Saturday, August 31, 2019

Book Announcement

Hello everyone. I've got some great news. After a couple of years of working on and off, my book is finally published! Released for now on Amazon, and available both on Kindle and through print.

Wholesale Theft and the Least of Ones Problems is about the adventures of Edith Donnegan, a young woman who invariably finds herself up against killer robots, mad scientists, and lizard men. All the while, she has to deal with incessant chauvinism for the most absurd of reasons, but strives to succeed.

The Key in the Grave
A haunting in a feared old mansion catches the attention of Edith, who decides to play amateur ghost-hunter to discover what happened in the past, and what’s happening now.

Empire of the Future
While on holiday to Luxembourg, Edith witnesses the world change into a bizarre hybrid of past and future technology. If she wants any chance of getting back home, she’ll have to stop a power-mad ruler before the changes are permanent.

Undead Teenagers of the Lost Island
On an uncharted island, mysterious and dastardly experiments threaten a group of visiting teenagers. Can Edith rescue them in time from the clutches of a villainous mad scientist?
And more!...

If You Could Only Cook (1935)

Jim Buchanan, president of a pioneering vehicle company, seems to have everything he could want, even a fiancee, and yet he's disappointed, especially when his radical new design is rejected by the board. Feeling down in the dumps. he goes to sit down in the park, where a jobless and homeless young woman Joan mistakes him for a fellow job-seeker, and together the two devise a plan to nab a well-paying job that's exclusive/only eligible for butlers and cooks. They end up in the mansion of the high society crook Mike Rosini, where they quickly make a favourable impression, and soon begin to fall in love. But what of Jim's real life back home?...

Promised by the studio as a Capraesque picture (causing an irate Frank Capra to consider legal action), If You Could Only Cook is a very enjoyable watch. It gets off to a great start, with an enjoyable and interesting concept

As it goes on though, the movie begins to falter. The biggest problem is ='s love life, and how we never see enough if his fiancee back home to get the impression she's that bad, so he comes off as a bit of a dick for not just breaking things off with her sooner rather than going all the way to the wedding, then ditching her. He honestly deserves everything bad that comes his way in the last act, and didn't really deserve the happy ending.

The love triangle also could've done with more work. I'd say this is a plot that would still be fine without one, but they almost try, and it's in all the marketing, but it never really goes anywhere. = and = are always the ones in love, and Rosini is never really a serious competition.

Despite a stellar first half, If You Could Only Cook lurches towards a really disappointing conclusion. All the pieces of the story are in place, but the last act does barely anything with them! =, Jim doesn't call off the wedding of his own volition, nor do we see the fallout of =. We never find out what happened with his car design, or any = with Joan's false arrest. Worst of all, we don't even get a proper final scene with Jim and Joan/the two leads! The ending is so abrupt that you'd be hard-pressed to call it an ending. Even by 1930s standards, it wasn't an ending at all!

despite being mobsters, = are shockingly polite and amusingly endearing

The actors all do fun jobs. Herbert Marshall is  prim in a deadpan sort of way, =. Jean Arthur is the best  Leo Carrillo is funny as the unscupulous gangster, and Lionel Stander feels like a comic book character in all the right ways as his henchman.

I recommend If You Could Only Cook. It's got its fair share of problems, and not even the ending rose above the second half's =, but it's never awful, by any means.

Roar of the Press (1941)

Ace reporter Wally Williams has just gotten married, and is returning home with his bride for some rest and relaxation. Little does he know the trials that await him back home. Nevermind that an irate old flame has come to the offices with an axe to grind, but while about to start their honeymoon, the young couple witness a man plummet to his death. Recognising the dead man and suspecting foul play, Wally makes the mistake of phoning the story in to his paper, and gets forcibly attached to the assignment whether he likes it or not...

Roar of the Press is a fun little picture. It certainly won't disappoint fans of the 'plucky reporter' genre, but it does have a few problems.

Getting to the positives first, Roar of the Press is a fun portrayal of the hectic lives of journalists, and those around them. I actually liked it more than His Girl Friday, which might sound like a terribly controversial thing to say, if not for the fact that I don't much care for/love His Girl Friday (I'm disreputable, I know!).

The characters are a well-written bunch, with even more minor players being a little distinct, like the 'widows of the press' club, and the fellow reporters and their snarky relationship with Wally. Mac is an amusingly bad boss who always tries his best to get the best story, regardless of his employees' wishes. Wally is a fun lead, with enough flaws to make him funny to watch, while not being so much that he's too unlikeable. Alice meanwhile is lovely and sweet, but vanishes at 10 minute intervals, often fading into the background. She's prominent in the scenes she appears in, but the gaps don't do her character any favours. This is somewhat alleviated by the climax, where she helps save the day almost single-handedly, but I do wish she'd gotten a bit more to do. Really this whole film could've done with a madman hacking away in the editing room. Cut out some scenes, add new ones, etc.

Another major character is Sparrow, a numbers man (old timey lotto gambling) enlisted by the spies to trap Wally. At first I thought this guy would be a phony friend who tries to get Wally bumped off, but in a surprising turn, he immediately warns him about the danger, tells him all about the spies, and helps fight them! And of course he ensures Wally's good behaviour in the ending. You really buy that they're friends, and this is less expected than if he was just a typical bad guy.

Now for the negatives. While it shapes up to be a murder-mystery, there are no clues for the first half of the film. I was starting to get annoyed at this, when suddenly at the halfway point we're shown the killers! They're just random spies, and it turns out the movie isn't really interested in a mystery after all. I don't mind that it's not, but I do mind that they didn't just tell us this right away! It would've saved me a lot of time.

Next is the sheer amount of things going on. It's nice that there's never a dull moment as it were, but the adverse effect from this is that just about everything falls a little short. For example, it's at around the 45 minute point of this 70 minute film when we start seeing that comraderie, so while it is handled greatly, it also comes almost too late! The same goes for other characters. Sparrow takes so long to appear that he feels like a stranger, while the villains take so long that they meant nothing to me when they finally appeared/did finally appear. Then there's the spurned girl at the beginning, who you expect to play a big role in the plot, but actually never appears again! Her mere existence is enough for Mac to use as leverage a couple of times, but it could've been more fun if she stuck around and actually got involved in the story.

The actors all do good jobs here. Wallace Ford is  while Jean Parker is cute as the beleaguered wife Alice. There's one funny scene with a newsboy, who towers over the diminutive lead! Other actresses like Evalyn Knapp and Betty Compson show up too. Didn't recognise them until I learnt from online, but they're all good. Jed Prouty is entertaining as the shouty and manipulative boss. The actors playing the rest of the reporters and wives are fun all round, while the villains are an alright bunch, if not the liveliest.

Roar of the Press has its issues, but it is still worth watching! Most might say it pales in comparison with something like the aforementioned classic, but I feel they're pretty on par. And hey, if you like one such film, you're gonna like another even if it's not as good, so why not give it a shot...

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lost in New York (1989)

The elderly Michelle is pining for the magical years she spent with her childhood friend Marie. Together they would use a statue of the Moon Goddess to transport themselves into many places and stories...

Considered to be noted and divisive director Jean Rollin's most personal film, and according to some, his grand opus, Lost in New York in unique in his filmography. Technically it does contain two of the things he's most known for, but for the most part it's unlike anything he's done. Or to put it in a better way, it's like everything he's done if he took his interest of the abstract to the furthest possible place.

Light on concrete story, Lost in New York is heavy on themes, such as a sense of melancholy and loss, of nostalgia and childhood wonderment, and more. These are relatable things that help the movie deliver an emotional connection with the viewer.

Another theme is that of the world of fiction, and what it can mean to you in your various stages of life, from an adventurous kid to a longing adult. The interlude before the middle delves us into this, where Michelle narrates to us the various stories and scenarios she and Maria would hop into, and which characters or objects they'd inhabit. What's interesting is that they mention some Jean Rollin films! I have two thoughts. First, this could either come across as self-indulgent, or an interesting self-examination of one's own legacy of work now that it's in the same world of fiction as all your old favourites. Secondly, who in their right mind is showing The Living Dead Girl or Sidewalks of Bangkok to children?!

The structure of this film is that of a dream. It has a non-linear structure, with three different main locations, as well as two different narrators! That's perhaps a little too confusing. Somewhat neat, but perhaps unneeded. The New York section is where this comes to the forefront.

Given that the film then jumps to hustling and bustle New York City, resplendent in all its loudness, I was afraid that'd clash with the sleepy French aesthetic, but it doesn't! It creates an unearthy feeling in a wholly new way, feeling like one of those dreams where everything's chaotic, and you're looking for someone but can't find them, no matter how hard you try. There are other such motifs, like finding you're running in circles, knowing where someone is but being met with an impassable barrier, or you go into what seems to be a safe haven, only to be suddenly out, and faced with bars.

You might have your own ideas of what Lost in New York means and the fact that it could easily elicit different opinions from different people is a good sign. I was able to draw my own interpretation about some of what I saw, and I even turned out to be right about some of it! It never directly explains the majority of what's going on, and leaves much up to interpretation, but gives you enough to work with, and thus doesn't feel pretentious.

Throughout his career, Rollin would often focus on the relationships between women. Lost in New York is perhaps the ultimate expression of this, giving it more depth than anything else he'd ever done to this point.

The dialogue is mixed. Sometimes it's evocative and poetic. Other times it's weird, almost sounding like a schoolkid who's trying to pad out their essay by using way more detail than is entirely necessary.

Now, you can tell from this review that Lost in New York is an artistic and poetic film. But is it actually...errr...good? Well, it's not bad, but I also feel it didn't meet its full potential. The New York scenes are random. They do fit in with the rest of the film, but they could've done with a little something extra. While they succeed in telling a simple enough story with only visual cues, maybe some extra dialogue and fleshing out could've been interesting. A little more action (figuratively, though literally wouldn't hurt either).

I feel it could've been a full length movie if it had more scenes of Michelle and Maria's childhood, and seeing them interact more so we understand their friendship better, but given the slow pace and lack of dialogue or complex story, perhaps this is a film that would've worn out its welcome at 80 or so minutes without some major tinkering.

There were two additions that felt unnecessary. The first is a superfluous vampire in the midway point (although that at least provides one interesting thing to speculate on that I won't divulge), and the second is booty. There's a moment of nudity that feels so out of nowhere and pointless, and put in there just because it wouldn't be a Rollin film without it, even though it feels incredibly at odds with this story of childhood fantasy. The buttcheeks are distracting, but at least don't ruin the moment, they just get in the way a bit. What almost ruined the moment for me was the dancing at the end, but that ended up feeling a little more justified.

The acting here is alright. The older women turn in decent performances, and the simply credited Melissa has a mystical allure as the other woman, and does an interesting dance at the end. Catherine Herengt and Catherine Lesret do well in their roles as the New York versions of Michelle and Maria, not that they're given much (never even speaking a single word). And finally there's Funny (Fanny?) and Adeline Abitbol as the two when they're children. The older sibling is good, but the other one is perhaps just a bit too young, and doesn't deliver her lines the best. They're both cute though, which is a plus.

The direction and cinematography are beautiful, with many great shots, neat staging, and good advantage taken from certain locations. It captures the feeling of New York, while the cobbled streets of a French village are suitably lonely in appearance, and Rollin staple Dieppe Beach is looking bleak as ever.

Lastly, the music here is fantastic! Definitely my favourite part of the movie, there are quite a few tunes that stand out and bring more emotion to the proceedings. Even though some of them play over less than compelling moments, they're still lovely to the ear, and struck a chord in me at least.

Lost in New York isn't for everyone, and if you can't stand art films then this will just get on your nerves. If you don't fancy such movies, listen to the soundtrack at least, but if you do, then I recommend watching it. It's got enough interesting qualities to make it worth checking out and analysing for yourself...

The Living Dead Girl (1982)

In rural France, some unscrupulous workers carelessly dump toxic waste barrels in a crypt. An earth tremor breaks one open, and the spill causes the late Catherine Valmont to rise from the dead and slaughter the intruders. The dazed woman makes her way back to her ancestral home, now empty, and is found by an old childhood friend Helene. Shocked to find her best friend alive, and surrounded by so much blood, Helene at first tries getting Catherine some help, but once she realises the affliction she's suffering from, decides to get her more blood...

The Living Dead Girl is considered to be French auter Jean Rollin's best work, and in some areas it certainly is! It's not my favourite due to its more simple and less abstract plot, but that's also a plus.The film excels in telling this relatively simple story to the best it can.

The pacing is a little strange to describe. Not much happens in a way that makes the whole film pass very quickly. It feels in a way almost underwritten. Or perhaps like the bare minimum required was written, so while the plot is complete as it is, it certainly could've done with more.

Despite the at time slow pace, the film exudes an eerie atmosphere. The minimal sound aids it greatly, in tandem with the locations, whose prettiness contrasts well with the savagery going on. A music box from the girls' childhood is an important motif, and is used very effectively in some scenes, like when it begins to slow down while Catherine's talking to Barbara. The small town location also lends a genuine quaint and homely atmosphere, feeling like they really shot this during a festival, and just filmed around everyone.

Jean Rollin's direction is fantastic, with many superbly framed shots, taking full advantage of the gorgeous countryside, and classical buildings. I can only hope they had a warranty for all the blood!

Unlike other films of Rollin's, which felt more like demented fairytales, Living Dead Girl is starkly realistic. Even the way the titular vampire comes back to life is purely scientific! Although, I suppose there could be an implication of something more at play, especially given that Catherine's body is somehow perfectly preserved after all these years as a corpse (but then again, so's her mum's, and she's not a vampire!). Despite this difference in tone, the film still feels very much like a Rollin story, with its themes of female kinship and love, as well as uncontrollable bloodlust and an urge to be destroyed.

The characters here are interesting. For the majority of the film, Catherine is a silent killer who's instantly lethal to whoever comes into contact with her, barring Helene, but you can tell that she's not a callous murderer, and that there's something going on behind her eyes. When she regains flashes of humanity, you start to see her original self come out more. Catherine is both the scariest character in the movie, and the most sympathetic. Though I question her efficiency as a blood drinker, with much of it going to waste on the floor or on her clothes! It's never explained why the 5 corpses Catherine's already accrued in her crypt can't sustain her.

Helene is likewise interesting. A seemingly normal woman, she ends up proving herself to possibly be worse than her undead friend, all in the name of protecting her.

The other leads are Barbara and her American boyfriend Greg. They're a little annoying with their constant bitching, but are intermittently tolerable. They speak English most of the time rather than French, which makes them feel all the more different from the other pair, in a good way. I'm not sure I liked the conclusion to their story though. It felt like it made their inclusion kinda pointless, and just wasted our time. I guess it does serve a purpose regarding Helene's character, but that was already clear enough from her luring a woman to her death, and kidnapping another girl to feed Catherine.

Being a Jean Rollin film (hell, being a lesbian vampire film too!), there's tons of bare bodies on display, and it's a delight to see! I'm not sure if all of the nudity was necessary though, and if it perhaps undermined certain scenes a little. I guess the decision was made to make Catherine seem more vulnerable and invalid, but it's a little distracting when you're trying to focus on a serious dramatic moment, and Francoise Blanchard's boobs are in your face the whole time.

The music in Living Dead Girl is spooky, subtle, and effectively placed. I even liked the several minute long interlude with The Fireflies, even though it kinda gets in the way of the flow.

The effects in Living Dead Girl are a real mixed bag. On one hand we've got hilariously fake moments such as a papier mache head getting its eyes poked out, but then we've got throat puncturings that looks really good, a pretty decent immolation, and the ghoulish final scene, which just looks phenomenal.

Finally, let's talk about the acting. Francoise Blanchard does a tremendous job in her role, which was no doubt a difficult one. For the first hour, she's catatonic, with only brief flashes of animalistic hunger. In the last act, more of her original humanity returns, which really complements her moments of insanity.

Marina Pierro is good at getting across the friendship between her character and Catherine, though comes across a little too unemotional and unexpressive at times. The rest of the acting is mixed, with some decent enough performances, and others hilariously bad. When it comes to the death scenes, it's about half and half. The guy who gets his eyes gouged acts like someone who's genuinely just had that happen, while his friend who gets burned by toxic waste is less convincing. Also of note is how much screaming there is in this movie-A lot! Catherine Valmont may puncture people's throats, but the sound will puncture your eardrums!

The Living Dead Girl is a neat film, for sure! It's got a few flaws that might get on your nerves as you watch, but you're probably bound to look back on the movie once it's over with a positive view. It has something special about it...

...All the Way, Boys! (1972)

When you have a favourite actor, it can sometimes be hard imagining them in a bad movie. When this does happen, sometimes you don't care, just as long as you get to see them in action, but other times  This was my original assessment of the 1972 Terence Hill-Bud Spencer vehicle All the Way, Boys, but now that a few years have passed, have my thoughts changed?...

Plata and Salud are two pilots eking out a meagre existence, struggling to get paid on time by their not-so-esteemed employers. One day, their boss gets the bright idea of having the two crash their plane as part of an insurance scam. The boys are unsure at first, but go along with the idea, and it ends up working too well, and they're stranded in the Colombian jungle. In the area is a rich mine, but only one man seems to be reaping any kind of reward from it-The powerful Mr. Ears. Realising what a crook he is, Plata and Salud decide to help out the exploited locals and put a stop to this nefarious operation...

All the Way, Boys has potential, and is very nearly a great film, but it really disappointed me when I first saw it, and not through any fault of its own. You see, the majority of the Hill and Spencer films were dubbed and shipped to the U.S. as is, but in the case of All the Way, the distributors must've felt it was too long, so they chopped at least eighteen minutes from the runtime! If you're thinking that sounds like it'd cripple the movie, you'd be correct. It's reduced to an incomprehensible mess as it rolls on, with the last quarter bearing the full brunt. Not helping at all was my somewhat defective DVD, which started the movie off like 5 minutes in after pressing Play (a rectifiable issue thanks to rewinding), as well as the slightly erroneous plot info given by the DVD case's blurb.

Moving beyond that issue and trying to judge the rest of the movie based on what remains, what we have is a still flawed movie, but definitely a typical Hill and Spencer outing, with all the stuff you wanna see.

The majority of the film doesn't even have any conflict. There's about 20 minutes of set-up before the duo crash into the jungle, and we hear about how Mr. Ears has a monopoly on the area, so they build up a business of their own...with very little opposition! There's a small scene here and there of building up to a confrontation, and eventually one does happen, but it's in the final third of the movie when the first shots are fired. From then on the two take the fight to the baddies and take them out in one scene, with remarkable ease, and it seems like they're over and done with!

The final quarter not only feels like it comes from a different movie, but it also seems to come after the ending! The film reached a natural endpoint, albeit in a very rushed way, and while we don't get any closure about things back in the Amazon, or back home in the city, it's a satisfying enough ending, despite the trimmed length. But then suddenly they're in prison, suddenly they're broken out, and we're treated to a culmination of a character arc that feels like it belonged to a different movie altogether

Perhaps the film's weakest link, the villains aren't a very inspired bunch. The henchmen are ok, even if they only get a couple of scenes to shine, but Mr. Ears barely appears, and barely talks. We have no idea who he is, nor do we find out if he was ever stopped for good. The other characters are alright, but likewise don't appear long enough for us to get to know them. Weirdly, we seem to get a lot of introductions for possible recurring characters who then never show up again. The most developed is the Irish Prospector Loco, who's a nice presence, and provides some heart to the movie.

The action in this movie is minimal, but when it comes it's great!

All the Way Boys is pretty well handled in the effects department. The plane scenes are all very well shot, and never unconvincing, even in the more dangerous looking moments. The only oddity is with several scenes that are meant to take place at night, but are clearly filmed in daytime.

The location in All the Way, Boys is beautiful! Shot in the cities and jungles of Colombia, there's a lot of love and care put into each moment, and you can see not only the effort  but the cooperation with the authorities that made it possible.

The music here is lovely. The main theme is a neat tune, and the various rescorings make for fun little leitmotifs as the movie rolls along, establishing the mood perfectly.

The first time I watched All the Way, Boys, I think I might've been too harsh on it. The movie's final act is a mess, but this is otherwise a great outing for Hill and Spencer. Its flaws mostly don't detract too heavily from the fun, and there's much to like here...

Watch Out, We're Mad (1973)

Truckers Ben and the Kid are each vying for a fancy new dune buggy. It's presented as the prize in a car race, and the contest is so fierce and neck-and-neck that they end up tying with each other. The duo try to figure out how to solve the ownership problem with a good ol' beer and hot dog contest. The game is interrupted however when a gang of mobsters trash not only the restaurant, but also the buggy. Dejected, Bud and Kid are at first lost for words, but then decide to get mad, and get even...

Watch Out, We're Mad is generally regarded as one of the best films Terence Hill and Bud Spencer made together. I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. If you're looking for a good introduction to the pair, you can't do much better than this!

The movie is full of spectacular setpieces, from the opening race, to the hot dog eating contest as the bar comes down around the unfazed leads, the choir scene, the duel, and more, including the crazy final encounter! This might sound like too much to some, but it never feels that way. There's a good balance between the big moments and little ones

The two leads are in top form. Terence Hill is his typical charming self, with perfect blue eyes and a knock-'em-dead smile, while Bud Spencer not only smiles a surprising amount, he also gets a hilarious musical moment during the choir scene, easily the highlight of the film. The two brawl at their best here, and no evildoer is safe with them around!

John Sharp's childish villain might grate on some, but I mostly like him, and Donald Pleasence is amusing as his German psychiatrist. The goons are all pretty much the same, but fun regardless, with Deogratias Huerta being an = presence.

The main theme for Watch Out, We're Mad is Dune Buggy by Oliver Onions, and whether or not you love it or hate it is a matter of opinion. The singing sounds weird and may not appeal to some, but I like it despite this. Less a matter of taste and more of endurance however is the amount of times it plays throughout the movie. Well over five times, it ends up becoming rather torturous in the final leg, where it not only replays during the climax, but also the end credits! There are a few scenes where I feel Dune Buggy's presence is a good to great addition, and wish that the editors would've shown a bit of restraint and cut it from other scenes, and created larger gaps between its reprisals.

The choir scene likewise is a tad too repetitive. I don't mind that they keep singing the same short piece since that's how choir practices go, and it works for a number of reasons, but I guess I wish they would've cut the amount of reprisals down a couple and sped up the assassin-foiling shenanigans, because a few of the repeats in the middle of the scene feel a bit pointless and only accomplish making you hear the tune one more time.

Filmed on location in sunny Spain, this has a very upbeat Latin flair to it at times, and the scenery is quite pretty in places.

Watch Out, We're Mad is maybe my all-time favourite Terence Hill and Bud Spencer movie. It ties with Go For It and Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure. I guess where it excels is that it doesn't have a slower start like Treasure, or an introduction sequence steeped in Country stuff (blech) such as Go for It. Thanks to lacking either of those pretty minor but still existent problems, I think Watch Out, We're Mad ranks juuuust on top as my top. Definitely check it out if you're a fan!...

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Sphinx (1933) and The Phantom Killer (1942)

The Sphinx

A man has just been murdered, with the name MO as several other victims, and the killer was clearly seen and heard leaving the scene of the crime by the janitor Mario. He identifies the man as Jerome Breen, a wealthy philanthropist, who aside from being deaf and mute, also has an unshakeable alibi. With Breen making a mockery of the police, it's up to ace reporter Jack Burton to solve the murder...

The strangely titled The Sphinx is a mystery with an intriguing premise! A murderer who constantly brings attention to his identity, knowing that he has a cast-iron alibi somewhere elsewhere? Most interesting! Unfortunately, I had very little idea why this was happening. When the explanation comes at the end, I was still scratching my head, yelling at the screen for more details. The movie spends so much time trying to build the case against Breen that there's zero development into his motivations or true personality.

The problem with this being an impossible mystery means it's always focusing on the real guilty party, even when all the evidence seems to prove they're innocent.  I understand why there aren't other suspects, because we know upfront that Breen is the killer, but it's still a bit frustrating and limiting. Another issue I have is that only the first murder of the film is one that's part of Breen's plans. The other two are him covering his tracks. This isn't bad, but it's just that I'd have preferred if we saw more of his main plans as the movie went on.

The reveal of how Breen has been pulling off his schemes is a hoary one, but works decently here, even if it is very unexplored. Twists like these rarely work and are often the butt of jokes, but isn't entirely ridiculous here, since it makes perfect sense in the context of the story. The only issue is how sudden it feels, and how little attention is focused on it until the last five minutes. If there were a couple  of extra little clues, as well as a greater chance for the audience to understand what's going on, before or after the big reveal, then I wouldn't mind at all.

This is a pretty amusing film, with some funny lines.
"Hey, what's the matter with you? I come down here to tip you off for a scoop, and you treat me like a relative or somethin'!"
"I don't know what this country's coming to when a guy can't get a drink in a police station."
What garners unintentional laughs however is the frankly quite disturbing title card, which has to be seen to be believed.

Lionel Atwill delivers an interesting performance as the deaf-mute villain, having almost no lines of dialogue, and getting his performance across visually. He goes from affable to evil at the flip of a dime, depending on who's around or what he's thinking, and with his eyes and smirk alone you can tell he's bad news.

The rest of the actors all do decent enough jobs. Theodore Newton is a typical 1930s reporter, though he gets a bit over-emotive at times. Sheila Terry is fun as the resident dame, while Paul Hurst and Robert Ellis are good as the cops.

The Sphinx is an alright watch. It's certainly got its flaws that prevented it from being a classic for me, but it's not that bad of a time...

Phantom Killer

A man has just been murdered, with the name MO as several other victims, and the killer was clearly seen and heard leaving the scene of the crime by the janitor Nicodemus. He identifies the man as John Harrison, a wealthy philanthropist, who aside from being deaf and mute, also has an unshakeable alibi. With Harrison making a mockery of the police, it's up to Edward Clark, assistant to the DA's office and runner-up for the job to solve the murder...

Phantom Killer is a pretty straight remake of The Sphinx. It doesn't deviate majorly from the source material, and whole sections of dialogue are copied and pasted straight on over. There is, however, plenty of new dialogue, a lot of it bloody hilarious, so this is still worth a watch.

While he overacts a little at first, Dick Purcell is a good lead, and he and Joan Woodbury share great chemistry. I've not often seen a 1930s/40s b-movie couple with as much life in them as these two! John Hamilton is good as the villain, but understandably not as distinctive as Lionel Atwill, though he does cut an imposing figure in some scenes. Warren Hymer and Kenneth Harlan do well in their roles as the main policemen. Most importantly, Phantom Killer was clearly made by people who appreciated Moreland and his style of comedy. He delivers a great performance that had me in stitches, and makes the most of his short role. He's in the part of the witness, and while he gets an expanded role than the guy in the original, he's still gone after the trial's all done and dusted. It's a shame, I wish he could've at least shown up for the ending.

The comedy in Phantom Killer is a lot more pronounced than The Sphinx. While the script may mostly be the same, it's in these moments of humour where this differs and really shines as its own entity. Mantan's dialogue is all hilarious, with lines like "Hello, the police depertment? Will y'all send somebody up here? A dead man is up here, just been killed dead, yes sir!". The banter between Eddie and Barbara is great too."Oh Eddie, don't be a chump. Now you call him right back and say 'No thank you'  before I slug you. Let's go eat!". Something that surprised me was a gag with phones that I've rarely seen in the 1940s!

One interesting thing is that this film has two comic reliefs! In the original film, the janitor was a pretty minor character, and so only had a couple of scenes, leaving the Sgt. Corrigan to be the comedy relief. Here though, not only is he in that role, but so is the janitor Nicodemus, since he's played by Mantan Moreland.

Instead of being a plucky journalist as in The Sphinx, the hero is now an assistant to the District Attorney. By changing the lead's occupation, it's able to inject some more stake and urgency to the situation. He's not just a reporter after a hot scoop, but is an authority himself whose job is on the line if he doesn't prove Harrison is the killer. Barbara Mason is also more present during certain key events than her counterpart. Overall, everyone here is just that much more likeable.

The second murder victim in The Sphinx was somewhat confusing and vague in his identity, and so the counterpart in Phantom Killer is much clearer-A former compatriot of the baddies turned blackmailer, killed to silence him. Though of course, I was a total dope when I watched this, because it took me a full 20 minutes after he died before I realised "OH, that was the blackmailer who was murdered there!". Blame me, not the movie!

As in the previous film, the doofus Sgt. Corrigan take a surprisingly serious centre stage after a certain development. I'm glad they stayed true to this plot point, as it makes for interesting and unexpected viewing!

Perhaps because it came right on the heels of the original, there's perhaps less emphasis on the twist. Not all of it is revealed to us upfront, but unless I'm mistaken, some details are offered earlier in this version. The ending itself remains unchanged, except for the fate of the antagonist, which is satisfyingly different to what happened to him in The Sphinx.

The direction by William Beaudine is perfectly fine, and quite neat in places.

Aside from its sense of humour, Phantom Killer doesn't really do enough to stand out from the original film, but viewed in its own right, it stands as an equal. And while it may not have Lionel Atwill, it has got Mantan Moreland, which makes it a worthwhile movie for sure!...