Monday, September 30, 2013


Joe May, 1940
Starring: Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Nan Grey, Alan Napier

Almost a decade after the events in The Invisible Man, Dr. Griffin’s brother, also named Dr. Griffin, attempts to save his friend from prison by injecting him with the invisibility serum he inherited from his brother. His friend, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe, has been unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of his brother. His newfound invisibility will give him time to escape and search for the real murderer, though he must do so before the serum’s side effect takes hold: insanity. Unfortunately the police force, wiser than in The Invisible Man, hunt him down with increasingly clever methods and his cousin, Richard, is trying to steal Radcliffe’s business and his girlfriend. 

This is not Vincent Price’s finest hour, as he is young and inexperienced here in his first ever horror role, but fans of the wonderful actor will not want to miss his turn as one of Universal’s most memorable monsters. His appearance definitely helps make this an above average sequel, though he acts mostly via voiceover or from behind bandages. Though he does not begin to give Rains a run for his money, his makes the part his own and is more human and sympathetic. While this is Price’s most major contribution to a Universal horror film, he also worked with Frankenstein director James Whale on his jungle adventure film Green Hell (1940), during the same year as The Invisible Man Returns. He would also later briefly lend his voice to the Invisible Man character in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). 

One thing I can say about The Invisible Man Returns is that it benefits from a much stronger and more dynamic supporting cast than its predecessor. Nan Grey (Dracula’s Daughter) is a more interesting leading lady and the script is definitely strengthened by showing her revulsion and fear when Radcliffe first removes his bandages to expose emptiness underneath. While most Universal horror films suffer from some very annoying police/detective characters, particularly those chosen to be the plucky comic relief, Cecil Kellaway (The Mummy’s Hand, I Married a Witch, and many more) is excellent as Inspector Sampson and certainly gives one of the most compelling detective performances in Universal horror. He nearly steals the film from Price several times. As a side note, many of the actors from this film, including Kellaway, appear alongside Price in the Gothic murder mystery The House of the Seven Gables (1940), which was also directed by Joe May. 

The antagonists, Alan Napier (the Batman TV series) and Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The Ghost of Frankenstein, Invisible Agent), are fittingly slimy and unsympathetic, though both this sequel and The Invisible Man suffer from the issue of trying to make the film’s protagonist (Griffin and now Radcliffe) both the bad guy and the good guy. This inevitably makes the overtly villainous characters less effective, though the script in The Invisible Man Returns works harder to rectify that. 

Another positive thing to consider is that unlike the sequels to The Mummy, The Invisible Man series makes a solid attempt to at least write a new story for each film. Though The Invisible Man Returns certainly treads on some of the same ground as The Invisible Man, it is more than just a simple re-hashing and was penned by Universal regular Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man). The Invisible Man Returns also builds on the previous script. We know that Radcliffe is going to go insane, but we don’t know when. The need to solve a murder mystery before this happens gives the film a rushed, somewhat breathless feeling that is typically lacking in Universal’s usually slower paced horror sequels. 

Special effects, again from John Fulton and again Oscar-nominated, are also built upon. Though the black velvet on black background technique is still used, the sequel forgoes the snowy setting of the first film and employs smoke and rain to help reveal Radcliffe throughout the film. The conclusion is also more effective. Radcliffe is dying because of a bullet wound, which Griffin is unable to operate on simply because he can’t see Radcliffe’s body. When he successfully gives him a blood transfusion, the new blood brings Radcliffe back to visibility, beginning with the circulatory system and moving outward in a lovely and impressive sequence. 

This is certainly not a perfect film. It is a bit plodding in parts and suffers from some lackluster direction from Joe May, which pales in comparison to James Whale’s work on The Invisible Man. The many wonderful comedic and sometimes zany moments from the first film don’t appear as often in the sequel, though there is a nice sequence where the police department attempts to root out Radcliffe with a smoke machine. In response, he dons one of the full body police uniforms and gas masks and simply walks out the front door. 

This film is available as part of The Invisible Man: The Legacy Collection, which includes a documentary and all of the sequels, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge. Anyone who enjoyed The Invisible Man or is a serious Vincent Price fan will find a lot to like here. Also, anyone skeptical that Universal could make a competent later-period sequel should check this out. 


Rowland V. Lee, 1939
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, helps his brother Edward usurp the British throne from inept former king, Henry VI. The two plot and scheme, sending various enemies to the execution block or the torture room in the dungeon, with the help of Richard’s nefarious and deformed henchman Mord, but Richard’s taste of power makes him crave the thrown for himself. Meanwhile, Edward decides to arrange the union of an older duchess to Richard in order to bring their families together. Not wanting to marry her, he manipulates Edward into selecting John Wyatt, the Queen’s cousin, though he was intending to marry the young and beautiful Lady Alice. Wyatt refuses and though Edward nearly executes him, the Queen persuades him to exile Wyatt instead. He joins the exiled Henry Tudor in France.

Richard sneakily suppresses an attempted rebellion by the aged and somewhat confused King Henry and when the King dies, the line of succession is a little bit shorter. Another person in Richard’s way is the Duke of Clarence, his middle brother. Richard also dislikes Clarence because he had his first love, Lady Anne, married to the now exiled Prince of Wales, though Richard eventually wins her back. Richard manages to cruelly dispatch with the Duke of Clarence in a drinking challenge. When Edward falls ill and dies of natural causes, the kid gloves come off and Richard and Mord begin a full scale campaign of paranoia, torture, and murder in order to finally reach the throne. 

Tower of London is certainly an ambitious film. It is not specifically based on Shakespeare’s Richard III, but rather was written by the director’s brother and is inspired by the history of the period. I say “inspired” because much of the film (and several of the characters) are fabricated. The film’s primary fault is that it aspires to be a historical epic, but doesn’t quite have the reach. There are a wealth of characters and a vast number of plot events, forcing parts of the film to race through scenes to get to the inevitable conclusion. (Well, inevitable for anyone who has studied British history or read Richard III.)

Director Lee, Karloff, and Rathbone had all just worked together on Son of Frankenstein and they certainly brought along a number of horror elements with them. Tower of London was essentially competing with historical melodrama The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex (also featuring Vincent Price) from the same year, but instead of relying entirely on the melodrama, Lee focused on horror, torture, murder, manipulation, and the grimmer side of life in the 15th century. Throughout the film characters are beheaded, drowned in a vat of wine, tortured to death in an iron maiden, stabbed, and much more. Also, don’t forget the scene of child murder. 

Mord, Karloff’s character, was invented solely for the film and plays up Karloff’s considerable abilities with physical performance. Though in other adaptations, Richard’s monstrous qualities, such as his humpback, are played up, here he looks completely normal next to the club footed, misshaped Mord, hungry for death and violence. The studio was not pleased with the original score, so they oddly used much of the score for Son of Frankenstein, further intensifying the horror connections.

The cast is excellent overall, though be forewarned that the acting style is highly theatrical and seems a little over the top in some scenes. Though Karloff is wonderful as Mord, he could use more screen time. The film undoubtedly belongs to Basil Rathbone (Tales of Terror), who gives an unusually charming portrayal of Richard III. Vincent Price doesn’t get an overwhelming amount of screen time, but is great as the whining, cowardly Duke of Clarence. The drunk showdown between he and Richard is one of the film’s most delightful and entertaining scenes. Though I wouldn’t call Tower of London an outright genre film, it is Price’s first role in a film with numerous horror elements. He had previously worked with Lee in one of his first roles in the comedy Service de Luxe (1938).

Barbara O’Neil (Gone With the Wind) is also memorable as the long suffering Queen Elyzabeth, among the first to recognize Richard’s treachery. Nan Grey (Dracula’s Daughter) is decent as the spirited Lady Alice, who is one half of the romantic subplot alongside John Sutton (The Invisible Man Returns and The Bat, both with Price), who plays Wyatt. Both characters were invented for the film and their subplot is certainly one of the weaker points. There are a number of other familiar faces from horrors films of the period: Rose Hobart (the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Ian Hunter (the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Miles Mander (The Picture of Dorian Gray), etc. 

Lee is great at getting around the mediocre budget and the film looks a lot more robust and expensive than it actually was. Though this might bore fans of some of Price and Karloff’s classic horror films, it is a lot of fun and comes recommended to fans of darker historical fiction and Richard III

Tower of London is available in the Boris Karloff Collection along with The Black Castle (which uses some of the sets from Tower of London), The Climax, The Strange Door, and Night Key. The film was loosely remade in 1962 by Roger Corman and stars Vincent Price as Richard, though this follows the plot of Richard III more closely. 

Vincent Price (1911 - 1993)

2013 is the 20 year anniversary of Vincent Price’s death and it seems like an excellent time for a career retrospective. It would be a very time consuming venture to review every one of the almost 200 films, TV episodes, made-for-TV movies, and cartoons Price appeared in or lent his voice to, so I’m going to focus on the more major works, namely the cult and horror films. (The films I’m planning to review will be in bold below.)

Born on May 27, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri, Vincent Price majored in Art History at Yale and became interested in acting at the University of London, where he pursued a Masters of Fine Arts. After beginning a stage career in 1935, he quickly moved to film with a starring role in the romantic comedy Service de Luxe (1939) and then the made-for-TV comedy The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1938). His first major film was the Bette Davis and Errol Flynn historical drama The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). 

Price’s first cult film was Tower of London (1939), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, where he co-starred as the Duke of Clarence alongside horror icons Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. Though this is mostly a historical drama, it centers around a number of devious political murders committed by Richard III (Rathbone) and his executioner (Karloff) in order for Richard to ascend to the throne. 
His next major starring role was in the horror/sci-fi sequel The Invisible Man Returns (1940), a loose follow up to the classic Universal film starring Claude Rains. Price plays a businessman framed for his brother’s murder. He is injected with the invisibility serum in order to prove his innocence and discover the real murderer before he succumbs to the serum’s devastating side effect: madness. 

In another early loose connection to Universal horror, Price appeared in James Whale’s Green Hell (1940), an adventure/drama. He also had lesser roles in historical dramas Brigham Young (1940), Hudson’s Bay (1941), and The Song of Bernadette (1943). Another early horror-tinged thriller he starred in was The House of the Seven Gables (1940), an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic novel about murder and hidden treasure in an old mansion in New England. 
The ‘40s brought many more roles, though Price was not yet a well-known figure. He had side parts in a war drama, The Eve of St. Mark (1944), the historical biography Wilson (1944), and the Gregory Peck-vehicle and religious drama The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). The most important film Price co-starred in during this decade was Otto Preminger’s classic noir Laura (1944), where he appears in a serious role as the titular lady’s questionable boyfriend. 

He was also given a role in Preminger’s Russian historical comedy A Royal Scandal (1945), though Price spent most of the late ‘40s in noir films or thrillers. He appeared in Gene Tierney-vehicles Leave Her to Heaven (1945) and Dragonwyck (1946), as well as Shock (1946), The Long Night (1947) with Henry Fonda, The Web (1947), Moss Rose (1947), and The Bribe (1949) with Ava Gardner and Charles Laughton. Price also appeared in a musical comedy, Up in Central Park (1948), in a number of action/adventure films — Rogue’s Regiment (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948) with Lana Turner and Gene Kelly, and Bagdad (1949) with Maureen O’Hara — as well as briefly lending his voice (as the Invisible Man) to the horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). He also showed an early glimmer of whimsy by narrating a TV version of The Christmas Carol (1949). 

In 1950, Price starred in a rare non-horror classic film, Samuel Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona, where he played a roguish landowner determined to own the state of Arizona. In the early ‘50s he appeared in other comedies — Champagne for Caesar (1950), Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (1950) — and in the Errol Flynn adventure film The Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951). He co-starred in a few more noir films, such as His Kind of Woman (1951) with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, and The Las Vegas Story (1952) again with Russell. He kicked off an incredibly productive career early in this decade and filled his non-feature film moments with appearances in television shows and anthology serials, such as Fireside Theatre, Lights Out, Chesterfield Presents, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Gruen Guild Theater, and Robert Montgomery Presents

Price’s first major horror film was House of Wax (1953), a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), where he starred as a brilliant master sculptor and owner of a wax museum. After his museum is burned in an insurance scam, he is believed to be dead. Years later, the museum reopens and women in the neighborhood begin dying. Their lookalikes mysteriously appear in his museum as famous historical figures. This is also notable for being an early 3-D film. 

He again appeared in more television throughout the ‘50s, such as Summer Theatre, The Plymouth Playhouse, The Philip Morris Playhouse, The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater, TV’s Reader’s Digest, Lux Video Theater, The Alcoa Hour, Science Fiction Theatre, Crossroads, Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Studio 57, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, Playhouse 90, Half Hour to Kill, G.E. True Theater, Schlitz Playhouse, Matinee Theatre, Have Gun — Will Travel, Riverboat, and Shower of Stars. Truly a busy man. He was also in a number of films, including a thriller, Dangerous Mission (1954), two shorts, Born in Freedom (1954) and The Orange Coast College Story (1954), a musical, Casanova’s Big Night (1954), and the adventure-pirate film Son of Sinbad (1955). 

Soon after House of Wax, he was cast in The Mad Magician (1954), where he stars as a murderous magician intent on gaining fame and quashing the competition. Eva Gabor (sister of Zsa Zsa) costars. This is an early revenge-horror film for Price, which would be followed in the ‘60s by many films of this model. In the mid to late ‘50s he also appeared in an opera drama, Serenade (1956), as a narrator in the French period piece musical The Vagabond King (1956) with a young Leslie Nielsen (!!!), and he had a bit part in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956). He and Peter Lorre starred in a made-for-TV mystery film, Collector’s Item (1958), and he had a side role in the drama The Big Circus (1959) before his horror career completely took over. 
Somewhat surprisingly, Price also appeared in Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps (1956), a newsroom noir about a serial killer loose in New York City. Though Dana Andrews and George Sanders star, I think it is important for modern film fans to remember that Price was in far, far more than just horror films. He also had a rare role as Satan in the difficult to find film The Story of Mankind (1957), an intellectual fantasy-drama where God and the Devil argue about the nature of mankind. 

Price had a co-starring role in the sci-fi/horror classic The Fly (1958) about a scientist  whose experiments with a teleportation device go wrong. Price appeared as the scientist’s brother and was thus able to return a year later for Return of the Fly (1959). Though he received top billing for this film, it concerns the similar experiments of his nephew, who also turns into a monstrous human-fly hybrid.

One of his most popular early films was William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959), sort of an old dark house mystery-horror-comedy. Price plays a millionaire who invites a number of people to stay in a haunted mansion over night. Whoever survives the night will win a large sum of money, though they have to contend with murderous ghosts and some very human horrors. He followed this with two other early classics. The first, another William Castle film called The Tingler (1959), is a gimmicky sci-fi horror film and minor creature feature about a doctor who experiments on fear with some horrifying results. Next is The Bat (1959), another old dark house film that is actually a remake of an earlier film and is a twist on The Cat and the Canary (1927). A mystery writer rents an old house to inspire her, but didn’t count on murder, hidden treasure, and a mysterious, psychotic killer known as the Bat. 

The ‘60s through the early ‘70s was Price’s most productive period and resulted in a number of classic and very popular horror films. He kicked off the ‘60s by acting in a few more television series, including Adventures in Paradise, Startime, The Chevy Mystery Show, The United States Steel Hour, The Best of the Post, The Danny Kaye Show, and Moment of Fear. He was also in two made-for-TV movies, The Three Musketeers (1960) and Famous Ghost Stories (1961), where he served as narrator. For the most part though, his career was dedicated to horror films during this period. 

Price starred in the first of a long series of effectively spooky films based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and directed by Roger Corman for American International Pictures. House of Usher (1960) concerns an ancient family suffering from a terrible curse. The script was adapted by the late, great horror writer Richard Matheson. This was followed by Pit and the Pendulum (1961), another of Poe’s tales about a castle during the Spanish Inquisition and the murder and torture that unfolds there. This was also scripted by Matheson and co-stars scream queen Barbara Steele. 

He also co-starred with Charles Bronson in Master of the World (1961), a sci-fi adventure film again written by Matheson. Set in the 1800s, this is essentially an early example of what would become steampunk. High above the ground in his zeppelin, an adventurer plans to give the world peace, even if he has to enforce it with full scale war. A scientist must try to stop him. During this period he also appeared in the Italian historical drama Nefertiti, regina del Nilo (1961) and in Italian pirate film Rage of the Buccaneers (1961).

Then there is the thoroughly bizarre Confessions of An Opium Eater (1962), named after but not really based on Thomas DeQuincy’s memoir of the same name about his opium and laudanum addictions. Price stars as an adventurer who faces off against the Tong (legendary Asian crime syndicate) in San Francisco and their human slavery/prostitution racket. During the course of the film he takes opium and also befriends a female dwarf. Wonders will never cease. 

The same year he was in Tales of Terror (1962), his first horror anthology film alongside Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. Again scripted by Matheson and directed by Corman, this film adapts three of Poe’s short stories, including “The Black Cat.” He also had a side role in the biographical drama Convicts 4 (1962). After this he was in a remake of Tower of London (1962), where he took the part of Richard III. This version was directed by Corman and has more horror than the drama-heavy 1939 film. 

Corman, Matheson, and Price reunited for The Raven (1963), allegedly based on Poe’s famous poem of the same name. In reality this is a silly comedy-horror film that brought together Price, an aged Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre as three rival magicians. Diary of a Madman (1963), based on the stories of Guy de Maupassant, is a rare non-Corman horror film from the period about an evil spirit that possesses an innocent man and soon moves to the magistrate in charge of his case. In the same year he had a cameo in the first of AIP’s Beach Party (1963) comedies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. 

Though included in the Poe series and directed by Corman, The Haunted Palace (1963), is actually based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Price stars as a man who inherits a creepy family home in New England and begins taking on characteristics of his ancestor, a man burned at the stake for witchcraft. Twice Told Tales (1963), Price’s second anthology outing, is another break from Poe and focuses on three tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne, including the fantastic “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and a shorter version of “House of the Seven Gables.” 

The Comedy of Terrors (1963) reunites Price, Lorre, and Karloff in another horror-comedy hybrid. Price plays an undertaker whose business is suffering. To bring profits back up, he starts killing people to fill his coffins. Though Matheson again penned the script, this was directed by Jacques Tourneur (The Cat People). Price took a much more serious role in the post-apocalyptic horror The Last Man on Earth (1964), an adaptation of Matheson’s excellent vampire novel I Am Legend. Price plays the sole survivor of a plague that leaves behind vampires instead of corpses, though ultimately this feels more like an early attempt at a zombie film. 

One of his finest and most visually appealing efforts with Corman was The Masque of the Red Death (1964), based on Poe’s story of the same name about a Satan-worshipping, libertine prince who throws an enormous gala while his city is under quarantine from the Black Plague. During the same year they also made The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), a Rebecca-like tale based on Poe’s “Ligeia.” Price plays a man who remarries after the death of his first wife, only to be haunted by her angry ghost.

Price reunited with director Tourneur for the fantasy adventure film City in the Sea (1965). Though the film is named after and very loosely based on Poe’s poem of the same name, it concerns a sea captain (Price) who discovers a lost society of ageless smugglers and gill-men who live under the ocean. Also known as War Gods of the Deep, this really is as ridiculous as it sounds. During the same year he also appeared on an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a TV show about secret agents. Speaking of secrets agents, Price went on to star in the silly spy-spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), about a mad scientist who plans to take over the world with his sexy female robots. He repeated the role for a made-for-TV short, The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot (1965), and the sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966).  Weirdly, this was directed by Italian horror maestro Mario Bava.

Next, he had a bit part in a TV movie that sounds like my worst nightmare, Clown Alley (1966), in the western-comedy TV show F Troop, and the classic sci-fi show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He starred in the weird human trafficking/crime film House of 1,000 Dolls (1967), in The Jackals (1967), a western set in South Africa, and another western, More Dead Than Alive (1969), as well as appearing in the western TV series Daniel Boone. He also had a reoccurring role as the villain Egghead in the incredibly fun, cartoonish TV series Batman (1966-1968).

One of Price’s most memorable and surprisingly mean-spirited films from the late ‘60s was Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), re-named The Conqueror Worm for U.S. audience to capitalize on the Poe series. This has nothing to do with Poe and is a grim tale of witch hunting based on the real life exploits of Matthew Hopkins, who hunted down those accused of witchcraft (typically for political reasons) during the English Civil War. He also had a role in the Elvis musical The Trouble with Girls (1969) and a number of TV shows, including The Good Guys, BBC Play of the Month, Get Smart, Love American Style, and The Mod Squad. He was also in the made-for-TV musical Cucumber Castle (1970) and the Holiday Startime Special (1970). 

The end of the decade was equally busy and Price starred in four horror films. The Oblong Box (1969) is a tale of voodoo, disfigurement, and betrayal that co-stars Hammer horror icon Christopher Lee. An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970) is an odd anthology film where Price narrates four beloved Poe tales, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and more. In Scream and Scream Again (1970) he receives top billing alongside Christopher Lee, but they both just really appear in this tale about a serial killer loose in London. Cry of the Banshee (1970) stars Price as a malevolent Elizabethan lord determined to rid the world of witches whatever the cost.

The ‘70s was another busy decade for Vincent Price. He had a reoccurring role as narrator in the Canadian horror-children’s show The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1971), where Billy Van, the star, played a number of roles educating kids in various horror settings and with different horror-trope characters. Price also regularly appeared in comedy sketch show The Red Skelton Hour and popped up in TV shows like Curiosity Shop, The Brady Bunch, The Golddiggers, The Movie Quiz, Columbo, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Snoop Sisters. He lent his voice to Rankin and Bass’s animated made-for-TV movie Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) and appeared in TV suspense movie What’s a Nice Girl Like You...? (1971). Alongside Hammer regulars Stephanie Beacham and Andrew Kier, he had a role in the sci-fi film The Aries Computer (1972).

One of his most beloved films is undoubtedly The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the first in a series of colorful, over the top revenge-horror films. Price plays a deformed organist and professor of theology who has seemingly come back from the dead to avenge his wife’s murderer by killing the doctors who failed to save her life on the operating table. Using the 10 plagues of Egypt, Phibes unleashed some outrageous mayhem on London. This was followed by the almost as wonderful Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), where he travels to Egypt to find the River of Life and revive his dead wife. He must face off against an adventurer (Robert Quarry) determined to get there first. 
Price also appeared in a few episode of Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery (1969-1973), a Twilight Zone-like anthology show that presented some truly excellent tales of horror and dark fantasy. He narrated the short Annabel Lee (1973), appeared in the sexploitation comedy It’s Not the Size That Counts (1974), and narrated a documentary about the Bermuda Triangle, The Devil’s Triangle (1974). 

Another beloved revenge-horror film from the period (and one of my favorites) is Theatre of Blood (1973). Price plays Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart, who failed to win the craved London Critics Circle Award and kills himself, leaving behind his distraught daughter (Diana Rigg). When someone begins viciously murdering the critics in scenes lifted right out of Shakespeare’s plays, Scotland Yard wonders if maybe Lionheart is alive after all. Following this is the somewhat similar Madhouse (1974), co-starring Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry. Price plays horror actor Paul Toombes, a caricature of himself, who is committed to mental institution after his fiancée is murdered and he goes mad. He is released many years later and resumes his career, but the murders begin again. Is Toombes the psychotic killer or is someone framing him?

Price also appeared in Alice Cooper’s made-for-TV concert movie Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975), a musical film dramatizing the “Welcome to My Nightmare” album. He also narrated Cooper’s concert video The Strange Case of Alice Cooper (1979). Price was particularly active in television during this period and appeared in Ellery Queen, The Bionic Woman, The Love Boat, Time Express, and Standing Room Only. His most memorable TV appearance was on The Muppets. He also had a role in the political thriller Journey Into Fear (1975), and narrated the Deep Purple movie The Butterfly Ball (1977) and a short, Légendes du Québec (1977). He was in TV movies Lindsay Wagner: Another Side of Me (1977), Ringo (1978), and the TV short Symbols of Lives Past: The Rambova Collection (1979). 
Price was also active in theater and during this period developed a touring one-man show where he starred as Oscar Wilde. Called Diversions and Delights, this two act play is set in Paris in the last year of Wilde’s life and concerns Wilde’s work and his scandalous romantic relationship with the younger Lord Alfred Douglas. 

He had a bit part in the comedy Scavenger Hunt (1979) and lent his voice to the animated film I Go Pogo (1980) and the shorts The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1980), Fun with Mr. Future (1982), and Tim Burton’s Vincent (1982), about a boy who wants to be Vincent Price. He starred in Roy Ward Baker’s anthology film The Monster Club (1981) for Amicus Studios with Donald Pleasance and John Carradine. A horror writer is told a series of terrifying stories by an old man (Price) who turns out to be a vampire. This is one of the few times that Price appeared on screen as a blood sucking creature of the night.

Showing off some of his more under appreciated skills, he starred in a TV production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s horror-themed musical Ruddigore (1982), about a man from a cursed family. The curse is only held at bay if he commits a crime every single day. He also hosted Tim Burton’s made-for-TV version of Hansel and Gretel (1982), which was cast with all Japanese actors. Soon after he appeared in a few episodes of the excellent Faerie Tale Theatre (1982-1987), for which Burton directed a few episodes early in his career. 

Price starred in Pete Walker’s excellent, though uncharacteristic horror comedy, House of the Long Shadows (1983) alongside Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine. On a bet with his publisher, a mystery writer spends the night in a spooky old mansion in order to try to finish a novel in 24 hours. Unfortunately the bizarre Grisbane family also returns to the manor to reunite and search for their lost and very insane brother who was bricked up in his room years ago, but has recently escaped. 

One of Price’s most famous appearances from this time was as the narrator in Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983) video, directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London). He also appeared in Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984), an unexpectedly funny horror spoof about a group of scientists that travel to a house to investigate some mysterious happenings. Unfortunately for them, the house is already inhabited by a group of bloodthirsty satanists.
He had a prominent role in the 13-episode Scooby-Doo spin-off, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985). Scooby and Shaggy accidentally open the Chest of Demons and must spend the season putting all 13 ghosts and demons back inside the magical chest. A warlock by the name of Vincent Van Ghoul (Price) assists them. He was also in a lesser known made-for-TV anthology film, Escapes (1986), which features five stories of the macabre. 

Towards the end of his life, Price was in a number of animated features, TV shorts, and TV movies. He appeared in episodes of the TV series Blacke’s Magic, Michaels’ Movie Madness, and Tiny Toon Adventures. He voice acted in an animated films The Nativity (1987), Sparky’s Magic Piano (1987), The Little Troll Prince (1987), and The Princess and the Cobbler (1993). Most notably, he had the antagonist’s role in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective (1986), a version of Sherlock Holmes with mice. Price starred as Professor Rattigan, a rat version of Moriarty.

His final two horror films were The Offspring (1987), an anthology tale also known as From a Whisper to a Scream, and Dead Heat (1988), a horror comedy about undead police officers. He was also in a few final drama and suspense films, such as The Whales of August (1987) with an aged Bette Davis and Lillian Gish, Catchfire (1990) starring Jody Foster and directed by Dennis Hopper, and a TV movie with Dennis Hopper, The Heart of Justice (1992). His final live action film was Tim Burton’s magical Edward Scissorhands (1990), where he plays Edward’s “father” and inventor. In many ways this is the perfect final film for Price, as Burton treated him reverently throughout their many collaborations together. 

Though Price is primarily remembered as a horror icon, his sheer love of life cannot be discounted. He was a prominent American art collector and had his own line, “The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art” with Sears, where he selected paintings to be reproduced and purchased by the public. He has his own art museum at the East Los Angeles College after donating money and a large collection of art work to the school. He was also a gourmet chef and occasionally a vocal political activist. Though he died on October 25th, 1993 of lung cancer (he was a lifelong smoker), he will never be forgotten. I’m hoping to celebrate his death day by making a trip to the Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. Price was a board member and supporter of this wonderful little museum that houses a collection of figures from horror films, many of which he starred in. 

I hope you will watch along with me and celebrate this wonderful man. Though I never got the chance to meet him, he has been a major positive influence on my life and encouraged my young love of horror films. Viva Vincent Price!

Friday, September 27, 2013


Walter Comes, 1945
Starring: Nancy Kelly, John Loder, Otto Kruger

Lorna Webster is returning to Eden Rock, Massachusetts after being away for a few years. During her bus ride there, a strange old woman wearing an odd black veil sits next to her. The woman claims to be Jezebel Trister, a witch burned at the stake in Eden Rock 300 years prior. There is a bus accident and Lorna is the only survivor, but comes to believe that she has been possessed by Jezebel. 

Her former fiancé, Dr. Matt Adams, is the only person in Eden Rock who is happy to see her and becomes actively engaged in her recovery. During this process they their rekindle their relationship. Lorna becomes obsessed with Jezebel and begins to see the old woman’s face in mirrors around her house. A number of strange things happen, such as flowers immediately dying when Lorna touches them, and she finds Jezebel’s confession in the church basement that confirms the witch’s supposed three hundred year pact with the Devil. 

The townsfolk are obviously unhappy to see her and become superstitious, if not outright hysterical. They believe she is involved in the illness of a child, Matt’s niece Peggy, after the girl tried to take shelter at Lorna’s home during a storm. The villagers come to believe she really is possessed and a strange, black dog begins to follow her everywhere. Will Lorna succumb to Jezebel Trister’s evil destiny?

Made by one of the many poverty row studios operating at the time, Republic Pictures, The Woman Who Came Back is a subtle and compelling film that borrows much from Val Lewton’s horror production for RKO during the same period, such as Cat People and The Leopard Man. There’s also a dash of Carl Dreyer’s excellent witchcraft hysteria film, Day of Wrath, thrown in for good measure. Though this is undeniably a cheap production and suffers from a number of plot issues, it is an interesting experiment in the supernatural, suspicion, and hysteria. 

There are a lot of welcome genre tropes, such as Lorna’s creepy old house, dying flowers, the black dog that follows her, old books on witchcraft, some stormy nights, and threatening shadows at every turn. Director Walter Colmes opens and closes with some nice Halloween scenes, making this a perfect film to watch for the upcoming Halloween season. Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed) is likable as Lorna and doesn’t succumb to full on hysteria until the end of the film, helping with the understated tone. John Loder (The Private Lives of Henry VIII) is decent as her determined and rational fiancé. Otto Kruger (Dracula’s Daughter, Another Thin Man, Saboteur) is great as the town’s reverend, seemingly the only levelheaded person in the film, and it’s a shame he wasn’t given more screen time. 

This is not a perfect film and I can’t say it’s a must watch, but anyone who enjoys classic horror will like it. There are a number of flaws in the script, namely the fact that a few things go unresolved. Why did Lorna leave Matt (and town) years earlier? Why does she hide the child’s doll? The film could take a few things a bit further, particularly where Lorna’s ancestor and Jezebel’s black dog are concerned, but shies away from these particularly during the second half of the film. 

The ending is rushed and hastily slaps a rational explanation onto the proceedings, which sort of ruins the wonderful build up and strange events that have been occurring throughout the film. Still, it is worth watching at least once. There is an out of print Image DVD, plus the film is streaming on Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


René Clair, 1945
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, C. Aubrey Smith, Louis Hayward

Eight strangers are invited to an island off the English coast to spend the weekend at the mansion of Mr. Owen. None of them know their host, but they are greeted by two servants who were hired solely for the weekend. During dinner their host fails to arrive, but one of the servants puts on a record where a man's voice, presumably Owen, accuses each of them of murder. General Mandrake is accused of sending his wife’s lover to his death, a woman named Emily is accused of causing her young nephew’s suicide, Dr. Armstrong is accused of accidentally killing a patient while drunk, Russian Prince Starloff is accused of killing a couple in a hit and run car accident, etc. Even the two servants, a married couple, are accused of murdering their former employer. Mr. Rogers, one of the two servants, reveals that his instructions were signed by U.N. Owen, which they realize means “unknown.”

They want to leave, but as the boat from the mainland won’t return till Monday, they are stranded. Prince Starloff is the first to die. When he admits to killing the couple, he is immediately poisoned to death by a drink. On the table sits a centerpiece of ten Indian figurines and one disappears as each of the ten guests are gradually killed. Will they find out who their accuser is in time for some of them to survive the weekend? And are all of them really guilty of murder?

Based on Agatha Christie’s very popular novel Ten Little Indians, And Then There Were None is not really a horror film, but is a gripping murder mystery that borrows from the old dark house subgenre and includes a number of genre tropes. French director René Clair (Le Million, À nous la liberté, I Married a Witch) puts his expertise to work here and the film is beautifully shot, well paced, and full of suspense and dark comedy. The characters are mostly unlikable, or at best morally ambiguous, but it is impossible not to sympathize with the group desire to stay alive. 

There are also a number of solid performances. Though there are admittedly a lot of characters and it’s difficult to keep them straight at first, the script succeeds in giving every character at least one defining scene. Character actor C. Aubrey Smith (Rebecca, Another Thin Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) particularly shines as the uptight General Mandrake and Russian actor Mischa Auer (You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Arkadin) is over the top as the drunk Price Starloff. Dame Judith Anderson (Laura, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Walter Huston (The Devil and Daniel Webster and grandfather of Angelica Huston), and Barry Fitzgerald (Bringing Up Baby, The Naked City) all also brighten up the proceedings significantly. 

There are some changes from the novel, mostly because some of Christie’s plot was a bit racier than the Hays Code would allow and included themes like teen pregnancy. The ending is also different, which is a shame, because the ending of the novel is much darker. But I will leave it up to you to read it and figure that out, as the end result is basically the same. Another important change worth mentioning is the name of the novel. Christie’s book was first published as Ten Little Niggers, which was soon after considered offensive enough that it was changed to Ten Little Indians. The film’s title is a line from the disturbing poem, which I’m reprinting here simply because I enjoy how morbid it is.

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law,
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
On got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.

Some of the deaths stick to the poem, but there are a few surprises. The film is available on Blu-ray and a number of very cheap DVD releases, because 20th Century Fox allowed the rights to lapse and the film fell into the public domain. Hopefully someone will do a properly restored print with some special features eventually. Fans of mystery and early classic horror will want to seek this out, as it is a ton of fun and plenty of horror films (including John Carpenter’s The Thing) borrow liberally from it. This comes highly recommended and is one of my primary comfort films. Anyone who loves Clue will also want to check out the source material, 80% of which is lifted from And Then There Were None.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


John Brahm, 1945
Starring: Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders

George Bone, a London composer, fears he may be a murderer when he has periods of blackout and does not remember his activities. He solicits the help of a Scotland Yard doctor, Dr. Middleton, who keeps an eye on him along with Barbara, the pianist daughter of his mentor, Lord Henry. Meanwhile, he falls in love with Netta, a cabaret singer who thinks she could become famous after selling a song he wrote for her on a lark. But Netta is merely using and manipulating Bone and has fallen in love with a rich and handsome promoter. When it is revealed that she is marrying the promoter, Bone has another black out and strangles Netta. Will the police discover what he has done? Will he remember?

The atmosphere is wonderful, full of cobblestone streets drenched with fog, a Victorian setting, and enough shadows and sharp angles to make many critics consider this to be a noir film. While there are some noir elements, the femme fatale for instance, this is unmistakably a horror film with some deep German expressionist influences. Actors Laird Cregar and George Sands, German director John Brahm, and screenwriter Barre Lyndon also worked together on the equally excellent remake of Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1944), which bears many themes in common with Hangover Square. As with The Lodger, the script is quite simple and centers around a troubled man killing women.

But unlike other horror films and serial killer-themed suspense films from the period, in both The Lodger and Hangover Square, Cregar’s character is likable or at least wholly sympathetic and we suffer with him throughout the films. In both, Cregar (I Wake Up Screaming, Heaven Can Wait) is the pillar on which this film rests and it is tragic that he passed away before Hangover Square was even released. Known for being a large man (over six feet tall and often over 300 pounds), Cregar was depressed about constantly playing villains and went on a crash diet to be in Hangover Square. This contributed to his early death of a heart attack at 28. 

There are also appearances from Alan Napier (Marnie, Batman TV series) as Bone’s mentor and the great George Sanders (Rebecca) as the Scotland Yard doctor who tries to help Bone, though he doesn’t have quite as much to do here as in The Lodger. Linda Darnell (Unfaithfully Yours) is good as Netta, but suffers from having a thoroughly unlikable and duplicitous character.

There is a wonderful score from Berman Herrmann, one of his finest, that allegedly influenced Stephen Sondheim on Sweeney Todd. Herrmann regularly worked with Hitchcock and composed some of his finest work for the great director. There are a number of Hitchcock connections with Hangover Square. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle also worked with Hitch on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Brahms directed a number of episodes of the show. Hangover Square is based on a novel by Patrick Hamilton, who also wrote the source material for Hitchcock’s Rope.

Though you may not be a fan of classic horror or suspense, there are some truly remarkable scenes in Hangover Square that make it worth watching at least once. There is a scene where Bone strangles Netta and dumps her body on top of a bonfire pile of effigies to be burned for Guy Fawkes Day. This scene is chilling, rich with symbolism, and is matched only by the conclusion. Having remembered his deeds and unable to escape from the police, Bone sets the building on fire during the performance of his moving new symphony. He continues to play the piano as the building burns down around him in a truly bleak and effecting move. These are certainly two of the most stunning and impressive moments in ‘40s horror.

Hangover Square comes highly recommended and is available in the Fox Horror Classics Collection, a three disc set that includes Brahm’s The Lodger and Undying Monster with a number of very nice special features.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


George Cukor, 1944
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury

Beloved opera singer Alice Alquist is murdered and her young niece, Paula, is sent to Italy to recover and train as an opera singer. While there she is swept off her feet by a man she barely knows, Gregory, and decides to put her career on hold and marry him. At first things are blissful, but he convinces her that they should move into her aunt’s old house in London, which has been left to Paula in her aunt’s will. 

Here Gregory becomes increasingly controlling. Paula is told she can’t go out or receive visitors because she is not “well enough,” and Gregory accuses her of misplacing things, forgetting things, and making things up. They board up her aunt’s belongings in the attic room and Gregory has a violent outburst when she discovers a letter to her aunt from a man named Sergius Bowers, sent only a few days before her death. Gregory later tells her the letter was a figment of her imagination. There is also something going on with the house: the gaslights randomly dim and brighten in the evenings and Paula hears footsteps above her bedroom. 

Gregory takes her out on a tour of the Tower of London, though she loses a brooch he gave her and is near hysteria. They run into a man who seems shocked to see her. He is Inspector Cameron, a fan of her aunt Alice in his childhood, who takes a new look at Alice’s murder case. Paula insists on attending a dinner party, but Gregory accuses her of stealing his pocket watch and drives her to hysterics. She fears he is going to have her committed, but Cameron begins a deeper investigation and is determined to come to Paula’s aid. 

What has been hinted to us early on is revealed by Cameron. Gregory is Sergius Bauer and murdered Paula’s aunt many years ago in order to steal some jewels he became obsessed with. Unable to find the jewels on the night of the murder, he seduced and married Paula and has driven her insane so he can search for them uninterrupted during the night. He does find the jewels, but it is too late. Cameron used his absence to enter the house and speak to Paula. He ensures her that she is not insane. They are able to apprehend Gregory/Sergius and force him to admit his guilt. Cameron declares his feelings for Paula and says he will be there for her recovery process. 

Seemingly building upon the gothic themes and female inspired horror of novels like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Gaslight is one of a number of films in the ‘40s where the home is a prison or a place of horror for women; Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Shadow of a Doubt are key examples, as well as more overt horror films like The Spiral Staircase. While Gaslight will likely not interest fans of Universal’s more supernatural driven horror tales of the ‘30s and ‘40s, it is a successful exercise in subtle, suspense-fueled terror. Though essentially a film about emotional spousal abuse, the themes of madness and murder launch this into horror territory. 

Gaslight is both a remake of a 1940 British film and an adaptation of a play by Patrick Hamilton. The script had a few notables working on it, including John L. Balderston, who penned numerous horror scripts for Universal, including Dracula and Frankenstein, and John Van Druten, who would adapt Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories into a play, I Am a Camera, which was the basis for Cabaret. The crowded, Victorian style house looks amazing, thanks to art direction from Cedric Gibbons and his team, and it provides some wonderful atmosphere for the film. There is also a heavy reliance on shadowy rooms and foggy streets. The cinematography from Joseph Ruttenberg (Brigadoon among many more) is certainly one of the film’s finest points.

Gaslight seems like an odd choice for director George Cukor, more known for his comedies and musicals, such as The Philadelphia Story, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, My Fair Lady, and more. Cukor did make a great number of films with strong female characters and that serves him well here. The film is sympathetic to Paula and ultimately allows her to get her revenge. 

Shockingly, Bergman was passed over by the Academy for Casablanca, but won her first Academy Award for her performance here. She is excellent as Paula and effectively carries the film. Allegedly, to research the part, she spent time in a mental institution. As with The Picture of Dorian Gray, a very young Angela Lansbury plays a small side role. While she was lovely and sweet in the former film, here she plays a rude maid who openly dislikes Paula and flirts with Gregory. Allegedly this role was a lot smaller, but Cukor was so impressed with Lansbury that he gave her more screen time. The part wound up earning her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. 

Charles Boyer (Algiers, Hold Back the Dawn) is well cast as Gregory. He is both charming and slimy, carefully manipulating Alice in every scene and driving her inexorably toward madness and breakdown. Ultimately his character seems a little ridiculous, but historically, patterns of spousal abuse indicate that a man doesn’t need the motivation of jewels to emotionally abuse his wife and empty her life of support. Joseph Cotten, in an early role, doesn’t have much to do as Inspector Cameron, but he is likable and, as Boyer’s opposite, was a good choice for the film’s hero. 

Gaslight is available on DVD from Warner and comes highly recommended, though primarily to fans of classic suspense films. The original 1940 British film directed by Thorold Dickinson is also included with the Warner DVD and provides an interesting counterpoint. 

Monday, September 23, 2013


Robert Florey, 1946
Starring: Robert Alda, Peter Lorre, Andrea King, Victor Francen

One of the most enjoyably ridiculous films I've seen in a long time, The Beast with Five Fingers is not sure if it wants to be a whodunnit murder mystery, a haunted house film, a psychological thriller, or a minor creature feature. It doesn't work particularly well as any of the above, but is a hell of a good time, in part because of the delirious performance by the great Peter Lorre. He’s not quite on the level of M or Mad Love, but is still utterly delightful. As with Mad Love, The Beast with Five Fingers is somewhat based on German expressionist horror film The Hands of Orlac.

Francis Ingram, a famous, albeit tyrannical piano player, dies leaving behind a questionable will. It seems that he wanted to leave his considerable estate to Julie, his young nurse that he fell in love with, but his greedy, American nephew is contesting it based on an earlier will in which everything was left to him. Hilary (Lorre), Ingram's librarian, secretary, and musicologist, is obsessed with the library and a number of rare, valuable occult books and is determined to keep them regardless of who gets the rest of the property. Ingram also has plans of his own - his spectral hand begins to haunt the manor, presumably killing anyone it comes across, and bodies start piling up. Are the murders the work of the diabolically possessed hand or is the killer all too human?

In its desperation to resolve things rationally, the conclusion is a little disappointing, but is similar to other horror films of the period with Scooby Doo-like endings. Despite a script by Curt Siodmak (The Wolfman and a number of other Universal horrors), the plot, which was already a bit of a disaster, is made more complicated by a love story between nurse Julie and Ingram's young friend Conrad, a conman and ex-concert pianist. As long as you don't question any of the more absurd elements, the film is endearing and enjoyable and really worth seeing just for the scenes where Lorre battles with an undead, disembodied hand. Director Robert Florey (Murders in the Rue Morgue) worked with Lorre previously and they obviously had a lot of fun here, though Florey allegedly didn’t want to direct this. Despite that, Florey’s sure direction and use of some lovely, spooky visuals make this look far more polished and expensive than it probably deserved. This was both Florey and Lorre’s last film with Warner Bros.

The Beast with Five Fingers comes highly recommended if you like older, campier horror where there are genuine chills as well as plenty of laughs, intentional and otherwise. As in everything, Lorre is wonderful and steals the film away from every other actor, except maybe Universal B movie regular J. Carrol Naish, the roguish police inspector. There are also some decent performances from Victor Francen (End of the World) as Ingram, though he doesn’t stick around long, and Robert Alda (The Devil’s Hand) as the con artist with a heart of gold. 

For the musically inclined, the score was chosen by Max Steiner and is an arrangement of Bach's chaconne from the Violin Partita in D Minor as transcribed by Brahms, intended to be played with the left-hand only. The pianist shown on screen is Nyiregyhazi, a famous Hungarian-American musician.

Unfortunately The Beast with Five Fingers is shockingly not yet available on DVD, though you can still find it used on VHS and, with a bit of cunning, it can be easily tracked down on the internet. 

Friday, September 20, 2013


Albert Lewin, 1945
Starring: George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Lowell Gilmore

“The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.”

Oscar Wilde ranks among my favorite writers of all time and, as a result, I often have a difficult time with adaptations of his work. I was delighted when I finally got to see this 1945 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Wilde’s most famous work and his only published novel. Partly a post-gothic drama and partly a classic horror film, it mostly follows the plot of Wilde's novel with a few deviations that make sense in terms of pacing and time period.

The beautiful, young, and well-off Dorian Gray is having his portrait painted by the morally upstanding Basil Hallward. Basil's rakish friend Lord Henry looks in on them and begins schooling Dorian in the ways of the world and opens Dorian's eyes to the fact that his youth and beauty will not last. He insists that Dorian should make the best of them while he can and live a life motivated by pleasure. Dorian makes a wish of sorts on the painting that he will always mirror it and never change.

Later he meets a much lower class singer and actress, Sibyl Vane, who he falls in love with. He begins to court her and proposes marriage, but changes his mind on a whim and cruelly breaks her heart. He regrets this, but before he can reconcile things, Sibyl kills herself. Dorian is heartbroken with what he has done, but squashes his emotions and proceeds to live the most debaucherous life imaginable. All the while, the portrait, which he has locked away in a secret room, begins to look twisted and ugly. Many years later, Basil catches a glimpse of the portrait and confronts Dorian about his bad behavior, which leads to a downward spiral of death and deception until Dorian is forced to face himself.

This is the fourth film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray after a British film from 1916, a German version from 1917, and a Hungarian version from 1918. Though there have been subsequent adaptations for film and television, I think this 1945 version remains the finest. Hurd Hatfield (Dragon Seed, The Diary of a Chambermaid) is wonderful as Dorian, but there is something about the shape of his face and the length of his chin than reminds me of another one of my favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft. I think the weird union of two of my favorite authors is part of what made this film so endearing to me. Hatfield also plays a colder, more reserved, and less charming version of Dorian, which works with the horror elements in the film. 

George Sanders, one of my favorite actors, looks a bit odd with a mustache and goatee, but is wonderfully cast as the rakish Sir Henry Wotton and steals the film from Hatfield in their scenes together. Keep your eyes peeled for a very young Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane. Unfortunately I grew up watching Murder She Wrote re-runs and can only see her as an old woman using her powers of deduction, which is a little disorienting in this case. Another familiar face, Donna Reed, appears in a role towards the conclusion of the film as a young woman in love with Dorian.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was written and directed by Albert Lewin, whose earlier film, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, may also be of interest. It is a noir influenced tragedy starring Ava Gardner and James Mason about a femme fatale unable to fall in love and an undead prisoner of the Flying Dutchman. Yes, you read that plot synopsis correctly.

Any readers who live in Chicago can visit the wonderful painting created specifically for this film by Ivan Albright, as it is now housed in the Art Institute there. Coincidentally, though the film was shot in black and white, look out for two weird Technicolor sequences that showcase the painting in vibrant color. Kind of an odd choice, but an interesting one.

On a final note, this is a melancholy, lovely film with some great cinematography from the wonderful Harry Stradling (My Fair Lady, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Suspicion, Johnny Guitar, A Streetcar Named Desire), for which the film won an Academy Award. Stradling won two Academy Awards for his cinematography (this and My Fair Lady) and was nominated for 12 more. The dialogue in Lewin’s script makes excellent use of Wilde's wit, though it takes a sad and humorless note for much of the film. The score also makes great use of Chopin, another one of my favorite melancholy artists. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray comes highly recommended and is available on a simple region 1 DVD from Warner. I also obviously recommend the novel, which is one of my favorites, as well as all of Wilde’s work and the wonderful biography from Richard Ellman


Lewis Allen, 1944
Starring: Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey

A composer and his sister, Rick and Pamela Fitzgerald, are on vacation on the English coast when they see an abandoned house, fall in love with it, and learn it is for sale. Known as Winward House, it has a possibly questionable background and a cold, reserved former owner, Commander Beech, but the price is right and they eagerly purchase it. They also meet Beech’s lovely, imaginative granddaughter Stella. At first she doesn’t want them to buy the house, but Rick and Pamela befriend her and Rick begins to develop feelings for her. 

Stella has a somewhat unhealthy attachment to the house, because it is the place her mother died when Stella was a child. Rick and Pamela come to believe the house is haunted and one night at dinner, Stella is overcome by a presence and nearly throws herself off the cliffs. The Fitzgeralds seek the help of local physician Dr. Scott, who tells them about the house’s torrid past. Stella’s father, an artist, had an affair with his model, Carmel, a Spanish gypsy. Mary, Stella’s mother, insisted they take Carmel far away to Paris and leave her there. But Carmel eventually returned and tried to throw the infant Stella over the cliffs. When Mary came to her rescue, Carmel threw Mary over and died of pneumonia soon after. 

Believing there are two spirits in the house, benevolent Mary and evil Carmel, they preform a seance. Stella becomes possessed and speaks in Spanish; afterwards she falls ill and Beech secretly sends her to Miss Holloway, her mother’s old best friend who runs a strange sanitarium. Stella is afraid of Miss Holloway and is kept locked up all day. Unaware that Stella is there, the Fitzgeralds visit Miss Holloway and learn more about the family history, though they think she may be lying. Dr. Scott informs them that there may be something odd about Holloway and that she likely killed Carmel with medical neglect. They learn Stella is there and launch a rescue mission, but Holloway has sent Stella back to the house - and to the cliffs - alone. 

The Uninvited was the first Hollywood film to seriously examine ghosts and a haunted house without falling back on the two traditional tropes, crime and comedy, which were found all over Hollywood in the ‘20s and ‘30s in films like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Ghost Goes West, Hold That Ghost, and various adaptations of The Cat and the Canary. While Universal embraced the supernatural with Dracula, The Mummy and somewhat with Frankenstein, Paramount were really the first to make an American ghost film.

Moody and atmospheric, director Lewis Allen doesn’t overplay his hand and is careful to make the use of the supernatural sparing, but effective. The early scenes of a woman crying during the night are a particularly clever entry way into the hauntings and manage to avoid the more ludicrous, comic ghostly cliches such as objects moving of their own accord. Charles Lang Jr.’s cinematography is another of the film’s strongest points and was nominated for an Academy Award. Between the wonderfully gothic Devon coast and the excellent lighting, The Uninvited is a beautiful film with a setting that perfectly matches it themes and tone. 

There are some strong performances. Ray Milland (The Premature Burial, Dial M for Murder) is likable as always and he feels a bit Cary Grant-like here. His character is responsible for some welcome, but well balanced comedy that never feels cumbersome. The lovely Ruth Hussey (The Philadelphia Story) is good as his sister Pamela and it is to the script’s credit that she takes charge for many scenes and does not dissolve into hysterics over the hauntings. Donald Crisp essentially reprises his role as the controlling, conservative parental figure from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and Alan Napier (Batman and Isle of the Dead) is likable as the friendly, concerned neighborhood doctor. The real star of the film is Gail Russell (Wake of the Red Witch) as the troubled Stella. Her performance carries the film and she is fittingly ethereal, nearly as haunted as the house. 

The Uninvited is based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle. Though I have not read it, screenwriters Dodie Smith and Frank Partos supposed removed some excessive characters and streamlined the plot, making this a more simple, stripped down affair. In certain instances the film skates close to the line of what was acceptable in ‘40s Hollywood. Though there are somethings I can’t mention without ruining the final twist, Stella’s father’s affair with his model must have been somewhat shocking. Miss Holloway is obviously obsessed with Stella’s mother and though the lesbian undertones of that obsession are not fully spelled out, it is a fairly obvious subtext. 

While Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) is known as the best early American ghost film, it takes a number of plot points from The Uninvited, including the use of central female characters and their malevolent mothers. The excellent British film The Innocents (1961), based on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, also bears a number of things in common with The Uninvited, perhaps accidentally, such as a torrid sexual affair that haunts the proceedings. It is important to keep in mind that both The Innocents and The Haunting were released in the early ‘60s. In the ‘40s, there were few serious horror films that could content with The Uninvited, with the exception of Val Lewton’s masterful horror films for RKO, such as Cat People and The Seventh Victim, all films essentially about female sexual repression. 

Though there is an out of print DVD and the film is available online, I recommend the brand new Criterion release, which will be available on both Blu-ray and DVD on October 22nd. Criterion is offering a newly restored print and soundtrack, and some nice special features.