Summer of Forgotten Horror – The Shadow Murder Mystery Shorts

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Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 12: The Shadow Mystery Shorts (1931-1932)
Cast:      Frank Readick as The Voice of The Shadow

Burglar to the Rescue (1931)
Story by Herman Landon
Screenplay by George Cochrane
Produced by Stanley Bergerman
Directed by George Cochrane

House of Mystery (1931)
Based on The House of Death by Judson P. Phillips
Screenplay by Samuel Freedman
Produced by Stanley Bergerman
Directed by Kurt Neumann

The Circus Show-Up (1932)
Story by Leslie T. White
Screenplay by Harold Tarshis
Produced by Stanley Bergerman
Directed by Lewis Seiler

Shadow titlePlot: In these two-reel mystery shorts, The Shadow serves as narrator for quick mystery dramas. In Burglar to the Rescue, a banker is using bank funds to spoil his mistress when a previous victim of his scheme breaks out of prison for revenge. In House of Mystery, it’s a classic tale of an extramarital affair and retribution…or is it? And finally, in The Circus Show-Up, a trapeze artist is murdered and a detective must determine which of the circus folk committed the crime.

Personal Thoughts: Before Orson Welles brought The Shadow to life on radio in 1937 and even before Walter B. Gibson created the character for The Shadow magazine in 1931, The Shadow was a narrator of crime and mystery thrillers on the Detective Story Hour.  The radio program was launched in 1930 with The Shadow as host of the stories. It was only after listeners began asking for a magazine that the publishers, Street and Smith, launched The Shadow magazine and the character began to feature in the stories. In 1931, Universal Pictures launched a series of six two-reel murder mystery shorts with The Shadow as narrator. Frank Readick, who was the voice of The Shadow on air, is uncredited as the voice in these shorts. However, I am personally doubtful that Readick did the voice in all three that I watched. It sounds like his voice in the first short, Burglar to the Rescue, but the voice is quite different in the other two. It is more likely that another actor assumed the role once production moved from New York to Hollywood with the second short. It’s also doubtful he provided the shadowy figure we see on screen. The Shadow plays a bigger role in the first short, with reduced screen time in the other two. Don’t expect too much of the familiar “crimes does not pay” avenger here as he comes off more like The Whistler. That said, I found these shorts actually quite entertaining and well worth the time tracking down. The stories are rather simplistic but with less than 20 minutes to tell the tale, there wasn’t enough time for more than what they offered.

Shadow 1Trivia:

  • When Orson Welles took over the expanded role in the 1937-1938 radio season, he did not do the voice on the opening and closing narration. Frank Readick’s recorded voice was used. In the fall of 1938, Bill Johnstone took over the lead role and did new opening and closing narrations.
  • The Shadow returned to the screen in 1937 as the main character in The Shadow Strikes. He was last seen in the 1994 Alec Baldwin movie. Despite an announced film from Sam Raimi, the film project has been canceled following the inability to create a script worthy of The Shadow.

Shadow 2Availability:

  • Never released commercially, these short subjects are rare but available on a DVD from Sinister Cinema. I was legitimately surprised by the good quality considering how rare these shorts are. For $13, these are well worth adding to your collection.

Summer of Forgotten Horror – Arsenic and Old Lace (1962)

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Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 11: Arsenic and Old Lace (1962)
Cast:      Boris Karloff as Johnathan Brewster
Tony Randall as Mortimer Brewster
Tom Bosley as Teddy Brewster
Dorothy Stickney as Abby Brewster
Mildred Natwick as Martha Brewster

Based on the stage play by Joseph Kesselring
Screenplay by Robert Hartung
Directed by George Schaefer

KarloffPlot: The Brewster sisters are two kindly old ladies who invite everyone into their home for a cup of tea and conversation. However, for the lonely traveler, they’ll break out the elderberry wine. But don’t worry, they’ll make sure you get a Christian funeral in the Panama Canal in their basement.

Personal Thoughts: Everyone should know the classic stage play tale of the two old women who kill travelers with their special elderberry wine laced with arsenic. The 1944 film starring Cary Grant is so much fun to watch but I’ve always wanted to see Boris Karloff recreate his stage role, something he was denied of doing in the 40s. Several years ago, I became aware of a 1962 Hallmark Hall of Fame television special where Karloff recreates his role of Johnathan Brewster. Having finally seen it, I can say it was quite enjoyable. It’s great to see Karloff having fun with the role and Tony Randall turns in a great performance as well. Tom Bosley is the crazy Teddy Roosevelt wannabe charging up the stairs and does a fine job as well. With the original Hallmark commercials intact, this made for a very fun 90 minutes. It was apparently done live, so it comes off a little stagey but considering it’s based on a stage play, it works incredibly well.

RandallTrivia:

  • There have been countless versions of this over the years. The 1944 theatrical film version with Cary Grant is the most well-known and while Raymond Massey did well in the role of Johnathan Brewster, Karloff would have been better. However, the movie was actually filmed in 1941 while Karloff was still doing the original stage play and was unable to do both.
  • This TV version was made during Karloff’s run as host and sometimes star of Thriller.

Availability:

  • Never released commercially, this version of Arsenic and Old Lace is available on DVD through a third-party seller on Amazon. It appears to be a VHS dub and it’s definitely not a remastered version but considering the source material and how rare it is, the flaws are easy to overlook. Highly recommend Karloff fans add this to their collection.

Summer of Forgotten Horror – Heart of Darkness (1958)

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Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 10: Heart of Darkness (1958)
Cast:     Roddy McDowell as Charles Marlow
Inga Swenson as Maria
Eartha Kitt as The Queen
Boris Karloff as Kurtz

Based on the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Screenplay by Stewart Stern
Directed by Ronald Winston

KarloffPlot: Charles Marlow is a man on a journey up the Congo to find his adoptive father who has disappeared. Along the way, he discovers his internal struggles about his love for his adoptive sister in this interpretive version of the classic tale.

Personal Thoughts: Based on the 1899 novella written by Joseph Conrad, this televised version varies quite a bit from the original source material. The novella, originally published as a three-part serial in Blackwood’s Magazine, followed Charles Marlow on a voyage up the Congo in search of ivory trader Kurtz. This is a 90-minute production as part of the Playhouse 90 television series. Therefore, a lot of content had to be written out or condensed. Stewart Stern adaptation added a back story where Marlow was Kurtz’ adopted son and the struggles he had with a forbidden love for his adopted sister Maria. It isn’t until the final act that the story even comes close to resembling Conrad’s work. McDowell turns in a great performance as Marlow and Karloff is fun as Kurtz, saying the iconic final words, “The Horror! The Horror!” However, the production comes off as a poor stage play, even by 1958 standards, and the story is admittedly a little hard to follow with Stern attempting his best to recreate Shakespeare when he would have been suited to stick to Conrad’s original story.

Roddy McDowellTrivia:

  • Heart of Darkness was adapted again in 1979 in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, changing the setting from the Congo to Vietnam.
  • The most recent adaptation is a forgotten made-for-TNT 1993 television version that starred Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz.

Availability:

  • Never released commercially, Heart of Darkness is available through a third party seller on Amazon. However, unless you are a purist Karloff fan looking to add to your collection, watch this one for free on YouTube. The quality is a little rough but it features original commercials from channel 2 WCBS in New York which enhance the experience.

Dread Media – Invisible Agent (1942)

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Invisible AgentThis week on the Dread Media podcast, I take a look at what I think is the one of the better of the Invisible Man sequels, Invisible Agent (1942). Peter Lorre turns in another classic performance, if not a little politically incorrect. Take a listen to episode 466, check out the trailer on YouTube, some cool Svengoolie facts and add it to your collection. It doesn’t get any better than a Universal Horror film!

Summer of Forgotten Horror – Things Happen at Night (1948)

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Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 9: Things Happen at Night (1948)
Cast:      Gordon Harker as Joe Harris
Alfred Drayton as Wilfred Prescott
Gwyneth Vaughn as Audrey Prescott
Olga Lindo as Hilda Prescott
Wylie Watson as Watson the butler

Based on the play The Poltergeist by Frank Harvey Jr.
Screenplay by St. John Legh Clowes
Directed by Francis Searle

Things Happen 1Plot: A young girl is possessed by a poltergeist as strange things happen in the home, such as coal flying about, lamps being dropped and objects moving on their own. While Wilfred Prescott doubts the seriousness of the situation, others work towards solving the mystery including a ghost buster and an insurance investigator who is out to prove none of it is real.

Personal Thoughts: The best I can say about this movie is that it is harmless. It isn’t a bad film nor is it very good. Mostly, nothing really seems to happen. It’s as if a bunch of actors gathered on a set one day and decided to have some fun with the camera. Perhaps I went into this one with higher expectations based on the description. It’s also possible that I didn’t see the best parts as the version I watched clocked in at just under an hour while IMDB lists it as a 79-minute film. I didn’t hate it but it’s very forgettable.

Things Happen 2Trivia:

  • Neither director Francis Searle or writer St. John Legh Clowes are remembered for much in the United States but had lengthy, if not spectacular, careers in the UK.
  • There is a credit for a song entitled “First of Forever” as sung by Marilyn Williams. This did not appear in the version I watched.

Availability:

  • Never released commercially, this is another rare film you’ll have to search for. The print I saw is a little rough but watchable. You can catch it on YouTube if you so desire.

Author Stephen D. Sullivan Wins Scribe Award for Manos Novel

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ManosCongratulations to fellow monster kid and award-winning author Stephen D. Sullivan! Last week at the San Diego Comicon, the Scribe Awards were announced and Mr. Sullivan won for Adapted Novel – General and Speculative. His novel, Manos: The Hands of Fate, is an adaptation of the 1966 cult classic film from director Harold P. Warren and was released by Walkabout Publishing. It is currently available on Amazon.  Manos: The Hands of Fate is the the first of two novelizations based on the film and features an introduction by Jackey Neyman Jones, star of the original film. And if by some chance you’ve lived under a rock, you can watch it on YouTube but you’ve been warned. Way to go Steve! I’m sure the Master is pleased!