Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Originally titled The Brain of Frankenstein, the title of this movie was changed to make it less “horror” and to feature the comedy duo. Lou Costello hated the script, claiming his five-year-old daughter could write a better script.

The Universal Monsters hadn’t been in a movie in three years, with Lugosi — who is playing Dracula for just the second time and last time in a feature film — and Chaney no longer under contract. Boris Karloff doesn’t even appear — that’s Glenn Strange* in the role — yet agreed to help promote the movie.

What a set-up. Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) makes an urgent phone call to warn Chick Young (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) that a shipment they’re about to get for a wax museum contains the real Dracula. Of course, they think it’s all a joke until, you know, Dracula really comes back.

Before you know it, Dracula has reanimated Frankenstein’s Monster and has Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenora Aubert, The Return of the Whistler) on hand to scoop out Costello’s brains and plop them into the Monster’s skull. She’s feigning interest in our hero and there’s also another mysterious woman, Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph, Cat People) acting like she’s in love with him.

Seriously, this is the very definition of a hijinks ensue film. Dracula is disguising himself as Dr. Lejos, but Larry Talbot isn’t fooled. I’ve always loved the scene where the vampire becomes a bat and the werewolf just grabs him and jumps off a balcony to both of their supposed deaths.

While this is the last appearance of the big three Universal Monsters, Abbott and Costello would also meet up with Boris “The Killer” Karloff, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Mummy and the Invisible Man, which is Abbott says, “There’s no one to frighten us any more.” That’s when a voice comes out of nowhere. “Oh, that’s too bad. I was hoping to get in on the excitement. Allow me to introduce myself—I’m the Invisible Man!” You have no idea how insane I went as a kid every time Vincent Price’s voice bellowed at the end of this. They’d also met up with the Creature from the Black Lagoon on the Colgate Comedy Hour.

This was directed by Charles Barton, who made several movies with the duo, as well as 38 episodes of Petticoat Junction, 90 episodes of Dennis the Menace, 78 episodes of The Amos ‘n Andy Show and 106 episodes of Family Affair. Walter Lantz — who created Woody Woodpecker — directed the animated Dracula to bat sequence.

*Actually, Strange isn’t in one scene. He had broken his ankle tripping over a camera cable, so when the Monster throws Dr. Mornay out the window, that’s Chaney Jr. in the make-up.

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Kino Lorber Studio Classics has steadily been releasing a number of classic film noir titles under its Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series. This one, starring Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster, fits right into those box sets.

Former POW Bill Saunders (Lancaster) barely survived the war and is a man on the edge. This blows up when he kills a man in a bar fight and hides in the home of nurse Jane Wharton (Fontaine), telling her its all an accident. They fall in love and after some jail time for attacking a cop, he gets a straight job. That gets ruined when a gangster who saw the bar fight starts blackmailing him.

Fontaine and Lancaster would recreate their roles for the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on February 21, 1949 under the title The Unafraid, which was much less offensive of a title. Indeed, there was a fight where this movie was almost called Blood On My Hands and Blood On the Moon. Lancaster was a producer, so he really struggled to keep the original title, seeing as how it was based on a book by Gerald Butler.

Norman Foster mostly directed Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films, so this is one of his few chances to strike out and make something unique, which he does. Also, the scene where Lancaster is whipped with a cat o’nine tails 18 times was voted #43 in the book Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies.

You can grab this blu ray from Kino Lorber, who sent us a review copy. It has a new 2K transfer and commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

After reading the novel by B. Traven, director John Huston thought that it would make a great film. And he saw his father, Walter Houston, as the perfect lead.

He felt for the story, as it reminded him of his days in the Mexican calvary. Luckily, his first picture, The Maltese Falcon, was a success, so he was able to make this movie happen. Originally, the studio had George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, and John Garfield selected for the main three roles.

Then World War II — and Houston donating his time to make war effort documentaries — happened. When it was all over, Humphrey Bogart had become Warner Brothers’ top dog and he wanted in.

This was one of the first Hollywood films to be filmed on location outside the United States. Filming began in the state of Durango and also at Tampico, Mexico, where the only Spanish Bogie learned was “Dos Equis.”

For their work on the film, John Huston won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, with his father winning Best Supporting Actor.

Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) and Bob Curtin are bums, getting by on spare change when they’re recruited by a labor contractor to help build oil rigs. The man skips on their pay. As they return home, they meet an old prospector named Howard (Walter Huston), who offers platitudes about god prospecting and how to get rich.

Between beating up their old boss for money and winning a small lottery, the men have enough to go in together to prospect for some gold in the hills of the Mexican interior.

What follows is an exhausting process that tries the men’s souls, as they’re forced to survive in near-unliveable conditions. However, they start adding up a fortune in gold. But now, Hobbs is gripped in the throes of worry — what if his partners screw him over?

Of course, there’s no way this ends up happy. Even as Howard is honored by the local village for saving a young boy, Hobbs is shooting their partner and trying to leave with the gold.

From mistaking a man trying to earn money for his wife as a killer to facing off with a band of Mexican criminals, the danger is real in every scene in this film. Hobbs is murdered by Gold Hat’s gang and his gold dust, worth so much that he’d kill his friends, is tossed into the wind. When the surviving Howard and Curtin realize this, all they can do is laugh.

Anton Lavey, founder of the Church of Satan, found that Walton Huston was well attuned to Satanic roles: “He was the only one who came out unscathed. He was the old geezer who knew the score, who was nobody’s fool when it came down to survival.”

Another Satanic viewpoint comes from Magus Peter H. Gilmore, current High Priest of the Church of Satan: “The Treasure of Sierra Madre is rather complex in realistically outlining human types, and ultimately, though the sought­-after gold — a pipe­ dream Satanism would caution against — is lost, the characters receive ends befitting their deeds.”

The Boy with the Green Hair (1948)

Peter Fry is a runaway who was found with his head shaved and no parents before he goes to live with a retired actor named Gramps. It isn’t until he begins helping his class raise money for war orphans that he realizes that he too is one of them. When he wakes up the next morning, his hair is green. And that’s where the story really begins.

Suddenly, when Peter is in the woods, the orphaned children he’s only seen on posters appear to him and explain how he can make a difference, telling the world how much damage war does to children.

The townsfolk just can’t deal with Peter’s hair. They beg Gramps to cut it. A gang of boys chased him down and try to take it. So finally, a barber shaves his head and he runs away from home. Gramps finds him and tells him that there are adults who will accept what he has to say. His hair will grow in and his message will continue.

Joseph Losey, the film’s director, had to battle the politically conservative Howard Hughes — who had taken over RKO — to keep his vision. Both he and writer Ben Barzman would be blacklisted afterward. Hughes even brought 12-year-old star Dean Stockwell into his office and asked that when the orphans spoke of the horrors of war, he was to respond, “And that’s why America has gotta have the biggest army, and the biggest navy, and the biggest air force in the world!” Despite Hughes screaming at him, Stockwell refused.

Stockwell and Russ Tamblyn became lifelong friends after making this movie together, which led to Stockwell later introducing his buddy to David Lynch, who cast him in Twin Peaks.

I feel that Peter suffers from the Satanic sin of lack of perspective for some time. “You must never lose sight of who and what you are, and what a threat you can be, by your very existence. We are making history right now, every day.” By the end of the film, he remembers the final part: “Do not be swayed by herd constraints—know that you are working on another level entirely from the rest of the world.”