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THE WHISTLER
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

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TOMM – VOLUME 3, Issue 3                                              March, 2008

 

WANNA GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT?!

 

(Courtesy of Evan Thompson©*)

 

From ghosties and ghoulies 

And long-leggitty beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

May the Good Lord preserve us.

                                                                       

            That is either an old Scottish or Welsh prayer, depending on your source!

            In the meantime . . .  Boo!

            Okay, Maven knows that Halloween was some months ago but . . . dealing with Spring weather can get messy here in Texas. 

Unless you count being in Tornado Alley when things can get downright dangerous.

            Maven likes to be ready with spooky movies and goodies to eat to go with the dark and stormy times—short of tornadoes appearing!

            But what would be a good movie when the rains come?

            An old, dark house mystery, of course!

            So . . . what exactly makes up an old, dark house mystery?

            Good question!

           

(Aunt Battie)

 

            Maven asked her dear Aunt Battie to kindly send over her assistants, Slo, Mo and Larry.

            They’ll be taking over this article since they make a specialty of spooking house movies!

 

 

 

            Hi, we’re Slo, Mo and Larry!

            We know lots about spooky old houses and we’ve investigated lots of them!

            There are three kinds of ‘em in old movies:  They have ghosts, phantoms and then there are ones who don’t have either.

            Even such classic series like Sherlock Homes and Charlie Chan had old dark house mysteries . . . . The Hound of the Baskervilles (1930) is a favorite of ours with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce—complete with a séance scene which wasn’t in the book and The Scarlet Claw (1944), also with a séance and a phantom.

            We also enjoy going over to Miss Maven’s when she watches her favorite Chan movie:  Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936) with ghosts appearing in séances.

            But ghosts or phantoms aside there are some things that both kinds of mysteries had:  usually an old and often derelict house that was isolated for some reason (we prefer a nice rainstorm!) and people who have no choice but to check the house out.

            We have covered a lot of really neat movies with phantoms and ghosts in the Main Event section.

            We hope you like reading about them!

 

Where to start . . . ?

            That depends on whether you like your Old Dark House Mysteries with phantoms, ghosts or those movies that have neither. . . .  But it has to be a house that is isolated for some reason, frequently because it’s off the beaten path and all access roads are underwater or  - in one case – blown up!

We just can’t think of any at the moment that don’t have at least one phantom and/or ghost!

            Slo, Mo and Larry prefer both kinds but let’s start with the phantoms!

 

(The Bat Whispers [1930], the

 first remake of The Bat [1926])

            Maven has already covered Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Bat (1926) vs. D.W. Griffith’s One Exciting Night (1922) which you can check out at http://tommenterprises.tripod.com/id19.html.

            These are both silent and long at easily over two hours if you can handle them, as is another silent classic with a phantom:

            The Cat and the Canary (1927) has its good and bad points:

It’s generally considered to be the movie that put ODHM on the map, as it were, and really gives us the heebie-jeebies . . . what with the hall of bellowing curtains and that spookie Mammy . . . but . . . .

            Who was the idiot to call her “Mammy”?!

 

(Laura La Plante as Annabelle West with the house

handyman in The Cat and The Canary [1917])

 

            And the hero, Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), was a wussy of a hero if we ever saw one!  And he wasn’t all that great in the funny department either.

            He did have his good points like the scene where he got caught in a room in a bedroom that he shouldn’t have been when Aunt Susan (Flora Finch) and Cousin Cecily (the very tall Gertrude Astor) were given.

            So what does he do?

            What every red-blooded American male would do.

            He hid under the bed.

            It was a good shot when Aunt Susan looked under the bed and saw his glasses staring back at them, frightening her but it didn’t scare Cousin Cecily OR us!

            And large chunks of it seem awfully dated to us, like the really white makeup that made most of the cast look either scared out of their minds or somebody else’s movie ghosts that ended up on the wrong movie set.

 

(Paulette Goddard and “The Cat”

in The Cat and the Canary [1939])

 

            We prefer the 1939 version with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.

            It’s lots funnier and the story doesn’t come across as so old-fashioned.

            ‘Course, we guessed who the bad guy was as soon as he appeared but we won’t tell!

            Maybe we ought to mention The Old Dark House (1932).

            What it has, instead of a phantom or ghost, is Boris Karloff so hideously made-up that Maven’s Mother could hardly finish watching it the first time.  He lurks around as good as a phantom any day of the week.

            It has a new actor to Hollywood – Charles Laughton – in a great role as a self-made millionaire traveling with his “fancy lady,” Lillian Bond as Gladys DuCane.

 

(Boris Karloff as the lecherous butler and Gloria Stuart

as Margaret Waverton in The Old Dark House [1932])

 

They stop at the home of Horace Femm (Earnest Thesiger from Bride of Frankenstein, 1936) and his sister, Rebecca (Eva Moore) because his car broke down in one heck of a thunderstorm.

            That storm had also brought Melvin Douglas as Roger Penderel, Raymond Massey as Philip Waverton and Gloria Stuart as his wife, Margaret, because . . . surprise! . . . their car was also all but flooded out.

            This movie makes up for the lack of phantoms and ghosts by very convincing  writing, the spooky sets and some great acting by Theisger, Moore, Elsepth Dundgeon as Sir Roderick Femm, and Bremer Wills (Saul Femm) who would scare Bela Lugosi on any given night in that house.

            [And, yes, her name is Elsepth Dundgeon who played Sir Roderick!  She was great in the role and let’s face it:  When a body gets that old, it can be real hard to tell who’s a guy and who isn’t!]

 

(Boris Karloff as the butler in

The Old Dark House [1932])

            This isn’t counting Boris Karloff in a makeup that required Universal to add a sort of prologue that basically said that, yep, this is the same Karloff who scared everybody in Frankenstein and all!

            He rants and raves all over the place plus menacing Gloria Stuart and scaring the dickens out of everybody else except the Femms.

            There is a scene that probably made sense at the time.  It may have been added to give the story an edge, make it seem cutting edge, between Melvin Douglas’s character of Penderal and Lillian Bond as Gladys DuCane.

            They go out to the garage where the car has been put (duh!) to get more booze.

            If we had to be in a house that looked like the Femms’, we would have started a still before even entering the house!

            But they start talking about their lives, what brought them there and how attracted they are to each other.

            But what to do about it?

            Basically, they decide to do what we now would call “shacking up together” and to heck with her “protector/provider” in Charles Laughton and society at large.

            Oh, by the way, Douglas/Pendergal doesn’t have any money but they’ll manage.

            The problem that we have with this scene is that it stops the movie cold in its tracks.  The only thing about this scene that matches the rest of the movie is the cold and rain that caused them to stop at the Femms.

            There are great lines like the ones that Theisger has.  In one scene he picks up some flowers and throws them in the fire as he tells his visitors that his sister was about to arrange them in a vase.

 

(Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm

 in The Old Dark House [1932])

 

            Even better is the dinner scene where he invites everyone to “Have a potato.”

            There are so few actors that we know of who can match Karloff or Lugosi in making a line like that sound worse than it is but he does it!

            There is even a Ginger Rogers picture, The Thirteenth Guest (1932), that has a phantom as well as Rogers as a heroine very early in her career.

            It is now on DVD.

            The Thirteenth Guest turns out to be a great little gem with a house in the middle of nowhere and nobody has been in the house for years . . . or have they?

            There is one problem that we get a kick out of.  Ginger shows up with a coat that looks like the fur collar came from a bunch of skunks – and badly dressed skunks at that!

            Cross our hearts!

            There is another phantom-type ODHM in Horror Island (1941) with Dick Foran, Peggy Moran and Leo Carrillo where the phantom appears early in the movie even if they don’t get to the island until well into the movie.

            There is another for the kiddies in the family in Haunted House with Marcia Mae Jones and Jackie Moran as two kids in a small town who want to help a friend who has been falsely accused of murder.  The haunted house in the title and its phantom don’t appear until almost the end.

            So much for the spooks in this film but maybe the kids will enjoy watching what people used to do back before television took off . . . much less ipods!

 

(John Wayne as John Mason and Sheila Terry

as Janet Carter in Haunted Gold [1932])

 

            Even John Wayne made an old dark house mystery in Haunted Gold (1932).

            It keeps to the formula, complete with phantom except for the bad weather but it’s lots of fun to watch, especially when it comes to action.

            This was a John Wayne movie after all!

            Evan Basil Rathbone had a phantom – that glowed no less! – in The Scarlet Claw (1944) and, need we mention his version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)?!

 

  

(The Hound of the Baskervilles [1939] and The Scarlet Claw [2944], both

with basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.)

 

            The Hound didn’t have a phantom or ghost but it does qualify since it was isolated in the middle of a moor that was sparsely populated and a family legend of a spectral beast that haunts whoever inherits the family title.

            This is the version that we think keeps closest to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original, not to mention the spookiest filming!

            It does have a séance with Dr. Mortimer’s wife (Beryl Mercer as Jennifer Mortimer) which isn’t in the book and isn’t necessary but we frankly don’t care as we enjoy it so much!

            There are ODHM with ghost such as The Ghost Breakers (1940, with Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope) that starts out as a great comedy and finally around to the spooky old house that’s on its own island just off Cuba.

            There is a zombie (Noble Johnson) and his mummy (Virginia Brisance) but . . . there’s a ghost that gets up out of a chest and walks around.

            The poor thing either got tired of the stale air in the chest or just wanted to walk off its cramped muscles!

            But it’s another one that delivers . . . .

            The Thirteenth Chair (1929) has Margaret Witchery as Madame Rosalie La Grange.

            You may remember her as the mother in Sergeant York (1941) with Gary Cooper as York.

            Witchery’s character is a medium hired to help find the murderer in a group of suspects that have been brought together.

            It dates from 1929, that period when movies were changing from silent to talkies, with scenes that were filmed like plays with pretty much one set but the writing and actors more than make up for it.

            It has Bela Lugosi as Inspector Delaney and he manages to keep the scene-chewing to a minimum in this movie as he investigates the séance that Madam La Grange performed that produced a murder.

            We hate such complications of a good séance!

            Does it have any phantoms?  No.

            Does it have any ghosts?  Not exactly but it does have moments when some unexplained things go on.

            But The Thirteenth Chair is in a separate category of Old Dark House Mysteries – it shoots for the psychic edge complete with séance time.

            You’ll Find Out (1940) is another one that has a house out in the middle of nowhere that becomes even more isolated when the bridge that connects the property to the rest of the world somehow gets blown up.

            It has Bela Lugosi as Prince Salina, a psychic that Margo Bellacrest has to reunite her with her late brother in séances.

            Boris Karloff is Judge Mainwaring, the family lawyer, who is always on hand to support and advise Margo and her niece, Janis Bella crest (Janis Parrish).

            And guess who shows up for good measure.

            Peter Lore.

            He’s Professor Karl Fanning, the well-known ghost debunker.

            Yep!  Lugosi, Karloff and Lore in an old mystery!

            Plus Kay Kiser and his band playing themselves as the band hired by Helen Parrish’s character to play at her twenty-first birthday/coming out party.

            [This was when “coming out” meant young ladies were presented to society and nobody was in or out of closets!]

            Lugosi has two séances that produce some interesting things . . . namely spirits that appear and disappear and scare the dickens out of everybody. 

 

(Kay Kiser in You’ll

Find Out [1940])

 

            The first time Maven saw it . . . it scared her silly and this was in the middle of the afternoon!!

            Believe us, this rarely happens!

            Not so scary but also in the ODHM genre are several of the Charlie Chan movies. 

            One is Maven’s favorite Chan, Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936), which has a psychic named Carlotta (Gloria Roy) who produces a new spirit in the old family home.

            Except that this spirit is the guy that Chan was hired to find and now he has to find out what happened to him.

            And there is another séance scene at the end but we don’t want to give away the ending!

            Another Chan with a psychic who conducts a séance is Bela Lugosi in The Black Camel (1931), the only entry in the series to have been filmed on location in Hawaii.

            Boy, that Bela gets around!

            The séance scene in this Chan is even better than the one in CC’s Secret. Why wouldn’t it with Bela Lugosi!

            There is another psychic, Eve Cairo (Pauline Moore) who works for the Magician Radini (Cesar Romero) who is trying to get the goods on another so-called Dr. Zodiac.

            This doesn’t have the spookie old house but it does have what was called the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1939.

            Definitely worth watching!

            There is another Chan with a séance scene that came later on when Monogram started producing them, still with Sidney Toler.

            This was Black Magic (aka Meeting at Midnight, 1944) that has Frances Chan playing . . . Frances Chan! . . . in the only story in the series that had Chan investigating a mystery with just one of his daughters!

            There is a séance at the beginning of the movie that Frances attends and is just as much under suspicion as the other people in the circle when the medium is killed.

            There is no bullet in him but he does have a hole that leaves blood on the chair behind him.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?!

            Charlie is called in and finds he has to stick around to solve the case because, as we said, his daughter is under suspicion . . . .

            Is this a full list of these kinds of movies?

            No, but we need a popcorn fix!

            Don’t you?!

           

                                                                        Slo, Moe and Larry

 

*EVAN THOMPSON

 

(Courtesy of Evan Thompson©)

 

            Evan Thompson is a great friend of Maven’s and he lives out west in Nevada with his wife, Molly, and two of his eleven children, Ryne and Elspeth (aka Elsie).

 

(“Evan and his nutty bird,” says Friend Evan!)

 

            Evan is retired but keeps as busy as possible with his family, art work and helping Maven with an extensive amount of research on old movies for her.

            His expertise also includes the Navy and all of Charlie Chan Fans that include Maven are grateful on his additions on the naval slant of movies and his eagle-eye out for bloopers!

            This in addition to Evan and Molly being most excellent friends and advisors to Maven.

            Viva Evan y Molly y sus familia!

            May you all live long and prosper!

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