Tag Archives: 1936


Coming Soon…

“From caves and sewers come The Slime People! They kill, kill, kill! There’s no escape from The Slime People! Nothing can stop the horror of The Slime People! For a new adventure in terror, live through the wild blood bath of The Slime People!”

And Now, Our Feature Presentation!

The Ghost (directed by Riccardo Frida) stars in another homicidal adulteress role. Hyped (misleadingly) as a sequel to Frida and Steele’s successful The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962), The Ghost, is woefully predictable and is not this director’s best work. However,  Steele is nearly at her best, and puts to rest any questions regarding her status as a genre cult icon.

Terminally ill invalid doc John Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is obsessed with seances, while his wife Margaret (Steele) carryies on a torrid affair with her husband’s physician Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin). John has a loyal governess in Catherine (reliable character actress Harriet Medin; a regular and memorable as the POTUS in Death Race 2000) who suspects that her mistress is up to no good. Impatient for John’s natural demise, Margaret plots with Charles to whip up a batch of poison. The dirty deed carried out, the philandering couple don’t count on a hitch in the will and an avenging ghost before their inevitable comeuppance.

Poster for The Ghost (1963)Frida’s ho-hum scripting plods, but The Ghost is salvaged by Steele’s malevolent magnetism (Raffaele Masciocchi’s camera swoons over her). Flavorfully-filmed, unnerving vignettes include an animated wheelchair descending the stairs (prefiguring The Changeling), a nightie-clad Steele wielding a razor, a scheming feline Medin ascending the stairs, flaming annihilation, and a magical finale with betrayals galore. The Ghost is probably the only film in history that has you rooting for a murderess in a fur coat.


“Take a break. Add to your enjoyment of the show with the taste-tempting array of special treats available to you at the refreshment stand. Everything to temp your palate… And everything is fresh… and of finest quality. Pep Up! Fresh Up!  at our refreshment stand!”

“Let the light of faith shine upon you and your love ones. This week and every week … worship together in the church of your choice. ”

“If you should accidentally tear speakers off… turn it in at refreshment building, box office or to any attendant. ”

“Is everybody happy? Then let’s go… it’s showtime!”

It’s Showtime!

Dead Eyes of London (directed by Alfred Vohrer ) is a smartly paced gem in the German “Krimi” genre. Based on the Edgar Wallace novel, it’s a notably superior remake of 1939’s The Dark Eyes of London (directed by Wallace Summers, which in itself is a slightly underrated opus in the canon, although hindered by ill-fitting comedy relief). This Vohrer remake improves on the simplified original with an aptly complex script by Egon Eis. Vohrer, who practically made a career of cinematic Wallace adaptations, has an affection for the material which is contagious.

Still from The Dead Eyes of London (1963)Hairy, blind, -like brute (Ady Berber) dispatches victims galore, frequently in the London fog, choreographed effectively to the famous first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Inspector Holt (krimi favorite Joachim Fuchsberger) finds the victims in the Thames. They all have braille writing on their persons and, it turns out, sizable insurance policies.

Heinz Funk’s idiosyncratic score aptly echoes a cast of equally idiosyncratic characters, including Eddi Arent as a knitting Scotland Yard sergeant, and so-slimy-he-leaves-a-trail (and also wears-his-sunglasses-at-night) . It’s outlandishly violent and spiked with queer humor (a mouthy water-pick view, a killer boob tube, a voyeuristic crucifix, a blowtorch-wielding priest, and a skull with smokey treat treasures). Vohrer makes memorable use of stylish sets and costume design, enhanced by Karl Lob’s crepuscular lensing. It’s probably a notch shy of being a contender for the List, but it’s highly recommended for the locals.

“Please remember to place the speaker on the post when you leave the theater.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature DVD available from Sinister Cinema.


People often say that we have lost Christ, we have lost Mary. Living in the 21st century, I am, perhaps, more concerned that we have lost Chaplin‘s Tramp.

Easter is not Mel Gibson’s blood-soaked sadism posed as religious dogma. Rather, it’s Fred Astaire and Judy Garland strolling down an Easter Parade. Christmas is not Cecil B. DeMille pious kitsch. Christmas is personified by the Little Tramp trying to find existential depth within an increasingly plasticized, dumbed-down modern Western world. Indeed, there may be a bit of poetic irony in Charles Chaplin’s exiting this mortal coil on Christmas day itself, in 1977.

Chaplin was not a religious man. Yet, his Tramp is the most religious and iconic figure in all of cinema. Chaplin seemed to be partly aware of this. The late film historian Leslie Halliwell reported that when Cecil B. DeMille was casting for The King of Kings (1927), Chaplin approached DeMille, offering to play the role of Christ: “I am Jewish, I am an atheist, and I am a comedian. I would be prefect for the part because I could play it totally objective.” DeMille had Chaplin thrown out of his office. Although Chaplin was probably right in that assessment, we can be grateful that DeMille rejected the casting. King of Kings may be one of the worst examples of  1920’s Hollywood. Of course, Chaplin exaggerated his beliefs in the interest of self-promotion. He was not Jewish and his atheism is debatable. The clown was, predominantly, anti-clerical.

With the first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927), silent cinema was history. Someone forgot to tell Chaplin. He was still making silent films nearly a decade later. Many commentators have noted Modern Times (1936) is anything but modern. This film was a last, in many respects, for Chaplin: his last silent film and the final indisputable appearance of the Tramp. (There is a debate over whether Chaplin’s Barber from 1940’s The Great Dictator was really the Tramp, or not).

Still from Modern TimesModern Times, originally titled “The Masses,” is not completely silent. The Factory task master talks through a Orwellian screen.The Billows feeding machine speaks through a “pre-recorded device.” Chaplin sings a gibberish song near the finale.  However, these do not add up to a “talkie.” Rather, it adds up to a silent with clever, carefully chosen, cartoonish sound effects.

As a social commentary, Modern Times is derivative, borrowing from , among others. As a romantic comedy, it’s also derivative, recycling numerous gags and plot elements from Chaplin’s Mutual shorts. It has, rightly, been pointed out that Modern Times is like a feature-length compendium of those shorts. However, the screen presences of Chaplin and  are imbued with such authentic personalities that it somehow seems fresh.

In Run to the Mountain, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote of Modern Times: Continue reading CHAPLIN’S MODERN TIMES (1936) CRITERION COLLECTION


In his next to last film, Tod Browning revisits the same territory as The Unholy Three (1925), with a surreal twist.  The Devil Doll (1936) is based on Abraham Merritt’s novel “Burn, Witch, Burn,” with a screenplay by Guy Endore, Erich von Stroheim, and Browning.  Lionel Barrymore, who had a long collaborative history with Browning, stars as escaped convict Paul Lavond.

17 years earlier, Lavond had been sent to prison after being framed by three banking partners.  Lavond has escaped with a fellow convict, Marcel (Henry Walthall, another Browning regular) who just happens to be a mad scientist.  Together, they make it to Marcel’s home and wife, Malita (the hammy Rafaela Ottiano), who also is, conveniently, a mad scientist.  Marcel dies, but not before showing Lavond the scientific discovery that he and Malita have been working on for years.  They are able to shrink animals and people to a sixth of their normal size.  Considering all the problems with world food shortage, anyone could see the value of this discovery (!).  Anyone except Lavond, that is, who is a bit leery when he finds out the shrinking process wipes out memory cells and the subject’s willpower.

Still from The Devil Doll (1936)The three bankers who betrayed him are a new Unholy Three, a reprehensible trinity driven by love of money.  Lavond, Malita and Marcel are three societal outcasts who are despised and rejected.  Browning is committed to making sure we root for the underdog; quite the reversal of contemporary, evolved reality shows that deify the affluent top dogs.

Seeing a new potential vehicle for his revenge, Lavond is accompanied by Malita with a case full of shrunken critters in hand.  Lavond sets out on a Count of Monte Cristo mission, but considering this is a Tod Browning production, Lavond hardly dons a chivalrous persona like Robert Donat in the 1934 film.  Rather, he gets in old lady drag (a la Lon Chaney in The Unholy Three) and takes on the identity of Madame Mandilip, proprietress.

With a couple of six inch Tweedledees, Lavond, in his best Sweeney Todd fashion, opens up a doll shop (rather than a parrot shop or pie shop), exacts revenge, steals jewelery (which he hides in a toy, just like in Unholy Three) and sets out to find the holy child: his long lost daughter, Lorraine ( Maureen O’ Sullivan, aka Tarzan’s Jane). This is yet another frequently used Browning subplot of a severed father/daughter relationship.

What makes The Devil Doll unique is the science fiction angle and a female mad scientist in Ottiano (who has an Elsa Lanchester like streak in her hair).  By the time of The Devil Doll, Browning was comfortable with the sound medium and the film benefits from this newfound familiarity, fluid camera work, and the charmingly rudimentary FX for the incredible shrunken people.

As Lavond, Barrymore delivers a subdued, controlled performance.  In drag, Barrymore raises the ham meter considerably.  Although a sympathetic character, Barrymore conveys genuine creepiness in the revenge scenes as he enforces his will through the dolls by intense concentration.

Ironically, to proves his innocence, Lavond must again go into exile at the film’s end and must forever forsake his daughter.  The Devil Doll is a surrealist delight in its sheer lunacy.