Isle of the Dead (1945)

Inspired by the painting Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin, this movie was written by frequent Lewton collaborator Ardel Wray and was the second of three movies that Lewton would make with Boris Karloff. It’s directed by Mark Robson, the fourth of five movies he would director for the producer.

Karloff needed back surgery during the making of this movie. While the film got back on schedule, he made The Body Snatcher with Lewton and then went right back to work on this movie.

During the Balkan Wars of 1912, General Pherides (Karloff) and American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) visit the Isle of the Dead as his soldiers bury their newly dead friends. As the General finds the crypt of his long-gone wife, he finds it open and hears her voice singing on the abandoned island.

The central belief in the film is that a vorvolaka, a zombie-like vampire that feasts on human livers, is amongst the living. The small group on the island faces a plague and as they begin to die, one after the other, the General attempts to instill law and order in the face of insanity. Instead, he succumbs to the madness he sought to stop, believing that one of their number is the monster and even burying a woman alive.

This film barely made money for RKO due to its high budget. It was later re-released alongside Mighty Joe Young, a film that it feels like a strange partner for.

The Body Snatcher (1945)

After House of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff was sick of his most famous role. He called that movie a “monster clambake,” as it included Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula, The Wolf Man and a hunchback. The film was a success, yet he decided not to renew his contract with Universal. He signed for three films with RKO — the other two are Isle of the Dead and Bedlam — and referred to producer Val Lewton as “the man who rescued him from the living dead and restored, so to speak, his soul.”

Shot concurrently with Isle of the Dead Lewton worked as producer on both films and as the screenwriter* on this, as well. An adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher, Lewton and Philip MacDonald expanded the story and made references to 1828’s West Port Murders.

Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” MacFarlane (Henry Daniell, The Philadelphia Story) is a famous teaching doctor, one so busy that he turns down a woman (Rita Corday) who needs an operation that will allow her daughter (Sharyn Moffett) to walk.

Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) is his best student, but one who can no longer afford classes. The doctor extends the offer of being an assistant, but this brings Fettes into the dark world of the resurrection man.

That title comes from a time when Edinburgh was the leading European city for anatomical study. The demand for cadavers to experiment upon was far more than the supply, as the law stated that medical research corpses could only be from who had died in prison, suicide victims or orphans. The resurrection men were, to take the title of this movie, body snatchers who illegally took bodies from fresh graves.

The body snatcher of this movie is John Gray, a cab driver in public but a taker of corpses in secret. He’s been the secret behind MacFarlane’s success and he even uses their secret to force the doctor to operate on the little girl. The operation isn’t a success and even when he tries to drink away his failure, Gray is there to remind him that he owns him. How the doctor attempts to escape forms the dramatic center of this film.

Bela Lugosi has a small role here as one of the doctor’s assistants. As he had just signed an RKO deal, it only made sense to have him appear one more time with Karloff. This would be their last movie together.

It was directed by Robert Wise, who would later make The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music and The Haunting. He had been an editor at RKO and replaced Gunther von Fritsch,the original director on The Curse of the Cat People, when it went past schedule.

*Lewton wrote under the pen name Carlos Keith.

House of Dracula (1945)

A sequel to House of Frankenstein, this would be the seventh film to feature Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange*) and the fourth for both Count Dracula (John Carradine) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.). Although it was a success, it would be the last of the serious Universal Monster films, with the comedic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein coming out in 1948.

Director Erle C. Kenton made 131 movies between 1916 and 1957, including several horror movies for Universal like The Cat Creeps and The Ghost of Frankenstein. He started as an actor with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops and finished his career on TV, directing shows like The Texan and Telephone Time.

Baron Latos — come on, everyone knows that you’re Dracula — ha come to Visaria to discover a cure for vampirism from Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens, Them!) and his assistants Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll, Ghost Catchers) and Nina (Jane Adams, who was given her first name by American servicemen and played Vicki Vale in the second Batman and Robin movie serial). Of note is that Nina is a hunchback, which is certainly a gender switch way ahead of its time.

Edelmann has been working on the clavaria formosa plant, which has the ability to reshape bone. How this is possible is the kind of horror movie science that requires you to just accept it and move on.

Soon, Larry Talbot also shows up and he wants the cure for his lycanthropy. What, did Edelmann put out an ad in a trade magazine for monsters? They don’t believe him, so he begs Inspector Holtz (Lionel Atwill, who memorable was quoted in Hollywood Babylon as saying, “All women love the men they fear. All women kiss the hand that rules them… I do not treat women in such soft fashion. Women are cat creatures. Their preference is for a soft fireside cushion, for delicate bowls of cream, for perfumed leisure and for a master – which is where and how they belong.”) to lock him up. He transforms and then the doctor theorizes that pressure on the brain is why he turns furry, not the moon. He responds by flinging himself into the ocean, where he survives and washes up inside the castle, where an unresponsive Frankenstein’s Monster still holds the skeleton of Dr. Niemann from House of Frankenstein.

If you’re thinking — I bet Dracula tries to sleep with that comely blonde assistant, because after all Martha O’Driscoll played Daisy Mae in the original Li’l Abner, you’d be right. The quick-thinking Edelmann drags his coffin into the sun and sets him ablaze, but before long, a blood transfusion gone wrong leads to Dracula’s blood making him evil.

By the end, the good doctor is breaking necks, villagers descend on the castle and Talbot ends up being the one to save the day, wiping out every single other monster. This would be Chaney’s last Universal contract film, although they’d bring him back for the aforementioned Abbott and Costello movie.

Throughout the production, his drinking was out of hand. For example, Glenn Strange was stuck in the cumbersome Frankenstein’s Monster makeup and also had to spend the day in quicksand. He could barely feel his feet, so Chaney helped the only way he knew how. He got the actor smashed thanks to a bottle of scotch.

Speaking of sad stories, Atwill died a few months after this movie from lung cancer. The last few years of his life were a mess. He had married socialite Louise Cromwell Brooks, the ex-wife of General Patton, but after their 1939 separation, he went a little wild. So wild that a 1940 Christmas party, where at the least stag loops were shown and at the worst underage girls were assaulted, ended up getting him in front of a grand jury on morals charges. Sure, he was judged guilty of felony perjury and sentenced to five years probation. But thanks to the Hays Office — who also took the fangs )pun intended) out of the original version of this script — his career went from Universal to movie serials and lower than B movies. He died while making one of those serials, Lost City of the Jungle.

This movie was a big part of monster kid’s lives, as it was part of the Son of Shock package that was sold to TV stations in 1958. The other movies are Before I HangBehind the MaskThe Black RoomThe Boogie Man Will Get YouThe Face Behind the MaskIsland of Doomed MenThe Man They Could Not HangThe Man Who Lived TwiceThe Man With Nine LivesNight of TerrorThe Devil CommandsBlack FridayThe Bride of FrankensteinCaptive Wild WomenThe Ghost of FrankensteinHouse of FrankensteinThe Invisible Man’s RevengeJungle CaptiveThe Mummy’s Curse and The Soul of a Monster.

*Actually, four different actors played Frankenstein Monster: Strange, Boris Karloff in footage from Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Lon Chaney Jr. and his stunt double Eddie Parker from The Ghost of Frankenstein.

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

Leo McCarey was the son of one of Los Angeles’ biggest fight promoters, Thomas J. McCarey, and would be mentored by comedian Charley Chase and director Tod Browning. He cast Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy together, who became one of the most famous comedy duos of all time.

When the talkies took over, McCarey focused on features with the biggest stars of the era, such as Gloria Swanson, Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers, Mae West and W.C. Fields, but the failure of his 1937 film Make Way for Tomorrow nearly ruined his career. Today, that film is seen as a classic.

He left Paramount for Columbia, where he’d win his first Oscar for The Awful Truth, the film that established Cary Grant. Supposedly, Grant simply copied some of McCarey’s mannerisms and the rest was history.

The director remained independent instead of becoming a studio director. A devout Roman Catholic, he directed Going My Way, a story about a priest named Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), which won him his second Oscar and Crosby a best actor statue. This movie was its follow-up, pairing Crosby with Ingrid Bergman. It’s based on McCarey’s aunt, Sister Mary Benedict, who died of typhoid.

While his anti-Communist films like My Son John and Satan Never Sleeps didn’t connect, McCarey’s An Affair To Remember is an all-time classic, inspiring films like Sleepless In Seattle.

McCarey’s filming method — unlike much of Hollywood at the time and based on his experience in silent films, was to keep the script fluid. He was often at the piano during filming, trying to think of new ideas to improve the film. Bing Crosby said that 75% of Going My Way “was made up on the set by Leo.”

The biggest movie of 1945, this movie marks an important moment in film history, as Bing Crosby’s Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Father Chuck O’Malley made him the first actor in history to be nominated for two Oscars for playing the same role. In all, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress.

Made for $1.3 million, the film would go on to gross around $21.3 million. In today’s money, that’d be $300 million.

This time, O’Malley is assigned to St. Mary’s parish, which includes a run-down inner-city school that is about to be condemned. His role is to decide whether or not to keep the school open. They hope that businessman Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers, Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life) will see it in his heart to save the school.

O’Malley and Sister Superior Mary Benedict (Bergman) both want to save the school but vary in the way they want to do it. Eventually, he gets the Sister to leave the school, but that’s because she contracts tuberculosis and a move to a dry climate will save her life. Of course, everything works out for everyone.

The production was overseen by a Catholic priest for authenticity. As the final farewell was being filmed, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman passionately kissed one another, leading the priest-advisor to shout in protest, unaware that he was being pranked.

Olive Signature has just re-released this film on blu ray, mastered from new 4K restoration. It also has audio commentary by Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, a feature on “Faith and Film” by Rose Pacatte, as well as discussions of the movie by Steve Massa, Professor Emily Carman and Abbey Bender.

The radio show The Screen Guild Theater aired two 30-minute radio adaptations of the movie with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman reprising their film roles in 1946 and 1947. Both of these episodes are included on this release.  The first was broadcast on August 26, 1946, and the second on October 6, 1947.

Olive Signature has had some great releases as of late, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers and A Bucket of Blood. I love that they’ve been able to take movies that we know and love, yet are able to show us something new about them. You can get this movie right here.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Olive Films. Please check out their site and see what else they have to offer.

My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

After a successful start churning out Poverty Row quickies, Joseph H. Lewis directed My Name Is Julia Ross as his first film at Columbia. It established proved so popular that the studio soon promoted it to A-feature status. It’s a low budget film and only 64 minutes long, but it packs plenty of melodrama in its tight-fisted grip.

Julia Ross has been struggling to find work in London. A new talent agency is happy to learn that she has no family and boyfriend, so they recommend her as the secretary to wealthy widow Mrs. Williamson Hughes (May Whitty, The Lady VanishesGaslight).

After the very first evening of her work, she wakes up far from London in a Cornish mansion, having been drugged. Now, Mrs. Hughes and her volatile son Ralph (George Macready, Gilda and the narrator of Count Yorga, Vampire) want her to believe that she’s Ralph’s wife Marion. Everything she owns has been destroyed, the windows barred and the staff and locals have all convinced that she has mental problems.

Julia writes a letter to her only close friend and admirer, Dennis Bruce (Roland Varno, the father of Martin Varno, author of the 1958’s Night of the Blood Beast). but it seems like the Hughes family is ahead of her at every single turn. Her doctors and even the police are in on the scheme.

One night, Julia discovers a secret passage and overhears Ralph explain to his mother that he murdered his wife once she exposed his shady business dealings. He threw her body in the sea and now he wants to kill Julia and make it look like a suicide.

Will Julia escape? Is she really Ralph’s wife? Is everyone really against her? Oh the drama! If you’ve seen this movie before, you may have seen the 1987 remake, Dead of Winter, which starred Mary Steenbergen and Roddy Mcdowell.

Arrow Video did their usual amazing job with this presentation, including a new high def 1080p version of the film, commentary by film noir and Lewis experts, as well as the original theatrical trailer.

DISCLAIMER: We were sent this film by its PR agency, but that has no impact on this review.