ‘50s and guest-starring in everything from The Adventures of Superman to Death Valley Days. 

Frank Moran (Angel) was a former heavyweight boxer whose biggest fights were losses in heavyweight title bouts to Jack Johnson (1914) and Jess Willard (1916). He became a solid supporting actor in B-movies and was a favorite of director Preston Sturges, who used him in several of his films.

Angelo Rossitto began his career back in 1927 and racked up 92 credits in his career, mostly in horror films or mysteries. As he was only 2’11” he was somewhat limited in his choice of roles, but remains one of the most beloved actors by fans of psychotronic cinema.


Filming lasted from March 13 to April 1, 1942. The film was released on May 8, 1942. In England it was released as The Case of the Missing Brides. In France it was released on DVD as Le voleur de cadavres (The Corpse Thief)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 showed the movie in the fifth episode of their first season. After the movie ended Joel offered a RAM chip to the bots if they could think of a good thing and a bad thing to say about the movie. When it came to his turn and Joel asked him to think of a good thing about the movie, Tom Servo short circuited and his head exploded. The MST3K episode is available in the collectors volume 16.