Friday, January 28, 2011


Monroe College sociology professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is jinxed. A "mental giant" and a rising star, Reed has just returned from a jaunt somewhere in the tropical isles of the South Seas; he has brought back with him new research for a groundbreaking study on religion called Superstition vs. Science and Fact and a new wife, a lovely woman-child native priestess named Paula (Anne Gwynne). He seemed to be on the fast-track to becoming department chair, but that's when things spiraled out of control: his colleague Professor Millard Sawtelle (Ralph Morgan) shot himself to avoid a possible plagiarism scandal; Sawtelle's Lady Macbethian wife Evelyn (Elizabeth Russell) accuses Reed and his "witch" of engineering the scandal; and nasty rumors that Reed "has taken advantage of" his pretty undergraduate research assistant (Lois Collier, who may have been recognized by some SHOCK! viewers for her recurring appearances between 1951 and 1953 on Ziv's "Boston Blackie" TV show) dog him all over campus-- in fact, Reed is said to have beaten up his assistant's boyfriend when the latter tried to defend her honor. Then, while Paula continues to be the target of terrorizing harassment by Reed's bitter ex-lover Ilona (Evelyn Ankers), there is shooting on campus and the blame falls on Reed.

Ad for KUTV-Channel 2's "Shock Theater" with horror-host Roderick in Salt Lake [UT] Tribune, February 27, 1960. COUNTER-ESPIONAGE (1942) was one of the "Lone Wolf" mystery-thrillers

As I've said previously when I've written about the Inner Sanctum series in the SHOCK! collection, these were popular with audiences when they were first released and when theatrically re-released (WEIRD WOMAN made the rounds again starting in 1952). I've also seen a few of them turn up as special midnight spook shows, so Screen Gems' inclusion of these titles in SHOCK! was probably viewed as a selling point for the package.

San Antonio [TX] Light, June 6, 1957. What a Universal horror drive-in line-up! WEIRD WOMAN (the typo that pluralizes the title is actually more accurate considering what happens in the movie) is shown here on Monday night with NIGHT MONSTER.

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, SD, February 24, 1961

Many fans seem to like WEIRD WOMAN best; I prefer it because there is at least a not-easily-explained-away supernatural thread that runs through this picture that you don't find in the other five films of the series. But I also like it because of the almost campy level of neurotic hysteria that energizes everything here, particularly Paula, Ilona, and Evelyn (when all is said and done, who is the titular weird woman, anyway?).

Ordinarily, watching WEIRD WOMAN elicits a few harsh hoots of derisive laughter from me, but I made a very conscientious effort to watch it in good faith this time for the SHOCK! Viewing Project. Lon Chaney, Jr. still seems miscast as the brilliant and desirable intellectual, and his acting cannot keep up with the work done here by Gwynne, Ankers, and Russell, but I wanted to avoid thinking about that and just try to focus on the persistence of supernatural elements in an effort to recreate the horror-movie-on-TV experience as best as I could. And I feel that I largely succeeded-- I think that I could see WEIRD WOMAN's horror movie appeal for the first time.

A big stumbling block for me, though, was the handling of the dance and prayer ceremony on Paula's island. In Drums o' Terror: Voodoo in the Cinema (1998), Bryan Senn describes this more as "a genteel luau" than a "frenzied rite": "Though Paula ominously labels it the 'Dance of Death,' sarong-wearing native girls pathetically stomp their feet and clap and wave their hands in an innocuously choreographed motion, making this weird pagan ritual look like low-rent nightclub filler." I have to wonder if the ceremony could have had a more disturbing edge in the hands of a director other than Reginald LeBorg (John Fulton's shooting star that crosses the sky at the climax of the Dance of Death looked good, though).

The Dunkirk Evening Observer, Dunkirk-Fredonia, NY, January 14, 1958

I enjoy seeing some of the names that television stations used for their late-night movies-on-TV showcases. "Operation: Swing Shift" on WGR-Channel 2 in Buffalo, NY is one of the most unusual names. "Operation: Swing Shift" featured a variety of film genres in their offerings and very few of them seemed to have been horror films.

NEXT: "A young doctor-- a beautiful nurse-- and murder! For spine-chilling entertainment, set your dial to this channel and see MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM starring Bruce Cabot. It's an absorbing feature film, another premiere telecast on Shock. Don't miss MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM."

Monday, January 24, 2011


There is no monster, nor is there any supernatural or paranormal menace. But there are two very sinister humans-- one who murders and mutilates beyond recognition the faces of two women; another who is a greedy, amoral sociopath whose disembodied brain (stolen from the Paris morgue in the middle of the night) is ruled as pathological by an examining criminologist. And there's also a ton of nighttime gothic gaslight atmosphere that makes the movie interesting to look at (even though it's not that great to watch). So while there are others who will complain that THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET is just a murder-mystery that has gotten a lot of hot-air horror-film hype over the years, I'm going to say that it is a very minor Universal horror film that would satisfy those viewers who can tolerate a weird mystery or two every once in a while in their monster-movie diet.

Paris, 1889: Hot-ticket Comédie-Française warbler Marie Roget (Maria Montez) has been missing for a week and half, prompting all of Paris (it seems) into speculation that she's either run off with one of her lovers or fallen victim to foul play. Minister of Naval Affairs Henri Beauvais (John Litel), an intimate friend of the Roget family (especially of Marie's, it turns out), pressures Prefect of Police Gobelin (Lloyd Corrigan) to solve the case. Gobelin calls on his pal, police forensic chemist Dr Paul Dupin (Patric Knowles), for help. Dupin is famous for having solved the ghastly Rue Morgue murders some years back, and he agrees to help out just as word comes that a horribly disfigured corpse of a young woman has been dragged out of the Seine.

San Mateo[CA] Times, August 16, 1958

Things get cluttered and confusing quickly from there: Dupin is hired by the cantankerous Roget matriarch (Maria Ouspenskaya) to bodyguard Marie's stepsister Camille (Nell O'Day, almost looking like a monochrome Gillian Anderson in a few shots) at a swanky party; Camille's sketchy fiancé Marcel Vigneaux (Edward Norris) lurks around and muddies the water a bit; Marie disappears again; Beauvais threatens and blusters and looks suspicious; Madame Roget's pet leopard is accused of mauling the faces of the dead women; and Dupin and Gobelin argue about who and what is behind it all.

Gazette-Mail, Charleston, WV, May4, 1958

To be honest, the mystery doesn't work at all-- none of it makes a lot of sense when the movie is over and you try to figure out some of the basics (like motive). This is frustrating since the movie is very talky in parts as Dupin (as Sherlock Holmes) and Gobelin (as a cross between Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade) work through various scenarios in their efforts to solve the case, yet the solution still leaves a lot of unanswered questions: with all the yammering that these two do, why didn't they also have a conversation that ties up all the loose ends of the case instead of introducing more complications? So, as a viewer in search of maximum enjoyment, it's probably just best to kick back and go along for the ride.

Viewers would be less forgiving, I suspect, if not for the impressive work of director of photography Woody Bredell. Bredell did good, textured cinematography for BLACK FRIDAY, THE MUMMY'S HAND, HORROR ISLAND, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, MAN MADE MONSTER, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, as well as the very visually-interesting films noirs THE KILLERS, PHANTOM LADY, and THE UNSUSPECTED. The night scenes in THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET (and there are a lot of them) are really well-done and must have worked wonderfully on late-night SHOCK! television. Whatever horror movie ambiance is in this movie comes from Bredell and he does a helluva job that these screen-caps can't even begin to illustrate. (Perhaps someday soon this title will turn up as a Universal manufactured-on-demand DVD-R like HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES [1940] recently did and I can finally throw away my murky bootlegs.)

One of the many mysterious nocturnal comings and goings in the garden during Du Lac's party

Lots of coaches zipping through the wet, cobble-stoned streets of Universal's European village set

The cloaked killer escaping across the Paris rooftops in the dead of night

Armed with the Edgar Allan Poe pedigree for this tale, Universal's publicity department did a lot to convince people that this was a straight-ahead horror flick-- the original theatrical trailer for THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET that Mirek posted on Friday certainly seems to push things in that direction as does this movie poster with its spectral, scarlet-cloaked fiend with clawed, clutching hands.

Realart Pictures followed Universal's lead when it re-released THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET in 1951. They refer to the killer as "the Phantom Mangler" in the promotional materials (the name sounds like a foe in an El Santo movie), re-titled the film PHANTOM OF PARIS, and sent it back out to theaters as part of a double-feature with WEREWOLF OF LONDON.

Charleston [WV] Daily Mail, February 13, 1952

But I've got no problems with this sort of packaging because this movie delivers a satisfying kind of horror-movie atmosphere that is missing from many other SHOCK! offerings. For all of its lack of narrative logic and general incoherence, THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET could hold its own against one of the spookier Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies (such as THE SCARLET CLAW or THE PEARL OF DEATH), dopey "Inner Sanctum" titles like THE FROZEN GHOST and THE PILLOW OF DEATH, and not-so-weird mysteries like THE CAT CREEPS and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON.

"Superstition and fear terrorize a tropic island in WEIRD WOMAN, the full-length feature film on this channel. It's an exciting Shock premiere. Don't miss it!"

Friday, January 21, 2011


"Is she a beautiful beast? Maddening with her soft caress-- murdering with steel-clawed terror? Only Edgar Allan Poe could pen such a masterpiece of horror and thrills. See THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, the full-length feature film on Shock on this channel."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


How many horror-movie fans have actually seen this on commercial-broadcast TV? I pose this question because I was surprised to see just how infrequently THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET was shown in the usual "Shock Theatre/Creature Feature"-style time slots. In fact, it turned up more in the late afternoon and early evening, sometimes as part of of showcases with unintentionally amusing titles like "Hollywood's Best" and "Million Dollar Movie" (this movie is a long way from meeting either of those descriptors). Perhaps one reason for its appearance in those other programming niches is that it plays more like a tropical island adventure tale-comedy-romance than it does a horror melodrama.

Mirek first wrote about THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET back in June 2008 for this blog and emphasized the atmosphere of the first seven minutes or so when we visit Dr. Benson's lab in San Francisco one dark and stormy night. Most of the research that I've read about this movie says that these scenes were tacked-on as an afterthought-- the entire movie was originally set on the New Zealand-bound luxury liner and on the island after the shipwreck. This underscores for me the possibility that this film had been meant more as a South Pacific island adventure than a horror movie.

Gazette-Mail, Charleston,WV, November 22, 1959

It's worth watching for Lionel Atwill's work as Dr. Benson; the guy seems to be savoring his every line as the megalomaniacal research chemist who believes that he can find a way to make suspended animation a viable medical procedure for beating death. When he sets up himself as the "God of Life" among the island's "superstitious savages," things almost get a little bit Heart of Darkness, but Atwill's mad scientist is too incompetent to really pull off the Kurtz business. He's not a mad scientist because he's brilliantly unorthodox; rather, he's dangerous because he doesn't realize that he's not very smart at all. This is the one interesting idea-kernel at the center of this silly movie: what would happen if one of those sad, creepy misfits who would ordinarily be shunned by society was able to achieve absolute social power? (When the movie was made in 1941, this could very well have been meant as a pointed critique of the anti-social losers who had risen to the top by joining fascist political parties. And then in 1965, that theme gets applied to juvenile delinquents in Bert I. Gordon's VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, I suppose...) There's not enough time in this movie to explore the theme, but it is in there somewhere.

I also like small parts of THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET because I'm a fan of director Joseph H. Lewis; as in a previous SHOCK! offering THE SPY RING, Lewis manages to smuggle in some cinematic style and atmosphere despite the microscopic budget and two-week shooting schedule. (One bit of business that's overdone, though, are the scenes where Atwill delivers anesthetic to his patients by advancing into the camera and smothering the lens with ether-soaked items-- Lewis does this three times in 61 minutes).

Beyond Atwill and Lewis and the mutant fusion of horror, comedy, romance, and South Seas island picture (and it's as messy as it sounds), THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET is sort of entertaining in a goofy, Poverty Row horror kind of way. I almost want to like it, but top-billed Una Merkel's shrill, grating Aunt Margaret and Nat Pendleton's distracting mugging as boxer Red Hogan is a deadly, unfunny combination. The two of them all but snuff the life out of this motion picture for me.


THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET drinking game: take a shot of liquor every time that Nat Pendleton rolls his tongue along the inside of his cheeks like he's doing in this still. But beware the "weenie roast" scene!

I don't know much about these South Pacific island adventure movies; I've read that they were very popular with audiences over the years. The filmmakers do they best that they can with camera set-ups and blocking to give you the impression that this is a sizable tropical island rather than some Universal studio lagoon beach. The natives on the island are of the usual hokey Hollywood ooga-booga variety and there is plenty of grunting and mumbling gibberish that is supposed to pass for language. African-American actor Noble Johnson-- last seen around here a few days ago in whiteface as Janos the Black One in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE-- returns in the MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET as chief Elan; he really makes the most of this very limited material and comes off better than you might expect. It's a shame, though, that Dr. Benson's hubristic fall at the hands Elan is alluded to off-screen rather than shown.

Listing in the Lowell [MA] Sun for WLVI-Boston's 10PM double-feature, Friday October 27, 1967. It's a full ten years after the launch of the SHOCK! package on TV and so outside of my usual scope of investigation, but I had to reproduce the listing here-- how's that for some clever programming of a late-night double-feature?!? And what a completely bizarre description of what THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET is about...

NEXT: "Is she a beautiful beast? Maddening with her soft caress-- murdering with steel-clawed terror? Only Edgar Allan Poe could pen such a masterpiece of horror and thrills. See THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET, the full-length feature film on Shock on this channel."

Saturday, January 15, 2011


It's difficult for me to imagine how any SHOCK! fan who tuned in to watch MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE on television in 1957-58 could not have been swept up by this movie. How could SHOCK! watchers who had fallen for FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and THE MUMMY not take to MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE? Yet, oddly enough, it is a film that not a lot of people mention as among their favorites of Uni's golden age of horror. "Though flawed and creaky, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is very likely the most underrated of Universal Horrors," Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas write in the 2007 edition of their Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946. "Beyond its vulgar excesses and insipid theatrics lurks a daring, full-throttled, Poe-inspired thriller couched in a darkly sinister aesthetic all its own."

To my eyes, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is a darkly twisted and wildly subversive horror film. Although occasionally it does get bogged down in what seems to be some of the old-fashioned visual grammar of silent film-making, I think that, in terms of radiating a sense of out-and-out pre-Code unclean weirdness, this movie is second only to THE BLACK CAT. Anyone unsuspectingly stumbling upon it on TV in the late '50s just had to have been unnerved by it.

Salina [KS] Journal, April 25, 1958

For my part, I had never seen MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE on TV back when I was a kid. I knew the Poe tale very well, but I had seen only Warner Bros.'s 1954 PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE, which I had seen multiple times on WOR-Channel 9's outstanding "Fright Night" showcase in the 1970s ("Fright Night" also showed Universal's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE four times, but somehow I always missed it). To further confuse things, scenes from Hammer's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) which I saw on "Chiller Theatre" on WPIX-Channel 11 during that same period were tied into my memories of PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE. But I never saw MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE until it was available on home video in 1992 or 1993, and never as a television broadcast, so I can't even imagine how the film works broken up by commercials.

I mention these commercial interruptions because on of the most notorious things about MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (and maybe one of the things that keeps fans from liking it more) is that the narrative is a little choppy in the telling because of some out-of-sequence editing that took place in post-production. This scrambled the continuity of the film-- it would seem that a block of TV commercials every 25 minutes or so would add to the confusion, and maybe that would turn off some people to this tale.

Another aggravation for many is the dispelling of Erik the Ape's monstrousness through the use of actual chimpanzee close-ups (some of which reminded me of shots in THE UNHOLY THREE [1925]). Erik is hailed as the "gorilla with a human brain," and there's something missing-link-y about him as he is presented in the sideshow by Dr. Mirakle (I really enjoy Lugosi's lecture in this movie). Charles Gemora was the guy in the shaggy gorilla suit; Gemora is legendary for his performances, yet someone on the film's production staff decided to toss out his very expressive facial close-ups as Erik in favor of chimpanzee footage which really breaks the spell, I think.

And what in the name of the Hays Production Code is Mirakle up to? The movie description that I posted above suggests that Mirakle wants to create "an ape-woman," but what Mirakle actually says is that he wants to prove to his pre-Darwinian Parisian audience that human beings evolved from apes by "mixing blood" between a human and Erik. His "great experiment" (carried out in a fantastically Caligarian old deserted house in the Rue Morgue) so far has involved injecting Erik's blood into at least three women (presumably sex-workers whose syphilitic "dirty blood" compromises his experiment).

Finally, Mirakle hits upon the idea of kidnapping a virgin in order to avoid contamination by venereal disease, but he doesn't count on the fact that Erik has fallen in love with Camille; Erik attacks Mirakle during the course of the experiment because he has already seen what happens to the women subjected to Mirakle's transfusions and he doesn't want this happening to her. So Erik kills Mirakle and makes off with her across the rooftops of Paris like a mid-nineteenth century Kong. What is Erik's plan for Camille if he ever eludes the crowd that is chasing him? Is this-- like so many apesploitation movies like INGAGI (1931)--suggesting the threat of bestial rape?

detail from Emmanuel Frémiet's 1887 sculpture; an earlier version was displayed in Paris in 1859

I'm not sure what the hell is going on in all this or what a TV-viewing audience some thirty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial would've made of the thing, but I do think that MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is a kind of delirious, bizarre horror movie that would've made excellent late-night viewing.

One last point about this film as it relates to SHOCK! requires us to look at the cover art of the Screen Gems promotional book. The painting used for the cover illustration is not a terribly good work, but it is certainly evocative of the horror film programming that Screen Gems was selling. Uni-holics will have no trouble matching the figures here with the movies despite the sometimes just-off caricatures. One of the things that surprises me about the rogues' gallery here on the cover is the inclusion of the troglodytic Janos the Black One (Noble Johnson in whiteface, of all things) and Erik from MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE.

I don't know if there was a source for Erik's image, but it would appear that Janos' simian-like posture is lifted directly from this production still.

NEXT: "A fire at sea maroons a strange group on a savage-infested island. See this thrilling adventure in THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET. It's another Shock feature film presentation on this channel. Lionel Atwill stars as a crazed scientist who believes he holds the secret of life."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


"MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, the masterpiece of America's greatest creator of horror, Edgar Allan Poe, is coming your way in the Shock feature film presentation starring Bela Lugosi on this channel."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SHOCK! and the Communist Menace

On February 3, 1958, King Features syndicated editorial page columnist George Dixon identified SHOCK! as a threat to US homeland security. He went on to propose that SHOCK! programming be used as a psychological weapon against Russian kids in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

I don't know a lot about Dixon; my casual snooping around turned up a little bit about his work in newspapers during the post-war years. He seems to have worked for a few different Hearst publications before getting his nationally-syndicated column, "Washington Scene"; he was associated for a time with the right-wing Washington Times-Herald of the late 1940s and ended up at the Post before his death in the early 1970s.

It looks like he was courted by politicians as a well-connected and very gossipy Beltway insider; for instance, I read in Donald A. Ritchie's Reporting From Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps that Joseph McCarthy appealed to Dixon for help in choosing a DC press agent for his first senatorial re-election campaign prior to kicking off his 1950 anti-communist witch-hunt. (I find it hard to read Dixon's columns and not picture J.J. Hunsecker from THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS [1957]). In general, the Dixon columns that I read reflect the dominant political mentality of the day, sprinkled with a bit of Red-baiting and some nasty, stupid comments about women and Blacks, all delivered with a lot of innuendo and between-the-lines suggestion and larded with lots of good-natured "aw, I was just joking" smarm that gave him room to backpedal if anyone called him out on what he said.

His writings on pop culture were infrequent, but the few that I read struck me as being especially clueless: in one column in late December 1955 about the CBS radio show "The FBI in Peace and War" (1944-58), he expressed outrage that the theme music for such an upstanding and (in his words) "heroic" radio program had been composed by a Russian: "'The FBI in Peace and War' chases Communists and other misguided creatures each week to the tune of 'The Love for Three Oranges' by the late Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev!"

Laika the space dog, 1957

Dixon's denunciation of SHOCK! in early February 1958 reflects an intersection of two concerns: the Sputnik Crisis and the striking success of the Screen Gems package. Sputnik 1 was a basketball-sized Soviet orbital satellite launched October 4, 1957; Sputnik 2 was about the size of a washing machine and was launched a month later with a canine passenger named Laika. The sputnik launches freaked-out folks in the US-- in addition to escalating fears of Red nuclear weapons raining down on Americans (the first Soviet H-Bomb test was in 1953), the success of the Soviet sputnik program provided hard evidence that the Russians had a considerable educational, scientific, and technological edge on Americans. The effort to catch-up to the Russians (and the Russians' efforts to stay ahead) started the intense scientific and political competition called the Space Race that lasted well into the 1970s. (TCM frequently airs a short 1957 film from RKO called DECADE FOR DECISION that captures this moment really well; there's also a 2007 PBS documentary called SPUTNIK DECLASSIFIED that you can watch on-line. I haven't see the History Channel's SPUTNIK MANIA [2007], but I see that it is available in chunks on YouTube.)

Boy Scouts train to spot Red satellites, Summer 1958

Dixon's second concern, as I said, was the enthusiastic response by TV viewers to the SHOCK! movies. Based in DC, I'm going to guess that Dixon at least knew about SHOCK!'s rating numbers on local markets (WTOP-Channel 9 on Sunday nights and maybe WBAL-Channel 11 [Baltimore] on Saturday nights), as well as the broader national trends in other cities-- as I have mentioned before, it was clear by January 1958 that SHOCK! had struck a nerve with sizable ratings advances made in the largest US television markets (NYC and LA) and elsewhere, such as KRON-San Francisco's notorious 807% jump in the numbers. Anecdotally, it seems like those most attracted to these programs were young people who had never seen the movies in the theaters.

Dr. Lucifer, Mrs. Lucifer, and Lucretia, horror hosts of "Shock!," WBAL-Baltimore, 1957-59.
For more on the Lucifers, see E-gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts

In a few weeks, I'll be putting up a blog post on SHOCK! and moral panic: outrage by concerned politicians, teachers, clergy, and parents about what monstrous effects late-night monster movies had on kids. But you get a whiff of some of that in Dixon's remarks here; this column is not just an attack on the Soviets but also a warning that SHOCK! was endangering a young generation of Americans by making them "logy" and unwilling "to be torn from their television sets." How can we possibly overcome the Russians' scientific advancements if our kids are more interested in monster movies than in hitting the books?

Dixon begins his column by mentioning a new Eisenhower-initiated USA-USSR agreement to exchange culture and entertainment as a means for lessening Cold War tensions. "If only we could send them some of our television programs, we could clutter up their minds so they couldn't concentrate on weapons of destruction," he writes. "Unlimited possibilities lie in our weekend horror shows alone" which could be used to "stultify that country's future generations," since "instead of cramming themselves with dangerous science, all they would want to do is get back to the gory romance of Frankenstein's unblushing little Bride."

"Every weekend in this more advanced land [the USA], we have late and late, late horror shows that keep the kiddies up later than the bars keep open for adults in the nation's capital," he continues. "We have 'Shock,' 'Horror,' 'The Creeper,' 'The Invisible Man,' and vintage movies that are horrible without even trying. The Russian youngsters would probably be so entranced they wouldn't even stick their heads out of a window to look at a third sputnik." Dixon adds that "these grisly programs, of course, would only be for Russians of a tender age" because "the older Bolsheviks wouldn't see the characters as anything out of the ordinary."

Dixon's column goes on to poke gentle fun at the National Symphony Orchestra and to suggest swapping the Philadelphia Symphony for the Bolshoi Ballet. He concludes by calling for nuclear war: "If we really want to impress our new trade partners, we should launch a deal direct from the rocket pad and send them our only remaining member of the peerage-- Count Down."

excerpt from Dixon's "Washington Scene" column as it appeared on the editorial page of The Dominion-Times, Morgantown, WV, February 4, 1958

Dixon is joking, of course, about exporting Screen Gems' horror movie selections to the USSR as part of a cultural exchange. But I think that he is seriously concerned about how SHOCK! programming is going to retard the development of young minds at a time when they needed to be ideologically yoked to the educational rigors of the Space Race.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

NIGHT KEY (1937)

A question that I like to return to in the course of this viewing project is how and why some of the horror-less SHOCK! features have come to be horror-ized over the years while others have not. The most recent example of this that I have written about was SECRET OF THE CHATEAU; SECRET OF THE CHATEAU is no more of a horror movie than, say, THE WITNESS VANISHES (a film from the "Crime Club" series that also turned up in SHOCK!), yet SECRET OF THE CHATEAU frequently passes as a horror film among Universal fans. The only explanation that I can see is that the inclusion of some movies in the post-SHOCK! feature showcases of the 1960s and 1970s must have given them reputations as horror films, but how did some films benefit from this horror-movie notoriety and others did not?

listing for WTOL-Toldeo, Saturday April 18, 1959

In NIGHT KEY, Boris Karloff plays David Mallory, a gentle, mild-mannered inventor (as opposed to the crazed, cunning mad scientist) who is losing eyesight and would do anything to protect and care for his beloved daughter. Not very monstrous. But 1937 was a tough year for lovers of Universal horror films: the British ban on horror movies robbed the studios of European markets and dampened their enthusiasm for making them; moreover, it appears that ticket sales in the US were dropping off. A new horror cycle would begin at Universal in 1939 with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, but in the meantime, the pickings were mighty slim. (Karloff did three pictures for Warner Bros [WEST OF SHANGHAI; THE INVISIBLE MENACE; DEVIL'S ISLAND] and the Mr. Wong movies for Monogram during this time.) This explains why the only listing for "1937" in Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas' Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 is a crime melodrama: NIGHT KEY.

Times Record, Troy, NY, August 28, 1958. The "CinemaSix" show frequently featured SHOCK! pictures.

NIGHT KEY got a lot of play on the SHOCK! circuit (probably because of the Karloff factor: "Let's see: Universal, Karloff, a spooky title like 'NIGHT KEY'-- this must be a horror movie," etc.). Based on small sample that I perused, it appears that, remarkably, the film got even more play as a horror movie between 1970 and 1980 (as well as putting in some appearances on "Science-Fiction Theater"-types of shows, thanks to the titular anti-alarm gizmo, Mallory's electric eye security system, and the d.i.y. electrical force-field that he rigs to get away from the crooks).

I wonder if NIGHT KEY's horror-movie reputation in the late 1950s on TV had gathered some momentum from the Realarts publicity push. Realarts theatrically re-released NIGHT KEY in 1954 and had no qualms about concocting the idea that the movie had horror-content. In this Realarts lobby card that I lifted from the NIGHT KEY thread on the Classic Horror Film Board, the image of Karloff isn't Dave Mallory from NIGHT KEY but the far more sinister Dr. Friedrich Hohner from THE CLIMAX (1944). The "Death in the Wax Museum!" come-on line is completely make-believe... there is no wax museum in this movie.

Amusingly, even today, NIGHT KEY's reputation as a horror film continues: the cover of Universal's 2006 five-film DVD set "The Boris Karloff Collection" promises "The Master of Horror in His Most Frightening Roles!" To put it plainly, I don't think that anyone who has ever seen Karloff playing a practical joke with twirling open umbrellas or wearing a party hat made from an old newspaper while eating cake in NIGHT KEY would classify David Mallory as one of Karloff's most frightening roles.

edited from a listing in the Evening Standard, Uniontown, PA, March 14, 1959

Lastly, here's a listing for a telecast of NIGHT KEY on a program on WJAC-Johnstown called "Ghoul's Paradise." It's counter-programmed against BEHIND THE MASK (a Son of SHOCK! title) on WTAE-Pittsburgh's "Shock Theatre," hosted by Sir Rodger (see E-Gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts for details and scroll down to "Sir Rodger"). I couldn't find any information on the wonderfully-named "Ghoul's Paradise"-- it appears to have run for only a few months in 1959 and I believe that it was hostless with an offscreen announcer. If anyone reading this has more information on "Ghoul's Paradise," please let me know-- I'd like to learn more.

NEXT: "MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, the masterpiece of America's greatest creator of horror, Edgar Allan Poe, is coming your way in the Shock feature film presentation starring Bela Lugosi on this channel."