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From: Mark Leeper (1:396/4)
To: n/a
Date: Mon, 24.02.20 18:19
Comments on the 1945 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic
From: Mark Leeper

Comments on the 1945 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Ca=
tegory

Members of the 2020 World Science Fiction Convention will be given an oppor=
tunity to vote retroactively for Hugo Awards for 1945, for works from 1944.=
I am not actually old enough to have been around in 1944. The year 1944 wa=
s roughly a flowering when fantastic media was seen by much of the public. =
I am not sure when I started seeing fantastic media from the year 1944 unti=
l about 1960, but I do remember the early general public availability of so=
me of the films nominated for a 1944 Retroactive Hugo. They had science fic=
tion and fantasy for which the fiction was absurdly bad (but fun) and the "=
science" contained no science at all. It can still be fun to be misinformed=
by science from someone who knows less science than you do and by fiction =
that is just written. There is a certain charm to science fiction written b=
y someone with no obvious understanding of science trying their best to mak=
e it sound credible

Many true fans of science fiction and fantasy still retain an interest in t=
he fantasy fiction from 80 years earlier. Reading it creates an atmosphere =
from a writing style of decades ago. Few fans delude themselves into believ=
ing that this prose eight decades old is true artistry.

Personally I see only one or two titles among the nominees that say to me "=
classic." By the time I finish this article you will probably have very lit=
tle doubt which two are the ones that I consider the true classics. In the =
meantime I will hint for the reader think about which would the real classi=
c be. Evelyn and I will both be viewing the choice of nominees and independ=
ently recording our opinions.

Enjoy your sojourn to the fun films of 1944. I know I will.

Long Form:

CAPTAIN AMERICA (serial): The Scarab, an evil master criminal (played by Li=
onel Atwill) is manipulating members of the wealthy class with something th=
at has been called "The Purple Death". With it, Scarab can telepathically o=
rder people infected with the Purple Death to commit suicide. The Scarab an=
d his minions know each other because they carry a jeweled scarab beetle. (=
The jewel has four pairs of legs, but scarabs are insects and so have only =
three pairs of legs; scarabs are beetles and so have six pairs of legs, not=
eight.

THE GREAT ALASKA MYSTERY (serial): In the 1940s it was cheap to have and re=
use the plot of bad guys being Nazis trying to get their hands on some sort=
of American super weapon. And what was the weapon? It was usually a death =
ray. That was a really cheap effect to create. A film is easy to stretch to=
distort. That gives an impression of melting rock. (I have seen only the f=
irst chapter.Wink

THE UNINVITED: In the middle of these weak B-movies is a true A- movie clas=
sic. It is a film that tells a good story and at the same time has comedy, =
drama, horror, a good mystery, and romance. Director Lewis Allen has given =
one of s small handful of the best English-language cinematic ghost stories=
ever made. (By the rules, this could be relocated into Short Form.Wink

The Short Form is for works of 90 minutes or less. However, works of 72 min=
utes or more could be relocated into the Long Form Category. These will be =
individually noted. Several of the films below are available on YouTube.

THE GIRL WHO DARED, MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM, and ONE BODY TOO MANY: Three o=
f the nominees are comedy horror films. A group of possible heirs are met i=
n a creepy old mansion for the reading of a will. One guest is willing to m=
urder to inherit the estate. He may or may not wear a horrific costume to e=
nhance the horror. Perhaps best remembered was 1927's THE CAT AND THE CANAR=
Y or its 1939 sound remake, also named THE CAT AND THE CANARY. The 1944 exa=
mples of haunted house horror films include THE GIRL WHO DARED, MURDER IN T=
HE BLUE ROOM, and ONE BODY TOO MANY. [ONE BODY TOO MANY could be Long Form.=
]

"Sherlock Holmes" Films: Prior to 1944 20th Century made two Sherlock Holme=
s films, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLME=
S, both made in 1939. Basil Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce=
played Watson. Rathbone and Bruce had a screen chemistry that worked and a=
udiences responded to. Universal decided to try using the same two actors i=
n the same two roles, but they would update the setting to wartime. Three o=
f these films took place in wartime England pitting Holmes and Watson again=
st Nazis. In 1944 they made SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE PEARL OF DEATH, SHERLOC=
K HOLMES AND THE SCARLET CLAW, and SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SPIDER WOMAN. Un=
iversal would lend Holmes's authority to patriotic speeches for which Rathb=
one would lapse into rhetoric. Still the films were generally entertaining.=
[SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SCARLET CLAW could be Long Form.]

BLUEBEARD: This actually was one of PRC's most respected productions. Direc=
tor Edgar Ulmer gives his settings the feel of a Paris set avoided long sho=
ts, setting a film in Paris drives up production costs even if the audience=
sees only little snatches of what is supposed to be Paris but is really ju=
st a few obvious stage props. John Carradine plays the title killer. BLUEBE=
ARD does not really work as an account of a serial killing murderer, but di=
rector Ulmer was a talented artist and his work is worth seeing even if it =
was created for pittance. [Could be Long Form.]

THE CLIMAX: The previous year, 1943, Universal had cashed in with their Tec=
hnicolor production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Claude Rains. It offer=
ed beautiful music and bright, vibrant color. In 1944 Universal tried that =
same formula again: strong, saturated colors, semi-classical music, and tis=
sue-light horror plotting. It made an escape for soldiers at war. Universal=
wanted to see if that same formula would work again. The plot was a combin=
ation of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and SVENGALI. Sadly, this was not much of a s=
uccess for Universal this time. Probably it was because the film starred Bo=
ris Karloff as the villainous hypnotist--an adequate but an uninspired choi=
ce. [Could be Long Form.]

CRAZY KNIGHTS: Five or six incompetent comedians play themselves in a comed=
y devoid of any humor attempts that work. It is just one more comedy of imb=
eciles in a haunted house.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF: When Universal was making its horror films, Columbia w=
as borrowing heavily from the Universal style and giving Universal a run fo=
r its money. One good touch in this, for example, is that it used real wolv=
es in scenes with werewolves and not people in yak-hair wigs. The story is =
not great, but it does have its moments. At a slight 63 minutes it was a de=
cent use of its time. Notice the cast included popular gangster actor Barto=
n MacLane and Nina Foch.

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE: Even though RKO had the extreme but unapprecia=
ted luck of having director Val Lewton working for them, they always insist=
ed they would pick the title of the next Lewton film. Lewton was never cons=
ulted on the choice. CAT PEOPLE had been such an assignment. Then Lewton wa=
s told he would make a sequel. In spite of a short reference in the script =
of THE CURSE OF CAT PEOPLE, Lewton wrote a strange little story about the g=
ood and bad that children can create for themselves and others who are unde=
r the influence of fantasy, but THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE had nothing muc=
h to do with CAT PEOPLE.

DEAD MAN'S EYES: This was an "Inner Sanctum" murder mystery. Universal, run=
ning out of material, turned to "Inner Sanctum", a mystery book-of-the-mont=
h book club. The mysteries all starred a perpetually miscast Lon Chaney, Jr=
.. DEAD MAN'S EYES was an "Inner Sanctum" mystery.

DESTINY: This story from Universal was originally planned to be a segment o=
f the anthology film FLESH AND FANTASY. It was a little overly sentimental =
for that film, combining elements of LES MISERABLES and GREEN MANSIONS. Cli=
ff is running from the police as the film opens. His life keeps falling int=
o chapters with him running from the police, and he repeatedly betrays peop=
le or is betrayed by others but he refuses to abandon his wicked ways. Then=
he finds a valley that is somehow attuned to a blind girl who lives peacef=
ully with nature. The director, Reginald Le Borg, who also directed several=
of Universal's lesser horror films of the caliber of JUNGLE WOMAN, directs=
the film.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN: Universal made some of the great monster movies star=
ting with DRACULA (1930), but by 1943 the formula was getting tired. It occ=
urred to Universal that a story with two monsters might attract audiences b=
etter than one with one, so they made FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Two =
monsters did indeed help to revive the market. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN did ju=
st that. They herded a bunch of monsters in one script. It had Frankenstein=
, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, and they introduced a new "monster", a pitiabl=
e hunchback. And they got Boris Karloff to appear again in a canonical mons=
ter film for the first time since SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Dracula almost has h=
is own second (albeit weak) story. Audience members who came expecting to s=
ee monsters fight each other will be disappointed. No two monsters are ever=
in the same scene when both are conscious.

THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE: This was late in Universal's "Invisible Man" s=
eries. Jon Hall plays a revenge-minded adventurer who was swindled by his p=
artners and left for dead in the jungle. He stumbles on a scientist re-disc=
overing the invisibility formula. This film was made eleven years after Uni=
versal made its first "Invisible Man" film and it used just the same photog=
raphic effects. There is very little progress in the visual effects or the =
story-telling. [Could be Long Form.]

JUNGLE WOMAN: This is unique among Universal's horror series in that it is =
the only series composed entirely of bombs: CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, JUNGLE CAPT=
IVE, and JUNGLE WOMAN. In this one, a gorilla has been vivisected to become=
a very near copy of a human woman.

THE LADY AND THE MONSTER: This was the first of three film adaptations of C=
urt Siodmak's novel DONOVAN'S BRAIN (THE LADY AND THE MONSTER (1944), DONOV=
AN'S BRAIN (1953), and THE BRAIN (1962). A powerful but criminal industrial=
ist has his brain kept alive after the rest of him dies. The brain can domi=
nate the scientist who is keeping him alive.

THE LODGER: This is director Edgar G. Ulmer's version of Jack the Ripper. U=
lmer specialized in dramas very dark in tone. This is his remake of Alfred =
Hitchcock's 1927 silent version. All of London is terrified by the Jack the=
Ripper murders. Laird Cregar plays the man suspected of being the Ripper M=
urderer who no doubt has deep psychological problems, Ripper or not. [Could=
be Long Form.]

RETURN OF THE APE MAN: There was a previous Poverty Row film entitled THE A=
PE MAN. It had nothing to do with RETURN OF THE APE MAN. In RETURN OF THE A=
PE MAN a prehistoric man is thawed out of ice and freed into our world.

THE SOUL OF A MONSTER: In this film a great doctor becomes a national hero =
for his great feats of healing, but he can only do so with the help of dark=
forces. This film borrows heavily from Val Lewton's bag of suspense tricks=
and odd camera angles. It also gives some feel of Universal's horror films=
..

VOODOO MAN: Mad scientist played by Bela Lugosi rearranges road landmarks t=
o trap passing motorists to make them test subjects. Lugosi uses pseudo-sci=
ence and voodoo to resurrect his wife. This is wackier than most Lugosi out=
ings, with a lot of different ideas thrown together to make this story. The=
re is even a bit of stop-motion animation thrown into the pot and stirred.

WEIRD WOMAN: None of Universal's "Inner Sanctum" mysteries, of which this i=
s one, rises above low mediocre. This is the best "Inner Sanctum" mystery o=
f the lot. That is at least in part because it is based on Fritz Leiber's h=
orror novel CONJURE WIFE. I recommend instead the 1962 remake, NIGHT OF THE=
EAGLE, a.k.a. BURN WITCH BURN.

In my introduction to this series of articles I promised the reader to reve=
al which two films I considered to be genuine classics. When I was first be=
coming a horror film fan I was not quite sure what to make of CURSE OF THE =
CAT PEOPLE. There are certainly aspects to admire in its well-rounded comme=
ntary on children and imagination. I still am not quite sure what Val Lewto=
n was saying, but it has enough to keep me guessing. Lewton deserves venera=
tion after all the years. And the film most easily appreciated is THE UNINV=
ITED. Those two were the best fantasy films of 1944 in my opinion.

--
Mark R. Leeper
--- NewsGate v1.0 gamma 2
* Origin: News Gate @ Net396 -Huntsville, AL - USA (1:396/4)

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