Legends of Horror, Discs 11 and 12

It’s over, it’s over, this set is finished. What a relief. I know I didn’t actually start watching it until April, but it seems even longer than that, as some of the 1-hour films in this set felt like they’d taken whole days of my life. With the fervent hope that I never again encounter Tod Slaughter, and could actually do without ever seeing Bela Lugosi again either, here are the last two discs—one of them saving me loads of time because it’s entirely Hitchcock.

Disc 11

It’s Never Too Late (or It’s Never Too Late to Mend), 1937, b&w. David MacDonald (dir.), Tod Slaughter, Jack Livesey, Marjorie Taylor, Ian Colin, Laurence Hanray, D.J. Williams, Roy Russell. 1:10 [1:07].

This film is a horror, all right—another example of Tod “Snidely Whiplash” Slaughter’s astonishing range of acting, from V to Villainous to…V for Villainous. The excuse for this one is that it’s supposedly based on a book that exposed the horrors of 19th-century British prisons and caused Queen Victoria to clean them up. Maybe, but prison scenes (as brutal as they are, with the “visiting justices” apparently competing to see how vicious they can be towards prisoners) aren’t all of the film.

The plot? A young woman loves a young man who’s having trouble making a farm pay off. The Squire, a typically villain-tending-toward-insanity Slaughter role, wants the young woman for his own. He fails in framing the young man for poaching (which leads to most of the prison scenes, since an innocent friend of the young man “confesses” to prevent the frame), but the young man must go off to Australia to win his fortune, without which the young woman’s father will forbid the union.

The Squire, also the local Justice of the Peace, suborns the postman to assure that no letters between the two ever reach their destination, cultivates the father, and variously twirls his mustache and otherwise sneers. Oh, in the end, he fails, of course…another hallmark of a Slaughter flick. (Another: Despite his continuous sneering, debasement of others, etc., he seems to be viewed favorably by most.)

The only reason I’d give this any rating at all is for Slaughter fans (which apparently include every IMDB reviewer of this piece of…well, never mind.) In that case, I guess it’s no worse than most. As a revelation of bad conditions in prisons, it’s apparently several decades too late and mostly consists of sneering. As a Slaughter film, after which I had to go wash my hands and mind…well, kindly, $0.75.

The Bowery at Midnight, 1942, b&w. Wallace Fox (dir.), Bela Lugosi, John Archer, Wanda McKay, Tom Neal, Vince Barnett, Anna Hope. 1:01.

It’s an hour long. It stars Bela Lugosi in a role with two names. It’s…an incoherent mess, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The only plausible explanation I can see for the way this movie doesn’t work is that it’s a summary version of a really bad serial—but that seems not to be the case. It’s surely a really bad movie. This time Lugosi’s not a mad scientist; he’s a professor of psychology (at a campus that looks like UC Berkeley but is apparently near the Bowery) who, in the evenings, runs a soup kitchen up top and an incredibly evil gang down below—a gang that pointedly leaves one of its members as corpse at each robbery.

Or does it? The has-been doctor who’s a support person (I guess) for this gang (which, at the point of the film, has maybe two members at a time) seems to be doing things with their bodies. Near the end, a bunch of fatalities seem so be taking care of the evil mastermind. I’d say “oh good, zombies,” but the very end has one apparent fatality reunited with his girlfriend.

Awful, awful, awful. Also, portions of the print are so faded as to be nearly unwatchable, and some dialog is missing just enough syllables for unintelligibility—which, fortunately, doesn’t harm this picture all that much. (Reading some of the IMDB raves for this trash…I guess true fans are true fans.) For Bela Lugosi completists, maybe, charitably, $0.50.

Number Seventeen

Previously reviewed (September 2009), $1.75.

The Face at the Window, 1939, b&w. George King (dir.), Tod Slaughter…and what else do you need to know? 1:10 [1:04]

Mercy, I beg of you, mercy: Not another Slaughter melodrama! I tried. Honest, I did. And when the nobleman played by Slaughter attempted to woo the young woman half his age and began laughing His Laugh when informed she was in love with someone else…I snapped. No more, no more: Even 40 minutes more of Tod Slaughtering another role was too much.

The plot, from the sleeve: “The Wolf” is murdering people in Paris with no clues—and is, well, who else? I can predict the rest: The nobleman does his best to ruin the young man, does various evil deeds, and is eventually caught out, with good triumphing. Some of the same cast as The Ticket of Leave Man. Since I gave up part way through, I’ll just say that if I hope never to encounter endure another Slaughter melodrama. $0.

The Shadow of Silk Lennox, 1935, b&w. Ray Kirkwood & Jack Nelson (dir.), Lon Chaney Jr., Dean Benton, Marie Burton, Jack Mulhall, Eddie Gribbon, Theodore Lorch. 1:00.

Another one that involves a “Legend of Horror”—if Lon Chaney, Jr., really deserves that moniker. This one’s a gangster musical mystery of sorts, featuring Chaney as a nightclub owner that everybody assumes, correctly, is a gangster. The sleeve description seems entirely offbase: Everybody knows he’s a gangleader, and he doesn’t actually start killing off associates until one of them doublecrosses him.

The key, such as it is, is that he’s got locals in his pocket, making sure he’s bailed out and intimidating witnesses so nobody faults him (one sequence shows just how easy that is when anybody’s allowed into a lineup). But then the G-men arrive and things go wrong. There’s one plot line that appears to be a red herring and an undercover agent who’s accepted far too readily as being a safecracker who can also escape from jail. And there are musical numbers—quite a few of them for a one-hour flick. Unfortunately, the sound track’s extremely noisy through much of the film (the print’s also damaged at times).

Chaney Jr.’s not that impressive, and neither is the movie. I suppose it’s worth $0.75.

Disc 12

All previously-reviewed Hitchcock films: Champagne, $1.00; Juno and the Paycock, $0.75; The Manxman, $1; Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Chaney Vase, $0.55; Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, $0.

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