Daylight Noir, Or, Are Any Of Them Really Little? – Little Murders (1971)

***Spoiler Alert*** Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and throw the spoiler tag up here because I’d be willing to bet that very few of you have ever seen this movie, or have even heard of it, and – not to give too much away here – you really should. And even though I’m only going so far in discussing the plot of the movie, stopping well before the ending, there are enough twists early in the film that you may not want to know about if you’re completely spoiler averse that I do feel I should let you know before you start . ***End Warning***

Are you really so down on people, or are you just being fashionable?


lm1Little Murders is an extremely dark movie, and I don’t just mean the scenes which take place during a blackout or are lit only by candlelight. I mean that as far as black comedies go, this one is pure ebony.

It’s also the kind of movie for which the phrase “funny as hell” could easily ave been invented, because although there are parts of it that I found to be truly laugh out loud hilarious, that seems to be exactly where many of the characters in it are living.

In other words, it perfectly encapsulates New York City in the late 1960s and early 70s.

The movie version of Little Murders was adapted by Jules Feiffer from his original play which first ran on Broadway for seven performances in 1967. After that the play had a successful run in London before returning to New York for a 400 performance run which was directed by Alan Arkin. Elliot Gould, who stars in the film as Alfred Chamberlain, then bought the movie rights to the play, and asked Feiffer to expand the story for the screen and Arkin to direct.

Gould’s Alfred is a photographer who we learn has had his ups and downs. At one time he had an extremely successful career as a fashion photographer, but when he became disenchanted with that, he moved on to shooting “things”, mostly for catalogs, which he seems to consider the nadir of his working life. Now, he makes a successful living as more of an art photographer, shooting pictures of, as he puts it quite literally, “shit”.

lm7Yes, that was apparently something that there was enough of on the streets and in the parks of New York at the time that one could make a living taking photographs of it.

Hey, art is art, right?

We also learn that Alfred is completely disconnected not only from the things going on around him in the city, but from his own life and feelings. The only things he can really relate to are the things that  he sees through the lens of his camera. As a matter of fact, when we first see him, he is being beaten up by some thugs for no apparent reason, something he simply allows to happen to him, and because he simply ignores the pain he seems actually not to feel it.

lm2We first see Alfred through the eyes of Patsy Newquist (played by Marcia Rodd) who first notices him when she hears the beating noted above from the apartment window and she rushes downstairs to his defense. After beating off and chastising his attackers, she then turns her attention to him, trying to understand his outlook and how how can simply be satisfied simply withstanding the attack rather than fighting back.

Those guys in the park, they said ‘Hey, fatface! What are you staring at?’ If I told them I wasn’t staring at them, they would’ve beat me up for being a liar. And if I told them I was staring at them because I wanted to take their picture, then they’d beat me up for being a cop. So I told them I was staring at them because they looked familiar, and they beat me up for being a fag. There’s no way of talking someone out of beating you up if that’s what he wants to do.


Subsequently, she takes him on as a recovery project, trying to make him feel something, more specifically happiness. This eventually leads to her taking him to a dinner with her extremely dysfunctional family over his objections. In some ways it is hard to tell who is the more messed-up, Alfred or Patsy’s various family members.

lm3At the end of the evening, however, just after they have left, Alfred agrees to marry Patsy, though even he seems unsure why. He only puts one restriction on the wedding; that during the ceremony there be no mention of God. This demand leads to two incredible set pieces, one performed by Lou Jacobi as a Judge who delivers an increasingly hysterical rent about why he will not marry the couple all the while backed by the American flag, and the other being the marriage itself which winds up being administered by the Rev. Henry Dupas played by Donald Sutherland at his long-haired, bearded hippie best, who agrees to take money from Patsy’s father in exchange for including “the deity” in the ceremony while assuring Alfred that he won’t because “First Existential can use the money.” In the end the ceremony breaks down into total chaos, but Patsy and Alfred do wind up getting married.

Why does one decide to marry? Social pressure? Boredom? Loneliness? Sexual appeasement? Love? I won’t put any of these reasons down. Each in its own way is adequate, each is all right. Last year, I married a musician who wanted to get married in order to stop masturbating. Please, don’t be startled, I’m not putting him down. That marriage did not work. But the man tried. He is now separated, still masturbating, but he is at peace with himself because he tried society’s way

– Rev. Dupas

It’s after this that things really start to go downhill, beginning with a truly shocking murder, but I don;t think I want to go any further into the plot of the movie because there are still a number of twists that should remain unrevealed until one watches it.

lm8There are a number of standout performances in Little Murders that I really should note. I’ve already mentioned Lou Jacobi and Donald Sutherland as The Judge and Reverend Dupas respectively, but there are other supporting players who deserve special note.

First of all, I really haven’t spent enough time talking about Marcia Rodd who plays Patsy with an earnestness that borders on mania.

Honey, I don’t want to hurt you. I want to change you.

– Patsy

I want to be married to a big, strong, vital, virile, self-assured man… that I can protect and take care of.

– Patsy

lm9When they first meet, Patsy seems astounded that any man could have the kind of passive temperament that Alfred shows toward nearly everything in his life. Not long after, she takes him on as a project: she is going to make him feel – more specifically, she is going to make him feel happiness -whether he wants to or not. The thing is, though, that because of the charm and exuberance that Rodd brings to this character, she manages to take a character that could be completely annoying and instead give her an endearing quality that serves the character well.

lm000Also of note is Vincent Gardenia, who plays Patsy’s father. Although at first he may come off as a completely abrasive Archie Bunker type, by the end of the film we’re left wondering just how much influence he has had on the way the family has turned out. Is he the main cause of the family’s dysfunction, or is he in many ways simply reacting to the situation he finds himself in, both in relationship to a sense of helplessness of being able to cope with what the world has given him not only in his family, but in relationship to the world at large as well?

Finally, there’s Alan Arkin, who, along with directing the film, plays police Lt. Practice. Practice has become so overwhelmed with the number of violent crimes and murders in the city that he is pretty much on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Though he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, what he does get is quite memorable.

We are involved here in a far reaching conspiracy to undermine our most basic beliefs and sacred institutions. Whose behind this conspiracy? Once again ask yourself who has the most to gain. People in high places, their names would astound you! People in low places, concealing their activities beneath a cloak of poverty! People of all walks of life, left wing and right wing. Black and white. Students and scholars. A conspiracy of such ominous proportion that we will never, never know the whole story and we’ll never be able to reveal all the facts! We are readying mass arrests. I am going to see that you people get every possible break. If there is any information you would like to contribute at this time, it will be held in the strictest confidence….

I mentioned earlier that the movie was a real reflection of New York at the time, and I hold that to be true. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call the city an uncredited character in the movie. This was a time when New York seemed to many to be a city beyond repair, when the streets were filled with trash and there was, in many parts of the city an overwhelming feeling of despair and ennui, not unlike that reflected in Alfred’s attitude toward his own life. Perhaps nowhere is this better reflected than in a scene where a bloodied and battered Alfred walks onto a subway train, sits down, and isn’t even given a second look by his fellow passengers as though this is a sight they see every day, and they are in no way surprised by this new arrival.

lm0001Unfortunately, Little Murders is one of those movies which, with the passage of time, seems to have fallen through the cracks, and is currently unavailable, as far as I can tell on DVD or Blu-ray, and it’s probably going to stay that way for quite awhile unless there’s a sudden surge if interest in the oeuvre of either Alan Arkin or Elliot Gould which seems highly unlikely. However, I will say that if you get a chance to see this mostly forgotten gem from the 70s I highly recommend you take the opportunity to do so. Not only does it serve as a great time capsule from an era that was unique in both American history and American film, but it also does ask – though never really answers – the question in the header at the top:

Are there really ever any “little” murders?

Classic Television Thursday #47 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker (TV Series) (1974 – 1975)

ns5Having spent the past couple of weeks looking back at the original made-for-television movies The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, it’s time to move on to the main event, the TV series that was spun out of them.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (the series’ official title, presumably to differentiate it from the TV movie) finds dauntless reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and his ever put upon boss Tony Vincenzo amazingly still working for the INS or Independent News Service, though this time they’ve been shuffled around to the Chicago office.

ns013There’s a lot I could write about the show and it’s influences and its influence upon later shows, (This is, of course, one of the shows that X-Files creator Chris Carter cites as one of the main influences on his show.) and other aspects of why it’s so fondly remembered – not only is there the atmospheric narration by Kolchak as he dictates his notes for each story into his much abused tape recorder (speaking of which, one has to wonder just what INS’s budget for cameras was since it seems Carl get his destroyed in one way or another almost every episode. No wonder he always seems to be using such a cheap one. I can imagine there had to be some kind of dictate from on high that he wasn’t to be allowed anywhere near the good ones.), but there’s also the great rapport and banter between Kolchak and Vincenzo that is a highlight of each episode. Instead, however, I think I’ll take a different tack this week and give you an episode-by-episode rundown of my thoughts on each of them.

Yeah, it’s true, this is really just an excuse to binge-watch the entire run. But hey, it’s only 20 episodes, and thanks to Netfliix and other outlets, that’s the vogue nowadays isn’t it? Of course, I’m not really going to give you a detailed analysis of them,  just a paragraph or so of my thoughts as we go along. So let’s get into it, shall we

Episode 1: The Ripper -This is, of course, the set-up episode, introducing us to some of the new regulars, including Jack Grinnage as Kolchak’s rival reporter Ron Updyke whom Carl repeatedly infuriates by referring to him as “Uptight”. As noted above, the action also shifts to Chicago (It’s amazing how all the INS offices in these different cities tend to look exactly alike. Or then, maybe it isn’t.), which will be the setting for most of the series, with occasional forays to other locales. It’s a fairly decent lead-off episode, though in syndication episode four is usually shown first. As far as the Monster of the Week, this time around we’re given a seemingly immortal take on Jack the Ripper.

ns7Episode 2: The Zombie – Kolchak investigates a series of underworld murders in which various mobsters are found with their backs snapped. During his investigations he discovers that the murderer may be a… well, you saw the title. Though the zombie’s costume and makeup don’t look that great in the still pic accompanying this post, they’re actually effective onscreen. Also, the method that Kolchak initially uses to attempt to dispatch the zombie is kind of disturbing. Oh, and it’s nice to see both Antonio Fargas and Scatman Crothers in supporting roles.

Episode 3: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be… – This is one of those episodes which makes apparent how tight the budget was on the show. Though the “monsters” this time around are aliens (of the U.F.O. type, not of the “from another country” type), we never really see said creatures or their craft, as they are invisible, which allows a wind machine to be their stand-in. This is also another episode which highlights the ability of the stuntmen in the show to jump backward and fall as if thrown by an invisible force (or in other episodes by a very strong opponent) which apparently was the number one qualification required by the show.

ns003Episode 4: The Vampire – The always entertaining Larry Storch drops by to offer a Carl a tip that leads him to Los Angeles and a sequel to the original TV movie. The twist this time is that the titular monster is a female victim of Janos Skorzeny who was apparently overlooked when the Las Vegas police went around staking all of the people who fell to his fangs. I do have to applaud the episode for a rather ingenious method of trapping the vampire so that Kolchak can apply the final blow. Also, in the wrap-up we’re given the information that three years have passed since the events of the original movie and this episode.

ns011Episode 5: The Werewolf – It seems like Carl just can’t get away from the weirdness. Even on a cruise ship. Tony Vincenzo’s been saving for this cruise forever, but at the last minute he gets a call that auditors are coming in from New York. It’s kind of a shame, really, because it might have been an interesting showcase (and change of pace) for Simon Oakland to see how he would have handled himself in such a situation. Of course, if he had witnessed what was going on, it would have been harder to carry on his complete and utter disbelief at Kolchak’s zany stories. Two pluses here: since the creators were definitely working in a low-def situation, the budget for the wolf makeup didn’t have to bee too much (plus, this is a classically designed wolfman, meaning they basically just had to apply a lot of fur to the actor’s face and hands), and there’s not a lot of time spent on building a “who is the werewolf” mystery. I’m still not sure, though, that I buy carl being able to so easily find what he needed to fabricate his silver buckshot, but we’ll just let that go.

Episode 6: Firefall – I really do miss the kind of arcade depicted at the first of this episode. And those games. And hey, for a change, since Carl’s not taking on one of the classic monster types, the title doesn’t really give anything away, so I’m not going to give everything away here either . Let’s just say that investigating multiple cases of spontaneous human combustion may have Kolchak seeing double. Oh, and David Doyle, Charlie’s Angels‘ Bosley, puts in a guest appearance.

Episode 7: The Devil’s Platform – What can I say? This episode is a real dog (pun intended). We all know the devil is usually mixed up somewhere in politics, and in this instance, the “platform” in the title is indeed a political one. It is interesting – and a sign of the difference between then and now – to see Karl spending time in the darkroom developing his own pictures as opposed to today’s ubiquitous digital pictures. And for that matter seeing Carl having to use actual books from the library to do his research as opposed to just Googling for answers. I do have to admit that I was a little surprised at the way this one ended. Oh, and Miss Emily (for whom Carl was subbing answering letters for the syndicated Dear Miss Emily advice column in the first episode) finally gets back from her vacation, bringing presents for all, including a new hat for Kolchak.

Episode 8: Bad Medicine -Another shape-shifter though this time around he’s not limited to a lupine form. Carl goes native in this one as the monster of the week is a Diablero. Yes, such a creature does exist in native American  lore, but he’s a long way from home and well out of his time. Apparently someone on the writing crew was a fan  of Carlos Castaneda Guest stars for this episode include Richard Kiel, Alice Ghostly, and Victor Jory.

ns001Episode 9: The Spanish Moss Murders -Hey, how about that! Somebody at NBC found some money in the budget for another creature costume! Not a lot of money, of course, but enough that, by delaying the full reveal of the monster until late in the episode and then only showing it at night or down in the sewer it’s effective enough. At least this time they did manage to keep the zipper out of the view of the camera. As far as the actual nature of the creature, it’s what – according to the show at least – the Cajuns call Père Malfait which apparently translates to “walking salad bar”. Oh, and Ricard Kiel returns from last episode, but nit as the same character. This time he’s the guy inside the creature suit.

Episode 10: The Energy Eater – We’re back to Native American legends this time with the invisible bear god Matchemonedo. Yep, we spent all the costuming budget last episode , so we’re back to invisible monster mode. Not much to say about this one, really, except that it’s a good thing even bear gods like to hibernate.

Episode 11: Horror in The Heights – No, the monster this week isn’t the guest-starring Phil Silvers, Instead, it’s a Rakshasa, a Hindu demon who is terrorizing the Roosevelt Heights area of Chicago, preying on the elderly Jewish residents of the neighborhood. The interesting twist to this one is that the creature appears to its victims as someone they trust thereby luring them into it’s crushing grip. So who does it yank from Carl’s mind as being perhaps the only person that he really trusts? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t Ron Updyke. But then, it isn’t (as one might expect) Tony either.

ns006Episode 12: Mr. R.I.N.G. -This episode goes all Westworld on us, with a self-aware android on the loose. Unfortunately, since R.I.N.G. was taken over by the military during its development, it was programmed with aggression and survival instincts, but without any notion of ethics. That’s why he hunts down one of his programmers who attempts to enlighten him on the idea. Unfortunately, he’s turned off with a bullet to his artificial brain before he can perhaps calculate the answer to the question that Kolchak puts to him about the difference between right and wrong.

Episode 13: Primal Scream -Hmmm… well, no, it’s not exactly Jurassic Park, with scientists regrowing dinosaurs from dino DNA, but we do get a primordial ape-man growing from cell samples found in core samples taken from potential oil fields in the Antarctic. Yeah, the science is more than a little wonky, but the episode does feature Jamie Farr (Corporal Klinger from M*A*S*H*as a biology teacher. (Hey, guess what? He apparently gets to teach about evolution without also teaching creationism or any other -ism. Oh, those unenlightened times.)

Episode 14: The Trevi Collection -Kolchak brings his seersucker suit and trademark hat to Chicago’s high fashion district where he is obviously welcomed with open arms. Hey, if nothing else being backstage at the fashion shows did give the producers an excuse to feature a few lovely young ladies in… well, let’s just say less clothing than usual for the show. There’s even a surprisingly revealing/suggestive – for TV at the time anyway – shower scene.  I mentioned the dialogue exchanges between Kolchak and Vincenzo earlier, but I haven’t quoted much of it. This episode does contain a great example however, when the two are looking at some photos taken by an informant just before he was thrown out of a fourth-floor window: Tony – “He wasn’t much of a photographer.” Carl – “Yeah, he wasn’t much of a skydiver, either.”

ns010Episode 15: Chopper -Okay, let’s just be upfront about it The entire concept for this one – a headless motorcyclist – is just a wee bit ridiculous, and if the term “jump the shark” had been around at the time it probably would have been used to describe this episode. On the other hand, it’s this complete acceptance that sometimes it’s okay to go the humor route instead of taking things completely seriously all the time that really makes the entire series work. Of course, the cyclist himself looks incredibly cheesy, and there was no way that the network was going to allow them to show actual beheadings in all their gory glory, but the workaround that the producers found for that can only be described as ingenious. Well, okay, there probably are other ways to describe it, but that’s the one I’m going with. Add in M*A*S*H*’s Larry Linville as this week’s police obstructionist and a cameo by Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island’s Mr. Howell) and as far as I’m concerned this is one of the best worst episodes you’ll find.

ns005Episode 16: Demon in Lace – At least Chopper, with it’s over the top goofy charm made some sense. This one on the other hand which features a suck your face… umm I mean succubus, well, not so much. According to the show’s mythology, the succubus is a demon who inhabits the bodies of recently deceased women and then uses those bodies in order to seduce men so that it can then kill them by apparently scaring them to death and then… well, that’s the real problem. We’re never really told why the demon is making these healthy young men die of seeming heart attacks or what it gets out of it, other than that’s just what it does. It doesn’t really seem to be drawing life force from them, since the bodies appear to still be healthy after they die, nor does it seem like it really needs to, since it is already strong enough to reanimate the dead women. I will give the episode high marks for a really nice and gruesome makeup job for the succubus, but otherwise it really doesn’t work.

ns012Episode 17: Legacy of Terror – Well, this episode certainly gets off to a good start with a Psycho-esque attack in a stairwell that very effectively implies much more than it shows. This time out we’re dealing with an Aztec mummy. It seems that the mummy god still has a cult of followers who come out of hiding every 52 years in order to sacrifice five people by tearing their hearts out so that he can eventually arise again at the dawn of the new millennium. Unfortunately, the mummy himself only rises during the sacrifice of the last victim, so he doesn’t really get much screen time. The first four murders are carried out by the cult members who are dressed in flamboyant costumes bedecked with colorful Mexican parrot feathers. No amount of flamboyance on their part, however, can come close to matching a pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada’s pink leisure suit and deep blue flare-collared shirt.

Episode 18: The Knightly Murders – Who better to use medieval weapons to murder people than the ghost of a medieval knight animating a suit of armor? This is one of the best of the later episodes, with a nicely atmospheric climactic showdown between Carl and the Black Knight, though it may be best not to ask exactly how no one else in Chicago notices a suit of armor walking the streets as it stalks its victims. Hans Conreid, whose voice you’re as likely to know as his face has a wonderful turn here as a museum curator, as does John Dehner as this week’s police antagonist, Captain Vernon Rausch, who, following a long-winded analysis in answer to Kolchak’s question about how he explains what Carl saw drollfully sums it up thusly: “In short, I believe your brain has turned to onion dip.”

Episode 19: The Youth Killer – The lovely Cathy Lee Crosby – TV’s first Wonder Woman, and definitely not to be confused with daytime TV drunk Kathy Lee Gifford* – guest stars in this episode as Helen of Troy, sucking the life force out of  young, vigorous, “perfect” people in order to keep herself young and beautiful.One thing that’s always bugged me about episodes like this, though: It seems like while she’s in Chicago Helen needs a continuous stream of youthful bodies in order to hang onto her girlish charm, And even though it’s explained that the computer dating service that she runs to find her candidates is a recent set-up, one would think that if she’s been living like since ancient Greek times someone would have caught in to (and up with) her long before this .Ah, well, why question the logic of a rather entertaining episode? Oh, and hey, we also get the return of John Fiedler as Gordy the Ghoul, the morgue worker, who has been missing since episode three. (By the way, among his many other roles both as an onscreen actor and as a voice actor, Fiedler provided the original voice for Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh features.)

ns004Episode 20: The Sentry – And so we come to the end, and it really is a shame, because there’s a charm to this episode that is actually quite reminiscent of some of the earliest ones that made all of us fans of the show in the first place. Sure, the giant lizard suit isn’t going to win any costuming awards – there’s a good reason that the first thing the critter does whenever it enters a new place or is heading down a corridor is to trash whatever light source there is -and yeah, in essence it’s a… let’s call it an “homage” to the classic Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark”, but nonetheless this is still a much better episode than some of the others along the way. Perhaps the only real complaint that I have about it is the somewhat ambiguous ending, but even that seems appropriate, all things considered. I suppose what I’m saying is that if the series had to be cut short, this is as good a way for it to go out as any.

And in actuality the series was cut short. There were three other scripts that were written but never produced. Two of them have since been adapted into comic book form, but the third remains unproduced in any form.

So, just a few final words and then I’m out too. I have to admit this has been a fun exercise, revisiting one of my favorite shows from my childhood. Going into it, I was nervous that it might not hold up as well as I remembered, but considering the time and the budget constraints everything else that goes with it being a year old show, I wasn’t disappointed at all. Nor do I have any hesitation – especially if you’re a fan of shows from the time period or even if you’re just looking for a good way to pass a few hours – in recommending that you check the show out.

Finally,  just for fun and to give you a taste of what the show was like here’s episode 15 – yep, it’s the infamous “Chopper”

*Okay, for legal reasons I should probably state that it’s unfair of me to use the phrase “daytime TV drunk” to characterize Ms. Gifford, as I have no factual knowledge that she is indeed an alcoholic. It may simply be that she enjoys portraying one on  TV.




Covering Comics #8 – Halloween Special Edition

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

So with Halloween approaching, I thought this time around instead of looking at a particular series or chain of events or what have you, I’d just give you a peek at some horror related title and covers. I know I have a tendency to say that I’m not going to write a lot about the individual covers and then wind up writing a lot more than I intended, but this time it’s true as I’m just going to put them up without any commentary whatsoever. So enjoy, and Happy Halloween!


















A Savage Recut – Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze Detarnished (2011)

ds1Sows’ ears and silk purses. Really, there’s only so much one can do.

Not too long ago I decided to take a look back at 1994’s The Shadow to see if it was as bad as I remembered it being. You can find that article here. That led to my deciding to take another look back, this time at the 1975 George Pal produced, Michael Anderson directed, movie adaptation one of the other great pulp heroes, Doc Savage, which also has a pretty bad reputation, and for good reason.

I really don’t blame Pal or Anderson, were acting under studio orders. At the time, the feeling in Hollywood was that no one would take a serious movie about a character like Doc Savage ummm… seriously. Instead, they insisted that the movie follow in the footprint of the 60s Batman TV show and movie and go straight for the camp.

Unlike the studio, however, it seems that audiences had moved on in the time between the demise of the Batman series and the release of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, so not only were fans of the original pulp stories (which were, at the time being reprinted in paperback form by Bantam books) offended by the treatment afforded a beloved character, but the general audience, who they were trying to bring in with this movie either had no interest or were turned off by the word of mouth about how bad it was. Either way, the movie was panned by audiences and critics alike.

ds2Anyway, as I was looking for a copy of the movie for re-viewing and then reviewing, I ran across this fanedit of the movie created by an obviously quite dedicated fan of the character known (as far as I can tell) only by his online handle of “Slark”.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a “fanedit”, well, the definition is basically there in the name. Generally it’s the unauthorized effort by a certain fan or fans of a movie or character to take an already made movie that they feel has somehow failed and re=edit it into something they feel is more in like with what the movie should have been. Sometimes this is done simply by taking the type of extra footage that is often found as DVD extras and reinserting them into the appropriate place in the movie, or sometimes, as is the case with Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze Detarnished, it’s a complete beginning to end rework of the movie.

ds3Obviously, since these works are unauthorized, and therefore the creators of them can’t make money from them. they are truly a work of love for the material, and that is extremely obvious with DS:TMoBD. I can’t imagin how long it took for Slark to re-edit this film, but what I can do is tell you that the results of this love show through in a very concrete way.

Of course, since all he had to work with was the pre-existing material, there was only so much that could be done, but within that framework, Slark has achieved something of a minor miracle, taking a movie that was pretty much a misfire from the very start and turning it into something that is much closer to the true action-adventure flick that fans of the Doc would have preferred to see and that the character deserves.

I’m not going to go into most of the changes that have been made here in order to bring that about (there’s actually a secondary subtitle track included that goes into most of that), but I am going to highlight the most obvious and most important change, because it will give you a really good idea of just how much, and how much for the better, this movie has been changed.

First, let’s take a look at the opening to the original version of the movie:

Yeah, it’s like that.

Now lets take a look at how Slark decided to open his version of the film with a newsreel-style feature which not only incorporates part of the original opening, but also gives you pretty much everything you need to know background-wise about Doc and his crew by taking small flashes from later in the movie and bringing them forward. This move also allows him to eliminate a lot of the cringe-inducing dialog from the Pal produced film:

I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself which movie you want to continue watching, but I know where I would go.

ds5Now, I recognize that there will be purists out there who will decry this type of fanedit simply on general principle, and I completely understand those objections, and in other circumstances, I might be part of that chorus. But the good thing about a project like this is that it doesn’t in any way take away the original version. For those who love that one, it is still there for you to watch at any time. All this does is provide an alternative which I think in a lot of ways is actually a better showcase for the character and shows what could be done with him.

And since all of this started with a call for Nettflix or some other outlet to consider creating new adaptations of these pulp characters, and since I’d like to see them taken seriously if that were to happen, I know which version I’d like anyone considering such a project to be looking toward for an example of how to treat the character.

As far as where you can get a copy of this edit, well, all I can say is you’ll have to do a bit of looking around, but this would be a good place to start. Meanwhile, the original version of the movie is available at Amazon through the Warner Archives Collection.


Purple Is Not Her Color – Here’s The Full Trailer For Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones

jj1I’ll admit when the character was first introduced in the comics series Alias and then retconned into having a short time as a superhero and even an Avenger (despite never having been seen before) I wasn’t a big fan, but as she changed and grew and her relationship with Luke Cage developed, I came to like her more and more.

When Netflix announced the Marvel characters they were developing for their “Defenders” series of shows which kicked off with Daredevil, she seemed like the perfect fit, and I think this trailer bears that out. I wasn’t sure at first about the casting of David Tennant as Kilgrave/The Purple Man, but I shouldn’t have worried on that pert either. He certainly seems to be bringing the menace. It also looks like we’re going to get plenty of interaction between Jessica and Luke before he moves on to his own show.

All in all, I’d say from the looks of it, this is going to be a great addition to the “ground level” hero set that they’re building for these series, and I can’t wait for them to drop in November.

Here’s the trailer. See what you think:

Now if they’d just get their heads out of their collective arses and get on with Iron Fist (the latest rumor is that they’re thinking of replacing him with Shang Chi. I’ve already written an article about the first rumored replacement – Moon Knight – and how his origin is just as problematic as Fist’s which you can read here, so maybe it’s worth taking some time comparing Danny Rand with Shang, too) I’ll be a very happy camper.

Classic Television Thursday #46 – The Night Strangler (1973)

tns1Last week we took a look at the made-for-television movie The Night Stalker, so I thought this week it would be appropriate to check out the follow-up TV film, The Night Strangler.

As I noted last week, the ratings for The Night Stalker were so high (the highest at that time for any made-for-TV movie) that a sequel was pretty well inevitable. The Night Strangler was an original story this time out, written again by Richard Matheson who had adapted the first film from the then-unpublished book The Kolchak Papers by Jeff Rice. (The book was, finally, published in 1974 under the title The Night Stalker, just in time to take advantage of the upcoming television series.) Another behind-the-scenes change was that this time out Dan Curtis not only produced the movie but also directed it.

Since our protagonist, reporter Carl Kolchak, (again wonderfully played by Darren McGavin) had been kicked out of the city of Las Vegas and told never to return at the end of the first film, the action for this movie shifts to the city of Seattle, Washington where he is hired by his former boss Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland also returns, which is a terrific move, since he and McGavin have such a wonderful chemistry between them) to investigate what again appears to be a string of serial murders.

tns2This time out, however, the murderer is not a vampire, but… something else. In the course of investigating the murders, Kolchak discovers (with the aid of newcomer Wally Cox) that there have been similar murders – the victims are all exotic dancers who are are strangled and then drained of a few ounces of blood – have been occurring every 21 years over a period of 18 days since 1889.

Of course Kolchak is again stonewalled by the authorities, but he does, inevitably, find out the truth behind the mysterious killings.

Just as with its predecessor, The Night Strangler debuted to incredibly high ratings, prompting ABC, the network behind the two movies, to decide rather than go ahead with a proposed third telefilm instead to go directly to a series, which we’ll take a look at next time.

For now, though, why not just follow Kolchak into the depths of Seattle and uncover the mystery of The Night Strangler?




Jewels Of The Public Domain Treasure Chest – The Cat And The Canary (1925)

I’ve mentioned before that quite a few years back I ran another blog, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest. In it I tried to spotlight some of the real jewels that can be found in the Public Domain. It’s been quite a while since I’ve actually updated the site, but there’s quite a few pieces there that I still think are deserving of attention, so I thought I’d begin to spotlight some of them in a new occasional feature, “Jewels Of The Public Domain Treasure Chest”. For the most part I’m going to be running them just as they were posted then, except for – as I’ve done with this post – editing a bit of the grammar, fixing a couple of links, and adding a few more graphics just to make it fit in a little better with the other posts here. I hope you’ll enjoy this little blast from the past, and let me know what you think about it in the comments.

cc1aOk, gang, time to jump into the way-way-back machine and set the dial for 1927, and the American debut of famed German director Paul Leni who has just combined the expressionism movement of his home country with the burgeoning horror-comedy genre of this country to create what may be one of the most influential films of the mid 1920s, The Cat and the Canary.

Now I’ve made no bones before about my love for the so-called “old dark house” genre of films. I’ve used the analogy before, but in a lot of ways,  for me sitting down for one of these movies is like tucking into a favorite meal of… oh, go ahead and pick your own comfort food. It’s the kind of thing where it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve eaten it, no matter how well you may know the taste of it, that’s a large part of the enjoyment of it. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of thing that may bring back special memories, maybe from your childhood, maybe of a particular time with someone special, maybe of a place that you once visited and want to go back to. It’s the kind of thing you maybe keep in the back of your mind when you go to a new restaurant, something that even if you’re unsure of the menu, you know that you’re going to enjoy this particular dish. That’s how I feel about old dark house mysteries – they’re my fall back comfort food, because even when they’re not that great, there’s usually some aspect of them that I can enjoy.

cc3But if the old dark house mysteries are comfort food, then watching The Cat and the Canary was, for me, like going back to the place where it all started, finding that little English pub or off the byway place where your favorite dish was created. Or maybe talking to the great grandparent that first came up with the secret family recipe and realizing that all along there had been something missing. Like taking that first bite and realizing that no matter how many times you’ve had the dish, how many variations you’ve tried, there really is nothing quite like the original.Now I’ve made no bones before about my love for the so-called “old dark house” genre of films. I’ve used the analogy before, but in a lot of ways,  for me sitting down for one of these movies is like tucking into a favorite meal of… oh, go ahead and pick your own comfort food. It’s the kind of thing where it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve eaten it, no matter how well you may know the taste of it, that’s a large part of the enjoyment of it. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of thing that may bring back special memories, maybe from your childhood, maybe of a particular time with someone special, maybe of a place that you once visited and want to go back to. It’s the kind of thing you maybe keep in the back of your mind when you go to a new restaurant, something that even if you’re unsure of the menu, you know that you’re going to enjoy this particular dish. That’s how I feel about old dark house mysteries – they’re my fall back comfort food, because even when they’re not that great, there’s usually some aspect of them that I can enjoy.


Like I said at the first, the year is 1927. Carl Laemmle, one of the founders of Universal Studios, was reaching back to his home country of Germany to bring in new talent. One of those he invited to come direct movies for him was Paul Leni, who was already beginning to make a name for himself as he explored the boundaries of what was becoming known as the “expressionist” movement in film. Now, expressionism can and has been defined in many different ways, but basically it seeks to combine certain stylized visuals with the narrative structure of the film in a way that tends to affect the viewer not only mentally but emotionally. Sometimes this involves shooting a sequence with an odd camera angle. Sometimes it involves odd, often stylized and overpowering architecture. Sometimes it involves the superimposition of seemingly unrelated objects into the frame. Whatever form it takes, however, the effect is generally one of keeping the audience off-balance, and of trying to bring a more visceral feel to the proceedings. This is the influence that Leni was able to bring with him to Universal and to the beginning of what would be a long line of horror and horror-comedy films, and this influence can be felt from the very opening sequence of the movie.

cc6The film opens with what could have been a fairly standard sequence, as we are given the history of one Cyrus West, a millionaire who is approaching death. West lives alone in a huge mansion with only his caretaker, the ironically-named, ever-frowning Mammy Pleasant for company. However, as news of his impending death spreads, we are told that he is descended upon “like cats around a canary” by his greedy family who attempt to drive him insane. Interspersed with this narrative are scenes of West, flailing about the screen, but instead of being shown how his family is treating him or perhaps seeing him lying on his death bed, he is instead superimposed upon a model of his towering mansion, which instead of providing space and refuge seems instead to imprison and confine the old man. Then as the narrative goes on to tell of the medicines and potions he is taking, the towers of his mansion are slowly echoed and replaced by the bottles containing those potions. And still the old man is trapped, and his growing despair and desperation is made evident. Meanwhile, behind the bottles, we have another superimposition of menacing black cats, towering over both the bottles/mansion and the man. Yes, it is, perhaps a bit too spot-on literal, but there is a power to it, nonetheless.

cc5Finally the old man passes, slumping into his chair, and we see, coming slowly into focus, an envelope, and written on the outside of it is “Last Will and Testament of Cyrus West. To be opened twenty years after my death”.  This scene then fades back to show us just the mansion and then a furred, long-clawed hand enters the frame and picks up another envelope reading “This envelope is never to be opened if the terms of my will are carried out.” The clawed hand replaces the envelope, the scene fades, and a card tells us “and for twenty years, it was said, the tormented ghost of Cyrus West wandered nightly through the deserted corridors”, at which point, we the viewers become the ghost himself, wandering the hallways of the mansion, ever vigilant. Another card appears: “But on the night when the will was to be read, there was something more tangible than a ghost in the house”, and though we go back to the same first person perspective, wandering through the hallways, this time our way is illuminated by the beam of a flashlight. It falls upon a safe which is opened by a gloved hand, and we see one of the envelopes being replaced in the safe. It is only after this opening mood setting five minutes that we see the first of the participants in our drama-to-come, and the mayhem, murder, and accusations begin.

Ok, enough of me telling you about it, instead, here’s a very short scene which shows not only the exterior of the mansion and the creepy clawed hand I mentioned above menacing our sleeping heroine, but also the sometimes innovative use of even the intertitles. I do think in this version the atmosphere is somewhat undercut by the score, but it was, unfortunately, the best that I could find.

Ok, let’s take a look at the skinny for this flick, shall we?

Title: The Cat and the Canary
Release Date: 1927
Running Time: 82 min
Tinted Black and White
Stars: Laura La Plante, Forrest Stanley, Creighton Hale
Directed by:  Paul Leni
Produced by:  Paul Kohner
Distributed by:  Universal Pictures
Adapted from the 1922 play by John Willard

The Cat and the Canary is available to watch for free or as a free legal download here.

A Covering Comics Bonus – The Tomb Of Dracula Animated Movie (1980)

todm1Last week I published a “Covering Comics” article featuring one of my all-time favorite horror comics, Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula which ran from 1972 to 1979. You can read that article here. One thing that I didn’t note at the time was that there was an animated adaptation of the series, something that even most comics fans aren’t aware of.

Probably a big reason for that is because rather than being developed and released in the US, the movie was actually made by the Toei studio in Japan.

Yep, we’re talking Dracula anime. Well, sort of.

Titled Yami no Teiō: Kyūketsuki Dorakyura or Emperor of Darkness: Vampire Dracula, the animated made-for-Japanese-television movie actually mimics the style of the comic series fairly well, rather than attempting to adapt it to the anime style more familiar to American audiences today. Unfortunately, it also attempts to condense the entire 70 issue series into one 94 minute film. Or, again, sort of.

todm2You see, the real focus of the movie is on the last 20 or so issues of the book which feature Dracula’s struggles with his son Janus and his inevitable destruction. This means that the roles of some of the other characters are inevitably changed, and of course, since it wasn’t intended for an American release, there are certain Japanese cultural touches that are included that likely otherwise wouldn’t have been, such as Quincy Harker making sure that Frank Drake has adequate kung-fu skills.

Nonetheless, in the end, this really isn’t a terrible adaptation of the series, it just really isn’t that good either. Still, it does stand out as a kind of cultural curiosity.

Though as far as I’m aware, the movie has never had an official VHS or disk release in the US, it did enjoy a short run on cable in a dubbed version produced by Harmony Gold under the title Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned, and that’s the version that I’ve embedded for you below. Enjoy!



Falling To The Pavement – Why The Box Office Returns For The Walk (2015) Are So Bad

walk1So the box office for Robert Zemeckis’s new film The Walk is not good, and apparently this surprises some people. The only thing that surprises me is that some people are surprised about it.

A couple of days ago I ran across this article which attempts to analyze the “whys” behind the movie’s failure – according to the article,

After a 9-day exclusive engagement in IMAX theaters, The Walk expanded wide this past weekend, grossing a meager $3.8 million domestic, not even good enough to crack the box office top 10. Its 12-day domestic total now stands at $6.4 million, which it has only slightly bettered with $7.1 million from limited international release in countries like Australia, Brazil and Denmark. The studio, Sony, is said to be stunned and discouraged, understandably preferring to toot their own horn (Hotel Transylvania 2 is a bonafide hit!) than concede defeat (The Walk is d.o.a. in America…for now.)

The author of this article, Kelly Konda, seems to be quite enamored of the film, and of its director, stating among other things “If The Walk does end up becoming a financial failure, at least from its theatrical run, it should be considered a noble failure.”

walk2Basically, Konda spends most of the article praising both Zemeckis and Paramount studio head for going ahead with this film in the face of the inevitablility that it would not likely be a huge box office draw, (a move which, in other circumstances I might also be championing) then trying to figure out just why that was such an inevitability, when the answer is very simple: Though the premise of the film is quite daring, and the film itself might be quite entertaining, there has been absolutely nothing in any of the promotional material that has convinced me, or anyone else apparently, that there is any reason to go see this film. Anyone who really has any interest in the subject will likely have already seen the excellent 2008 documentary Man on Wire which features not only interviews with the actual Philippe Petit (the highwire artist and daredevil who took the daring walk) but footage and stills of the real-life event rather than CGI fueled re-enactments. After all, why pay $10 or more to watch Joseph Gordon Levitt (good looking though he may be) fumble for a French accent and fake his way through what is truly a rather fascinating story when I can watch the real event unfold at home for free on Netflix?

walk3And if people aren’t even interested enough to do that, well then…

Of course, it also didn’t help, as Korda notes, that the studio decided to do a first-week IMAX-only release, something they’ve tried a few times recently, presumably hoping for some positive word of mouth to fuel interest before the film opened wide, but it’s hard to get that word of mouth when nobody’s going to see your movie in the first place and especially not at inflated IMAX prices.

Plus, let’s face it, there’s really no tension involved in the film – we already know the outcome – so the best it can be is a character piece, and again, why spend the time with an actor portraying the character when you can actually spend the time with the real Petit (and those who aided and abetted him)?

Anyway, that’s the question that the studio actually faced, and obviously never came up with a compelling enough answer for, and that’s the reason that The Walk was always destined to be a box-office failure.

Here, I’ll give you a chance to make the determination for yourself. First up, here’s a trailer for the documentary Man on Wire:

And here’s the trailer for The Walk.

So what do you think? Is there anything in that second trailer that compels you to plunk down your money for this film?

Nope, didn’t think so. Me neither.