Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: Trapped by Televison (1936)

“Gee, ain’t science great?!”
— Bill collector Rocky O’Neil

Forrest Gump had a box of chocolates. For the movie hound staff of B&S About Movies, we have Mill Creek boxes of DVDs where you never know what you’re going to get. Well, you do know what your going to get: pure programming insanity. Who in their right mind would collate the adventures of Paco Querak in Hands of Steel (which is also available on ‘the Creek’s Pure Terror box set) into the same box set as this Columbia Pictures “who done it” starring former silent screen star Mary Astor, who worked her way up to a forever-remembered role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy alongside Bogey in The Maltese Falcon (1941) (de rigueur viewing for any movie hound reading this). Oh, and she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that same year for her portrayal of concert pianist Sandra Kovak in (a film that no one remembers) The Great Lie (1941).

Again. Ex-B movie actress-cum-Oscar winner Mary Astor and Joe D’Amoto’s go-to actor George Eastman . . . on the same box set. Pure insanity. Why? Because, outside of the plot backdrop of the “new” technology of television, this isn’t even a sci-fi movie: it’s a Columbia B-movie comedy starring Lyle Talbot, who excelled at . . . B-movie comedies and romantic thrillers (and later co-starred on ’50s TV’s Ozzie & Harriet).

Hey, wait a minute . . . you sure this isn’t a repack of Murdered by Television starring Bela Lugosi? Nope. That was released a year earlier, in 1936. Remember all of those post-WarGames movies in the ’80s obsessed with the “new” technology of home computers? Then all of those “net” movies in the early ’90s? Well, it that was like that in during the Industrial Revolution of the 1930s — with Hollywood obsessed with television as plot fodder.

Anyway, the always dependable Talbot is Fred Dennis, a broke inventor dogged by Rocky O’Neil (Nat Pendleton), a kind-hearted, mobster-backed bill collector. Hey, gang! Fred’s finally done it: his TV camera and TV monitor (a television set) works! His trusted romantic sidekick is Astor’s Barbara “Bobby” Blake (well, the “hot babe with a guy’s name” screenwriting trope had to start somewhere), blessed with a knack for advertising and promotion; she’s going sell Fred’s invention and they’ll be rich. Corporate intrigue — as we oft say around here — ensues, as gangsters, competing scientists, and electronics companies vie for the invention, with Talbot, Astor, and Pendleton — along with everyone’s favorite Lucille Ball clone, Joyce Compton (in that always annoying pillbox hat) — keeping one step ahead of the lighthearted mayhem.

The twist to this oldie: it’s actually pretty good. And you can watch it on You Tube.

The script by Lee Loeb and Harold Buchman (whose resumes stretch from the early ’30s into the mid-70s across TV and film) is well-written from a technological standpoint (there’s no slapstick-crazy Doc Browns pushing junk science flux capacitors) and the acting isn’t that bad. If you’re a Nat Pendleton and Joyce Compton completest — and need a fix of Bela — you can catch them together in the MacGuffin-strewn noir Scared to Death (1947), which, as it turns out, Mill Creek featured on their Pure Terror box set (recapped here). (Oh, and if you’re interested: we covered all of the films in their Chilling Classics set; recapped here.)

What would we do without Mill Creek box sets supplying us with movies? I don’t even want to think of a Mill Creekless world. Do you? But still . . . this movie encased in a box with artwork featuring a futuristic city under destruction by space ships . . . and Dorothy Statten’s name . . . is pure insanity. And we love it.

Now, let me get to work on my new Lifetime-oriented screenplay: Trapped by Phone App.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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