She-Wolf of London (1946)

As a kid, I’d see a title like She-Wolf of London and prepare myself for lupine madness, only to be angered by the fact that there is not a single werewolf in this movie. Imagine how angry I am as an adult when I watch films like The Wolf of Wall Street!

Years before Lassie and Lost In Space, June Lockhart would play the title character. There’s been a series of murders at a local park and her relatives inform her that because the blood of a werewolf runs in the family and that she is responsible for the deaths. Not Maureen Robinson!

As our heroine begins to worry that she is the next to suffer the Curse of the Allenbys, her aunt both tries to help and worry her at the same time. I smell gaslighting! Can you smell gaslighting? Because I totally can.

Sara Haden, who plays Aunt Martha Winthrop, is perhaps best known for playing another movie aunt, Aunt Milly Forrest in thirteen Andy Hardy films.

This was directed by Jean Yarbrough, who also brought us Hillbillys in a Haunted House and Jack and the Beanstalk, one of only two movies that Abbott and Costello made in color (the other is Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd).

Black Angel (1946)

Constance Dowling was a heart breaker. She started her entertainment career by lying about her age — and her occupation to her mother — to get a job as dancer at New York City’s Paradise nightclub. She went on to have a long affair with married director Elia Kazan, which only ended when she left town for Hollywood.

She lived in Italy from 1947 to 1950, where she romanced Italian poet/novelist Cesare Pavese, who committed suicide in 1950 after a lifetime to depression, political worries and the final rejection of Dowling. In his poetry, he refers to her as the “face of springtime,” yet one of his last poems was dedicated to her and mentioned that “death will come and she’ll have your eyes.” He overdosed on barbituates.

In 1955, Dowling married film producer Ivan Tors, who created Sea Hunt, Flipper, Daktari and Gentle Ben. He also produced her last film, Gog, before she retired to have three children and a foster child with Tors.

I’m telling you all this so that you know why she’s the perfect person to play gorgeous singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling), who is the mysterious and murdered character at the heart of this 1946 film noir.

Every man in Mavis’ life is now a suspect, like her drunk musician ex-husband Martin Blair (Dan Duryea, who usually plays the bad guy; interestingly enough his parents didn’t approve of him being an actor, so he worked for six years in advertising until the stress gave him a heart attack and he went for his dream of being a star), sinister nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre!) and Kirk Bennett, who gets busted for the crime.

Now, it’s time for his sainted wife Catherine (June Vincent, again this movie plays against type as Vincent was named Television’s Favorite Homewrecker by TV Guide as so many of her roles involved her stealing husbands and boyfriends) and Blair to learn the truth.

Broderick Crawford shows up as a cop, as does Wallace Ford (who was in Freaks), former National Boxing Association Middleweight Champion of the World Freddie Steele (who doubled for Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim), former vaudevillian Ben Bard and Junius Matthews (the voice of Rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons and Archimedes in The Sword in the Stone).

Writer Cornell Woolrich disliked the movie made from his book. He had tons of other films made from his work, including The Leopard ManPhantom LadyThe Return of the WhistlerNight Has a Thousand Eyes and Rear Window. He also had some surprising adaptions made from his stories, like Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Blood Stained Orchids, the 1984 role-playing and video game referencing Cloak and Dagger and the Tobe Hooper director made-for-TV movie I’m Dangerous Tonight.

This is the final movie for director Roy William Neill, who was behind eleven of the fourteen Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, as well as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and an early 3D film called The Man From M.A.R.S.

Looking for an enjoyable noir? Good. This new Arrow Films release features a brand new restoration from original film elements, new audio commentary by writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode, and a video appreciation of the film by historian Neil Sinyard. 

You can get this blu ray release from Arrow Video.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Arrow. Thanks!

So Dark the Night (1946)

Joseph H. Lewis was known as “Wagon-Wheel Joe” by studio editors when he was cranking out B-movie westerns as he was in love with using the wheel itself as a visual motif. But he was about more than just one genre. He directed Bela Lugosi in The Invisible Ghost, the musical Minstrel Man and plenty of TV late in his career, but he’s mostly known for his film noir work. One of those films, Gun Crazy, is a romance about, well, loving guns.

There’s a ten-minute bank heist sequence in that film that’s been celebrated for decades. No one but the principal actors and people inside the bank were informed that this one-take scene was real. It’s audacious — the action goes from inside the bank to the getaway car with no cut and then Lewis let his actors improv all of their dialogue.

But we’re here today to speak of So Dark the Night.

Inspector Henri Cassin (Steven Geray, who was in tons of films in supporting roles, but fans of this site may know him as Dr. Frankenstein in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter) has left Paris for a vacation he’s waiting a long time for. He’s a renowned expert who has solved all manner of the world’s toughest cases, but he finally deserves some rest.

At a small country inn, he falls for the innkeeper’s daughter Nanette. She’s a simple country girl, but something speaks to the older Cassin and he hopes to marry her. Everyone informs him that he’s too old, but his romantic heart beats for the possibility of a new life.

On the night of their engagement party, her ex-boyfriend Leon informs Cassin that he may have her now, but she will always think of her younger lover and eventually, he will have her. Nanette vanishes from her party with Leon as the main suspect, but he’s soon found dead.

Nanette’s mother is warned that she will be next to die and sure enough, she’s soon strangled. Pierre, the patriarch of the family and owner of the inn, sells the inn as Henri returns to Paris.

The murders and disappearance haunt Henri, who sees the fact that he’s solved hundreds of murders as meaning nothing when facing the one case that concerns the woman he truly loves. He comes up with a sketch of the killer and more information by studying the footprint found near Leon’s body. That’s when he comes up with an audacious hypothesis: he is the murderer. The sketch matches his face and his foot fits the print.

After confessing to the police commissioner, we learn that Henri is schizophrenic. Somehow, he escapes back to the inn where he attempts to kill Pierre. The police commissioner has followed him, however, and shoots our protagonist dead, putting him out of his misery (and mystery).

While this movie emerged from Columbia’s b-movie factory, it’s still fascinating and leagues beyond any movie that would be created today.

As you’d expect from Arrow Video, their new blu ray release has it all. A high def 1080p version of the film that makes it look better than it has since it was originally released, audio commentary and analysis on the film by critics and experts and the original trailer.

I’d never seen any of Lewis’ work before, so this was a welcome change of pace. I’m looking forward to going deeper into his work.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to me by its PR department, but that has no impact on this review.

CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Shock (1946)

Dr. Cross (an amazingly young Vincent Price) is treating a young patient for shock, as she went into a coma when she saw a man kill his wife with a candlestick. But what if that man ended up being Dr. Cross? And how will she escape?

Lynn Bari plays the Doctor’s lover/nurse Elaine, and if you know anything of noir, she’s never a leading lady but always the seductress, a “sultry, statuesque man-killer” as Wikipedia refers to her. Sadly, her career fizzled by the 1950’s, “sabotaged by unresolved problems with her domineering, alcoholic mother and three marriages.”

Once Dr. Cross realizes that Janet knows he’s the killer, Elaine convinces him to overdose her on insulin and give her shock therapy, which sends her into a coma. He can’t find it in his heart to kill her, but his nurse won’t help him save her, so he chokes her. Luckily, Dr. Harvey saves the day and all is well — but things sure got close.

If you don’t have the Chilling Classics set, you can always watch this on Amazon Prime. Actually, since the original copyright holder never secured the rights, it’s in the public domain, so you can find it pretty much anywhere.