Saturday, November 9, 1974 (Midnight): The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) / The Man Who Cried Wolf (1937)

Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow) is a wealthy scientist who has his mind set on capturing the Gill-Man, who has been presumed dead in the Florida everglades since the events of Revenge of the Creature. A man tending to alligator traps in the area claims that the Gill-Man attacked him, badly damaging his face. He says he stabbed the creature with his knife. When Barton has the knife analyzed he discovers that the dried blood matches the blood samples taken from the creature when it was held at Marine Land.

Barton has assembled a team of researchers to assist him on his quest to capture the creature: Dr. Thomas Morgan (Rex Reason), Dr. Borg (Maurice Manson) and Dr. Johnson (James Rawley). He also brings along diver Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer). Dr. Barton’s beautiful young wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden) also insists on coming along, though this seems to nettle Dr. Barton a great deal.

Marcia is in every way a faithful wife; yet Barton is consumed by jealousy, constantly demanding to know who she has been talking to and warning her to stay away from other men.

Morgan discovers that Barton’s motives in capturing the creature are rooted in his belief that the creature can be adapted to survive out of the water, and useful knowledge might be gained from the creature that would benefit future space flights, which might require humans to undergo similarly radical adaptation. Morgan disagrees with the potential cruelty of such experiments, but he stays with the expedition out of curiosity.

Barton’s lavish yacht plies the waterways of the everglades, and they reach the point where they believe the Gill-man is residing. The creature is tracked down, and later an expedition sets out by small boat to find him. As in both the previous films, the piscicide rotenone is used to drug him, but he still manages to attack the small vessel. In the melee, the creature is doused with gasoline and badly burned.

Back on the ship, the scientists struggle to save the creature’s life. Its gills have been badly damaged and Morgan and Barton perform a tracheotomy to allow it to breathe through its vestigial lungs. They discover that the creature’s outer skin has sloughed off in the fire, leaving an animal that appears more humanoid underneath. Grant sews clothing for its ungainly body with sailcloth.

Back in California, the creature takes up residence in a caged enclosure outside Barton’s mansion. Morgan argues that the creature’s savagery is a response to how it has been treated. If it is treated humanely, he argues, the creature will likely behave in a more humane manner. Barton thinks such ideas are nonsense.

Meanwhile, Barton has become obsessed with what he imagines are Marcia’s infidelities. While Marcia and Morgan are clearly attracted to each other, neither does anything to encourage the other. However, Grant becomes more and more brazen in his advances on Marcia, and despite her continued rejection of him he remains undeterred. Later he tries to assault Marcia while on guard duty, allowing the creature to escape. When Barton learns of Grant’s actions he fires him. Grant taunts him about being unable to control his wife, and in a fit of rage Barton strikes him from behind, accidentally killing him.

With Grant’s dead body in front of him, Barton quickly makes a decision: he tosses the body into the enclosure, and blames the creature for Grant’s murder….

Comments: Creature From the Black Lagoon was a big enough hit to guarantee a sequel, and 1955’s Revenge of the Creature was about what you’d expect: it was louder, dumber and cheaper than the original. It also starred John Agar — the lead actor you called when the lead actor you really wanted wasn’t available.

But the third and final movie in the cycle, The Creature Walks Among Us, is different. Despite a number of plot holes and absurdities, it does something that Revenge of the Creature didn’t even attempt: it tries to say something interesting. The line between “the jungle and the stars”, as Dr. Morgan puts it, is vanishingly fine, and it turns out that the real monster running loose is of the green-eyed variety. Barton, for all his money and ambition, is in the end a pretty poor example of the human species. He’s much closer to the jungle, it turns out, than the stars. He and the creature are reflection characters, each one on a similar trajectory out of their respective comfort zones. In the end, Barton winds up dead and disgraced and the creature, staring bleakly out at the water to which he can never return, finds himself forever out of his element.

Horror films of the 1930s and 1940s were openly hostile to science, seeing it as the province of arrogant men who dared to play God. By contrast, the 1950s championed scientific progress, often in embarrassingly grandiose terms. The Creature Walks Among Us is one of the few science-fiction films of the 1950s to be ambivalent on the subject, acknowledging that Barton’s research might have some utility, but questioning if progress is really worth the cost.

This movie starred Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason, who had appeared in the previous year’s Technicolor extravaganza This Island Earth. This film is clearly a much lower-budget affair but its nice to see the two of them reunited on screen.

Rex Reason is best known for playing This Island Earth’s Dr. Cal Meacham. I’ve always thought of him as too stiff to be a leading man and not interesting enough to be a character actor. But in The Creature Walks Among Us he’s surprisingly likable, bringing a very light touch to the character of the humane scientist Morgan. As an actor, Reason has a tendency to be an overbearing presence — his imposing height and basso profundo voice tend to work against him – but here he gives a very restrained performance, perhaps the best of his career.

The top-billed Morrow was somewhat more versatile, and while he was never a showy performer he does pretty well as the angry and deeply unhappy Barton. Leigh Snowden was an intelligent actress and makes the most of her scenes, none of which were particularly demanding from a dramatic standpoint. Essentially her job was to look beautiful and get rescued, and she pulled off both tasks effortlessly.

The Man Who Cried Wolf

Synopsis: A prominent New York businessman is gunned down on the street in front of a ritzy hotel. The gunman flees the scene and the police have no leads. Reporters are lounging in the police station lobby, waiting for news, when a shy-looking man comes in and tells the sergeant at the desk that he was the one who committed the crime, and would like to confess.

The man identifies himself as Lawrence Fontaine (Lewis Stone), an actor who arrived in town the previous month from Australia, and who is appearing in a play called “The Death Cry” at the Temple Theater. But chief of of the homicide division Walter Reid (Robert Gleckler) immediately knows Fontaine’s confession is false. The gunman fired the shots with his left hand, but Fontaine is right-handed. The killer had left a number of cigarette butts on the ground in the place outside the hotel where he’d waited for his victim; Fontaine doesn’t smoke. And in Fontaine’s confession, he claimed that he’d thrown the murder weapon into the river from the Jersey City Ferry around 1:20 am, but Reid knows the ferry stops running at 12:30 am.

Soon the police apprehend the real killer, and Reid warns Fontaine not to waste police time and resources in search of publicity. But a few nights later, another prominent murder takes place. Fontaine again shows up at police headquarters and confesses, but this time the police reject his story immediately because Fontaine refers to the murder victim as “she” — Fontaine had incorrectly assumed that the victim, whose first name was Francis, was a woman.

But we learn that Fontaine has made these two confessions as part of an elaborate murder plot. At the theater, Fontaine’s dresser Jocko (Forrester Harvey) shows him a newspaper story: a man named George Bradley (Jameson Thomas) has taken up residence in the penthouse of the hotel next door. Fontaine opens a box and begins perusing old letters and newspaper clippings — which show us that Fontaine’s ex-wife, who had married Bradley, wrote to Fontaine confiding that she was afraid of her new husband. A short time later, she drowned under suspicious circumstances.

Meanwhile, Bradley and his sister Amelia (Marjorie Main) fret over the fact that Bradley’s stepson Tommy (Tom Brown) has caught the acting bug, and will be appearing in the new play “The Death Cry” at the Temple. As a favor to Tommy, they will attend the show that night.

Backstage, Tommy points out his stepfather in the audience to Fontaine, who is shocked to recognize him as Bradley.

The next day, Tommy has an altercation with Bradley, and the two come to blows. That night, while pretending to nap in his dressing room before the show, Fontaine slips out the window, goes up to Bradley’s penthouse, shoots him, and returns to the show just as his dresser is knocking on the door.

When news of Bradley’s murder hits the papers, Fontaine goes to the police station to confess. But this time the police won’t even bother hearing him out, and tell him not to come back.

Bradley’s servants tell police that Tommy had gotten into a fistfight with his stepfather the day he was murdered, and had even threatened him. Tommy is arrested, put on trial, and found guilty of murder. But when Fontaine tries to exonerate Tommy by confessing again, he finds the police won’t believe him….

Comments: One of the more obscure titles from the original Shock! package, The Man Who Cried Wolf isn’t a horror movie, nor can it fairly be called a murder mystery. It’s really a backstage melodrama with a premise almost too clever for its own good. Lots of coincidences need to pile up in order to make it work, and for this reason the movie takes a while to get going. But once it does, it works pretty well, as long as you’re in the mood to suspend disbelief.

On the surface, Fontaine’s plan to make a bunch of false confessions in order to remove himself from police suspicion later on seems like a good one. But if you think about it for even a minute it starts to fall apart. There’s little risk in confessing to a murder you didn’t commit if the cops you’re dealing with are honest and competent. But what if they aren’t? They might decide to accept your confession at face value — and you might wind up getting the electric chair.

And even if you temporarily managed to ward off suspicion with the false confession, you’d definitely pop back up to #1 on the list of suspects once a connection — any connection — surfaced between you and the latest murder victim. Even a fairly unimaginative cop would be able to piece Fontaine’s scheme together after that.

Fontaine had already waited 20 years to exact his revenge, so calling attention to himself now seems like a bad option. He had arranged an alibi in the theater on the night in question anyway, so why get fancy about it? Well, of course he’s an actor, so perhaps we should allow for his flair for the dramatic.

All in all, this is a decent little film that doesn’t demand a whole lot, and would have made for a pleasant night at the movies for Depression-era audiences.

Lewis Stone is best known for the role of Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy films, but that role still lay in the future for him (the first film in the series, A Family Affair, was released a few months before The Man Who Cried Wolf, but the role of Andy’s dad was played by Lionel Barrymore).

Tom Brown is the nice kid wrongly convicted of murder here, and he carries the less-than-demanding role pretty well. He spent much of his career playing character roles on television.

Marjorie Main also had a durable film career as a character actor, with lots of roles as landladies and spinster aunts. She’s probably best remembered for playing opposite Percy Kilbride in the Ma and Pa Kettle movies.

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