A Swarm of B's

Hardly anybody but me seems to watch these kind of movies anymore. I know of people who won't even watch black-and-white, much less no-budget old obscurities. Those motherfuckers don't know what they're missing.

Anyway, I figured I'd put these up even if nobody gives a damn. Hell, especially if nobody gives a damn...


Beast of Yucca Flats (B&W, 1961) aka Girl Madness, The Atomic Monster: Beast of Yucca Flats, The Violent Sun. A true legend among bad movies, this is one of those klunkers that was shot without sound and then just voiced-over by a narrator rather than post-synched... and they even managed to goof that up, because the sentence-fragment-spouting narrator often explains things that happened minutes ago (“A man runs. Somebody shoots at him.”) or says things that make you think he’s commenting on another movie entirely (“Flag on the moon. How did it get there?” “Nothing bothers some people. Not even flying saucers.”) Even when he’s on target, his phrasing in ludicrous (“Boys from the city. Not yet caught in the whirlwind of progress. Feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs. Coyotes. Once a menace to travelers. Missile bases run them off their hunting grounds.” “Vacation time. Man and wife. Unaware of scientific progress.”) Anyway, the 54-minute “story” starts out with an unrelated bit where a topless woman gets strangled. Then, Russian scientist Tor Johnson (okay, so a Swedish wrestler’s close enough to a Russian scientist) is in the Nevada desert to swap secret plans when agents try to kill him. He wanders away casually during the gunfight. Then an A-bomb test goes off, transforming him into a scarred brute who only thinks of killing. He carries a dead girl around for a while, then swaps her for a stick. The narrator reminds us many times that this was a “respected scientist, now a fiend” so we can’t possibly miss the profound irony of it. Or, you could just read a Hulk comic. A couple of cops try to track him down, and a couple of little boys get lost in the desert. Tor chases them a while, then is killed, and a young bunny that just wandered into the shot tries to wake him up; that was unplanned but provides the film with it‘s closest thing to a poignant moment. And that’s about all you get. They had intended to do more post-synching; people tend to talk with their faces in shadow to avoid any matching-up problems. I don’t know why they had the narrator use incomplete sentences... maybe they thought it would create a gritty noirish feel or something, a pseudo-Dragnet thing, but all it does is make it weirder, and give you the feeling that the script for this thing was written on a couple of napkins. It’s pretty dull when nobody’s talking, but it’s very funny when they are. A definite must-see for bad-movie fanatics, but pure poison for normal folk.


Whole damn movie:

Blonde Ice (B&W, 1948) Minor noir depicting the homicidal exploits of an upwardly-mobile sociopathic bitch named Claire, who marries a man for his money but tries to keep her boyfriend Les on the side. Her husband figures this out quickly and tries to start divorce proceedings before the honeymoon’s even over (dumb Claire was writing Les “wish you were here instead” letters from their hotel). To avoid losing the money, Claire rigs a scheme where she secretly flies home, shoots her husband, then flies back. When the pilot she hires figures out what she did he figures $100 hush money isn’t nearly enough, and starts blackmailing her. Meanwhile, she’s trying to line up a new rich guy and getting Les in trouble, since her solution to every problem is “kill, then frame whoever’s handy.” Not bad at all, but doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from similar films.

Born To Be Wild (B&W, 1938) While the guys from Steppenwolf were still swimming around in their dads’ balls, Republic put out this truck-drivin’ action B-flick. Ralph Byrd and Ward Bond are drivers working for a trucking company. Just a couple of happy-go-lucky wise guys, they’re about to get fired for speeding, and that suits them just fine... but then they’re contracted for a secret mission to haul a load of dynamite to a town called Indian Head, where a land baron has blocked off the dam, and he has gangs of armed thugs trying to stop them from making their delivery. They pick up a girl along the way and almost get arrested for kidnapping, but they manage to escape, get their truck back, and continue their mission against heavy odds. The action is good (fist fights, vehicle stunts, etc.) and never lets up, and the dialogue is snappy, the cast is likeable, and it’s one of my favorite old 30’s B-flicks that few people have ever heard of. It’s slightly compromised by a couple of musical numbers (weirdly enough), but despite that it’s highly recommended, check it out.

Dance Hall Racket (B&W, 1953) What a combo -- Lenny Bruce (in his only acting role) stars as a hoodlum in a sleazy crime drama, directed by Phil Tucker, the guy responsible for Robot Monster. It looks like they had maybe a hundred bucks to work with. A dance hall is a front for a racketeering ring which is involved in all kinds of criminal activity. They buy stolen diamonds smuggled in dog’s ears, then give the smuggler a mickey to steal their money back. Lenny is one of the thugs, named Vinnie. He makes out with a girl with space-age hair, but doesn’t say any of his infamous cuss words (although everybody does say “seamen” a lot, because sailors frequent the dance hall). A weird guy tricks a bartender out of a free drink with a lame joke, then goes around getting loaded on everybody’s leftovers. An undercover cop poses as a sailor in order to crack the racket. Lenny knifes people and threatens them with a switchblade. There are little skits with customers that are probably meant to be funny -- you’d think a guy with Lenny’s comedic chops would deliver more. There may have been some brief nudity at one time, but if there was, a censor’s scissors claimed it before Alpha got the print they used as a bonus on the Sin You Sinners DVD, which is fairly sharp but choppy. It’s really cheap and bad and mostly only of interest as a curio for Lenny fans. For a really exploitative dance hall movie you‘ll need to go to the Olga series.

Hell’s House (B&W, 1932) aka Juvenile Court. A country boy named Jimmy is orphaned when his mom gets run over, so he goes to live with his aunt and uncle. They’re really poor, though, so Jimmy wants to get a job to help them out. He asks the wise-cracking bootlegger who boards with them for work and ends up arrested and - because he won’t fink on his boss - sent to a reform school, where he has to slave in a brick factory all day. Meanwhile the bootlegger carries on as usual. His girlfriend (Bette Davis in an early role) likes Jimmy and wonders where he disappeared to; the bootlegger won’t tell anybody the kid’s in reform school. Conditions are pretty harsh, with the kids getting beaten or put in solitary or forced to stand and stare at a line on the wall until they drop. He gets so upset when his pal Shorty is about to die that he escapes and tries to get a newspaper to write an expose on the place. Fairly simple but engaging old creaker.

A music video somebody made from footage:

A scene some insecure doofus labeled as "gay" because two guys are in frame:

Hoodlum, The
(B&W, 1951) Lawrence Tierney has the title role, so you know it's good. Tierney is an incorrigible criminal who's been in and out of the tank about a dozen times but they parole him again, against some board members' better judgment. As soon as he's out he goes to work at his brother's gas station, but has his mind on more devious exploits. He fools around with his brother’s girlfriend and she ends up dead, while Tierney double-times with a woman who works in a bank, so he can plan out an armored car robbery. It ends up in casualties, and Tierney’s promptly on his way back... but to the chair this time. Good B-drama with a typically tough performance by Tierney. Not major noir, but a fast-moving hour with plenty of moral pathos.

Invasion U.S.A. (B&W, 1952) Jaw-droppingly hysterical Cold War propaganda film in which the Ruskies stage an all-out invasion of the United States, using the secret weapon of stock footage to decimate us without straining their economy much. They drop atomic bombs on some of our major military airfields, and we retaliate, but the Commies drop thousands of paratroopers on the state of Washington, take over San Francisco, and blow up Boulder Dam. Soon New York gets nuked, paratroopers capture D.C., and - in the midst of it all - a slick TV reporter and a nurse make absurd and inappropriate whoopie. Really bizarre scare film starring both of the Lois Lanes from the Superman TV show. It’s mostly stock footage of planes and ships, tied together with alarmist news reports and some cheap destruction effects, but it’s a lot more entertaining than it has any right to be. The DVD also includes the classic blunt-force-trauma propaganda short “Red Nightmare” with Jack Webb, which is worth the price of the DVD all by itself, and there are a couple of how-to-survive-the-nuclear-holocaust records as “commentary tracks.” Overall, an excellent package of Cold War artifacts. Not to be confused with the equally-loopy 80’s Chuck Norris scare-film.


San Franscisco destroyed!

Red Nightmare is also online... here's the first part:

Jungle Siren (B&W, 1942) Buster Crabbe ad his goofy sidekick are sent into the jungle to build an airstrip to help fight the Nazis and stop an evil native chief from collaborating with a German agent. They meet a Tarzan-like white girl, Kuylaya, who’s also fighting off the enemy natives, and she soon gets a crush on Crabbe. This causes complications when the German agent’s wife tries to seduce him. When the subterfuge leads to blatant hostility, Kuylaya helps Crabbe and his buddy stay alive, which gets more difficult when they’re captured by the chief. Average jungle adventure pic. The Alpah DVD isn’t one of their better mastering jobs; every ten minutes or so, a few seconds from some tai chi instructional video sneaks in.

Murder By Contract (B&W, 1958) TV’s Ben Casey Vince Edwards is an eccentric but proficient hit man named Claude, and he’s contracted to kill a key witness before a big trial. Claude is laid-back and matter-of-fact about his job until he finds out his target is a woman, and then he freaks out and wants more money. He says it’s because women are too unpredictable, but he seems to actually have some misogynistic fear of them. Finally settling into the idea and getting some help from a couple of goofy mob guys who’ve been escorting him around (and losing patience with his oddball way of doing things), he works out a few plans to complete the hit despite the woman being heavily guarded by cops, but luck’s not with him. Despite heavy setbacks, Claude is determined and refuses to leave the contract incomplete, no matter how jinxed it is, and no matter how hard he has to struggle to overcome his quirks. Stark, gritty, and low-budget, but brilliant. One of Martin Scorsese’s favorites and had a clear influence on Taxi Driver; Edwards’ speech patterns and flat emotions are very reminiscent of DeNiro’s Travis Bickle. Has a unique mood, very stylish.

Mystery Plane (B&W, 1939) aka Sky Pilot. Film adaptation of a comic strip, “Tailspin Tommy,” about a crime-fightin’ pilot. It starts with a bunch of small-town kids fighting over a scrapbook of a pilot’s exploits, nearly getting violent (“Careful, Betty Lou, my boil!” one kid yells, grabbing his neck). They’re on their way to an air show (which boil-boy can’t watch, ‘cuz he can’t look up) where one of the boys rescues a parachutist who falls into a pond. The boy turns out to be Tommy when he gets older; he’s an ace in his own right, and his hero is long disappeared. Tommy’s developed a new bomb-targeting system, and treasonous agents from a secret bad-guy organization are out to steal it and sell it to enemy countries. One of the agents is Tommy’s childhood hero, who’s balking at this nefarious plot. They kidnap Tommy and try to make him give up the bomb guidance plans, but he’s far too patriotic to give in... but when they kidnap his girlfriend and threaten to torture her, Tommy’s put in a tight spot. Pretty ordinary old adventure flick, but not too bad, and it’s a chance to see the early work of actors like Jason Robards and Milburn Stone (“Doc” on Gunsmoke, here playing a guy named Skeeter), and the directorial work of George Waggoner, who did The Wolf Man two years later. Giving a kid a neck boil is one of the weirdest approaches to character development I’ve ever seen; what were they thinking? “Audiences will really love this kid with the skin lesion!” It became the most interesting part of the story and we never know what happened to him.

Queen of the Amazons (B&W, 1946) The country of Akbar is on the verge of a revolution, and a woman and her party are searching for her missing fiance. After learning that he may have been part of a safari, they head off to Africa. They hire a guide who has a raven as a sidekick, and he doesn't like girls! But she impresses him with her deadly marksmanship with a .45. Once they recruit a poetry-spouting slob named Gabby as a cook, they set out into the jungle, despite warnings from natives that there's a tribe of voodoo women killing any invaders to their turf. The party's also seeking contraband ivory smugglers, but somebody keeps trying to sabotage their efforts. Meanwhile, every bit of stock footage they could scare up -- from native dances to lions to swarms of locusts - is inserted. Even though this movie only has a running time of an hour it's still making a big effort to move fast, jamming in animal attacks and other action scenes every minute or two, whether it's logical to the story or not. They finally find the tribe of women, who use bow and arrows, whips, and trained lions, and have names like "Zita" and "Shugee." They're more hospitable than rumor has led the safari to believe. They're not really all that butch, but one professor still tells the Amazon queen, "Greg's a remarkable boy... and so are you, my dear!" The queen and the fiance both want to marry the same guy, so there's some conflict there. No big whoop, but should scratch any old-vintage-jungle-B-movie itch you have.

Scar, The (B&W, 1948) aka Hollow Triumph, The Man Who Murdered Himself. A criminal genius named Johnny Muller gets released from jail and immediately gets back into trouble by holding up a gambling club. The criminals who run the club swear to catch him if it takes 20 years. Muller heads off to the pharmaceutical job that the prison lined up for him, but soon gets himself fired. It comes to his attention that he’s a dead ringer for a psychologist named Dr. Bartok, except that Bartok has a big scar on his cheek. Since he’s being hunted by the gangsters and likes posing as psychologists (he has a background in it), he decides to pose as Bartok. Working from a photograph, he carves a scar in his own cheek (he’s so hygienic -- uses rubber gloves... while he has a cigarette going). Only problem is, it’s a photo that’s been reversed, so he’s disfigured the wrong cheek! He manages to pull it off anyway, through coolness and ingenuity, but o’ course since this is a noir film nobody’s luck holds out forever. Suspenseful flick with good work from Paul Henreid as the con man and Joan Bennett as his suspicious secretary. The end is a great bit of irony.

Sea Bat, The (B&W, 1930) Sponge divers in the West Indies face a dangerous existence to begin with, but it’s made even worse when a Jaws -sized manta ray starts preying on them. It kills the brother of a young Spanish firebrand named Nina, who offers herself to any man who can kill the manta, and also takes part in the native voodoo rites to try to curse it. A new priest who’s just arrived on the island tries to get through to her, but her brother was a Christian and it didn’t do him any good, so the reverend doesn’t get far. He’s pretty hard-boiled, though, and even considers “lashing the black magic out of her.” There’s some ol’ time religion for ya. He’s actually a Devil’s Island escapee posing as a priest, and when Nina finds that out she falls in love with him and plans to escape with him. But the manta may complicate their plans. Quick little MGM B-pic has a certain early-talkie stiffness, but the manta ray special effects are surprisingly good; I’m not sure how they did them, especially since this film looks very low-budget. This used to come on late at night when TNT was a brand new cable channel that actually had a lineup a person could give a damn about instead of the idiot waste-of-bandwidth it is now, but it doesn’t show up much now, possibly because Nina gets pretty close to nudity with one wet-shirt scene. Boris Karloff shows up for about the space of an eyeblink. Occasionally Turner Classic will run this, buried at 3 a.m.

Too Late For Tears (B&W, 1949) aka Killer Bait. Ambitious, conniving Lizabeth Scott to fully capitalize on a possibly unlucky windfall when some hoodlums with a case of mistaken identity toss a valise full of money into the back of the convertible her husband’s driving. He knows the money will be nothing but trouble and wants to turn it in, but Lizabeth starts spending it, even when one of the hoods shows up demanding the cash. She wants the cash so badly that she shoots her husband and dumps him in a lake, then pretends to make a deal with the hood... but she’s planning to kill him, too, and he knows it but has to keep her alive to get the money. Then Lizabeth decides to kill her husband’s sister because she’s too suspicious... but the sister has the claim ticket they need to get the money. In short, it’s a tangled film-noir web that’s gonna end badly for somebody. Solid noir with good performances and a script with all elements of the genre intact. Althought I like her acting, I don’t really buy Lizabeth Scott as a femme fatale -- she’s always struck me as unattractive, with a greased-skull face and million-cigarettes slow-fingernail-drag-across-the-blackboard raspy voice -- but she’s a great enough actress that she can play so sinister that even her partner in crime is creeped out by her. The ending’s pretty slick.

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