Nightmare in the Sun (1965)

US / 79 minutes / color / Afilmco, Zodiac Dir & Pr: Marc Lawrence Scr: Ted Thomas, Fanya Lawrence Story: Marc Lawrence, George Fass Cine: Stanley Cortez Cast: John Derek, Aldo Ray, Arthur O’Connell, Ursula Andress, Sammy Davis Jr., Allyn Joslyn, Keenan Wynn, George Tobias, John Marley, Lurene Tuttle, Robert Duvall, Richard Jaeckel, Chick Chandler, Bill Challee (i.e., William Challee), Michael Petit (i.e., Michel Petit), James Waters, John Sebastian.

An oddball but interesting piece of rural noir that has languished in obscurity for a long while. There was a VHS release a couple of decades ago, but it seems to have had a very restricted distribution. Even so, it seems to be the only extant source for the movie.

It’d be nice to describe the obscurity as undeserved, but I’m not sure that’s completely accurate. If you go into the movie expecting it to obey the normal rules of narrative then you’re likely to be disappointed: judged in that context it’s fairly mediocre. If you’re happy simply to let Nightmare in the Sun take you wherever it chooses, then you may find it a more enjoyable viewing experience—if such a minor movie deserves such a pompous term. And it does, of course, have a pretty noteworthy cast.

John Derek as Steve

Thanks to a lift given him by a deaf trucker (Davis, in what must surely be the smallest role of his career), a hitchhiker called Steve (Derek) arrives in the small town of Calab, otherwise known as the butt end of nowhere. The friendly gas station proprietor, Hogan (Marley), informs him that the local sheriff don’t like him no hoboes, and advises him to get out of town while the going’s good.

Ursula Andress as Marsha

Steve is soon picked up by Marsha Wilson (Andress, whose marriage to Derek was by this time effectively over), ostentatiously unfaithful much younger wife of local bigshot and boozer Sam Wilson (O’Connell). She takes Steve back to the ranch and, enlisting the help of a swimming pool, seduces him with startling ease, bearing in mind how much he Continue reading

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5), episodes #13-#16

Episode 13: Primal Scream

Aired January 17 1975

US / 51 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Robert Scheerer Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Bill S. Ballinger, David Chase Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, John Marley, Pat Harrington, Katharine Woodville, Jamie Farr, Jack Grinnage, Barbara Rhoades, Jeanie Bell, Lindsay Workman, Regis Cordic, Byron Morrow, Vince Howard, Sandra Gould.

After a month away at a science conference, Dr. Jules Kopernik (uncredited), biologist at the Oceanic International Oil Corporation, returns one night to his lab, where he’s promptly torn to pieces by an ape man. Spunky investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) pursues the story of what seems at first to be “merely” a particularly gruesome murder. It’s only when Continue reading

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5), episodes #9-#12

Episode 9: The Spanish Moss Murders

Aired December 6 1974

US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Gordon Hessler Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Al Friedman, David Chase Story: Al Friedman Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Keenan Wynn, Severn Darden, Randy Boone, Johnny Silver, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, Ned Glass, Richard Kiel, Virginia Gregg, Elisabeth Brooks, Donald Mantooth, Roberta Dean.

In many ways, one of the most inventive of all the series, including the two precursor TVMs, this has a tremendous climax in the Chicago sewers that’s let down, in its final moments, by a lack of imagination.

Roberta Dean as Michelle Kelly, the first victim.

First to die at the hands of this latest monster is Michelle Kelly (Dean), one of the lab assistants to sleep researcher Dr. Aaron Pollack (Darden). Next is the chef (uncredited) at a chichi restaurant (“The total value of Chez Voltaire’s wine cellar exceeded the gross national product of Paraguay”). Both victims, as well as those who follow, are crushed to death, their bodies found adorned with gloops of spanish moss. All clues point to Paul Langois (Mantooth), a member of Chicago’s Cajun community; trouble is, Langois has been asleep in Dr. Pollack’s sleep laboratory, under constant monitoring, for the past six weeks.

Severn Darden as Dr. Aaron Pollack.

It’s of course investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) who puts all the pieces together. Deliberately deprived of the ability to dream for so long, Langois’s unconscious has conjured into being a Paramafait, a bayou swamp monster that Cajun moms use to frighten recalcitrant children to sleep.

I assumed that the Paramafait must be a creature drawn from existing folklore, as per the others in the series to date (Jack the Ripper appears in episode 1, but in folk-monster aspect rather than as an historical character). I was wrong, however, and it’s testament to the writers’ skills that I was so deceived. Here’s commentary from someone much better qualified than I am, Michael Mayes, who blogs as Texas Cryptid Hunter:

I wondered, years after viewing this episode, if paramafait was based on an actual Cajun legend. . . . I’ve looked often but have never found anything on this monster that connects it to anything but the old television show. It appears that paramafait was purely the creation of the Kolchak: The Night Stalker writing team. Having said that, it is entirely possible that the writers took some well-known Cajun folk tales and weaved elements of them together to yield the ultimate swamp monster that was paramafait.

Virginia Gregg as Dr. Hollenbeck.

The incandescent cop in this episode, Captain Joe “Mad Dog” Siska (Wynn), has been at his wife’s behest trying to control his habitual incandescence through group therapy; naturally enough, dealing with Kolchak soon erodes that effort, to spectacular effect. There are nice cameos from Johnny Silver as street musician Morris Shapiro aka “Pepe LaRue,” Ned Glass as a building superintendent and Virginia Gregg as botanist Dr. Hollenbeck. The homicidal monster is played by Richard Kiel, as per the previous episode; this time, however, you see nothing of his face, just the huge body draped in copious moss.

Keenan Wynn as Captain Joe ‘Mad Dog’ Siska.

Episode 10: The Energy Eater

Aired December 13 1974

US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Alex Grasshoff Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Arthur Rowe, Rudolph Borchert Story: Arthur Rowe Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, William Smith, Elaine Giftos, Tom Drake, Michael Strong, Robert Yuro, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, John Alvin, Robert Cornthwaite, John Mitchum.

Joyce Jillson as Diane Lanier.

Newly built Lakefront Hospital seems to be having structural problems. Only plucky investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) recognizes the real truth: the place has been infested by a Matchemonedo, a Native American spirit that feeds on energy—either electrical or protein. With the very considerable assistance of steel boss, modern-day medicine man and inveterate womanizer Jim Elkhorn (Smith) and fetching pathology nurse Janis Eisen (Giftos), Kolchak sets things aright.

William Smith as Jim Elkhorn.

Elaine Giftos as Nurse Janis Eisen.

The hostile cop in this instance, Detective Webster (Yuro), has a fairly underplayed role. Among the various support performances are John Alvin as Dr. Ralph Carrie and Robert Cornthwaite as a physician whom Kolchak briefly uses as cover, Dr. Hartfield.

Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Hartfield.

There’s an enjoyable (albeit innuendo-laden) cameo from Joyce Jillson as one of Jim Elkhorn’s aspirant conquests, Diane Lanier. Also innuendo-laden, though rather sweeter, is Kolchak’s exchange with the would-be-actress PR flack (I think it’s Ella Edwards aka Ellaraino, but it could be Barbara Graham) who welcomes him to the hospital’s opening:

Flack: “I’m just doing this for the exposure. It’s difficult for someone who’s just starting to get exposed.”
Kolchak: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

There are far, far worse fantasy/noir TV series in existence, but at this particular stage in my personal odyssey I was beginning to weary of the makers’ reliance on riffs on a single basic formula.

Episode 11: Horror in the Heights

Aired December 20 1974

US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Michael T. Caffey Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Jimmy Sangster Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Phil Silvers, Murray Matheson, Abraham Sofaer, Benny Rubin, Shelly Novack, Barry Gordon, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, Ned Glass, Jim Goodwin, Eric Server, John Bleifer, Herb Vigran, Naomi Stevens, Robert Karnes.

Someone—or something—is murdering people in a rundown area of Chicago, Roosevelt Heights, and devouring the flesh from the slaughtered bodies. Moreover, someone—or something—is daubing swastikas all over the local walls, which isn’t the most tactful thing to do in a largely Jewish neighborhood. Could the two phenomena be related?

Abraham Sofaer as the elderly Rakshasa-hunter.

Of course they are, as investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) discovers. The swastikas aren’t Nazi symbols but Hindu ones, devices painted there to keep away evil spirits—in particular the flesh-devouring Rakshasa—by the owner (Sofaer) of a newly opened Indian restaurant, an old man who has spent most of his life hunting down and killing these hideous spirits with his trusty crossbow. The particular skill of the Rakshasa lies in its ability to pluck from the mind of its intended victim the image of an authority figure or other trusted person and take on that likeness until . . . c-r-r-r-r-unch!

Phil Silvers as Harry Starman.

Comedian Phil Silvers co-stars as Harry Starman, an early witness of the Rakshasa’s crime spree and in due course a victim himself. Emily Cowles (McDevitt) has a far larger part than usual, which is pleasing.

I have to confess that, tricked into thinking the Paramafait of episode 9 was a genuine folkloric monster, I checked up on the Rakshasa. It’s “real” enough—and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Episode 12: Mr. R.I.N.G.

Aired January 10 1975

US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Gene Levitt Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: L. Ford Neale, John Huff Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Julie Adams, Corinne Michaels, Bert Freed, Donald Barry, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, Henry Beckman, Robert Easton, Maidie Norman, Bruce Powers, Vince Howard, Craig Baxley, Gail Bonney.

At the hush-hush Tyrell Institute, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Avery Walker (uncredited) is murdered by a robot (Baxley) that proceeds to make its escape. Investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin), commissioned to write Walker’s obituary, encounters the robot when it breaks into the Glengarry Mortuary to steal a selection of the cosmetics used to prettify the deceased; he soon makes the connection between the robot and his commission.

Henry Beckman as Senator Stephens.

The trail leads him to Walker’s drunken and not very grieving widow (Adams); to the cyberneticist, Dr. Leslie Dwyer (Michaels), who programmed the robot with, among other things, a survival instinct; and to Senator Duncan Stephens (Beckman), who starts putting pressure on Kolchak’s boss, Tony Vincenzo (Oakland), to kill the story.

Julie Adams as Mrs. Walker.

The story’s told by a Kolchak who’s trying to piece it together even though suffering the aftereffects of the amnesia-inducing drugs the military has been pumping into him in their effort to make him forget the events entirely. It’ll come as no surprise to learn there’s a Frankensteinian subtheme to the tale: the true monsters are not the robot but those who wanted a killer robot for military use—indeed, the robot is trying to educate itself ethically by absorbing works by the likes of Thomas Aquinas. (Kolchak, cornily, sends it into a tizzy by asking it: “What is the difference between right and wrong?”)

Corinne Michaels (aka Corinne Camacho) as Leslie Dwyer.

Both robot and the project of which it’s a part are called R.I.N.G., which stands for Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia. What the heck that means is anybody’s guess.

Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)

US / 96 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Jean Negulesco Pr & Scr: Nunnally Johnson Story: I.A.R. Wylie Cine: Milton Krasner Cast: Shelley Winters, Gary Merrill, Michael Rennie, Keenan Wynn, Evelyn Varden, Warren Stevens, Beatrice Straight, Ted Donaldson, Craig Stevens, Helen Westcott, Bette Davis, Hugh Beaumont, Tom Powers.

Phonecall from a Stranger 0a opener

Phonecall from a Stranger 0b second opener of pair

Iowa lawyer David L. “Dave” Trask (Merrill) leaves his wife Janey (Westcott), plus their two daughters, to take a flight for LA to try to sort his head out; he can no longer live with her or the memory of the “little slip” she committed. He books himself on the plane under the name Joseph H. Collins so that Janey can’t track him down.

Phonecall from a Stranger 1 Janey reads Dave's goodbye note-

Janey (Helen Westcott) reads Dave’s goodbye note.

The weather’s appalling, and the flight suffers various delays. Dave becomes one of a disparate quartet of passengers thrown together by circumstances; Continue reading

o/t: The Clock (1945)

The Wonders in the Dark Romantic Movies Countdown continues. There was a panic last night when a contributor dropped out at the last moment, and, in a fit of stupidity, I said I’d cover. Finding our dusty copy of the movie (thank you, some forgotten yard sale) took the first hour (well, cooking and eating supper took the very first hour!), and then, of course, there was the job of actually watching it, taking notes, etc. The end result is, alas, a visibly rushed job; but, for what it’s worth, here it is.


Wonders in the Dark

The Clock 1

by John Grant

US / 90 minutes / bw / MGM

Dir: Vincente Minnelli (reportedly helped by Fred Zinnemann)

Pr: Arthur Freed

Scr: Robert Nathan, Joseph Schrank

Story: Paul Gallico, Pauline Gallico

Cine: George Folsey

Cast: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, James Gleason, Keenan Wynn, Marshall Thompson, Lucile Gleason, Ruth Brady, Chester Clute.

Corporal Joe Allen (Walker), an Indiana boy home from the war on furlough with no knowledge of where next in the combat zone he’ll be posted, finds himself in New York’s Grand Central Station with no real clue as to what to do with himself. Just then, pretty office worker Alice Maybery (Garland) trips over his foot, breaking the heel on her shoe. The chance encounter leads them to a trip around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in due course out on a date—she standing up her regular squeeze Freddy, her romance with whom, we soon understand…

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Hotel Berlin (1945)

vt Vicki Baum’s Hotel Berlin
US / 98 minutes / bw / Warner Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr: Louis F. Edelman Scr: Jo Pagano, Alvah Bessie Story: Hier Stand ein Hotel (1943; vt Hotel Berlin; vt Hotel Berlin ’43; vt Berlin Hotel; vt Here Stood a Hotel) by Vicki Baum Cine: Carl Guthrie Cast: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, George Coulouris, Henry Daniell, Peter Whitney, Helene Thimig, Steven Geray, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Reicher, Richard Tyler, Paul Panzer, Wolfgang Zilzer.

In some ways a companion piece to CASABLANCA (1942), but set in a swanky hotel in Berlin during the final months of the war rather than the somewhat more bohemian environs of Rick’s Café Américain, this surprisingly neglected movie has strengths of its own, not least an electrifying performance from Peter Lorre in a subsidiary role.

The Gestapo has deduced that Dr. Martin Richter (Dantine), an escapee from Dachau, has taken refuge in the Hotel Berlin, and its officers are combing the place in search of him. Also at the hotel are various high-ranking Nazis, including General Arnim von Dahnwitz (Massey) who, although renowned as the butcher of Kharkov, has recently participated in an unsuccessful coup against Hitler; all the other conspirators have suicided or been executed, and even von Dahnwitz’s old and dear friend Baron von Stetten (Daniell) reckons the man should kill himself before the Gestapo hauls him in. Von Dahnwitz, however, believes there’s a chance for him and his mistress, celebrated actress Lisa (or Liesl, as she’s sometimes called in dialogue) Dorn (King), to escape to Sweden.

Hotel Berlin - Raymond Massey as Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz

Raymond Massey as the hapless Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz.

The fugitive Martin Richter has a network of allies among the hotel wait-staff. One of these, Fritz Renn (Reicher), is soon arrested, but not before he has equipped Martin with a waiter’s coat. Fritz believes that, if Martin can contrive to be serving in Lisa’s suite during the search, the chances are that the searchers, dazzled by her fame, will overlook him. The plan works, although Lisa becomes convinced Martin is a Gestapo spy. Another significant ally is Bellboy #6 (Tyler), a child with courage and fortitude beyond his years, the son of underground leader Walter Baumler (Zilzer).

Hotel Berlin - Richter (Dantine) and Prof Koenig

The fugitive Martin Richter (Helmut Dantine) and the world-weary turncoat Professor Koenig (Peter Lorre).

The resident of the room next to Lisa’s suite is one-time Nobel prizewinner Professor Johannes Koenig (Lorre), who Continue reading