Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Murder in the Museum (1934)

Murder in the Museum starts off promising with cool spooky music and a wonderful location - a dime museum called the Sphere Museum, billed as "The World's Largest Collection of Natural and Unnatural Wonders." Though the heydey of the dime museums was past when this film was made, it strives to evoke that fascinating freaks and fakirs for nickel era. See the Living Head! Watch the Armless Artist! Have your fortune told by Katura the Seeress! Amaze at the magic of Profesor Mysto!

When a crusading councilman is murdered as he investigates rumored drug dealing (right after the hoochie coochie dance) a newspaper reporter and a spunky young woman go after the killer.

If you're into the sideshows, freakshows and carnivals of the 20s and 30s you'll probably enjoy the dime museum trappings of the story. One detail they definitely got right - after the murder the museum advertises for patrons to "come see the spot where Councilman Newgate was Murdered." That totally would have happened.

There's an actual mystery here (who killed the councilman - and how) and our hero does some actual sleuthing to resolve the case. Watch for Symona Boniface as the menacing fortune teller. She would later go on to menace the Three Stooges in many of their shorts.

MITM was directed by Melville Shyer, considered one of the founding directors of Hollywood. He only directed a handful of pictures but he worked as assistant director on about 150 films. Despite this pedigree, the film suffers from a bit too much staginess and so I'm rating it 3 stars.

The Ghost Camera (1932)

This is not a movie about a camera that takes pictures of ghosts, though that probably would have been a nice little chiller (Hollywood, call me!). Nope. The Ghost Camera tells the story of a young chemist who mysteriously finds a camera in the backseat of his convertible after a drive. Having no idea how it got there he decides to develop the film and bring into focus...murder!

This tight little "mystery narrative" is best known for being the debut film performance of  a 15 year-old Ida Lupino in the romantic female lead. "The heroine of the mystery drama is always a ravishing creature," as the male lead points out and Lupino fits the bill here. Lupino had a fine career as an actress and later went on to direct films and tons of television.

Our leading man, Henry Kendall, is of the nerdy stiff upper lip British type which lends a bit of humor to the proceedings. David Lean, later director of Lawrence of Arabia, edited.

The film has some slick camera work considering the year it was shot and a story that moves along at a nice pace. Picturesque English locations and this wonderful bit of dialogue: "Murder? Blimey!"

3 1/2 Stars. Fun stuff.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)

So bad it's good! Well, okay, not good. Actually, it's terrible. But if you and your friends are looking for a movie to riff on, Mystery Science Theater-style, this is the movie for you. And it's from Hammer Studios! I'm not a huge Hammer fan but this has to be one of the larger pieces of mummy crap to ever come out of that studio.

Cheap sets, poor direction, a leading lady whose accent was so bad they had to dub her entire performance, chopped off rubber hands, and so much more!

And there's the Mummy. A slow-moving rather crappy looking mummy. Be sure to watch for the scene where the Mummy slowly advances on a victim to stomp on the guy's head while his friends stand around with sucks-to-be-you looks on their faces. Thanks fellows!

The finale in a underground tunnel provides about the only interesting visual. Check out the guy who cuts off his own hand by slamming a door on it. Sheesh. It's just as stupid as it sounds.

1 1/2 stars, lifted only by the performance of Fred Clark as a Barnum-inspired showman. Almost as craptastic as The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Almost.

Even the poster sucks.


Tomorrow At Seven (1933)

A mysterious and infamous murderer threatens a group of people at an old dark house. His calling card, "The Black Ace." He has warned his victims when he'll strike - hence the title - and only writer Chester Morris can expose him.

Morris theoretically has help in the form of two comical police detectives, Clancy and Dugan, who early in the film offer up this priceless bit of dialogue:

Clancy: What's up, Mr. Drake?

Thornton Drake: You of course know this 'Black Ace.'

Clancy: Oh, sure. We just missed catching him about 6 months ago.

Dugan: Sure, we trapped one of his earwiggers. It was like this: I'm wise this guy blatts out for stoolin'. So I'm crowdin' him wit' the heater but he don't belch. I know he's an alky stiff so I start feedin' him the dynamite when Clancy walks in wit' this guy's twist. She's all full o' happy dust and leapin'. He calls for a blizzard so we let 'er have it, figgerin' on the beef, see? She don't open up on the Black Ace, but she spills enough on this earwigger to get him fried in New York last September.

Thornton Drake: What's he talking about?

Clancy: [to Dugan] How many times have I gotta tell ya? These guys don't understand them technical terms!

Clancy: What he's tryin' to say is this: We buttoned one o' the Black Ace's spies who dropped a dim. He's sweatin' the guy with a rod, but it's no dice. But he remembers that the guy's a stew! So he starts givin' him a jolt now and then. Just then I breezes in with the guy's moll. She's a snowbird. So I gives her a sniff of the gold dust and she opens up on the guy. Last September they gave him the hot squat. That's what he's tryin' to tell ya.

Ah, the good old days, when cops could just give cocaine to people to get them to talk. Probably stood up in court too.

It takes a while to get to the old creepy house, but once we arrive we get snipped telephone wires, a mute housekeeper, a delightfully creepy coroner, and more mystery. Sounds good, right? Sadly, the film largely squanders its pulpy premise by taking a light comic tone where a creepier vibe would have better served the material. The film devotes too much time on the comic relief instead of focusing on the dashing writer character, which would have provided a more exciting story.

3 Stars for keeping the plot moving over its one hour run time. And the poster is cool as hell.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

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