APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 21: Glen or Glenda (1953)

I despise the notion that Ed Wood was a horrible filmmaker. Sure, his movies aren’t technically proficient and are often pretty maudlin in moments, but he’s an actual auteur. For this movie, he didn’t just direct and write, he also starred as Daniel Davies. Who else could? After all, Wood convinced producer George Weiss that he was the perfect director for this movie as he was a real-life transvestite.

In this movie, Wood takes pains to emphasize that a male transvestite is not automatically a homosexual. He swore that he had never had a single homosexual relationship in his life and was considered a womanizer. He also was given to directing his adult work in full drag and claimed that his greatest fantasy was to come back as a gorgeous blonde. Yet he still would say that he was comforted by the feel of angora.

So while the Golden Turkey Awards may give Wood the title of Worst Director of All Time and Leonard Maltin may say that this is “possibly the worst movie ever made,” it has heart. An inept heart, but heart.

A transvestite who has been to prison four times for cross-dressing has killed themselves, saying “Let my body rest in death forever, in the things I cannot wear in life.”

This leads Dr. Alton (Wood player Timothy Farrell) to seek out Glen, another man who loves to dress as the other sex, often stealing the clothing of his fiancee Barbara (Dolores Fuller, Wood’s girlfriend at the time). Glen is struggling between being honest with Barbara before their wedding or telling her afterward. Through extended dream sequences, he finally comes to terms with who he is and his other side, revealing it to her. As she hands him an angora sweater, she accepts every side of him.

The doctor then learns of another person, Alan/Anne. Anne was born a boy, but her mother wanted a girl and raised her that way, which left her abused throughout school. Despite hiding her true self during the war, she has since had an operation to become “a lovely young lady.”

Let me tell you, this kind of movie is incendiary in 2022. This was made in 1953.

A movie with these words, which we should live by: “Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even the lounging outfit he has on, and he’s the happiest individual in the world. He can work better, think better, he can play better, and he can be more of a credit to his community and his government because he is happy.”

So yes, Ed Wood isn’t someone with a cinematic eye. But he put himself — all of himself — on the screen. That’s worthy of celebration.

The inclusion of Bela Lugosi is as well. That’s what takes this movie from message movie to true oddity, as Bela plays The Scientist, a character unconnected to any narrative that begins the film and is not even the narrator, much like how Encounter with the Unknown decides to have a second uncredited voice take the role because just having Rod Serling is not enough.

“Beware. Beware. Beware of the big, green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys, puppy dog tails and big, fat snails. Beware. Take care. Beware.

Wood would bring back Glen/Glenda again in two of his novels. Killer in Drag has Glen/Glenda becoming a serial killer while Death of a Transvestite has Glen/Glenda being executed.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 15: The Robe (1953)

The first Hollywood film made in CinemaScope, The Robe was based on Lloyd C. Douglas’ novel and was written by Gina Kaus, Albert Maltz and Philip Dunne, although Maltz was blacklisted and his name would not be in the credits of this movie for decades.

Directer Henry Koster knew something about being an enemy of the country himself, as even though he had escaped Germany before the war, he was considered an enemy alien and wasn’t allowed to leave his home at night during World War II. He’d go on to direct Harvey and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell.

Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) returns to Rome to discover that Caligula (Jay Robinson) is next in line to be Emperor. Despite being a playboy of sorts, Marcellus is in love with Diana (Jean Simmons), yet she is promised to Caligula. The two men engage in a bidding war for a Greek slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature), with Marcellus winning. He frees the man, who stays by his side, bound by honor.

In retaliation, Caligula sends Marcellus to Jerusalem, which is a death sentence. Before he leaves, Diane and Marcellus pledge their love for one another. When he arrives, Demetrius becomes much like Zelig, meeting Jesus (played by second assistant director Donald C. Klune with Cameron Mitchell’s voice) and later Judas (Michael Ansara) moments before he hangs himself. Demetrius begs Marcellus to save Jesus, who has already been judged by Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone), who places Marcellus in charge of the soldiers who will watch over the crucifixion. In fact, Marcellus wins the robe Jesus wore in a game of lots. When he attempts to use the robe to cover himself, he feels great pain and Demetrius curses both him and the Roman Empire.

He runs into the night with the robe and Marcellus descends into madness. He’s sent to destroy the cloth and is promised that he can marry Diane if successful. As he struggles, he soon learns that he believes in Jesus and is introduced to the apostle Peter. Thus begins a journey that will find Marcellus, Demetrius and Diane against the full power of the Roman empire.

When this first aired on TV in 1967, 60 million people watched it. We’ll never have TV ratings like that again. The film also had a sequel already in production before it was completed — despite nearly everyone dying — as Mature returned for Demetrius and the Gladiators.

Richard Burton wasn’t just an atheist who smoked a hundred cigarettes a day on set. He also was having an affair with Simmons, who was married to Farley Granger, who came to the set one day and threatened his life.

Robot Monster (1953)

Phil Tucker invented a rotary engine known as the CT Surge Turbine that he successfully patented and unsuccessfully tried to sell to the automobile industry as a more efficient alternative to the internal combustion engine. And years after directing movies like this and The Cape Canaveral Monsters, he did actually contribute to some movies as an editor, including Orca and King Kong.

Yet we’re all going to remember him for this movie and to be honest, whenever life gets me down, I remember that at some point, people got together and decided to make a movie about the end of the world and threw a monkey suit with a TV set for a head in it and I think about the startling ridiculousness of that and you know, it’s all better.

That monster is known as Ro-Man Extension XJ-2. He’s played by George Barrows, who made his own gorilla suit to get roles in movies. He’s already used his Calcinator death ray to kill everyone on Earth except for the eight people we meet in this movie.

I mean, that’s pretty through. There were 2.6 billion people alive in 1953, so to wipe out that many people, much less be able to find the eight you missed is pretty good work, if I can commend the outright annihilation of a planet.

Sure, this movie outright rips off the ending of Invaders from Mars and recycles footage from One Million B.C., Lost ContinentRocketship X-M and Captive Women, but it’s in 3D, shot all over Bronson Canyon and was made in four days for $16,000. That is also worth celebrating.

It also has a score by Elmer Bernstein, who was currently being held back from major movies because of his liberal views. He also did a score for Cat Women of the Moon that year, but soon would be one of the biggest names in movie music.

Look, this is a movie that has a Billion Bubble Machine with an antenna being used for Ro-Man to communicate with the Great Guidance, the supreme leader of his face, who finally gets fed up and blasts not only that gorilla robot but the child hero before he causes dinosaurs to come back and then uses psychotronic vibrations to smash Earth out of the universe. If you can’t find something to love there, you are beyond hope.

You can watch the Mystery Science Theater and original version of this movie on Tubi.

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

Orville (Bud Abbott) is the oldest orphan* at the Hideaway Orphans Home. Seeing how Bud was 56 at the time of filming, perhaps we need to look into the weird practices of this orphanage. Regardless, he sneaks into a top-secret lab where he helps a lab worker named Lester (Lou Costello) and accidentally sends their spaceship into a launch sequence, flying them to what they think is Mars, but it turns out that it’s New Orleans at Mardi Gras.

Yes, a movie called Go to Mars has no sequence where anyone goes to Mars.

Meanwhile, two crooks named Harry the Horse (Jack Kruschen, Satan’s Cheerleaders) and Mugsy (Horace McMahon from the Dr. Kildare movies) sneak on board the spaceship, steal the spacesuits and weapons and rob a bank. Hijinks ensue when the cops think Bud and Lou are the criminals and everyone gets chased on to the rocket, which blasts off for Venus.

It turns out that Venus is a matriarchy where all men have been exiled for being cheaters. Queen Allura (Mari Blanchard, Twice Told Tales) falls for Bud and makes him king as long as he remains faithful. Of course, one of the other women wants to kiss him and this ends up with all of our male characters proving the queen correct, returning Venus once again to the sanity of female rule.

Almost all of the Venusian women was played by a Miss Universe and Miss USA contestants**, including Miss Germany Renate Hoy (she’s also in Missile to the Moon, playing nearly the same role), Miss Sweden Anita Eckberg (before becoming a star in La Dolce Vita), Miss New Jersey Ruth Hampton (Ricochet Romance) and Miss Louisiana Jeanna Thompson, the only woman to be in Miss USA twice. An exception to all these beauty queen contestants is Jean Willes, who appeared in several Three Stooges shorts and in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Of all people, Robert A. Heinlein inspired this movie with a film treatment he wrote called Abbott and Costello Move to the Moon. In other science fiction trivia, the sets for this movie were reused for This Island Earth.

Yes, I can barely believe that the intelligent leader of an all-female society of great scientists would give it all up to aardvark Bud Abbott. After all, he has the secret to best strawberry malted ever, even if he had to die for it.

*Harry Shearer is there, too.

**My favorite beauty title in this movie is the one won by Jeri Miller: Miss Welcome to Long Beach.

Mesa of Lost Women (1953)

Before Ron Ormond went off and made his religious films, he was making some really out there movies. Actually, the religious films are just as bonkers, but Mesa of Lost Women is plenty strange as well.

Originally called Tarantula, Ormond came in, added some new footage and gave it the kind of name that would draw drive-in audiences. That’s after the original director, Herbert Tevos, claimed to have directed films on Germany starring Marlene Dietrich and Erich von Stroheim, including The Blue Angel. The truth is that Mesa is the only movie he ever worked on.

As we’ve watched movies where women — specifically outer space women — lorded over matriarchal societies this week, we’ve seen plenty of them working alongside giant spiders. Cat-Women of the Moon, Queen of Outer Space and Missile to the Moon*, you share something in common with this movie!

I love the beginning of this, as we watch a man get caressed by the monstrous hands of Tarantella, who kisses him to death as the narrator** intones, “Have you ever been kissed by a girl like this?”

What follows is not as good as that opening.

Grant Phillips (Robert Knapp) and Doreen Culbertson (Paula Hill) have been lost in the desert for days and nearly died from exposure and dehydration. As they recount their tale at the Amer-Exico Field Hospital, we discover the story of Leland Masterson, who has been invited by the spidery-named Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan!) to see the doctor’s human-sized tarantulas and women with the abilities and instincts of spiders, including Tarantella, who can regrow her body parts and could live forever. As for the males, well, they all turn out to be mutated dwarves. You can’t have it all, I guess.

Man, this movie is all over the place from here, with Leland getting drugged into insanity, Tarantella dancing in a club until she gets shot*** and then bringing herself back to life, George Barrows — the monster in Robot Monster — playing a nurse, sexual tension and, of course, a heroic and suicidal death for one of the leads, all wrapped up by the man and woman back in the hospital, telling their story that no one believes.

Hoyt Curtin wrote the music for this on guitar, bass and piano. It’s either going to make you happy or insane. Ed Wood must have been in the former camp, as he reused it for his movie Jail Bait.

This movie will hurt your brain, but hey — I’m all for a women-run society with gigantic spiders that believes in the power of dance numbers.

*To be fair, Missile is the exact same movie as Cat-Women. It was also filmed in the same location as Mesa, Red Rock Canyon Park.

**It’s Lyle Talbot, who also shows up in Amazon Women on the Moon, a movie surely influenced by this one.

***Before he shoots her, Leland quotes II Kings 9:33 by saying,”…So they threw her down, and some of her blood splattered on the wall and on the horses; and he trampled her underfoot…” as if he’s a proto-Jules Winnfield.

You can watch this on YouTube. There’s also a copy on the Internet Archive.

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

Any of the women-dominated science fiction societies in films can be traced back to this movie, an independently produced 3D film produced by Jack Rabin and Al Zimbalist (the man who also brought us Robot Monster and King Dinosaur). It was directed by Arthur Hilton, who was better known for his TV career.

Scientists on a trip to the moon find a race of cat-women, the last survivors of a two-million-year-old civilization who live within the caverns of the lunar surface. They have it all — sharp black fashion, great makeup and sweet beehives hairdos. Oh, and a giant moon spider or two to take care of the guys who get in their way.

Their leader, Alpha, has the plan to head to Earth and subliminally control our women, starting with Helen Salinger (Marie Windsor, who was 5’9″ and usually towered over the actors she played against), the only woman on the moon mission. After violence doesn’t work, seduction pretty much does, which nearly strands the men on the moon. Luckily, one of the cat-women, Lamba (Susan Morrow, Macabre), tells one of the men that she’s in love with him but must kill him. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

This movie recycles the costumes and sets from Project Moonbase and Destination Moon. It’s pretty much a green movie, as it was also recycled and remade as Missile to the Moon.

The only thing that can stop the cat-women from building a matriarchal utopia? One American man with a gun. Think that one over as you watch all sixty some-odd minutes of this.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Magic Voyage of Sinbad (1953)

For some reason, I’ve decided to see how Sinbad is treated all over the world, which means that I’ve now gone to Russia to watch Sadko, which was exported to the U.S. by Roger Corman in 1962. Ten minutes were cut, the movie was dubbed into English — the script adaptor was a young Francis Ford Coppola — and Sadko was renamed Sinbad. So perhaps I’m not watching Sinbad at all.

Actually, I’m not. I’m watching a Russian opera and here I thought this was going to have stop-motion creatures battling people. Instead, I’m watching the story of Sadko seeking the sweet bird of happiness, which is not a metaphor.

That said, this movie has some ingenuity, as the land of the Ocean King is obviously not underwater but all tricked out with in-camera special effects. I mean, there’s a moment where our hero rides a seahorse to escape.

While this doesn’t have the Harryhausen effects that the Sinbad title — American kids were fooled into seeing a Russian film in the midst of the Cuban Missle Crisis, so if there’s ever anyone as carny as Corman, you let me know — but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a spectacle.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

This movie is more entertaining than anything that will be released in 2019, 2020 and hell, probably even the next ten years. Seriously, the fact that this movie exists and somehow escaped into theaters — for a very short time — astounds me.

After the success of the animated short Gerald McBoing-Boing, Theodor Seuss Geisel submitted a 1,200-page script for this film, which was packed with “themes of world dominance and oppression coming out of World War II.”

Nearly every frame of this film looks like it escaped directly from the pages of one of his books. Of course, it tested horribly, which meant that nine of the musical numbers were cut from the film and never seen again. Plus, subplots were eliminated, new scenes were shot and existing scenes were rearranged. The film that Seuss intended will probably never be seen.

After all, people started walking out of the premiere 15 minutes in (child star Tommy Rettig was accompanied by Marilyn Monroe) and critics felt that the film lacked humor and enchantment. Geisel referred to the film as a “debaculous fiasco” and never even mentioned it in his autobiography. That said, he did say “Hollywood is not suited for me and I am not suited for it.”

That said — some people noticed. The film has gone on to be a cult film in the best sense of the word. It’s on the Church of Satan film list, after all.

Young Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig, who was the original star of Lassie and would later go on to star with Leave It to Beaver‘s Tony Dow on the 1960’s soap opera Never Too Young) is forced to take piano classes under the stern eye of Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried, Snidely Whiplash from Dudley Do-Right). After all, it makes his widowed mother Heloise (Mary Healy, who often was paired with her husband Peter Lind Hayes, including a breakfast radio show that was recorded in their own home) happy. His only friend, if you can call him that, is their plumber August Zabladowski (the aforementioned Peter Lind Hayes), who is at their house way more often than a plumber should be.

While Bart is struggling through his lessons, he dreams that he is prisoner number one inside the Terwilliker Institute, where the mad piano teacher has built a piano so large that it requires Bart and 499 other boys to play it. See — the quite literal 5,000 fingers of Dr. T.

To make things worse, Bart’s mom is now Dr. T’s assistant and bride-to-be and Mr. Zabladowski doesn’t believe him any longer. But by the end, they work together with all the other kids to destroy the giant piano and wake Bart from his dream, where the plumber finally asks out his mother.

Henry Kulky, who was once the professional wrestler Bomber Kulkavich, appears as one of Dr. T’s goons named Stroogo. Then there’s “Hollywood’s ugliest man” and Wallace Berry’s stand-in Harry Wilson and the lead singer of the Lettermen, Tony Butala (he’s also the singing voice for Tommy Rettig). And, of course, a cast of hundreds of children, all plinking away at that giant piano. According to Seuss, one of the kids got sick and vomited on the keys, leading to a chain reaction where nearly 150 others all ralphed at the same time. He joked that it was similar to the film’s reviews.

This whole bit of madness was directed by Roy Rowland (Meet Me in Las VegasThe Girl Hunters) with many uncredited pieces of direction by producer Stanley Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerIt’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldOn the Beach).

I urge you to see this film as soon as possible. You can get it on blu ray from the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment.

CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Man in the Attic (1953)

Editor’s Note: I first read Melody Vena’s writing in this year’s Horror and Sons Halloween Horrors 2018 event and learned that she won the 2017 and 2018 Monster Movie Maniac “Monster Movie Marathon” contest by watching the most movies in one month. It’s super exciting to have her write for us and share a movie all about Jack the Ripper. She also reviewed My Mom’s a Werewolf for our reviews of Mill Creek’s Pure Terror box set.

In 1913 author Marie Belloc Lowndes wrote a fascinating book called The Lodger; which is a fictional portrayal of the Jack the Ripper killings. By the year 1927, the book would have its first cinema counterpart,  filmed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. The movie would see several versions from the years of 1932, 1944, 1953 and 2009. The 1953 movie that I am discussing was released December 31, in San Francisco and starred Jack Palance, Constance Smith and Byron Palmer.

Set in London, 1888 just as Jack the Ripper was beginning his reign of terror, an older couple decide to rent out their attic desperately in need of extra cash, on the third night of the killings a man appears and rents the room. The man, a researcher pathologist with a desire for experiments begins working in his newly rented room. The landlady meets the man and becomes suspicious, these suspicious feelings are fueled when her niece starts to show an interest in the man.

The movie opens to two police officers walking the streets discussing the killings when they come across a woman of the night being tossed from a pub, after she has a brief altercation with the owner, and throws some clever insults at the coppers, they proceed to walk her down the road for her safety. After a bit she decides to go off on her own down the dark alleyways of London and happens to fall victim to an off-screen Jack the Ripper. The following scene introduces us to Mr. and Mrs. Harley who are sitting in their living room, Mr. Harley discussing current events of the Ripper with his dog, when Mrs. Harley chimes in he has a way of curtly asking her to stop. Suddenly a knock at the door has both startled with Mrs. Harley asking “ I wonder who that could be at this hour” Mr. Harley replying “Well I’m sure if you think long and hard you’ll figure it out.” The door opens to Mr.Slade (a young Jack Palance) inquiring about a room for rent. The man enters the house and the family dog runs over wagging his tail and jumping on him, inciting a “He never does that to strangers,” from Mr.Harley; which earns him a glance from the man.

Innocent enough.

Mrs. Harley proceeds to show the man her rooms that are for rent, but once he steps inside he’s not very happy about the accommodations. After offering them for a reasonable rate he still asks if there are any other rooms, she says, “No unless you want the attic,” his disposition changes and he asks to be shown. Once in the attic he gets excited and says that he’s a research pathologist and will be needing to conduct experiments without interruption, and will also be renting the other rooms. They leave, he pays her in advance telling her that “his experiments take him out late at night,” his attention is drawn to an old Bible on the desk and they discuss who it was Mrs. Harley’s grandmothers; their conversation is cut short by the town crier yelling “MURDER IN WHITECHAPEL, JACK THE RIPPER STRIKES AGAIN.” Mrs. Harley lets her feelings be known after saying she wishes they would catch him, meanwhile, Mr. Slade, with a scowl on his face says”Jack the Ripper…what a horrible revolting name” and slams the Bible shut.

Not so innocent.

Without giving too much away, I suggest that you watch it for yourself. Black and white movies are always fun, and The Man in the Attic is sure to deliver for any classic movie fan, withitst musical score and dance numbers, to its suspense and mystery and an ending that will leave you guessing till the final frame. Any movie that has Jack the Ripper as its main antagonist usually pushes the envelope, and how could they not, not only was it never solved, it caused a widespread panic turning neighbor on neighbor. The Man in the Attic is able to show a little of what that hysteria was like, without gore, blood and visual effects, just sound and great acting.

I leave you with these final chilling words:

“One day men will look back and see that I gave birth to the twentieth century” – Jack the Ripper