Girl Gang/Pin-Down Girl (1954)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We covered Pin-Down Girl under its other title, Racket Girls, earlier this year. Thanks to this Kino Lorber re-release of Something Weird’s The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture imprint, we’re watching it again.

Girl Gang is really about Joe (Timothy Farrell), who leads the titular group of young ladies. He hooks them on drugs, then gets willing participants in the crimes of robbery and prostitution. Farrell would play pretty much the same role, under the same name, in 1957’s Gun Girls. His main girl June is played by Joanne Arnold, who was the Playboy Playmate of the Month for May 1954.

This is the kind of movie I find myself loving when I’m not watching Italian splatter or Mexican lucha movies: too old to be teenagers getting in trouble and dragging down everyone else with them.

Pin-Down Girl also has Farrell, this time as Umberto Scalli, a women’s wrestling manager who uses the world of pro wrestling to hide all of the racketeering, bookmaking and prostitution he has his dirty little fingers wrapped up in. Oh yeah — he also owes the mob enough money for them to want him dead.

Peaches Page, Clara Mortensen and Rita Martinez were all real wrestlers in a movie that threatened to show the real side of the business.

Farrell had already played Scalli in The Devil’s Sleep and despite getting killed by organized crime at the close of this film, he would come back for Dance Hall Racket, which has Lenny Bruce and his wife Honey Harlow. Now that I think of it, Scalli dies in every movie he shows up in. Is he an eternal man forced to be killed again and again for the sins of vice and wrestling women?

The man playing these roles was no saint either. At the same time that he was making these movies, the actor worked as a bailiff for the Los Angeles Marshal’s Department. He was embarrassed at work when he — and the entire cast — of Paris After Midnight was arrested by the Los Angeles Vice Squad as they made the movie. Things went pretty well after that with Farrell being appointed the County Marshal in 1971. But in 1975, he was fired after his conviction on felony charges for illegal use of deputy marshals in political activities. He would have gone to jail for six months, but just got probation because he was in bad health. He spent the rest of his life managing properties and a lumber mill when he wasn’t saving animals with his wife, so perhaps he learned his lesson.

Both of these movies came to be because of producer George Weiss, who is perhaps best known for getting Glen or Glenda? out there, as well as padding the film with nonsensical sequences of BDSM and dancing women. He’s also the man responsible for producing Olga’s House of Shame, White Slaves of Chinatown, Olga’s Girls, Mme. Olga’s Massage Parlor and Olga’s Dance Hall Girls, a series of roughie films that scandalized the screens of their era, as well as providing insidious influence for the Findlays and John Waters.

I truly appreciate that these films are being released on blu ray and preserved for generations of weirdos like me who may come in the future.

The Kino Lorber blu ray re-release of these films has Girl Gang and Pin-Down girl remastered in 2K from the original and re-release 35mm negative. The former has commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas while the latter has a commentary track by Eric Schaefer, author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films 1919-1959.

El Enmascarado de Plata (1954)

In 1952, José G. Cruz created a comic book that turned Santo into a Mexican hero. This series ran for 35 years and was the basis for the Santo films, yet before that, director Rene Cardona wanted to make this film. Santo decided to not be in this, as he thought it would fail.

Who can say if he was wrong or right? All we do know is that within a few years, Santo would be a movie star, so maybe he just knew how to pick the right scripts.

This film is filled with villains. There’s Lobo Negro and his street gang, there’s a Silver Mask that gives the orders and another villain in a hood named El Tigre that gives even more orders, but he’s the one to listen to because he’s figured out how to throw lightning and change the weather. You know, if you could do this, wouldn’t you want to do it all the time? Well, El Tigre is more into being a traditional gangster, so perhaps he feels like having all these mereological powers are kinda like cheating.

Our hero is El Médico Asesino and his sidekick Freckles. One wonders how is a man named Killer Doctor the good guy, but these questions are best left unasked.

This isn’t the first lucha movie. That would be Huracán Ramírez, a movie in which actor David Silva played the masked wrestler. Eduardo Bonada wrestled as Huracán Ramírez until he was replaced by Daniel García, who kept the character until he retired; he’s in the movies El misterio de Huracán Ramírez, El Hijo de Huracán RamírezLa Venganza de Huracán Ramírez*. If you ever hear of a wrestler doing a move called a huracánrana, it came from García as Huracán Ramírez. He also played Santo in La Leyenda. Huracán Ramírez regularly teamed with Santo in the ring — but not in the movies — often forming a trio with Rayo de Jalisco.

During a match between this tecnico team and El Signo, El Texano and Negro Navarro — who still wrestles to this day as a maestro-style luchador** — Santo had a heart attack and was saved by Huracán Ramírez. Lifelong friends, he would be a pallbearer for Santo when he was buried in his silver mask. As for El Signo, El Texano and Negro Navarro, the infamy they received from this match led to them becoming known as Los Misioneros de la Muerte (The Missionaries of Death) and their trios-style would make trios matches the most common match form in Mexico.

As for Médico, he would go on to appear in El Luchador Fenómeno and La Bestia Magnifica before becoming one of the most famous Mexican wrestlers of his era. He was the first luchador to have a female second — La Enfermera del Médico Asesino — and teamed with Santo and Enfermero as Ola Blanca (White Wave). He also feuded in Texas with Pepper Gomez, Duke Keomuka and Johnny Valentine as a babyface using the name El Medico. He even had four NWA title matches against Lou Thesz at this time, a major deal in that era.

Sadly, Médico would be dead from advanced cancer just a few years later. There’s an urban legend that his family kept the cancer a secret from him, but for a guy who weighed 275 pounds in his prime to die at around 110 pounds, he had to know something was wrong. Luckily, he had insurance and saved his money, so his family didn’t suffer monetarily. Ironically, his wife worked as a nurse after his death.

His death was enough to reduce his opponents — and partners, El Enfermero famously broke down during a match and just sat on the floor of Arena Coliseo — to tears. He may not be known in the U.S. like Santo or Mil Mascaras, but he was an incredibly important figure in lucha libre history.

Anyways — this film is a footnote in Mexican wrestling movie history, but an important one.

*He is not playing the character in the boxing movies Huracán Ramírez y la Monjita Negra and De Sangre Chicana.

**This ground wrestling escape style is closer to the British World of Sport style than modern lucha, as it has near dance-like motions. It’s the best thing ever. Another example of a star that does this style is El Solar. You can also catch Navarro’s son’s as Los Traumas.

Note: Sources used include Luchawiki and the November 16, 2020 issue of the Wrestling Observer, in which Médico Asesino was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla (1954)

It’s difficult to remember, but the cuddly Godzilla that emerged in the 70’s as monster kids watched the films repeatedly on TV was anything but when he first emerged from the waves and brought the same destruction to Japan that it had endured just one decade before.

Director Ishirō Honda completely shot Tokyo rampage with the same terror that came from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saying “If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.”

It’s also a cultural metaphor for how Godzilla is the victim of the United States — Japan as a whole felt the same way — with the bomb tests that woke him sending the giant dinosaur searching for something and finding only the need to destroy everything. It is filled with bleak and brutal images from a country that was the only one in the world that had to deal with having nuclear hell unleashed upon it.

Unlike every movie that ripped off this film and gave birth to the kaiju film, this is not just men in suits ripping up model buildings. This is a film that uses a gigantic beast as a metaphor for trying to start again, for being bombed into oblivion, for dealing with fear and so much more. It’s an astounding piece of art that couldn’t play that way in our country, leading to Godzilla, King of the Monsters! 

Director Ishirō Honda — who worked shirtless in blazing heat to make several scenes in this movie come to life, leading to permanent scars on his back from sunburns — felt that no one would respect a science fiction movie, so this needed to be presented as a documentary and the titular creature would only be seen in shadow and never in full frame until late in the film.

Dr. Kyohei Yamane wants to save Godzilla, as he’s waited his entire life to see a real dinosaur or ancient sea creature or whatever this creature, awakened by nuclear bomb testing, really is. Yet all anyone can do is send more bombs, more bullets and more electronic fences after the creature who shrugs it all off. The hospitals are overflowing with the dead and dying, reminding one of the radiation-scarred cities at the end of World War II.

Only Dr. Daisuke Serizawa and his horrifying Oxygen Destroyer — which disintegrates oxygen atoms and causes living things to rot — can really stop Godzilla, but Serizawa realizes that if he uses this weapon, it won’t be the last time that it is unleashed. So he reacts exactly like a man who embraces Japanese honor would, even in the face of death. He burns his notes and commits to dying as he faces the monster one-on-one, knowing that all of his work will never fall into the wrong hands.

Many thought that this film would flop and it opened to mixed reviews. Critics believed that the movie exploited the nuclear terror Japan had survived as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident, in which a Japanese fishing boat had been caught in a U.S. nuclear test. It wasn’t until American reviews pointed the art in using monsters to deal with real-life horror that the film was considered a success.

As for that American movie, Honda wasn’t even aware that it had been re-edited until it played Japan as Monster King Godzilla in 1957. We’ll get to that on our site soon enough, but it’s odd that the kind American reviews that prompted critical reevaluations in Japan were watching a movie that had been sanitized of much of the real-world elements, making it more of a monster movie than a parable.

Godzilla is an important film, not just because thirty films plus and a cultural force emerged from it. It demands to be watched and considered, particularly in a world where it seems like we’ve learned none of its lessons.

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Edward J. and Harry Lee Danziger may have come from America, but their films were all over UK screens through the 50’s and 60’s. Devil Girl from Mars is a great example of the kind of movies they made money with.

Patricia Laffan was Empress Poppaea in Quo Vadis — with costumes by Herschel McCoy, hairstyles by Sydney Guilaroff and jewelry by Joseff of Hollywood — before this movie and an international fashion impresario after this. She owns every single moment of screen time as Nyah, the title character.

Accompanied by one of the goofier robots ever — Chani is its name — she also has a raygun that she uses to kill anyone that gets in her way, seeking men to come back to help repopulate her planet, which has been dying off ever since a devastating battle between the sexes that one would assume that the women have won.

She can’t find a single man willing to go back to Mars with her. This is why this movie is science fiction, because Nyah — and Laffan herself — is absolutely stunning.

Maybe it’s because she’s landed right in the middle of a soap opera, because she’s outside a bar where a fashion model (Hazel Court, Dr. Blood’s Coffin) is running away from the runways of New York City and a relationship with a married man. And at the very same place, a convict who accidentally killed his wife has come to reunite with the barmaid (Adrienne Corri, Mrs. Alexander from A Clockwork Orange) who he really loves.

What’s even more interesting is that while The Day the Earth Stood Still presents Klaatu as Jesus, this movie pretty much presents Nyah as an evil Virgin Mary. Or seeing as how Laffan had dark reddish eyes and green eyes, perhaps we can see her as the Scarlet Woman, come to Earth to lead us to the End Times.

One final irony: Laffan was a lesbian and the last girlfriend of divorce lawyer Frances Blacket Gill, the first female lawyer in the UK. So how strange is it that she’s here on Earth ready to kill men to get them to copulate with her?

The Fast and the Furious (1954)

Before “Racer X,” the 1998 Vibe magazine article that detailed an illegal street racing circuit operating within New York City . . . before Vin Diesel and Paul Walker . . . there was this tale of romance and cops-on-the-case originally known as Crashout, written by Roger Corman.

In a deal similar to the one Corman made with Ron Howard years later on Grand Theft Auto: John Ireland agreed to star only if he could direct. And in nine days on a budget of $50,000, Ireland (The Shape of Things to Come, Incubus) directed his first feature film, Corman had his second producer’s credit (after Monster from the Ocean Floor), and the newly-incorporated American Releasing Corporation (which would become American International Pictures) had their first feature film. For Ireland’s co-star, Corman was able to get a down-and-out Dorothy Malone, who was without talent representation at the time, for an affordable price.

In the pages of his 1990 biography, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Roger Corman states that producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Pictures approached him to licensed the title for 2001’s The Fast and the Furious after Moritz learned of Corman’s 1954 film while watching a documentary about American International Pictures. At the time, Moritz toyed with the idea of retaining the Racer X title from the Vibe article, along with the titles of Race Wars and Street Wars. One of Moritz’s rejected titles, Redline, was later used by one of the many F&F rip-offs, a 2007 film starring Tim Matheson and Eddie Griffin. (And another of the knockoffs, 2008’s Street Racer from Asylum Studios, sounds suspiciously like a portmanteau of Mortiz’s others rejected titles.) The deal that got it done: Moritz could have Corman’s title-by-trade: all he had to do was give Corman some stock footage to use in his later productions.

Universal welcomed Corman into the fold again when he got the idea to make his own sequel to 1975’s Death Race 2000. The idea came to fruition when an Italian journalist interviewing Corman commented The Hunger Games shared similar social and political themes explored in Death Race 2000. So Corman reached out to Universal, who produced Paul W. S. Anderson’s 2008 remake, with a plan to bring back the dark, sociopolitical satire of the original — and the killing of pedestrians. Universal was on board: the studio co-produced the film that became Death Race 2050 with Corman’s New World for the home video streaming market.

As you watch Corman’s ’54 car racing drama, you’ll notice the plot bears a striking resemblance to the glut of low-budget indie knockoffs made in the wake of F&F 2001’s success: We have another ne’er-do-well charged with a murder he did not commit and his salvation lies on the quarter mile.

Broken out of jail and on the run, someone recognizes Frank Webster (John Ireland) in a small, roadside coffee shop. To facilitate his escape, he kidnaps a customer, Connie (Dorothy Malone), and hits the road in her white Jaguar sports car. To elude police, and courtesy of Connie’s sleek ride, Frank easily slips into a cross-border sports car race into Mexico. Cops, guns, crashes . . . and love, ensues.

You have a couple of streaming choices. You can watch this on TubiTV or on You Tube HERE and HERE. The quality on all three uploads is about the same, but the Tubi upload carries ads. You can also watch it over on the Internet Archive, which is turning out to be a great repository for hard-to-find and classic films.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

WATCH THE SERIES: Creature from the Black Lagoon

There are no human beings worse than those that confront the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or the Gill-man, as he is sometimes called. All the creature wants to do is swim around, eat flamingos and lounge. Yet humanity wants to impose their will on him and only tragedy ensues.

Our clammy pal was the brainchild of producer William Alland, who was attending a 1941 dinner party during the filming of Citizen Kane (he plays the reporter Thompson in that classic) when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him all about a mythic Amazonian race of half-fish, half-men. A decade later, Alland wrote the Beauty and the Beast-inspired The Sea Monster, which was expanded upon by Maurice Zimm, Harry Essex and Arthur Ross.

There’s some controversy over who designed the creature, as some say Disney animator Milicent Patrick drew the original look, but according to Andrea Ferrari’s book Il Cinema Dei Mostri. her role was “deliberately downplayed by make-up artist Bud Westmore, who for half a century would receive sole credit for the creature’s conception.” The bodysuit was created by Jack Kevan, while Chris Mueller Jr. sculpted the head.

When you see the merman on land, he’s played by Ben Chapman. When we see him swim, it’s Ricou Browning. The costume was rough to be in for an entire day, so we should really be thankful to these actors for enduring painful fourteen hour shooting days.

The first movie in the series, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), opens on an Amazon expedition. A fossilized hand that shows webbed fingers points to a missing link between land and sea animals, so Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno, one-time rival to Rudolph Valentino during the Silent Era) leads an expedition to find a complete skeleton, which includes Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson, It Came from Outer SpaceHold That Ghost) and financial backer Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning, An Affair to Remember).

The first appearance of the Gill-man, as he frightens two assistants who then attack him, is startling. Even more so is how quickly he dispatches both men.

Soon, the expedition on the tramp steamer Rita is underway, with Lucas (Nestor Paiva, who also appears in the sequel) as the stereotypically coarse sea captain, joined by the aforementioned crew plus Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell, I Was a Teenage WerewolfI Was a Teenage Frankenstein, the original Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe Time Machine and many more) and Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams in an iconic role), the girlfriend of Dr. Reed. 

Despite the fact that no one has ever returned from the paradise the natives call the Black Lagoon, the crew decides to go deeper into the Amazon. They’re stalked by the Gill-man, who takes notices of Kay and is caught in a dragline, escaping but leaving a claw behind.

Like Jason Vorhees with gills, our antagonist wipes out the members of the crew. Only fire seems to harm the creature, who is smart enough to block the exit of the ship with fallen logs. Mark becomes obsessed with capturing or killing it, leading to him trying to fight the creature barehanded and getting his money having ass handed to him. The creature then takes Kay to his underwater lair, where David, Lucas and Carl hunt him down and shoot him multiple times.

The movie ends with the creature slowly sinking, possibly dead. This will not be the last depressing close in this series, trust me. There’s a real undercurrent of longing from the monster in this film, of which Adams said, “There always is that feeling of compassion for the monster. I think maybe it touches something in ourselves, maybe the darker parts of ourselves, that long to be loved and think they really can’t ever be loved. It strikes a chord within us.” This same emotional tie to the creature was expressed by Marilyn Monroe’s character in The Seven Year Itch, who remarks that the Gill-man “just wanted to be loved.”

While we value today’s props and love horror, to show you exactly how much Universal Pictures cared for their real stars, Forrest J. Ackerman bought the mask and claws of the Creature’s costume from a young man. And how did that man get them? It turns out that after production wrapped on the three films in this series, they threw everything away. A janitor — the boy’s father — rescued the claws and mask, as he felt that they would make a great Halloween costume for his son.  thought the ensemble would make a good Halloween costume for his son. Other costume pieces were recently sold at auction by Bud, who was an assistant to Milicent Patrick, the original designer of the costume.

Originally shot in 3-D (although it played smaller theaters in 2-D), the original film was successful enough to merit a sequel, 1955’s Revenge of the Creature.

Somehow, the monster has survived and a new expedition — oh hey, there’s Lucas again — captures the Gill-man and brings him to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium — thank SeaWorld — in Florida, where Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar, Shirley Temple’s first husband, who appeared in tons of science fiction films along with many appearances alongside John Wayne) and ichthyology student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson, who reprised the role in 2005’s The Naked Monster). Of course, Helen and Clete fall in love. Of course, the Gill-man falls for her, too.

The Gill-man eventually escapes, but he can’t stop thinking about Helen, even abducting her from a party. Clete and the police chase him down and, as is customary, gun our amphibian antagonist down. A slave to love, trapped until the end!

Despite being the screen debut of Clint Eastwood (in a blink and you’ll miss him appearance as a lab technician who misplaces a rat) and being shot in 3-D, Revenge of the Creature isn’t quite as good as the original. But it made the most money of the three, so that led to 1956’s The Creature Walks Among Us.

Jack Arnold, the director of the two previous films, graduated to Universal’s A-list and John Sherwood, a long-time assistant director, took over. It’s the only film of the three not to be shot in 3-D.

Despite how we saw the Gill-man get shot to death, he somehow survived and is somewhere in the Everglades. Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow, This Island EarthOctaman) is pretty much insane, a man driven to capture the merman and abuse his wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden, who was in the same Universal acting classes as Clint Eastwood, James Garner and John Saxon). The dude loses his mind any time she is near their guide, Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer, who appeared in many of John Wayne’s films).

For some reason, Marcia joins Jed and Dr. Tom Morgan (Rex Reason, who has a name like a pro wrestler or a Stan Lee character, but he was an actor who appeared in films like This Island Earth and TV’s The Roaring 20’s) on a dive, but she somehow goes crazy and overcome with the “raptures of the deep.” Also known as nitrogen narcosis, this creates a mental state similar to doing nitrous oxide. It causes Marcia to take off all her scuba gear and the guys have to rescue her.

Of course, the Gill-man follows her and he gets shot with a spear gun, to which he looks right at the crew and seems to want to say, “Come on, dude.” Then, they set him on fire!

This all leads to our underwater pal being in need of surgery from Dr. Borg and Dr. Johnson. And why do they do all this? They want to see if the Creature can help people survive in space! Well, all their work costs the monster his gills and now, he has lungs that can breathe our air. He also has more human skin, so he has to wear clothes.

The doctors try and get the Gill-Man to live among humans, but he gradually becomes depressed, staring at the ocean. He even tries to dive into it and swim back home, but he can no longer breathe as he once did. It’s horrible. Seriously, this movie makes me so upset, as they take everything from him and he gets nothing back in return. Even when he saves some animals from a lion or tries to attack Barton when he kills Jed in a jealous rage, everyone thinks the worst of our undersea friend.

At the end, he finally makes it back to the beach and just stares at the water, unsure what world he finally belongs in. It’s the most unsettling and upsetting of endings, on par with Son of Kong. There are no easy answers — man has put the Creature in this place and nothing can return him back to the home he misses so much.

Following his appearances in these three films, The Creature showed up as Uncle Gilbert on TV’s The Munsters in 1964.

Of course, a version of our clammy friend shows up in The Monster Squad. And there was also a stage musical at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. But there have been remakes in the works for years that have never made it to production.

Let’s start with the effort made by John Landis in 1982. He commissioned Nigel Kneale (who of course, wrote Quartermass and the Pit but also scripted Halloween III: Season of the Witch) to write a script that original director Jack Arnold would return to helm. According to Andy Murray’s Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale, the script had a pair of creatures — one destructive and one calm — battling the U.S. Navy. As the film was to be shot in 3-D, Universal worried about its budget and that it would compete with their release of Jaws 3-D, so the movie was canceled.

In the 90’s, John Carpenter, Peter Jackson and Ivan Reitman were all attached to a remake. And in the 2000’s, Gary Ross (Pleasantville, The Hunger Games) nearly got on board, which is interesting as his father, Arthur Ross, was one of the original film’s writers. 

Guillermo del Toro was also attached to the film for some time and wanted the movie to be seen from the Creature’s perspective and for him to finally have some romantic success. While the actual film never happened due to Universal’s rejection of these themes, del Toro saved these ideas to create The Shape of Water. Oh Universal. You had no idea what you had.

Breck Eisner (who directed the remake of The Crazies and was set to be crowned as Hollywood’s remaker, as he was due at one point or the other to direct new vesions of Flash GordonThe Brood and Escape from New York) was also attached for some time to an eco-horror version about the rainforest being exploited. The 2007-2008 writer’s strike halted this effort.

There was another movie called The Black Lagoon that was to come out in 2014, but that also failed to surface. And while the Dark Universe reboot of the classic Universal characters is in some doubt, one would think that the Creature from the Black Lagoon would show up if that ever gets any more traction. The appearance of a hand of our finny friend in the remake of The Mummy was just too much! Come on! Stop with the teasing!

What I didn’t know was that there was an Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon TV show, created to promote the first film!

There were also two memorable appearances by the Creature from the Black Lagoon in arcades, thanks to Bally Midway’s Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster Bash pinball games.

The former of those two machine has a startling hologram of the merman that pops up throughout gameplay.

In case it doens’t come through, I love the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I even had this Remco figure as a kid and would carry it everywhere with me.

I vividly recall the 3D reshowing of the films in the early 1980’s, too!

Our amphibian hero never gets the girl. Never gets the love he deserves. And never even gets a remake! But here’s to him! Long may he swim!