And, so, here I sit after a few days of not writing, trying to get warmed up for working on my novel. Munching a few salt & vinegar potato chips, and noodling on the keyboard. This is a movie-themed post, but I’ll wander around a bit before getting into things.
Gonna talk about Svengoolie’s movie on Saturday night, Night Monster (1942), but first a quick side trip to Cairo, Illinois, the southernmost town in Illinois, where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. Once, it was a powerful river town, with wide streets and beautiful old houses. We drove down one street and saw the remains of a classic old movie theater, the Gem. Located at 224 Eighth Street, it opened for business in 1910 and closed for good in 1978. It held 907 seats, according to the http://cinematreasures.org/ site.
My wife and I stopped by and took some pictures of this old beauty yesterday. I felt the power it once had. Even now, it still radiated cinematic juice. The marquee still intact, I expected to go in and watch a movie.
Now, on to Night Monster. What a wonderful mess this was. Starring Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill (they got top billing, with Bela’s name the larger of the two), although Bela had a relatively unimportant role as the butler, Rolf. Wendy and I decided he was wasted in this role, merely there as a diversion and to play the properly aloof man-servant. Why they didn’t use his power we couldn’t understand. The movie poster even shows Bela in the foreground, but he’s not major.
It was a mess, but a delightful mess. One of the classic “old dark house” flicks, we get things rolling at the home of Kurt Ingston (played cantankerously well by Ralph Morgan, brother of Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz), where we see a colorful cast of characters. The housekeeper, Sarah Judd (Doris Lloyd, who eventually would play in The Sound of Music as Baroness Ebberfeld), is busily scrubbing a blood-stained carpet when one of our other cast of crazies walks up and says something about that being a job for the maid.
And the maid is on her way out, permanently, as she has “seen too much” in this lunatic house. The maid, Milly Carson (played spunkily by Janet Shaw. Wendy and I decided she would’ve made a good Lois Lane), who was one of our favorite characters, has decided to check out of crazy hotel.
What follows is a revolving door of characters coming and going, most of whom were clearly defined (obvious hero, red herrings, borderline comic relief), and for all us “old dark house” watchers it was a treat to see this crazy quilt of characters parading through. And for anyone who hasn’t seen this type of film, it will also be fun to see who and what will happen next.
Basically, a wealthy old man who’s disabled assembles the three doctors at his mansion. He blames Moe, Larry, and Curly for putting him in his present state, but promises them they will see something new in the way of a medical marvel. Our three doctors are Dr. King (Lionel Atwill, Ivan Igor in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)), Dr. Timmons (Frank Reicher), and Dr. Phipps (Francis Pierlot). One of our three keeps going on with something about glands, which provides the eye-rolling comedy. There’s the old man’s crazy/non-crazy sister, Margaret Ingston (Fay Helm), a mystery writer/hero named Dick Baldwin (Don Porter, Gidget’s Dad), a lecherous chauffeur/assistant named Laurie who (Leif Erickson, who was in a TV series called The High Chaparral), a mystic named Agor Singh (Nils Asther), the love interest psychologist Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey), and a crusty old constable (Robert Homans). Others come and go, but these are our major players.
There’s a series of murders happening, everyone’s strangled, and there’s always a small pool of blood on the floor, but not from the victims. The mystic is teaching old man Ingston how to heal his body by sheer will power, but so far he’s still disabled. We’ve got our batch of suspects, people are still droppin’, so…who dun it? You’ll just have to watch and see. This is a fun little murderous romp in an old mansion, and a little different spin for Universal.
‘til next time…Adios.