Saturday, April 1, 1972 (Noon): Monster A Go Go (1965) / Hangover Square (1945)

Synopsis: A Mercury space capsule returns to Earth far off course, landing in the Illinois countryside. Dr. Chris Manning (Peter Thompson) and Dr. Steve Connors (Philip Morton) are dispatched by NASA to recover the vehicle.  They find that it was badly damaged upon re-entry and contaminated with massive amounts of radiation.  The astronaut, Frank Douglas (Henry Hite), is nowhere to be found.

Before long, reports of a ten-foot tall creature wearing a silver suit begin to filter in.  The thing is wandering across the countryside, leaving bodies and destruction in its wake.  Manning and Brent quickly realize that this is Douglas, irradiated and apparently mutated into some kind of monster.

Dr. Conrad Logan and his assistant, Dr. Nora Kramer (Losi Brooks), try to work out what has happened to Douglas. They determine that the emits a field of deadly radiation around it that extends out about 10 feet. The field is gradually growing, and if the creature isn’t stopped the field will grow to hundreds of feet in diameter. This is especially troubling since the monster is making its way toward Chicago.

Dr. Logan manages to capture the creature and gives it doses of an anti-radiation drug. But it breaks loose and heads toward the city.

The civil defense forces manage to corner the thing in the sewers of Chicago.  They pursue it, but what can they do, even if they manage to corner it?

Comments: The story behind this odd little movie is far more interesting than the movie itself.  In 1961 would-be director Bill Rebane shot about 40 minutes’ worth of footage with the intent of making a Quatermass-esque horror movie about a crashed space capsule and its sole inhabitant, a man who has mutated into a 10-foot tall radioactive monster.  The monster goes on a rampage through the countryside, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. A gaggle of Air Force investigators try to track it down.

This scenario isn’t terribly original, but it’s workable enough for a low-budget horror flick.
Unfortunately, what Rebane put in the can was awful. He simply had no talent as a filmmaker, on any level: no concept of how to tell a story or build narrative tension, no ear for dialogue, no talent for coaxing good performances out of actors, no knack for composition, no skill at editing. The scenes he filmed are poorly staged master shots, loaded down with dull and excruciating dialogue. Every scene is slack, with little at stake and nothing to propel the narrative forward. Eventually Rebane ran out of money and the project was abandoned.

A few years later cult director Herschell Gordon Lewis came on the scene. Lewis didn’t have much more talent than Rebane, but he did possess a keen eye for exploitation.  He also knew how to economize. Lewis needed another feature to fill out a double bill with his hillbilly drive-in flick Moonshine Mountain.  He bought Rebane’s footage, shot some new scenes with gyrating teenagers, added his own over-the-top narration and rock-n-roll-flavored soundtrack, and managed to cobble together an almost-70-minute feature that he titled Monster a Go Go (the title doesn’t really fit the movie, but I bet it looked good on a drive-in marquee).

Lewis was a successful ad man who had produced a number of schlocky but profitable drive-in movies, stuff like 2000 Maniacs (1964),  Blood Feast (1963) and The Wizard of Gore (1970). He also produced nudies early in his career, and later made soft-core exploitation fare such as Linda and Abiline (1969) and The Ecstasies of Women (1969).

There was little chance that Rebane’s footage could be turned into anything entertaining, but Lewis makes a fair effort, adding some T and A scenes as various partying teenagers wander off into the woods and get cooked by the monster. He also shot an ending that made good use of Civil Defense emergency vehicles, though it doesn’t add much in the way of suspense.

Is Monster a Go Go a bad movie? Yes. Thanks for asking. Is it unwatchable? No, but it’s much more of a slog than perennial “worst movie of all time ” nominees like Plan Nine From Outer Space and Robot Monster.  Those movies are terrible in their way, but at least they’re lively. This one seems determined to bore the audience to death and it requires a heroic effort to keep your eyes fixed on the screen.

The marketing campaign for this one is notable because it’s so shot through with an irony that seems better suited to the cynical 1970s. “An astronaut went up — and a ‘guess what’ came down!” the one-sheet chortles. Inviting the audience to snicker at your movie was kind of a new thing in 1965. In our cynical, post MST3K world, it’s become a lot more common.

 Hangover Square

Synopsis: Gifted musician George Harvey Bone  (Laird Cregar) has been commissioned to write a piano concerto for his patron Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier). Sir Henry is so pleased by what George has written so far that he promises to give the concerto a grand premiere as soon as it is finished, and this is all but certain to make his reputation in the music world.

But George is a deeply troubled man.  All his life he has suffered from occasional blackouts, but lately they are becoming more frequent and more disturbing.  George even has a vague memory of attacking a shopkeeper during one such fugue and setting his place on fire by tossing a kerosene lamp to the floor.  But the people around him, including Sir Henry’s daughter (Faye Marlowe) assure him that he’s simply overwrought. The pressure he’s under to complete the concerto is getting to him.

He is advised to take a break — to get out into the world, to do new things.  In walking about London he meets a dance-hall girl named Netty (Linda Darnell) with whom he has little in common.  But she is pretty and charming, and he quickly falls in love.  Netty, intrigued that he is a musician, asks him to write a song for her to perform.

At first reluctant, he does so, and it’s immediately a success.  She presses for more, and he again complies, even though it is taking valuable time away from his concerto. In time Netty is a rising star on the London music-hall scene, thanks to the popular songs George is writing for her. George, meanwhile, is under increasing pressure to complete the project that he is now late in delivering.

Before long he asks Netty to marry him. But she rejects him, revealing to him that she is already engaged to another man.  She does not love him, she confesses; she has just been using him to write the songs that are making her career. Stunned, George returns home, and places a curtain-sash into his coat pocket, and it’s clear that he is entering into another of his murderous blackouts….

 

Comments: We’ve talked about how influential the popular and deeply psychological thriller Gaslight was on filmmakers in the 1940’s, and this smart entry from Fox is a good example of a film that tries to capture its spirit.  Hangover Square is a period piece that somewhat mimics Gaslight’s look; the atmosphere is dark and moody, and the plot turns on whether the protagonist is a killer or just an overly sensitive type whose conscience is working overtime.

Any good movie must have a protagonist trying to reach a goal, and this one is no different.  Aside from the question of guilt or innocence, George’s goal is to complete his masterpiece and perform it for the public.  In spite of everything he does manage to succeed in this, so no matter what else goes wrong in his world, no one can take away the triumph of his premiere.

Laird Cregar really dominates this production as the troubled musician, and there is a deep vulnerability visible beneath his hulking shoulders and coarse features.   This physical awkwardness actually makes him more sympathetic and appealing than if a typical Hollywood prettyboy had been cast in the role. Cregar looked older than he was, which makes his death shortly after Hangover Square wrapped production even more shocking. He apparently died of complications from a crash diet he embarked upon in preparing for this role.  In his earlier films he was obese, and even the slimmed-down Cregar is husky in the manner of a young Orson Welles. He is splendid in this movie, and it’s a shame he wasn’t able to take on more starring roles.

Linda Darnell is pitch perfect too as the calculating Nina, and she convinces us that George would buy her act hook, line and sinker.  It’s an intelligent and understated performance, featuring not just her legs (as the one-sheet implies) but also her eyes, as she constantly checks from moment to moment to see how much of her story George is buying.

I haven’t even mentioned George Sanders, who is in a relatively small but important role as a psychologist.  As always, Sanders is understated and authoritative, the perfect counterpoint to George’s barely-contained bundle of nerves. And Alan Napier is his old reliable self as Sir Henry Chapman: cool, cultured and unflappable.

 

 

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One comment

  1. Bill Rebane went on to do the infamous 1975 cult classic THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, the spider played by an automobile! HANGOVER SQUARE aired only once on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater (its earlier companion feature THE LODGER appeared twice).

    Like

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