Saturday, December 30, 1972 (Midnight): Cat People (1942) / The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

 

Synopsis: Nautical engineer Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) meets a young Serbian woman, Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) one afternoon at the zoo.  Irena is sketching a black panther as it paces in its cage.  The two hit it off in a meet-cute sort of way, and Irena allows Oliver to walk her home.

Irena, it turns out, lives alone in a large and tastefully-furnished apartment nearby, and seems grateful for Oliver’s company.  She tells him that she hasn’t made any friends since moving to the city.  Oliver ends up staying well past dark, and as he leaves he asks to see her again the next day and she agrees.

Feeling she needs a companion, Oliver buys a kitten for her at a local pet shop, but when he gives it to her the kitten spits and backs away fearfully.  Irena tells him that cats don’t like her.  He trades the kitten in for  a bird, and this seems to please her, but when she reaches inside the cage the bird panics and quickly dies.

Before long, Oliver and Irena are engaged. On their wedding day they have dinner at a local restaurant with Oliver’s co-workers, including Alice Moore (Jane Randolph) who acts like one of the guys in spite of being young, pretty and apparently available. Alice has picked this Serbian restaurant in Irena’s honor, and Irena finds it delightful.  The mood is quite jovial, but a strange woman approaches their table and speaks to Irena briefly  in Serbian, calling her “sister”.  Irena is shaken by this encounter.

Returning home that night, she confides to Oliver that she isn’t able to consummate the marriage right away — she speaks vaguely of being frightened by an old family curse and asks him to be patient.  Oliver, who has  “nice guy” written all over him, agrees. They begin sleeping in separate rooms.

Weeks pass and nothing changes.  Oliver gently suggests that Irena see a psychiatrist, and she agrees; but after only one session with the oily Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) she stops going. When Oliver finds out that she’s abandoned her sessions he is angry.  Irena is angry in turn at all the time Oliver is spending with Alice, and angrier still when she learns that Oliver has confided to her Irena’s reluctance to consummate the marriage.  What she doesn’t know is that Alice has also confessed to Oliver that she has always carried a torch for him.

Irena reluctantly goes back to see Dr. Judd, and the nature of her affliction becomes clear: she believes that if she becomes sexually aroused, she will turn into a deadly panther. Judd decides he’s going to dissuade the beautiful Irena of this notion by seducing her, not knowing that the curse is real….

Comments: Everyone remembers the beautiful Simone Simon from Val Lewton’s Cat People, she of the vaguely cat-like hairstyle, fetching accent and dollop of effortless sensuality —  in real life the woman was rumored to have a gold key to her boudoir that she would give to men in whom she was interested (ooh la la!).

But few remember her co-star Kent Smith, whose Oliver is generically good-looking, but rather bland. This is, of course, just what we want from Oliver, whom we quickly recognize as a nice enough fellow but a bit thick. Nor is he someone who can really empathize with Irena’s plight. He tries, but he is too lacking in imagination to ever take what she says at face value.

Cat People is really the only role people associate with Kent Smith — which is kind of ironic, because most people have seen his performances, whether they realize it or not. He had a long and busy career as a character actor, usually playing authority figures — judges, generals, politicians, and so forth; he started appearing in TV quite early on, and by the early 1960s was working almost exclusively in that medium.  He did guest-shots for the most part, stopping in on seemingly every TV show in the 1960s and 1970s, though he did play an ongoing role in the second season of The Invaders, Larry Cohen’s oddball conspiracy series that ran from 1967 – 68.

Smith played Edgar Scoville, a millionaire industrialist who learns the truth about the gradual alien takeover and helps protagonist David Vincent organize a resistance.  Scoville’s real function in the series is to write checks with lots of zeroes and worry about whether Vincent’s latest plan is working. I don’t think the character of Scoville works very well in the context of the show. In my view Scoville should have been more of a ruthless, hard-bitten type, someone whose blunt and crude methods can create conflict with Vincent, who’s used to subtlety and stealth and working alone. But what do I know about television?

That Scoville isn’t a very strong character isn’t Smith’s fault; nevertheless his blandness seems to underscore Scoville’s ineffectual nature. In any case the character only lasted a single season as The Invaders limped its way toward cancellation.

Jane Randolph, who played the far more interesting Alice, had a shorter career. She did stints as a contract player at Warner and RKO before appearing in a number of PRC cheapies; she married Jaime Del Amo, a Spaniard often referred to as a producer, but who seems to have been more of a wealthy dabbler. After their marriage Jane retired and the two went to live in Madrid, where she took on the new role of “wealthy socialite”.

 

The Boogie Man Will Get You

 

Synopsis: Nathanial Billings (Boris Karloff) is a wigged-out professor who owns a dilapidated colonial inn. Billings carries out unorthodox experiments in the basement of the house, much to the consternation of the town mayor / sheriff / banker / justice of the peace Dr. Lorencz (Peter Lorre). Billings is paying a usurious interest rate on the mortgage and for this reason is eager to sell. The only hitch is that nobody would want the place — it is in desperate need of maintenance and is quite off the beaten track.



His prayers are answered when young divorcee Winnie Slade (Miss Jeff Donnell) shows up at the inn with the determination to buy it and restore it to its former approximation of glory. Billings gets her to agree to let him stay on for a time and work on his experiments in the basement.
 
The nature of his experiments quickly becomes clear to us. Billings is a patriotic fellow, and he wants to do his part for the war effort. He believes he is closing in on a method of making ordinary men into super-soldiers. Alas, none of the door-to-door salesmen he’s used as guinea pigs have become super-soldiers. In fact, none of them have survived the treatment. So there is a growing stack of dead salesmen in the basement, which he is desperately trying to hide.
 
Soon Winnie’s ex-husband (Larry Park) shows up and immediately becomes suspicious of the goings-on around the house, Dr. Lorencz becomes an unlikely backer in Dr. Billing’s experiments, and a new dopey door-to-door salesman ( “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom) becomes the latest chump hoping to be converted to a superman.

Comments: We end the year 1972 with a movie that tries really hard to be funny — and I think it’s fair to say that it tries a little too hard. On paper, The Boogie Man Will Get You probably seemed like a good idea, with the ever-versatile Boris Karloff teamed up with Peter Lorre in a madcap horror spoof.

Lorre hadn’t done any out-and-out comedies in his career, but his roles often contained an element of the ridiculous, and self-parody was a line he was always threatening to cross. As for Karloff, he hadn’t done comedy either, with one notable exception: he’d done a send-up of his own monstrous image in the Broadway hit Arsenic and Old Lace.

The Boogie Man Will Get You borrows liberally from the stage show, and it was probably thought that if Karloff was funny in one, he’d be funny in the other. But the problem here is that Karloff wasn’t actually funny in Arsenic and Old Lace: he was dead serious as the obsessive Jonathan Brewster, and that was funny.  Decades later Leslie Nielsen ran into the same problem when The Naked Gun gave him a reputation as a comic actor; he was only funny when he wasn’t trying to be funny. When he did try to be funny, the results were unfortunate.

This title does have its moments — most of them involving Peter Lorre, who actually has pretty deft comic timing — but the whole thing seem oddly labored and threadbare, and in the end it’s best that Karloff went back to the mad scientist’s lab where he belonged. Interestingly, Peter Lorre went on to play the goofy Dr. Einstein in Frank Capra’s 1944 screen version of Arsenic and Old Lace. And I’m happy to say he was pretty funny.

And that, my friends, takes us to the end of 1972. On to 1973!

 

 

Advertisements

One comment

  1. In regard to Kent Smith, I recall back to back roles in the early 70s, the smarmy DA in THE NIGHT STALKER, and the first victim in the homage THE CAT CREATURE. Jane Randolph was a native of Youngstown, Ohio, her last film ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU probably received less airtime than any of Karloff’s previous Columbias, all included in the SON OF SHOCK TV package. Other Peter Lorre titles that made the cut were ISLAND OF DOOMED MEN and THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s