APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 7: Bill and Coo (1948)

Shot on the world’s smallest film set, this film only has three humans — producer Ken Murray, bird trainer George Burton and Elizabeth Walters — show up in the opening. The stars are the birds of the town of Chirpendale. It was awarded an honorary Academy Award as it doesn’t really fit into the world of normal movies and we’re all better for that.

Bill, a cab driver, is trying to save Coo from a crow named the Black Menace. There’s also a circus act and man, you know, this movie was exactly what I needed the other day, just a fresh dose of innocence and fun.

Director Dean Riesner started as an actor before writing plenty of TV programs, as well as Dirty HarryPlay Misty for MeThe EnforcerFatal Beauty and many more films. He was also married to Maila Nurmi, who we all know better as Vampira.

Today, we may not understand the slang for this movie’s title, which means to sit and speak quietly. This movie is none of those things, a wild ride that has bird firemen, bird motorcyclists and no small matter of astounding bird heroics.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Because of Eve (1948)

Sally and Bob have been married a year and there’s some good news. It seems like she’s pregnant. That means they go to see Dr. West, who has no idea what HiPPA laws are or the privacy of the patient and we learn about how Sally had a baby with Bob’s best friend who died in World War II and their issues with VD and when things get weird, he makes them watch some other movies within the movie like The Story of V.D.The Story of Reproduction and The Story of Life and oh man, throw away your popcorn because you know it’s time to see diseased vaginas and penises. Let’s throw in a cesarian and regular birth, because the people demand it!

After the movie, perhaps you’d like to purchase The Mid-Century Marriage Guide?

Director Howard Bretherton made a hundred or so low budget westerns and was a master of editing in camera, a skill he passed on to his son David Bretherton, who edited Cabaret and Westworld, and his granddaughter Gillian L. Hutshing, who was on the editing team for Blade RunnerRadEyes of Fire and The Monster Squad.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 24: Rope (1948)

24. 2 CLOSE 4 COMFORT: A main character suffers from claustrophobia.

Outside of the expected films like Psycho and Rear Window, Hitchcock has been a blindspot to me, despite my obsession with the krimini and giallo films that owe a debt to his work. Let’s change that!

Based on the 1929 play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, this movie was adapted by Hume Cronyn — yes, the actor and husband of Jessica Tandy — with a screenplay by Arthur Laurents.

After Lifeboat, this is the second in a series of Hitchcock’s films that take place in limited settings. Plus, it takes place in real time and appears to be a series of single takes that are covered by some really clever editing by William Ziegler (who also worked on Strangers on a Train and Spellbound for Hitchcock).

Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) want to prove their intelligence by staging the perfect murder. And to do so, they don’t just theoretically discuss it. No, instead, they strangle their old classmate David Kentley (Dick Hogan), hide his body in their apartment and then invite their friends over for a dinner party.

This whole scheme came from discussions they had back in college with their housemaster Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) about Nietzsche’s Übermensch and De Quincey’s theory that murder is a way of showing one’s superiority over others. Yes, the same opium-loving De Quincey whose writing inspired SuspiriaInferno and Mother of Tears. So he’s a guest to take part in their artwork, as it were, as are several former classmates, friends and even the dead man’s father.

The claustrophobia of this movie comes from not only the killers being unable to deal with the impact of their crime — it’s one thing to calmly discuss a murder in the classroom and its another to actually get your hands dirty — as well as the fact that there’s a dead body in a trunk the entire time that people are making merry.

If you’re looking for a movie that pushes the limits of what could be done at the time, Rope is it. That’s totally not claustrophobic, as Hitchcock was pushing for something that hadn’t been done on film before. The long unbroken shots — which frustrated Stewart, who claimed that the experiment was worth taking but didn’t work — were unlike anything in standard moviemaking at the time. And it led to really technical things needing to happen, as the entire set was on rollers and could silently be moved as parts come in and out of the scene. What you aren’t seeing is a huge crew that were constantly moving heavy furniture and the huge Technicolor camera so as they wouldn’t be seen on camera, as well as multiple sound and camera people so that everything could remain in constant motion.

Keep that in mind as you watch the acting in this movie, as there was also a series of cues that the talent had to follow as well as actually act in the movie. Of course, this also led to plenty of issues on set, as there was an incident when the camera dolly ran over and broke a cameraman’s foot. In order to keep filming, he was gagged and dragged off the set. That take is in the movie.

Beyond that, this is shot on a stage with a gigantic cyclorama as the background — the largest one ever made — which had models of the New York skyline, as well as working chimneys and lights, a sunset that was artificially created as the movie’s runtime moves along and even spun glass clouds that could change position and shape.

Hitchcock even shot a prequel to the film in the trailer, showing the world outside the apartment, showing that he implicitly understood how to sell one of his movies by telling the audience that this would be the last time that they’d see David Kentley alive.

This movie was pretty controversial at the time, as the implied relationship between the leads led it to be banned in some cities. Keep in mind that this movie is less than a century old when you complain out how people are so sensitive. This is where we’ve come from and it wasn’t all that long ago.

This movie was unavailable for three decades because its rights were bought back by Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter Patricia. The other four lost films were Rear WindowThe Man Who Knew Too MuchThe Trouble with Harry and Vertigo. They were finally re-released in theaters in 1984 after thirty-five years of not being seen. Again, we live in a different world where everything is available; it was not always this way.

Jungle Goddess (1948)

Between 1922 and 1954, Lewis D. Collins made around 120 films, most of them Westerns. Here’s one of the rare ones that doesn’t have horses and six shooters, set in the jungle and starring future Superman George Reeves as an explorer.

Pilot Mike Patton (Reeves) and Bob Simpson (Ralph Byrd, who had played Dick Tracy numerous times, so this is a meta comic hero team-up) are looking for Greta Vanderhorn (Wanda McKay, who played the leading lady in many a B movie) in the jungle and find her being worshipped by the natives. She begs Mike to help her escape, but Bob has gone insane and they just might not make it out alive.

Producers William Stephen and Robert Lippert would bring back the Reeves and Byrd team for Thunder in the Pines and had plans for four movies with them every year. Banana Fleet was planned, but never got made.

The white goddess trope might not have started here, but it’s definitely happening in this one. The trope probably started in W. H. Hudson’s 1904 book Green Mansions with his character Rima. The first film example is 1920’s The Jungle Princess. We’ll have a few more examples this week, trust me.

You can watch this on MovieOnline.


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.”