Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Crimson Ghost – Skull Masked Maniac Bent On Atomic Power!

By Steve D. Stones

The Crimson Ghost may very well be the greatest movie serial ever made, particularly from Republic Pictures. Both William Witney and Fred C. Brannon are credited for directing The Crimson Ghost. Witney is considered the best of the post-War serial directors. His direction credits include: The Mysterious Dr. Satan, Nyoka & The Tigermen (AKA The Perils of Nyoka), Spy Smasher, G-Men vs. The Black Dragon, Jungle Girl and Daredevils of The Red Circle, among many others.

If you’ve ever wondered where Steven Spielberg and George Lucas get some of their ideas for the action sequences in the Indiana Jones movies, just watch one of the above-mentioned serials by Witney and you’ll see where their ideas come from.

The Crimson Ghost was directed in 1946 and concerns a skull-masked maniac who is determined to steal a secret government device known as the Cyclotrode. The device is able to counteract the effects of atomic energy and atomic-operated machines. The Crimson Ghost plans to use the Cyclotrode to neutralize the power of flying planes in the sky and to break into top-secret government buildings to steal government plans.

Clayton Moore, star of the hit 1950s TV series The Lone Ranger, is one of the Crimson Ghost’s henchmen. Most of the action sequences involve his character and the hero of the serial, Professor Duncan Richards, played by serial regular Charles Quigley.

The Crimson Ghost also stars the beautiful Linda Stirling, star of Tiger Woman and Zorro’s Black Whip, as Professor Richards’ assistant.

A VHS video of The Crimson Ghost was released in the mid-1990s in a colorized and condensed version. Accomics in Florida also sells the colorized and condensed version, as well as the full-length black & white version. I do not recommend the colorized version because it is
condensed from a three hour serial to just ninety minutes. I highly recommend the full-length black & white version.

Fans of the 80s punk rock band The Misfits will immediately recognize the skull face of the Crimson Ghost. His face was appropriated as the band’s logo.

For more information about classic movie serials, I recommend the two-volume book Classic Cliffhangers by Hank Davis published in 2007. Happy viewing!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rat Pfink A Boo Boo: Masked Crime Fighters In Ski Masks

By Steve D. Stones

Low budget director Ray Dennis Steckler is best known for creating the first so-called “monster musical” – The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living & Became Mixed Up Zombies (AKA Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary). Like most of Steckler’s films, he cast his wife Carolyn Brandt in a leading role in Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (AKA The Adventures of Rat Pfink A Boo Boo).

As campy as the title may be, the person who created the opening titles for the film forgot to put a letter N and D after the letter A so that the title would read: Rat Pfink And Boo Boo. To further complicate matters, a letter P was placed in front of the word Fink, likely to not confuse the Rat Fink character in this film with the famous Rat Fink character created by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the 1960s. Confused yet? Perhaps this was Steckler’s way of avoiding copyright infringements?

A group of hoodlums is constantly harassing Ceebee Beaumont by calling her on the telephone. Ceebee is the beautiful girlfriend of rising rock singer and teenage heartthrob Lonnie Lord, played by Vin Saxon (AKA Ron Haydock). The group follows and kidnaps Ceebee, played by Steckler’s wife at the time – Carolyn Brandt, and demands a ransom of $50,000.00 from Lonnie.

Lonnie and his gardener, played by Titus Moede, thrust into action by dressing up in costumes similar to Batman & Robin, but instead they wear ski masks. They call themselves Rat Pfink & Boo Boo, in case you haven’t guessed by now. The two catch up with the hoodlums and save the day by rescuing the girl and avoiding a confrontation with a giant ape named Kogar.

Various interesting scenes in the film use colored filters over the black and white photography, such as an opening night sequence in blue of the hoodlums attacking a young woman to steal her purse. Other scenes use a red filter over the black and white.

The DVD and video print of Rat Pfink A Boo Boo, sold by Sinister Cinema in Medford, Oregon has a short introduction by director Steckler. Steckler’s films have gained a strong following in recent years, and have even been featured on Turner Classic Movies, a cable network that screens classic films.

Steckler spent the last few years of his life living in Las Vegas running a video store. He passed away in January of 2009. May his films live on forever for cult movie fans to enjoy for many generations to come!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Plan9 Re-run: In today's world, Woods is kitsch and Wood is scholarly!

The following column originally ran in the Dec. 28, 2009, Standard-Examiner.

By Doug Gibson

It really annoys me that golfer Tiger Woods has become a scandal item. For so long he seemed the perfect, respectful, graceful, honorable role model. And instead he's off tomcatting like the stereotypical frat boy in a bad R-rated movie.

But Woods is just one in a long line of the respectable who go bad. Look at politics. What a consistent mine for scandal is found there: Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Larry Craig, Barney Frank, Tom Foley, David Vitter, the late Ted Kennedy ... all these are lawmakers who have been caught in sex scandals.

Scandal has been around forever, but for a long time we didn't have several cable channels and more Web sites devoted to wallowing in it. The more respectable the person was before being dragged into the tabloid media muck, the bigger the catch.

But I've wondered, if Tiger Woods becomes kitsch, is it possible for kitsch to rise to scholarship? Is that a future byproduct of our scandal world? Will there soon be higher education courses on the Tiger Woods' affairs and their effect on relationships between whites and African-Americans?

As bizarre as that sounds, anyone who has perused some university course books might not be surprised to see such a class.

Although he never was a politician or a sports star, no one better embodied kitsch than Ed Wood. The transvestite filmmaker made some very interesting "bad" films, such as "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Glen Or Glenda." He also wrote more than 100 novels. An alcoholic, he eventually drifted into porn writing and filmmaking and died homeless. The kitsch of his films created a cult that at first was smarmy but gravitated to a respect for his imagination, if not his talents.

In 1993, Tim Burton made a romanticized version of Wood's life called "Ed Wood." The movie resulted in the re-publication of a few of Wood's long-gone novels. The eventual result of the film has been a very slow but solid shift in how Wood is perceived. The much-maligned man associated with such films as "Night of the Ghouls" is suddenly a subject of scholarship.

Granted, Wood's cult has decreased as his more smarmy fans aren't interested in literary criticism on the filmmaker, but the remaining fans are more apt to discuss Wood in the same breath with Luis Bunuel or "Waiting for Godot."

To be honest, if Wood were alive today he'd probably ask them what the hell they were talking about, but don't be surprised if you peruse a college course book and see a film class devoted to Wood. The new book, "Ed Wood -- Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films," by Rob Craig (McFarland Press, at, will certainly audition as a text.

The book, which reached my journalist's desk recently, is fascinating reading if you are a Wood fan -- I am -- and pretty dense reading if you are not, or if your exposure to Wood is limited to Burton's film or "Plan 9 From Outer Space" Or "Glen Or Glenda." Its main interest is that it's real, scholarly literary and film criticism of Wood's work. Some of us have waited decades for a book like this.

Having said that, Craig's observations are hit and miss. The strongest part of "Ed Wood: Mad Genius" is Craig's assertion that many of the absurdities in Wood's films, such as night being day and vice versa, ridiculous dialogue and threadbare sets that remind of improv theater, are actually examples of Brechtian theater, and attempts to convince the audience to accept the alternate reality, or alternate world, in which his film exists.

Although it's easy to scoff at this and call it pseudoscholarship, even the most smarmy Wood watcher will admit that his films are unique. No one-lung director or producer ever made films as interesting as Wood did.

The weaker part of Craig's book is his attempt to find a feminist message in Wood's films. To do this, he populates the pages with references to the late radical feminist Andrea Dworkin. On many pages she's the only source for an argument by Craig. There's a certain ridiculous irony in Craig using Dworkin to find feminism in the works of a film-maker who has pornography to his credits, but that's a topic for another time.

To sum up, if you are a Wood fan or really want to know more about Wood, "Ed Wood: Mad Genius" is worth reading. If not, rent Burton's "Ed Wood" and get to know a quirky, likeable guy.

In any event, let's just enjoy the irony of our popular culture allowing Tiger Woods to sink to the level of Paris Hilton while Ed Wood rises to the level of Luis Bunuel. That's America.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tom Sawyer, the silent version from 1917

Tom Sawyer, 44 minute-version, B&W, 1917. Directed by William Desmond Taylor. Starring Jack Pickford as Tom Sawyer, Edythe Chapman as Aunt Polly, Helen Gilmore as Widow Douglas, Robert Gordon as Huckleberry Finn and Clara Horton as Becky Thatcher. Schlock-meter rating: Eight stars out of 10.

This early silent is an interesting curio, creaky but far more entertaining than you'd think. Jack Pickford, brother of Mary, plays Mark Twain's famous scamp, and while he was old for the role (20), he pulls it off with a talented performance. His best scenes are when he cons his buddies into whitewashing the fence and his romance of Becky Thatcher, played by 13-year-old Clara Horton. Pickford had an "aw shucks" type of charm that must have made him pretty famous 85 years ago. Chapman as Aunt Polly is agreeably fussy and Gordon smirks effectively as Huckleberry Finn.

The acting is highly melodramatic, the sets are very effective. On the Internet Movie Database, on reviewer describes the film as having the "feel of an old photo album." Incredibly, this was not the first adapation of Twain's novel. That occurred in 1907. The film ends halfway through the novel, the climax being Tom and Huck crashing their own funeral. This has confused several reviewers, but the story goes that director Taylor divided the film into two movies. A year later he released Huck and Tom, which is the second half of the novel. The tinny score irritates a bit, but the film, recently shown on TCM cable channel, is a real treat for silent film buffs.

Director Taylor was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1922, a scandal that still thrills Hollywood today. Star Jack Pickford died in 1933, his career and health ruined by fast living.
-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lon Chaney Jr. as a TV Frankenstein??

By Doug Gibson

The Frankenstein episode of early TV show Tales of Tomorrow is a historical curio. It's an example of TV in its infancy. There's nothing spectacular about the 1952 24-minute TV teleplay drama, filmed live. Its fortunate existence today is more teaching tool than art.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays the Monster. He's the only good thing about the plodding show. It has Ed Woodian bargain basement sets and props, as well as overtheatrical wooden acting by indistinguished TV actors of the time. The plot involves Dr. Victor Frankenstein (John Newland) living in a castle on the sea with his husband and wife servants and, for some reason, his young nephew (Michael Mann) is there. Also hanging around but not living in the castle is Mrs. Frankenstein (Mary Alice Moore) and her dad, who is also Dr. Frankenstein's mentor (Raymond Bramley).

Nothing much happens until Dr. Frankenstein unveils his monster (Chaney Jr.). He lumbers around the house, killing the maid and scaring the nephew and butler. This is all rather leaden sans much drama although Dr. Frankenstein offers quite a few long-winded laments. Eventually, the principals plot to do away with the Monster.

Chaney looks nothing like his 1942 performance as the Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, but he's an old horror hand and he knows how to roar and generally give a menacing performance.

Now, here's the most interesting part of this creaky curio of a TV show. Apparently, Chaney Jr., a severe alcoholic most of his life, was very intoxicated when the live shoot was being don. In fact, he was so intoxicated that he thought it was the dress rehearsal and refused to throw furniture to the floor. It is true that Chaney, in two scenes, gently places furniture back on the floor that is obviously meant to be tossed! You can also hear him mumble once "save it" as he places the furniture down. Otherwise, his role is mute with grunts.

As mentioned, an interesting curio, directed by TV director Don Medford. It is often in discount DVD packs, the kind sold via or in dollar stores. It is free to watch on the Web or you can buy it on also.
Here is a YouTube clip link and it is seen above:
Horror fans will enjoy it, completists will want it. It's a chance to see Chaney Jr. in a TV setting. Despite his drinking, he stayed active in films until his death in the early 70s.