Tag Archives: 1959

READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)

Submission for the reader review writing contest #4 by Shane Wilson

“In the final count, I think we must have buzzed 20,000,000 behinds.” – William Castle

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman (the older brother of “Dobie Gillis” star Dwyane Hickman)

PLOT: There are two plots running simultaneously in The Tingler. In the first, Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) frees the parasite that lives in the human spine and grows when the host experiences fear, and must save the unsuspecting public from the menace he’s unleashed by stressing the importance of screaming.  In the other plot, film director William Castle raises his penchant for outrageous gimmicks to new heights by running shocks of electricity through auditorium seats.

Still from The Tingler (1959)

BACKGROUND:

  • As was his wont, director/producer Castle supported the release of The Tingler with several gimmicks, including hiring actresses to play nurses to stand outside the theater and planting audience members to scream and faint at key moments in the picture.  His piece de resistance was called “Percepto.”  For the theatrical release, Castle arranged for a handful of auditorium seats to be wired with war-surplus electric vibrators.  At a key moment during the film’s climax, the projectionist would activate the zappers, buzzing unsuspecting viewers (or eagerly-hoping viewers) with a jolt of electricity, thereby breaking the fourth wall in a way 3-D never could.
  • William Castle earned his reputation for his attention-getting publicity stunts. Beneath his huckster’s heart, however, lays a surprising credibility. Castle served as assistant director on Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, and produced the horror classic Rosemary’s Baby.
  • Directors Stuart Gordon and John Waters both included The Tingler in their Top Ten lists for “Sight and Sound”‘s 2002 Top 10 poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A blank projection screen, onto which ambles the shadow of a large rubber insect puppet, followed immediately by blackness, the sound of faux audience members shrieking their heads off, and the unmistakable command of Vincent Price: “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: William Castle always dabbles in oddness. The Tingler’s means of engaging the audience certainly ups the ante in this regard. Whereas previous auditorium gimmicks were content to merely startle theater patrons, The Tingler was now actively complicit in harming the audience, by attempting to electrocute select viewers.  On another level, though, The Tingler represents a fascinating metatextual experience. On the one hand, Percepto pushes the film beyond the boundaries of the screen by affecting the audience physically, rather than through the usual avenues of picture and soundtrack.  The movie not only breaks the fourth wall, but actually rebuilds it behind the audience. Consider Price’s admonition: “The Tingler is loose in this theater!”  He means the very theater we are sitting in.  We have suddenly assumed the role of the audience in the film-inside-the-film, and for a moment, we are actually part of the action, not merely in front of it.  Castle’s prank destroys the proscenium.  Many films play games with the insurmountable distance between the screen and the seats.  Castle is happy to throw it away entirely.

COMMENTS: Vincent Price’s legend is built on a reputation for portraying elegant, velvet- Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)

THE MUMMY (1959)

This post is part of an ongoing series on Hammer horror director Terence Fisher.

The mummy, as a character, quickly became bland. In 1932, director Karl Freund, writer John L. Balderstein, and stars Boris Karloff and Zita Johnann made a poetic film for the Universal horror cannon, re-working the story of Dracula in Egyptian guise.  The Mummy’s Hand (1940) starring cowboy actor (and later Captain Marvel) Tom Tyron, was the first and only real decent of the Universal mummy sequels.  Increasingly feeble films followed Hand, all starring a rotund mummy in the form of a disinterested Lon Chaney, Jr.  Dating back to the original, the plot rarely varied throughout the series.  An Egyptian princess reincarnates in the form of a twentieth century woman, only to have her ancient lover come back, a tad lethargic, gauze and all, to reclaim her.

Oddly, Francis Ford Coppola lazily utilized the mummy’s  reincarnated dead lover plot for his version of Dracula (1992), which, otherwise, was a (mostly) well done, imaginative version of that story.  In 1999 the mummy was revived again in a dumbed down, lame, testosterone-laden joke of a movie starring Brendan Frazier.  That film also spawned numerous sequels.  True to form,the succeeding mummy entries were even worse, which, in this case, isn’t saying anything.

Still from The Mummy (1959)In between the 1932 and 1999 films, Hammer Studios predictably took a stab at the character.  They spared no expense in soliciting the talents of Terence Fisher, along with top stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  Where they did spare expense was in an original story. The Mummy (1959) liberally borrowed elements from the formulaic Universal series, and reincarnated the reincarnated princess plot.  Briskly paced direction from Fisher, along with sumptuous color from Hammer cinematographer Jack Asher, almost overcomes the paint-by-number plot, which screenwriter Jimmy Sangster tried valiantly to inject with his own sensibilities.  Of course, the medium of film is more than mere storytelling and The Mummy is a film that tries to go a long way to prove that; because, basic rehashed story aside, the film itself is no lumbering undead.  It may be Fisher’s most energetic work.

Peter Cushing, as Dr. Banning, is in enthusiastic form.  No one can get strangled like Cushing, and his near-death experience and confrontation with co-star Lee in Banning’s study  is pure red-blooded Fisher, ranking with the acting duo’s battle in Horror of Dracula.   Equally interesting is  when Cushing’s Banning antagonizes the antagonist in the most proven way imaginable; he insults the other guy’s religion.  Ironically, it is Banning, rather than the mummy, who limps here, the result of an untended accident in Egypt.  Christopher Lee is the darling among genre fans.  He is far more discussed than  his co-star.  As iconic an actor as Lee is, his favored status is something of a slight to Cushing, since the latter is, normally, the  superior actor.  However, in this film, the acting honors are a draw, with Lee giving an admirably nuanced, minimalist performance as the title character.  Lee’s Kharis cannot compete with Karloff’s masterful Imhotep, but Lee invests genuine pathos, dread, and menace into the role. Yvonne Furneaux is striking as the Kharis/Banning love interest, but not much is required of her other than letting her hair down and shouting “No!”

Kharis’  resurrection from the swamp is beautifully photographed and effectively conveys robust dread.  Another well-shot sequence is the mummy’s entrance into an asylum to exact revenge on Banning’s father.  Franz Reizenstein’s score expertly accentuates the film, matching Fisher’s bloodied full moon milieu.  The Mummy reminds me a bit of The  Guns of Navarone (1961).  You know what’s around the corner, but that hardly stops the enjoyment of getting there.

CUBAN STORY (1959) AND CUBAN REBEL GIRLS (1959)

In the late 1950s movie star Errol Flynn owned a movie theater in Havana. Not the beautifully chiseled Flynn from The Adventures of Robin Hood, but a fat 50 year old has-been, yellowed with cirrhosis, eaten up with syphilis and dodging numerous creditors, including the IRS, with his latest teen age girlfriend: fourteen year old Beverly Aadland. Flynn, probably feeling his self-fulfilled hour (which predictably came shortly after) wanted to sow his macho oats one last time in the thick of the Cuban revolution (clearly, he wasn’t up to it).

Flynn, with Producer Victor Pahlen, made this pseudo-documentary about Flynn’s meeting Castro, although this meeting is only seen in photographs.

The film proclaims Flynn a sympathizer with Castro’s Batista Regime (paradoxically, he was also posthumously charged with being a fascist sympathizer during WWII). Most likely, this was a feeble effort, on the part of Pahlen and Flynn, to cash in on being in the right place at the right time.

Cuban Story [AKA The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution] was only screened once, in Moscow, and disappeared until Pahlen’s daughter released it the early 2000s. This utterly bizarre film begins with Flynn drunkenly narrating (more like a strained slur), from a cheap office, something about “freedom fighters.” Flynn, with long cigarette hanging from his mouth, picks up a globe to show viewers “‘where Cuba is” and then throws the globe off camera. It can be heard bouncing off the wall. The remaining film narration (credited to Flynn, although it clearly is not) is frequently incoherent, pro-Castro, and pro-terrorist.

According to Pahlen’s film, Flynn made his way through the heart of the revolution to meet Castro, but the only footage of the extremely soused, dissipated Flynn is of his escorting women into one of George Raft’s casinos, to gamble with them and Beverly. The rest of the film is a collage of seemingly unrelated, and often shocking, but historically valuable footage. Silent images of slain “comrades” and the savage killing of young men in the streets as Batista police casually observe are unsettling.

Cuban Story is redeeming in its historical value and its unintentional strangeness, both in Continue reading CUBAN STORY (1959) AND CUBAN REBEL GIRLS (1959)

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART THREE: RIDE LONESOME (1959)

Ride Lonesome (1959) was the first of Boetticher’s “Ranown” cycle to utilize the new CinemaScope process, and it does so impressively. The rich color and expressionist framing of desert canyon rock would only be topped in the series’ final entry, Comanche Station. Most fans of the cycle consider Ride Lonesome the best entry. While that remains debatable, it is certainly, in terms of composition and pacing, the most perfectly structured. It is also the most elegiac and, surprisingly, optimistic.

Still from Ride Lonesome (1959)Amongst a memorable cast, Lee Van Cleef etches out an unforgettable, albeit brief, performance as the murderous brother of  James Best (later known as the bumbling deputy in the TV series Dukes of Hazard) , who is prisoner to Randolph Scott’s bounty hunter. Naturally, things are more complex than they seem. Scott wants Cleef to catch up with them and for a very personal, startling reason: Cleef hanged Scott’s wife years before. Along the journey Scott meets up with the beautiful Karen Steele, and a pair of pseudo-outlaws in Pernell Roberts (Trapper John M.D) and a shockingly young (his first film). Roberts and Coburn want Best for themselves, since turning him in, dead or alive, will gain them amnesty from their crimes. Naturally, there is sexual tension between Steele and Scott, yet the potential for relationship is doomed by Scott’s obsessive thirst for revenge.

Ride Lonesome is, easily, Boetticher’s most optimistic film (as optimistic as Boetticher can be and still be Boetticher). Scott’s eventual handing over of Best to the two repentant outlaws is a pleasant surprise. The villains are hardly two-dimensional. Cleef, having committed a heinous crime, earnestly begs for his brother’s life, only to fall on Scott’s deaf ears.

The four males desire and vie for the widowed Steele (her husband having been murdered by the Apaches). At first she is mere ornamentation, as the women in the Boetticher films sometimes tend to be. Later, Steele’s character somewhat evolves into mother, latent lover, comforter, but short of fully developed person. Full development of female characters and weak scoring are the two biggest flaws in the otherwise outstanding Ranown cycle.

Boetticher still finds time for adroit comic touches amidst the overwhelming ironies and the final, haunting, lyrical image of the burning tree that Scott’s wife died on. Steele leaves her protector there, in the desert, alone. He will never be happy, nor find contentment. Indeed, one is left with the ominous feeling that the ravaged Scott himself will die there, never leaving this spot. This final shot sears in the memory.

To summarize: Ride Lonesome is as optimistic as Boetticher can be and still be Boetticher.

Next week: the final and poetic Comanche Station.