February 19th, 2009

THE GHOST TRAIN (1941) **

A group of vastly different strangers are dropped off at a deserted train station and are stuck there overnight.  The gloomy station master warns them that the place is haunted by a spectral locomotive and advises them to scat.  The group sticks around though and is menaced by eerie noises, murdered corpses, and of course, the titular train.  As it turns out, the “ghost” is just a legend perpetrated by some Nazi smugglers to keep people out of their business.

 

The Ghost Train is a comedic horror movie that was originally a stage play.  Director Walter Forde builds up a modicum of suspense during the early train sequences.  The camerawork is surprisingly fluid in these scenes and prevents things from getting too cramped and claustrophobic.  Once the action shifts to the abandoned train station however, the proceedings start to feel more and more stage-bound and the movie begins to flag.  Most of the middle section of the flick has the cast sitting around and waiting for something to happen.  Unfortunately, so does the audience.  The ghost story the station master orates is pretty creepy though as is the final shot of the “real” train running off the tracks.

 

Comedian Arthur Askey stars and is kinda funny, although he does sing a thoroughly annoying song.  At least he gets some pretty good lines like, “Why should I get old-monia?  I’ve already got pneumonia!” 

THE PARADINE CASE (1947) ** ½

A happily married barrister (Gregory Peck) is hired to defend a woman (Alida Valli) who is accused of murdering her blind husband.  Throughout the trial, Peck slowly starts to fall in love with her and starts thinking with his little head, which naturally gets him into trouble.

 

This Alfred Hitchcock flick was marred by a lot of backstage meddling.  Producer David O. Selznick, the man who originally brought Hitch to Hollywood, cast Peck against The Master’s wishes and ordered lots of re-shoots that ballooned the film’s budget.  The result is an uneven and disjointed flick that squanders an intriguing premise with a lot of boring melodrama.  Seriously, a courtroom drama should have all of the “drama” in the damn courtroom! 

 

Although the idea of a well-to-do lawyer falling for a seductive would-be murderess has been copied so many times (especially in the “erotic thriller” genre) that it’s lost a lot of its freshness, Hitch still manages to get plenty of mileage out of it.  While The Master’s bombastic cinematic stylings are somewhat muted here (again because of Selznick’s meddling), The Paradine Case is still quite enjoyable, thanks mainly to Peck’s performance.  He’s pretty good in this and carries the film admirably on his broad shoulders.  Valli (who later starred in Suspiria three decades later) is OK in a role that screams for Ingrid Bergman and the underused Charles Laughton is good as a blustery judge.  (Laughton also appeared in Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn.)  Ethel Barrymore, Louis Jourdan, and Leo G. Carroll round out the impressive supporting cast.

 

Hitchcock returned the next year with Rope.

 

The Paradine Case ranks as Number 9 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten for the Year 1947, just below Queen of the Amazons.

BRITISH INTELLIGENCE (1940) ** ½

The great Boris Karloff stars as the scar-faced gimpy German spy posing as a butler to a high ranking British cabinet member.  One of the houseguests (Margaret Lindsay) is also a German spy, and together she and Boris try to obtain some vital war plans.  Of course, everybody in the house is a double (and in some cases, triple) agent and everyone flip-flops loyalties like crazy.

 

British Intelligence was a remake of Three Faces East and it makes for a decent way to kill an hour.  It’s a breezy little spy thriller that benefits from a great performance by Karloff.  His role maybe little more than a glorified supporting role, but he is as fun to watch as ever, playing no less than THREE nationalities.  (French, German, and British.) 

 

Although the film starts off kinda slow, it picks up steam as it goes along and the climax is quite impressive given the film’s obviously low budget.  (And the fact that it more or less takes place in one location.)  The bombing scenes are well done and the stock footage is blended in rather well with the rest of the film.  British Intelligence is filled with a lot of topsy-turvy plot twists and while most of them are predictable (you know right from the start that Boris is a baddie pretending to be a good guy pretending to be a baddie who’s pretending to be a good guy), it shouldn’t ruin your enjoyment of the flick too much.

PRIVATE PARTS (1972) **

Cheryl (Ayn Ruymen) is a young runaway who comes to stay with her Aunt Martha (Lucille Benson from Halloween 2) in her rundown hotel.  Although Cheryl makes a date with a cute boy named Jeff (Stanley Livingston, Chip Douglas from My Three Sons), she’d rather kiss up to George (John Ventantonio), a mysterious photographer who also lives in the building.  It’s too bad for Cheryl because George is an out of control psychopath who harbors a very dark secret.   

 

There is some genuinely creepy stuff going on in Private Parts but not nearly enough to make it totally worthwhile.  In the film’s standout squirmer, George pastes a picture of Cheryl’s face onto his see-thru, water-filled sex doll and makes love to it in a very kinky way:  He injects the doll (in the crotch) with a syringe filled with his blood!  Bizarro to say the least.  We also get a delightful decapitation tossed in there for good measure too.

 

Director Paul Bartel (who went on to direct the immortal Death Race 2000 next) handles the gruesome scenes really well but never pulls the movie together as a whole.  Ultimately, Private Parts suffers from some highly erratic pacing and a particularly sluggish second act.  (The first and last 15 minutes are the best.)  The assorted oddballs in the supporting cast are fun to watch though.  My favorite had to be the flamboyantly gay Reverend Moon, played by none other than Laurie Main, AKA:  The narrator from Disney’s Welcome to Pooh Corner TV show!  Ruymen is also quite good in the lead and gets to show off her wonderfully perky rack. 

 

Sure, the flick only works in fits and starts and you’ll see the Homicidal inspired ending coming from a mile away, but you'll enjoy the great hateful dialogue like, “We’re flat busted baby, so you better shove off!”

 

AKA:  Blood Relations.