Archive for July, 2021

The Killer Shrews 1959

THE KILLER SHREWS (1959)

Sometimes, as we all know, scientific experiments go wrong with disastrous consequences – this is the pretext for many horror / monster / creature films of this era but we loved them.

This one tells the story of a scientist who created the killer shrews

Good Special effects

killer

To set the scene, arriving on a remote island Captain Thorn Sherman (James Best) and his first mate, Rook Griswold (Henry Dupree) are there to deliver supplies to scientist, Dr. Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet).  

Cragis is on the island with his daughter, Ann (1957 Miss Universe Ingrid Goude), her fiance Jerry Farrell (Ken Curtis who also produced the film), and research assistant Dr. Radford Baines and servant, Mario (Alfred DeSoto).  

The group are on the island conducting experiments to prevent overpopulation – should that ever become a problem.  The Doctor’s theory revolves around the notion that if we had slower metabolisms and were half our size we’d live longer lives and the planet would survive on less.

Rook and the Captain approach the remote island
Rook and the Captain approach the remote island

On a normal day Captain Sherman would simply drop off the supplies and leave, but he and Rook become stuck there because of adverse weather conditions.

We soon see that Ann seems really nervous and Jerry Farrell is carrying a rifle and seems jumpy.  

We then learn the story of the Doctor’s experiments after Sherman accompanies the group to the house for a drink.

Rook stays behind with the boat.

Double Bill of Horror

It turns out that the serum that’s supposed to make mankind smaller and slower has been tested on small, rat-looking creatures and a few of them have mutated into GIANT KILLER SHREWS!

Dr. Radford Baines explains all about the shrews and the experimentation

In any case, Dr. Cragis’ shrews have mutated to pick-up all the bad characteristics of their species, which apparently includes developing both a horrendous over bite and a voracious appetite for flesh – human flesh at that.

These shrews also mate like rabbits and the few that escaped from the laboratory now number in the hundreds.  The main problem arises when it seems that the only food source left on the island  is the people!  

The Captain is now trapped inside the house with the others because the shrews will attack if they try to get back to the boat.  Meanwhile, little by little the shrews eat through the walls to get inside the house.

Landing on the Island – unaware of what terrors are ahead
A tense and frightening Scene

Now in constant danger the men take turns staying up through the night with guns in hand to kill any shrew who might get inside.  

The first one killed by the shrews is Rook Griswold when he attempts to reach the house during the night.  

Anyway Mario dies, and we soon learn, due to poison when he is bitten by the shrew on the shin because as the Doctor explains he’d tried to kill the beasts with poison, but they mutated to accept it.  

Dr. Baines also dies as a result of a shrew bite.  As the fast-acting poison works its way through his system he manages to type a list of all his symptoms before he keels over approximately 30 seconds later.  Now the group must not only fear being eaten alive, they have to avoid a mere scratch!

As daybreak approaches shrews come and shrews go, but the majority of the animals are out there and the tension builds.  

We do get some relief as Ann and the Captain have developed feelings for each other.  This in itself, leads anxiety for everyone because Jerry Farrell, Ann’s fiance doesn’t take to the flirting.  

A violent and Frightening end for Rook Griswold

Now that the house has been breached Captain Sherman, Dr. Cragis and Ann decide the only way to survive is to make it to the boat.  Farrell, now crazy with jealousy and fear decides to stay behind and fend for himself, which proves a bad decision, as he becomes fodder for the shrews.  

Meanwhile, the other three come up with an ingenious way to make it out of the house, across the island, into the ocean and onto the boat.  What they do is take empty barrels of oil, cut holes into them so as to see where they’re going, turn the barrels upside down and tie them together.  Each person then gets inside a barrel and walks that way towards the boat.  It’s very effective, if not without its perils as the terrifying shrews pursue them all the way.

Ann looks to where she's duck-walking...
Ann looks to where she’s walking…
teeth
The shrew is looking back at her

Luckily the oil barrel trick works and the three – miraculously – make it onto the boat – and live happily ever after.  The shrews are left to eat themselves on the remote island.

A colorised version of The Killer Shrews was released on DVD as a double feature with ‘The Giant Gil Monster’ which was made at the same time as The Killer Shrews and by the same producer and director.

ABOVE – The Colorised Trailer – Excellent

Both of these films got a National and International Release. The ‘Killer Shrews’ was made on a budget of 123,000 US Dollars and took over One Million Dollars at the Box Office – pretty good going.

I have seen much of the film and have to say it is well done and likeable. I certainly like the film.

They must escape ABOVE

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No Royal Road – David Farrar’s Autobiography

David Farrar wrote his Autobiography a little early maybe – in 1947 – and it does cover ‘Black Narcissus’ but not the later films – including his Hollywood ones and his trips over there with his family.

No Royal Road – the only picture I could find and not a very good one

This is not an easy book to get hold of – and in fairness, I haven’t read it but am given to understand that he was a man with a high opinion of himself.

I recall the story of a school trip by the Old Monrovians to Denham Film Studios where the film ‘Mr Perrin and Mr Traill’ was being made which also starred Marius Goring and Greta Gynt. Apparently all the actors particularly Edward Chapman were very helpful and friendly with the boys but David Farrar was not.

He appeared looking dis-interested, had a picture taken, and then just strode off and that’s the last the schoolboys saw of him.

He does come over as superior and supercilious and unfriendly.

When he retired from films, and after his wife died he went to live near his daughter in South Africa. He didn’t keep in contact with any of his colleagues in the film industry – and appeared to have few friends

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Radio Plays from Hollywood Stars

In the Forties and early Fifties Radio drama in the USA had a huge audience with up to 50 million listeners at times – enormous by today’s standards. Consequently many of the stars found it very rewarding to take on roles there

One of the most famous actors in films at the time, also made a great success of starring on Radio in drama and Serials / Series – was Ronald Colman.

Like many top film stars, Ronald Colman reprised several of his film roles for radio plays on Lux Radio Theatre andThe Screen Guild Theatre.

These included “The Prisoner of Zenda”, “None Shall Part Us”, “The Juggle of Notre Dame”, “Libel!”, “Rebecca”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “The Talk Of The Town”, “Lost Horizon”, “Random Harvest” and others.

One of Colman’s most dramatic pre-War radio appearances was on Mar 16, 1940 in an adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game”.

During the War Ronald Colman lent his support to Radio Tributes to the King and Queen in 1939.

Once America joined the War, he served on the front lines of the “Battle of Hollywood”.

One of Ronald Colman and his wife Benita Hume’s best loved contributions to Old Time Radio was as a part of a running joke on theJack Benny Programme.

On the Dec 9, 1945, broadcast, Jack is invited to dinner at his supposed next door neighbours, the Colman’s (in real life, the Benny’s and the Colman’s lived a few blocks apart). The joke went on for years, and included Jack getting robbed after he “borrowed” Ronald Colman’s Oscar statuette. It was such a popular routine that Jack revived it for his television programme using James Stewart and his wife as the neighbours.

Ronald Colman, his wife Benita Hulme and Jack Benny

The Colman’s had so much fun doing comedy with Jack Benny that when  writer Don Quinn came up with a new project, they were all ears. Quinn had written his ‘Halls of Ivy’ to star Gale Gordon and Edna Best but when the Ronald Colman’s found out about the concept, they jumped at it. 

The Halls of Ivy’ ran for 109 episodes on the radio, including “The Goya Bequest” which Ronald Colman wrote himself.

The show was more than light sitcom fare, featuring all kinds of stories including an unwed pregnancy – daring for the day.

It then went on to Televsion where thirty eight episodes followed – ‘The Halls of Ivy’ featured on CBS TV, mostly using scripts adapted from the radio programmes.

A Radio play from 1935

Ronald Colman passed away in May, 1958, battling acute emphysema. At the time of his death, he was contracted to star in MGM’s Village of the Damned. The film was eventually made by a British Production company starring George Sanders.

Sanders also married the widowed Benita Hume.

In England a couple tune in ABOVE

An exciting Scene

Top Stars played their famous roles for Radio – ABOVE and BELOW

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Stunt Men in Films

They do their job so well and yet never achieve star billing even though, for some of these dangerous stunts, surely there should be recognition. This article in a very small way gives them the billing, I hope, that they deserve.

The last article focussed on ‘The Range Rider’ starring Jack Mahoney who himself had been a very courageous and much sought sfter stunt man in films, who, as we know, made the transition into TV and films with good success.

These Pictures above and below – are probably from ‘Ivanhoe’

The picture above seems to show quite a modern ladder – maybe that was out of camera shot on the screen

ABOVE – We see the filming of an action sequence very possibly ‘Stagecoach’ and the stunt man below is Yakima Canutt one of the most famous of his profession.

Maybe – better still a Stunt Woman from the 1940s BELOW

1950:  The Flame and the Arrow

In this Burt Lancaster did most of his own stunts along with his good friend Nick Cravat

Watched by Virginia Mayo, Burt Lancaster back flips from the tree branch

ABOVE – Two of my own pictures – from Westerns on the late forties or early fifties. Top Picture a daring jump from horseback on to a speeding horse drawn wagon

and

Bottom – A huge drop from the top of a rock onto a cantering horse and rider – that is some stunt – in fact they both are unbelievable – probably the same stunt man. Could it even be Jack Mahoney – I am not sure

An interesting add-on here – in 1948 Yakima Canutt directed a film ‘Sons of Adventure’ for Republic Pictures which was a fictionalised story about the work and adventures and dangers of the Stunt Man.

I must try to get hold of a DVD of this film – I think that it could be quite interesting and entertaining

More stills from ‘Sons of Adventure 1948 BELOW

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The Range Rider

A great TV series that was shown each week on BBC Television in England – with Jack Mahoney as The Range Rider and Dick Jones as his sidekick

Each episode ran for barely half an hour, in which time we had packed in a story, plenty of action, fights, chases usually on horseback, falls and escapes. The show was produced by Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions

ABOVE – Jack Mahoney and Dick Jones

Jack – or Jock – as he is often billed had been a stuntman of some repute standing in for the likes of Errol Flynn and Dick Jones had been a Rodeo Rider before getting into films. So they could – and did – give us action by the bucket loads.

Jack Mahoney as ‘The Range Rider’

I hadn’t realised that after ‘The Range Rider’ Dick Jones starred as ‘Buffalo Bill Jr’ which ran for forty or more episodes – another Gene Autry production

After leaving this series Jack Mahoney – quite a few years later – took on the role of ‘Tarzan’ in three big budget productions – one filmed in India – ‘Tarzan Goes to India’ and the last one was ‘Tarzan’s Thre Challenges’ filmed in Thailand during which Jack Mohoney contracted Dystentry and Dengue fever and had a monumental job to actually finish the film – but he did, and it then took him about a year to recover his health and the weight that he had lost.

Tarzan Jack Mahoney fights with Woody Strode

When looking up Jack Mahoney, he pays tribute to a veteran actor who helped him a lot – Tom London.

I had no knowledge of this actor but was he busy in his career

Tom London

He says of Tom London that he was ‘ The most underrated actor in town. The most patient, most professional actor I’ve ever known, as well as a kind, giving man. He’s one I feel lucky to be able to call a close friend.

Tom was a character actor and veteran of hundreds of Hollywood Westerns, Tom London seemed to be born in the saddle. As a trick rider he performed riding specialties in a number of films. His career started in the teens and through the 1920s he alternated between good guy and bad. 

He is credited with having made more films than any other actor.

Dick Jones retired from TV and Films in 1966 and went into business in propery. He was a family man with four children. He died in 2014

He was the voice of ‘Pinocchio’ for Walt Disney

Dick Jones was 10 years old and already a veteran actor in Hollywood when Walt Disney cast him as the voice of Pinocchio in 1939.

The young actor, whose screen name was “Dickie” Jones, had already appeared in nearly 40 films including Stella Dallas with Barbara Stanwyck, Wonder Bar with Al Jolson and Dick Powell, and Daniel Boone with George O’Brien and John Carradine.

Dick Jones – A Disnet Legend


He later recalled,

“At the time, Pinocchio was just a job. Who knew it would turn out to be the classic that it is today? I count my lucky stars that I had a part in it.”

Born February 25, 1927, in McKinney, Texas, Dick had been discovered by western film star Hoot Gibson by age three. Gibson was appearing in a rodeo in the youngster’s hometown. “Hoot told my mother I ought to be in pictures and sponsored our trip to Hollywood,” said Dick, who went on to work with practically every cowboy actor including Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, and Bill Elliott
Among his memories of Pinocchio, Dick recalled donning a puppet costume and acting out scenes for a live-action film study to which animators could refer. And when there was a lull in recording lines, remembered Dick, “Mr. Disney would take an old storyboard drawing, pin it up on a four-by-eight celotex sheet, and start a dart game with me using pushpins. He was good at throwing pushpins, underhand, and making them stick with fantastic accuracy. He always won the game.”

During the 19 months Dick worked on Pinocchio, he also managed to complete roles in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Destry Rides Again, both starring James Stewart, as well as other features


In 1944 he was drafted into World War II. By the time he finished training, the war was over. After his Christmas Day discharge in 1946, Dick appeared in a few more films; his favorite was Rocky Mountain, starring Errol Flynn. As he once pointed out, the film “marks the first time in motion picture history the United States Cavalry arrived too late—we all died.”

In 1949, he debuted in television when Gene Autry hired him as a stuntman for his Flying A Productions. During this time, Dick played Jock Mahoney’s sidekick in The Range Rider, a western series, which led to his own series, Buffalo Bill, Jr. He went on to guest star on other television shows, including GunsmokeAnnie Oakley, and The Lone Ranger. In all, Dick worked on nearly 100 films and more than 200 television episodes.

By 1959, he retired from show business and began a new career in real estate. In 1992, Dick founded his own agency, White Hat Realty.

He was installed as a Disney Legend

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Coming Shortly in the 50’s

To a Cinema Near You !!

This is a selection of what we had on offer – and I reckon many of us would remember most of them. When you look at these posters they were really cleverly produced in such a way as to convey the excitement, and even a sense of what we would see on the screen.

We just had to go and see it at the Cinema.

I remember seeing ‘The Indian Fighter’ on the big, wide screen and although it was good, it doesn’t particularly stand out in my memory like some films do.

I am surprised to see it is shown along with a Walt Disney short

Walt Disney with another winner ‘Pinocchio’ in Technicolor. Dont remember ‘Miss Robinson Crusoe’ though

ABOVE – We knew what we were in for with this one just by seeing the two stars Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. What a supporting cast too with Eddie Bracken, Gloria de Haven, Marjorie Main and Phil Silvers

ABOVE – Jane Powell and Farley Granger in ‘Small Town Girl’. When I think of Farley Granger, in my head I can’t think past ‘Strangers on a Train’ the Alfred Hitchcock film with Robert Walker. It was on Television very recently and I watched a lot of it. I didn’t much care for Farley Granger in this

Now the one ABOVE would definitely draw me in – just the sort of film I would go for.

‘The Unguarded Moment’ in Techicolor starred George Nader and Esther Williams – introduced to the screen John Saxon who went on to have a very long career.

‘Wyoming Renegades’ has a good title for a Western shown with ‘Operation Manhunt’ and even a Colour Cartoon ‘The Band Master’

What surprises me about the film showing ABOVE is the linking of these two films on the same bill. Still maybe it was thought that the audience would like a complete contrast.

ABOVE – We have pop singer Guy Mitchell in this film ‘Red Garters’

Now the Double Bill ABOVE would be a great attaction for filmgoers

This time – in 1958, we get a different coupling for these films – I think that ‘The Snorkel’ is a very good story and good, well acted film – an All-British fare

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The Black Torment

This film is from just outside of the Fifties and released in 1964 but it certainly evokes that era and is a quite scary film

A 17th-century aristocrat called Sir Richard Fordyke (JOHN TURNER) returns to his country estate in Devon with his new bride Elizabeth (HEATHER SEARS).

However all is not well because the local people including his horseman Black John (FRANCIS DE WOLFE) are shunning him.

Fordyke soon discovers from his accountant Seymour (PETER ARNE) that a farm girl called Lucy Judd (EDINA RONAY) was raped and murdered in the woods and that just before she died she named Fordyke as the culprit.

This cannot be true because Fordyke had been in London for esome weeks following his marriage to Elizabeth and the superstitious locals are inevitably spreading rumours.

Three years ago, Fordyke’s first wife Anne had committed suicide by throwing herself out of a top floor window and the locals claim that they have seen him on horseback at night (while he was supposedly away) being chased by a ghostly woman dressed in white uttering cries of “murderer”.

They believe the woman to be the ghost of Anne as her voice resembles the deceased. Also a copy of the suicide note left by Anne is mysteriously delivered to Elizabeth.

Then follows a number of supernatural happenings. one of which is when a new saddle arrives for Sir Richard with Anne’s name engraved on it and the maker insists that Fordyke came into his shop and ordered it personally.

Meanwhile, Fordyke begins to see the alleged ghost of his late wife prowling the grounds at night. Two more murders follow and Elizabeth and Fordyke must find out the truth behind the sinister goings-on before disastrous consequences could ruin their lives

Heather Sears – who I always liked – plays one of the leading characters in this film

Heather Sears looks worried
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Caleb Cluff – Leslie Sands

Leslie Sands had been ariound and on Television throughout the Fifties but his main work was on the stage – he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and toured witht them, quite extensivley. He landed the role of ‘Cluff’ for the BBC in the early sixties and although it was original and entertaining and sucessful to an extent, it did only run for a couple of seasons although a third series was seriously considered

In 1964, Leslie Sands was cast in the BBC series “Detective”, which adapted a number of crime fiction classics in an attempt to find a successor to the long-running “Maigret”.

Leslie Sands later appeared in an episode based on Gil North’s books about Yorkshire Detective Sergeant Caleb Cluff. The BBC spun this series out of “Detective” – in fact the first ‘pilot’ episode was screened under the ‘Detective’ banner

Set in the remote Yorkshire village of Gunnarshaw (allegedly based on North’s birthplace of Skipton), Cluff is described a relentless pursuer, similar to the early Maigret.

Born and bred in the farming community, Cluff used his intimate knowledge of village life to solve crimes, much to the disgust of Inspector Mole (Eric Barker and later Michael Bates), an outsider who preferred order and paperwork, “He had a tidy mind..and Caleb Cluff…fitted into none of his pigeon-holes.”Detective Sergeant Caleb Cluff (Leslie Sands) was a detective, much more at home taking a good walk with his pipe in his mouth, his chestnut walking stick in his hand and his faithful dog, Clive by his side.

The bachelor copper lived alone in the fictional North Yorkshire moorland town of Gunnershaw but received daily visits from his housekeeper, Annie Croft (Olive Milbourne).

Any crook underestimating the tweed-suited detective would do so at their peril because Cluff’s slow methodology belied a skilfully perceptive insight into human nature and behaviour, particularly that of the criminal mind.

Leslie Sands with Wilfred Pickles

His ponderous and slow style was often the cause of much frustration from his superior, Inspector Mole (originally Eric Barker and later Michael Bates when illness prevented Barker from appearing in the second series), but no one could argue with Cluff’s detection rate.

His wife in real life, the actress Pauline Williams, appeared in quite a number of episodes playing the part of Mrs Mole

Caleb Cluff was assisted by his junior sidekick, Detective Constable Barker (John Rolfe).

Caleb Cluff with his dog

Earlier than this though Leslie Sands had played a detective in one of the Edgar Wallace series – ‘The Clue of the New Pin’

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Rails into Laramie – 1954

Technicolor film from 1954

The film is Directed by Jesse Hibbs
and stars John Payne, Mari Blanchard, Dan Duryea, Joyce Mackenzie, Barton MacLane, James Griffith, Lee Van Cleef, Myron Healey

Jesse Hibbs’s Rails Into Laramie (1954) is a rarely seen 50s Western with a really terrific cast – let’s hope that the DVD release will change that.

This is an above average Universal western. Special mention must go to Lee Van Cleef as a menacing, trigger happy bad man – his usual role although a very early, and brief one, Mari Blanchard plays a saloon girl with a heart of gold and James Griffith is a bumbling ineffectual lawman.

Action scenes are well staged – particularly those on the trains – the photography is first class and the Technicolor beautiful as always.

The story concerns rebel soldier, John Payne, who is assigned by his commander in chief to find who is behind the slow progress on the building of a railway line in Laramie. He finds drink plentiful among the railway workers. He also meets the beautiful, Mari Blanchard, an ex dancer and owner of a saloon – along with Dan Duryea, an ex-colleague of Payne who is behind it all.

Dan Duryea is the booze supplier who along with his hoodlum, Lee Van Cleef, deliver alcohol to the labourers who are building the railroad.

At the end a thrilling fight takes place on board a train.

John Payne with one of the trains and the driver – a scene from the film

Mari Blanchard in a threatening situation
John Payne with Dan Duryea
John ;Pyane with Mari Blanchard
Dan Duryea getting some assistance
John Payne and Dan Duryea
Dan Duryea and Mari Blancard having fun listening to the Radio between takes on the set of the film

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The Shaggy Dog 1959 Walt Disney

How Walt Disney must have been overjoyed with the reception from the public for this film and although it was made on a relatively low budget, and the impression is that the Disney organisation did not have in mind an outstanding success, in fact it did have just that.

It proved to be one of the biggest Box Offices winners of the year – and was more successful than Ben Hur which had a huge budget and much publicity.

Fred MacMurray starred in his first of quite a few films for Walt Disney – in fact he was Walt’s favourite actor and no wonder if he produced this sort of result.

Fred MacMurray

“The Shaggy Dog” is a delightful live-action comedy, the first of many to emerge from the Walt Disney Studios during the late 50s onwards.

It is an innocent comedy and has near perfect performances from a cast of film veterans.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining Disney family film and it holds up quite well today. It certainly hit the jackpot

Just in case someone might think that this success was a fluke – the film was re-issued in 1967 on a Double Bill with ‘The Absent Minded Professor’ – and again it did ‘smash hit’ business

A 1967 Double Bill smash hit from Walt Disney

There is a colorised version of this film available

The Shaggy Dog – ABOVE looking quite mischievous

Fred MacMurray in a very happy mood
Fred MacMurray in what looks to be a ‘tight situation’
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