Posted by Richard Harland Smith on August 31, 2012
I feel as though I’ve been complaining a lot lately. Pointing the finger. Assigning blame. And so, with my birthday looming, I’m going to take a break from all that and throw some love at you. Case in point… THE BLOB (1958). I love everything about THE BLOB — those brilliant primary colors, the depiction of small town American life, the whole sequence set in the spookshow, Olin Howlin in his final film role, the theme song — but specifically I love the Blob. Look at it! It’s gorgeous! So red, like somebody melted a bunch of Swedish Fish and rolled it into a ball. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be consumed by that?
I love Eve Arden! Oh, don’t get me wrong — I love Vincent Price, too. He’s great, as we all know, but I really love Eve Arden. Had I been born at the right time and in the right place, I could have loved her, too, if you get my meaning. She was never considered beautiful by Hollywood standards, and so she was always stuck playing the heroine’s best friend or charged with the task of trucking in the comic relief, as all big, horsey women are, but I think she’s absolutely gorgeous. She’s got the perfect touch of masculinity that I think is essential to true beauty. I guess I should admit that I never went for girly girls. Oh, I can agree with you that Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, and Grace Kelly are pretty girls, cover girl material, and I’m not lying… but they don’t touch me. Eve Arden, on the other hand, makes me weak in the knees. If she had been a film noir heroine and I her fall guy, I would have been putty in her hands. I don’t know if it’s the long nose or the brick-like forehead or those intoxicatingly full lips, or that she was quick with a wisecrack and an arched eyebrow… or a combination of all of the above… but Eve Arden just does it for me. She was great in everything but if I had to pin her down to one essential role it just might be as Sgt. Natalia Moskaroff in THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944). Eve Arden in a Soviet military uniform? Da!
I love THE OMEGA MAN (1979), unapologetically. Sure, I’ve read Richard Matheson’s source novel, I Am Legend and yes it’s great and no I’m not saying THE OMEGA MAN is a faithful adaptation or better than the book… but I don’t care! I first saw this movie as an 11 or 12 year old and something about it just clicked with me. Chief among its many strengths are taut direction by the reliable Boris Sagal, a wonderful score by Ron Granier, Anthony Zerbe as the leader of the mutant pack, and Chuck Heston rocking his bachelor lifestyle armed with a Browning automatic rifle (pictured, with infrared scope) and a sweet Smith & Wesson 9mm submachine gun. Maybe the movie only really works on the level of kids’ fantasy but the important thing is that it works for me. I love “the Family,” those robed albino fundamentalist creeps who attack Heston by night and whom he hunts down by day, and that sense one gets of the last man on earth kicking around in the bones of a denuded Los Angeles. Now that I live here I watch the movie with a different eye, trying to chart his exact whereabouts at any given time. It’s how I make my fun.
I love old dark house movies. Not just THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) — which I do love — but any old creepshow set in some crumbling mansion. Whether the movie itself is immortal, I don’t care. Good or bad, you can’t go wrong with an old dark house movie… be it THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927, 1939, 1978) or THE CAT CREEPS (1930, 1946) or THE GORILLA (1927, 1930, 1939), or THE PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD (1932), or THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) or ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT (1935) or HORROR ISLAND (1941) or THE BLACK CAT (1941) or AND THEN THERE WERE NONE/TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1945, 1965, 1974, etc.). Any movie where a bunch of people show up at some foreboding abode and have to spend the night, some of it spent creeping around with flashlights and/or candles, and finding sliding panels and trap doors, where schemers and killers clutch and strangle. It doesn’t even have to be a house, per se – could be an inn, as in THE ROGUE’S TAVERN (1936), or even a lighthouse, as in SHH! THE OCTOPUS! (1937) and TOWER OF EVIL (aka HORROR OF SNAPE ISLAND, 1971). Even though these movies revolve around murder, I find them so comforting and genteel. People are always meeting in the dining room and having dinner or hang in the study and drink port or scotch from classy glasses while a fire burns in the hearth and rain lashes at the window. Even as a little kid, I loved this scenario. I felt at home and safe, even as the bodies began piling up.
I love this theme song. Actually, I love THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) through and through. It’s got everything: lost ships, strange worlds, strangling seaweed, typhoons, mutiny, Spanish Inquisitors, killer crustaceans, girls with giant racks, gunplay, sharks, booze… and to think I first saw this at a kiddie matinee. Thank you, Hammer! Thank you for BRIDES OF DRACULA (1961) and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1968) and DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) and just everything. I really could not imagine my life without you.
I get a little crazy thinking about Gale Sondergaard. Yeah, I know what I said about Eve Arden above and it’s true but Gale Sondergaard… she’s just so bad! Man, there was just something so delightful witchy about that woman (no surprise she was short-listed to play the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ). She’s full of secrets! She played a variety of roles during her long career, of course (THE LIFE OF EMIL ZOLA, THE LETTER, THE MARK OF ZORRO), but I like her best as a calculating servant, one usually in touch with the spirits, as in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939) or THE BLACK CAT (1941). Really, I love in anything where she’s constantly peeking around curtains and listening in on other people’s conversations and plotting, plotting, plotting! She was a great Sherlock Holmes villain, too, so much so that Universal spun her off into a follow-up film in which she played a different spider woman than the one who had locked antlers with Basil Rathbone two years earlier. Zenobia Dollard! What a great name for a spider woman. I’d like to imagine knowing her back in the Forties but we never could have had a life together, being that she was a Red. I mean, to each his own, but I would have gotten annoyed at all the party meetings held in our house and it would have led to tension and I love Gale Sondergaard too much to fight about politics. I got to see her perform live once, when she was very old. All I really remember about her is the white hair and those teeth. She had a great smile.
I love WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951). Is is the best science fiction film of the 1950s? No, not by a long shot. I’d rate THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1950), THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) higher, in terms of innovation, execution, and message, but I have a strange love of WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE that eclipses all other considerations. I had a Super 8 cutdown of the film when I was a kid, mostly consisting of the disaster scenes, and I fell in love with that intricate miniature work. It still thrills me, even now. You can keep your fancy CGI. Give me mattes and minis any day… and especially on my birthday!
Speaking of the end of the world, I love BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970). Inferior sequel? Sure. Cheaply made? I guess? A whole lot of apocalyptic fun? Undoubtedly! I saw this as an 8 year old and it seriously bent my psyche. Between this and THE OMEGA MAN, it’s a wonder I even stuck around to see the future, let alone live in it. This movie is brutal! Major Hollywood stars murdered in front of your eyes! Crucified apes! Radiation scarred mutants(pictured)! And PUH-POW, it all blows up in the final frames. Crippling! Scarring! Rated G! And yet here I am, at age 51 (almost) and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES is close to my heart, like the girl in elementary school with the really high forehead who gave me my first kiss.
And to deflect accusations that I’m just totally Psychotronic 24-7, I also love John Ford’s 3 GODFATHERS (1948). I’m a big John Wayne fan, always have been, always will be. I don’t know if it can be scientifically determined but I’m willing to wager my standing in the scientific community against my belief that Wayne was never better than he was here. He has all the bluster and machismo of his better-known film roles but there’s a disarming vulnerability, that gives his performance great nuance. The horror in his voice during his Terrapin Tanks speech is one of John Wayne’s greatest moments in film but I don’t want to underestimate the contributions of costars Harry Carey, Jr., and Pedro Armandariz, Sr. Also, Ward Bond. I love Ward Bond. In a manly, four-square sort of way of which Ward Bond would approve.
Oh, I could go on and on. I love too many things! I love James Wong Howe and George Robinson and Karl Freund and Dick Bush and John Cocquillon and Owen Roisman! I love Dimitri Tiomkin and Hans Salter and Frank Skinner and Ennio Morricone and Piero Piccione and Luis Bacalov! I love King Donovan and KING KONG (1933) and Mary Treen and MARY MARY BLOODY MARY (1975) and John P. Fulton and Jack P. Pierce and Edward D. Wood – yeah, I love Ed Wood! And not ironically either. ! I love Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth! I love Mario Bava and Sergio Leone and Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Georges Franju and Roger Corman and John Gilling and Terence Fisher and James Whale! I love THE FALL OF THE OUSE OF USHER (1960) and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1946) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) and THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945). I love BABETTE’S FEAST (1987) and BLOOD FEAST (1963). I love CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) and SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932) and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)! I love VAMPYR (1932) and BULLIT (1968) and ERASERHEAD (1977). I love Lee Meriwether! Not just in BATMAN (1966), where she is The Best Catwoman Ever, but in 4D MAN (1959), where she is just total sex. Total sex! In a totally straight role, too, in a lab coat and everything — total sex! Watch 4D MAN and see that I’m right! What else? I love the soundtrack to BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971) and the opening titles to THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE (1959) and the end of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSINGER (1963).
I love Mort Mills and Hayley Mills and John Larch and John Anderson and John Randolph and John Payne and many other movie Johns — ooh, John McGiver! And Woodrow Parfrey and Woodrow Chambliss and Morgan Woodward. And the scene where they take the car apart in THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) and any moment in a movie where an actor accidentally swallows a fly, and that part in THE DIRTY DOZEN (1968) where John Cassavetes says “You slobs! You slobs!” and that part in FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1972) where the girl says “That isn’t scientific! That isn’t scientific!” and the end of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) where James Donald says “Madness… madness… madness!” Actually, I love James Donald in just about anything. I love Italian psychothrillers and Spanish horror movies and Philippine jungle prison movies and German crime thrillers based on the mystery novels of Edgar Wallace! I love Karloff! Lugosi! Carradine! Chaney pere! Chaney fils! Atwill! Zucco! Dwight Frye! Evelyn Ankers! Ernest Thesiger! Una O’Connor! I love O.P. Heggie — do you even know who O.P. Heggie is? Oh, love! I love too many things! There’s so much to love in the movies! Oh frabjous day! Oh frabjous birthday to me!
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