Flint, Facial Hair and the Finger of Fate

murder is my beat os small

I’m treading water this week with a handful of new releases: Daniel Mann’s 1966 spy spoof “Our Man Flint,” now available as a limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time; an unexpectedly good print of the Halperin brothers’ Poverty Row classic “White Zombie,” featuring Bela Lugosi with a most curious goatee I hope will soon be turning up on the streets of the East Village; and the totally unexpected release of Edgar G. Ulmer’s frightening obscure 1955 “Murder Is My Beat,” offered in 1.85 from the Warner Archive Collection.

Ulmer’s star is the unfortunate Barbara Payton, whose life might have made a memorable film noir on its own. Payton was engaged to Franchot Tone when she began an affair with Tom Neal, the star of Ulmer’s “Detour,” which ended with Neal beating Tone into unconsciousness. Payton married Tone but eventually went back to Neal, which effectively ended both her career and Neal’s. “Murder Is My Beat” would be her last film, apart from an alleged appearance as an extra in Robert Aldrich’s “4 for Texas.” Coincidence, or was Ulmer doing Neal a solid? It may have been the last positive development in the lives of both Payton and Neal, who went on to fates that seem cruel even by Ulmerian standards.

My New York Times column is here.

41 comments to Flint, Facial Hair and the Finger of Fate

  • Robert Garrick

    I was all geared up, ready to write about the Neal/Tone/Payton connection that ties Ulmer’s “Detour” (1945) to his later “Murder Is My Beat” (1955), but Dave beat me to it. He left this particular detail out of his New York Times column, but included it here for the graduate students.

    Payton was only 28 when she made “Murder Is My Beat,” but she was an old woman physically. Her face had turned puffy (from drinking, pills, and probably from some other stuff too) and she had started to look vaguely Asian. Lindsay Lohan is a Mormon missionary next to Payton, whose IMDB trivia section goes on forever with details that grow increasingly sordid as her life lurches, one astonishing tidbit at a time, to its unceremonious and early close at age 39.

    Dave writes, in the New York Times, that “Ulmer had a way of incorporating budget limitations into his films’ texture.” He did the same, I believe, with his compromised players. People like Lugosi, Tom Neal, and Payton–they were made for Ulmer.

    By the way, Tom Neal, who had a Grade Z film career (“The Brute Man” with Rondo Hatton), who almost beat Franchot Tone to death in 1951, and who went to prison for killing his wife in 1965–was college educated at Northwestern before getting a Harvard law degree.

    “Murder is My Beat” is a solid, haunting film. The first good writing on it appears in John Belton’s volume of “The Hollywood Professionals” (1974), where Hawks and Borzage are also discussed. It’s not as lurid as “Detour” and not nearly as showy as “The Black Cat” but it has the same deterministic gloom, the same feeling of a world gone wrong.

    I have actually seen “Murder Is My Beat” in a theatre, and I’m pretty sure it was a 35mm print shown in a semi-wide ratio. Dave might remember: Around 1978 or 1979, one of the downtown Chicago movie theatres scheduled an all-night B-movie festival. VCRs were still a year or two away, so I didn’t pass up the chance to spend a Saturday night-into-Sunday-morning watching “Glen or Glenda” (1953), “Terror of Tiny Town” (1938), “Death Race 2000″ (1975), “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill” (1965), and “Murder Is My Beat,” all projected onto the big screen from midnight until about 8:00 AM. I emerged from the theatre in a fog, like Paul Langton in the Ulmer film, surrounded by Sunday morning churchgoers. I remember I caught a horrible cold that night and missed the next two weeks of classes. (Like Tom Neal, I was a law student, and like Tom Neal, I was misbehaving.)

  • David Cohen

    A question:
    Looking at the delightfully tawdry movie poster that illustrates this article made me wonder: Did any of the same restrictions of the Production Code also apply to movie posters and supplemental advertisements?

  • david hare

    Payton is an arresting figure in my cinema’s memory.
    In her penultimate movie, Bad Blonde (aka The Flanagan Boy) she takes the roof off the turgid direction (but amazingly personal performances by everyone except leading man Tony Wright,from Reg le Borg) whom she spies shadow boxing, through a backlit tent opening (just like Mitchum glimpsing Greer first time in Out of the Past) Tony is trying to throw a few stage punches with some far more effective sparring dummy but looks more like larry Olivier throwing his hands around in some William Wyler movie (or other.)

    Reg cuts back to MCU of Barabra who stares straight at the camera and snarls.. “WhaddAreYA? Doncha LIke WOMEN!!”

    She caught me for life.

    THe remaining men who are played off her and by her define the rest of this bad movie and possibly her career. Way way beyond camp, this is pretty powerful. Some hack like Jean Delannoy in Macao l’enfer du Jeu directing another forgotten and sublime lost soul like Mireille Balin in a throwaway, for which, magically and for no reason she then comes to completely control.
    SHe c

  • david hare

    Payton is an arresting figure in my cinema’s memory.
    In her penultimate movie, Bad Blonde (aka The Flanagan Boy) she takes the roof off the turgid direction (but amazingly personal performances by everyone except leading man Tony Wright,from Reg le Borg) whom she spies shadow boxing, through a backlit tent opening (just like Mitchum glimpsing Greer first time in Out of the Past) Tony is trying to throw a few stage punches with some far more effective sparring dummy but looks more like larry Olivier throwing his hands around in some William Wyler movie (or other.)

    Reg cuts back to MCU of Barabra who stares straight at the camera and snarls.. “WhaddAreYA? Doncha LIke WOMEN!!”

    The remaining men who are played off her and by her define the rest of this bad movie and possibly her career. Way way beyond camp, this is pretty powerful. It reminds me of some hack like Jean Delannoy in Macao l’enfer du Jeu directing another forgotten and sublime lost soul like Mireille Balin in a throwaway, for which, magically and for no reason she then comes to completely control.

  • Johan Andreasson

    For a horror star Bela Lugosi seems to have relied relatively little on makeup. Usually it was just a goatee (or, as in this case, a double goatee). Of course in ISLAND OF LOST SOULS it was a bit more than that, but I can’t think of any other film than FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN where he was in really heavy makeup.

  • x359594

    “For a horror star Bela Lugosi seems to have relied relatively little on makeup.”

    True enough. Sometimes he sported a beard or mustache. The one other picture where Lugosi is heavily made up is “The Ape Man” in addition to the other you mention.

  • Barry Putterman

    I’m not quite sure whether it is a compliment to say that somebody doesn’t need much makeup to star in horror movies. But really, unless you are playing the monster (or someone who gets transformed into the monster), why would you?

    On a more serious note; David, Sid James defines a lot more for me than Barbara Payton’s career. And my very vague memory of BAD BLONDE tells me that he was slumming as a rich guy in that one too.

  • Foster Grimm

    Sid James plays the boxer’s trainer in BAD BLONDE. Frederick Valk is the rich guy.
    Actually, one of Sid’s finer performances is his pulling off an American accent in WICKED AS THEY COME.

    Cheers.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Speaking of Lugosi, I recently came across this lovely card sent by him to Dolores and Ed Wood. A little late, but nothing says Christmas like a picture of a cowboy sent by a vampire.

    http://beladraculalugosi.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/christmas-card.jpg

  • Barry Putterman

    But of course Foster. It was HEAT WAVE where Sid played the rich guy, with Hillary Brooke as Barbara Payton. Would film history had been different had Barbara co-starred in “The Abbott and Costello Show?”

  • “Murder Is My Beat” is a very good movie, with magical mise-en-scène. Its rich visual style gives it the feeling of a fairy tale. The visuals show the influence of those interlocking movements, German Expressionism and film noir. Ulmer was involved with both.

    Plot-wise, “Murder Is My Beat” is a straightforward detective story: a police sleuth has to figure out who committed a sinister murder. I love detective tales, and think of “Murder Is My Beat” as one of the better Hollywood examples.

    Like most B-movies of the classical studio era, “Murder Is My Beat” is NOT trashy or sordid. It is just a perfectly normal mystery film, albeit one with A1 direction.

    “Murder Is My Beat” is my favorite Ulmer, despite the major challengers of The Black Cat, Detour, Carnegie Hall and Ruthless. Now that it is at long last out of limbo and on DVD, a new generation can fall under its spell.

  • Walter Lewis

    Robert Garrick: I too was at that screening. It was at the Sandburg Theater on Dearborn (originally the Playboy Theater). It was a terrific festival. It also included “It Came from Within” as I recall. Unfortunately, I fell asleep during “Murder is My Beat” and dreamt someone had been pushed from the train! I awoke in a start. The people around me were a little disconcerted!

  • alex

    Mike

    Sounds good (your”Murderer ” rec).

    What’s the Ulmer that’s a bit Hardyboy-ish and includes soneones retention in an institution? It was once recommended by. you to this big Detour and People on Sunday fan (and general Ulmerr skeptic). And a lot of fun.

  • Barry Lane

    Mike–

    No Pirates of Capri on your Ulmer list…?

  • Alex: “What’s the Ulmer that’s a bit Hardyboy-ish and includes soneones retention in an institution?”

    Sounds like “Strange Illusion” (1945).

    Several Ulmer films have teenage protagonists. They tend to be Good Guys, responsible, intellectual. See also Jive Junction, and the very fine Carnegie Hall.

    Barry:
    I like Pirates of Capri, too! And American Matchmaker, Tomorrow We Live, Isle of Forgotten Sins, The Man from Planet X, St Benny the Dip…

  • Barry Lane

    Mike:

    Edgar almost always brought something unusual to the table. In Wife of Monte Cristo that is exemplified by Martin Kosleck playing the Count. Lenore Aubert as Haydee would not work nearly so well in other hands. Just fine here.

  • Robert Garrick

    “The Man from Planet X” (1951) is X-cellent and I’d rate it the best of the “warning” films that came out in a flood starting around 1949. That year, Russia successfully tested an atomic weapon, China turned communist, and Hiroshima was still fresh in the memory. For four years America had been untouchable, but no more, and people were scared.

    In “The Next Voice You Hear” (William Wellman, 1950) God comes over the radio and tells the world to straighten up. Gort issues the same message in Robert Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). Martians join the chorus in Harry Horner’s “Red Planet Mars” (1952). All are interesting films, but they’re fairly straightforward.

    Ulmer’s “The Man from Planet X” is much more interesting. The warning comes not explicitly but through indirection and example. An alien, seeking a new home for the people of his doomed planet, lands in a Scottish moor. He’s in a helmeted spacesuit, with a large head and a child’s body. He’s obviously desperate–his planet is about to be destroyed. Beyond that, what is he like? We don’t know, and Ulmer doesn’t let on. Humans respond in predictable ways, and Ulmer keeps things ambiguous. The film ends in sadness.

    The film, which was made in six days for less than $50,000, looks spectacular. Ulmer used leftover sets from Victor Fleming’s “Joan of Arc” (1948), covered them with fog, and shot mostly at night. There are some notable urban scenes too, in particular an abduction in an alley.

    The film’s star, Robert Clarke, was paid $210 for his work. The other star, Margaret Field, is better known today as Sally Field’s mother. Sally was five years old when her mother made “The Man from Planet X.”

    I saw this film many times as a kid and loved it. Camp-loving modern audiences laugh at it. But I’d say it’s a triumph for Ulmer, and another major piece of his artistic legacy.

  • Alex Hicks

    Mike Grost,

    Not sure I like picking Jive over Carnegie Hall for a couple of hours entertainment, but I look forward to catching a look at “Jive Junction” (any clues how I might?) zs well as “Murder Is My Beat.”

    Alas, I found “Carnegie Hall,” despite fascinating musical and nice production values and a handsome look, a bit stilted and ultimately dull (perhaps because rather pulseless performances and uninventive writing).

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Robert and Walter – the festival at the Chicago near North Side Sandburg was something I programmed as their film buyer, circa 1981. The program was the idea of the theaters then-owners, college students taking a break Albert Berger and Bill Horberg, who have since gone onto (mainly separate) careers as film producers. Bill’s films as producer include Searching for Bobby Fischer, The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Quiet American, Albert’s include King of the Hill, Election and Little Miss Sunshine and Alexander Payne’s forthcoming Nebraska. They produced Cold Mountain together. Though I got most of the films, this program was totally their idea, and as I recall the one that they were most enthusiastic about.

  • jbryant

    Ulmer films available on Netflix Instant:

    THE MAN FROM PLANET X
    RUTHLESS
    DETOUR
    BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER
    THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN

    In other Netflix news, William Nigh’s ALLOTMENT WIVES expires from Instant on 2/01/13.

  • Robert Garrick

    Tom, good to hear from you. It wasn’t 1981 because by then I was living in New York. It was either 1979 or early 1980. Another title I saw that night that I forgot to mention in my earlier post: “Shack Out on 101″ (Edward Dein, 1955). Also on the bill was the Raquel Welch classic “Kansas City Bomber,” but that was scheduled for early Sunday morning (maybe 7:00 AM) and by then I was ready to leave.

    I actually “trained” for this program for about a week, staying up a little later each night, so that I wouldn’t be falling asleep like Walter. As I recall I had no trouble staying awake, but I was definitely disoriented when I left the theatre in daylight, on Sunday morning. Then (in my stupor) I had to ride the El train back to Hyde Park, and sleep all day. It was pretty weird.

    These kids today have no idea what a challenge it was, in the pre-VCR days before 1980, to see cult films like “Glen or Glenda.” Such titles weren’t shown on TV, and they were rarely shown in theatres or anywhere else. Things like “Faster Pussycat” were pretty tough to find, too, and I had never known “Murder Is My Beat” to be shown anywhere, TV or theatre. So to catch them all in one night was epic.

    Along similar lines, I also remember an all-night Russ Meyer marathon at the Nuart in west L.A., a little earlier in the decade. Again, it was pretty thrilling to see things like “Lorna” and “Mudhoney” in 35mm copies on the big screen.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Albert and Bill took over the Sandburg sometime in 1980 (if I recall summer or later) so it must have been then – I didn’t recall the all night show being that early.

    This would be unless it was at some other theater, although I do remember specifically Terror of Tiny Town being part of the program, since I hadn’t seen it earlier. (I didn’t attend the program, guess I saw it at a different time).

    It was a hellaciously expensive program – at that time, Chicago Union rules required two projectionists at all times, after midnight was double time, but it did quite well.

  • Ian McDowell

    Johan, you’re forgetting Lugosi’s most famous role after Dracula and one of his personal favorites: Ygor in “Son of Frankenstein” and “Ghost of Frankenstein.” Jack Pierce’s makeup here is almost as heavy as that applied to Karloff, with a bushy, bowl-cut light-colored wig, false teeth, an unkempt beard, bushy eyebrows, and the twisted neck that’s evidence of the hanging he survived. Lugosi loved the role and the makeup, saying of Ygor, “he was really cute.”

    Pop culture has conflated Ygor with Fritz, Dwight Frye’s hunchbacked assistant from “Frankenstein.” Ygor, of course, is not a hunchback and he only assists Basil Rathbone because he wants the Monster restored to full strength. He and the Monster have a much warmer relationship than the Monster had with Fritz, to say the least.

  • “Ygor in “Son of Frankenstein” and “Ghost of Frankenstein.” Jack Pierce’s makeup here is almost as heavy as that applied to Karloff, with a bushy, bowl-cut light-colored wig, false teeth, an unkempt beard, bushy eyebrows, and the twisted neck that’s evidence of the hanging he survived.”

    Well, in “Ghost” he wears much less make up, only the wig, brows and the beard.

  • Johan Andreasson

    And as Igor (or “Eye-gore”) in Mel Brooks brilliant YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN Marty Feldman wears no makeup at all – and (unconvincingly) denies being a hunchback!

  • David Cohen

    Northwestern University’s 24-hour B-movie festival started up in Evanston in 1980 or 1981 – now I have a pretty good idea what inspired it …

  • Brian N

    In the same year she made Bad Blonde (1953), Payton also made Four Sided Triangle, both from Hammer. Four Sided Triangle was one of Hammer’s early forays into sci-fi and Payton in a double role – herself and her clone – is pretty solid at being both soft and brittle. You would never guess watching her that she was already in the middle of her quick decline that lead to her career coming to an end and her death at 39 in 1967 from booze and pills. Though now that I think about it, she was most effective as the clone when she realized she had to be with one man though she loved another and fell apart mentally.

  • Robert Garrick

    As long as we can’t stop talking about Barbara Payton, someone should mention that her best role by far was in Gordon Douglas’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (1950). She starred opposite Jimmy Cagney, and more than held her own in the film, which required her to take a fair amount of physical abuse from Cagney. Cagney signed her to his personal production company, and it and Warner Brothers paid her $5,000 a week to make the film. If Payton hadn’t been such a mess, she would probably have become a big star.

    “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” was restored in 2011 by UCLA, which made a beautiful copy of the film from an original nitrate 35mm print.

    Payton was also fine in Richard Fleischer’s early noir “Trapped” (1949), where she had a small role opposite Lloyd Bridges. Based on that film, she was given a screen test for “The Asphalt Jungle,” but the part went to another blonde named Marilyn Monroe.

    By 1951–that’s one year after her peak with Cagney–she was making “Bride of the Gorilla” with Raymond Burr, and that was that. There’s no point blaming it on the Hollywood milieu, either. This was not “Mulholland Drive.” Payton’s troubles can be traced back to Minnesota, many years before she turned up on the west coast, and it’s just an accident that she was sober and coherent long enough to make a few good films. Men were blinded by her looks, but her looks faded almost as quickly as her career.

    She did, as a matter of fact, work with a number of interesting directors. Besides Douglas, Ulmer, and Fleischer, she also made films with Lew Landers (“Run for the Hills”), Terence Fisher (“Four Sided Triangle”), William Cameron Menzies (“Drums in the Deep South”), Stuart Heisler (“Dallas”), and Curt Siodmak (“Bride of the Gorilla”), where she played Mrs. Dina Van Gelder.

  • Barry Putterman

    Consumer alert for all cinephiles in the greater tri-state area:

    The new Film Forum schedule is out and it begins on February 8 with a six week series devoted to the year 1933. The usual suspects abound, but there are also super rarities such as Mitchell Leisen’s first film CRADLE SONG (which I assumed was lost since I have never seen it turn up in almost 40 years of New York filmgoing) and Edward L. Cahn’s LAUGHTER IN HELL.

    Later that same schedule we get new 35 prints of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? and HOUSE OF BAMBOO, which I figure bodes well for future home video release.

    Mr. Successful, You’ve Got It Made!

  • Ulmer’s style is oriented to architecture, and to set design. He picks outdoor areas to form 3D mazes, areas filled with rectilinear structures, regularly arranged in rectilinear patterns. His interiors are formed on the same design principles.

    The motel in “Murder Is My Beat” is composed of separate cabins, all with similar architecture. These cabins are not the casual shacks of some cheap motels, but pretty structures. Each has porches, with stone steps making a beautiful 3D pattern. Each has posts outside their doorways; each has an elaborate rectangular driveway, and rectangular windows. The cabins are repeated over and over. They form a modular architecture, like the geodesic constructions of the futuristic city in Beyond the Time Barrier. Ulmer loves such places. Although these motels are lacking in any apparently futuristic quality – they are homey and friendly looking, and follow traditional architectural design features of small town American houses – they have the same modular, repeating quality. There is a maze like path that wanders among them, a fact that Ulmer underscores by having his actor walk along it.

    Earlier, the entrance to the motel and its paths was marked off by posts along the highway; these posts continue the theme of rectilinear solids arranged along a maze like path.

    The murdered man’s apartment involves a similar maze through 3D solids. One has to walk along a spiraling rectilinear path to get to the fireplace. Every nook of the apartment is filled with furniture and wall structures, each of which is another rectilinear solid. This time, hero Ray is the one who follows the wandering rectilinear path through the maze. He both enters the apartment, and leaves it along this path. Ulmer sometimes pans his camera to follow him, just as he used panning shots to depict Robert Shayne moving through the motel’s outdoor corridors. The apartment is in 1950′s chic – it conveys the impression of a rich man’s love nest, just as the plot requires, but it too has the same maze like qualities.

    The nightclub set has a similar maze like construction. It has areas receding into the far distance, that we never explore. These can be reached by following a zig-zag path, all straight lines bent at right angles. Once again, our hero flows into and out of this set over a complex maze like path.

  • Robert Garrick

    Someone should put in a word for “White Zombie.” This is a major horror film from the classical era that has not received its due, for a number of not-particularly-good reasons: It wasn’t from Universal; it wasn’t part of the “Shock” TV packages that wormed their way into the brains of adolescent boys in the 1950s and 1960s; and it involved zombies, who didn’t seem all that scary prior to “Night of the Living Dead,” and who were not a feature of the Universal films. (In fact, “White Zombie” is the first full-length zombie film.)

    Also, of course, “White Zombie” has been in the public domain forever, which means that the film’s ubiquity has been matched only by the lousy sound and picture quality of the available copies. A new clean copy is a pretty big deal.

    Notwithstanding all this, serious horror fans have long held the film in high regard. Rob Zombie, who named his heavy metal band after the film, said: “[It's] a great film that not a lot of people know about…It amazes me that a film that is so readily available can be so lost.”

    Lugosi is playing the devil here. He toys with humans, taking their souls, and making them his slaves. He does so not out of a need to survive (like Count Dracula) but out of pure evil, economic interest, and amusement. Count Dracula is a tragic, romantic figure, albeit horrific. “Murder” Legendre, the Lugosi character in “White Zombie,” is Dracula without the silver lining. Silent film and Lugosi scholar Arthur Lennig calls “White Zombie” a “minor masterpiece of the genre” and writes, “Legendre is not so much a new kind of villain as he is the culmination of a long line of Satan-like characters in romantic literature.” It’s a great role for Lugosi and without him, the film would not have the same power.

    Beyond Lugosi, there are many interesting aspects to “White Zombie.” The Halperins quite consciously kept dialogue to a minimum, creating something with the feeling of a silent film, with speech used judiciously instead of title cards. The film is less stagebound than “Dracula,” and the scenes at the sugar mill and on the grounds of the house feel credible and grim. They are also beautifully lit. Dave has already addressed the close-ups of Lugosi’s eyes, which are first seen superimposed on the sugar plantation as the guests arrive in their carriage.

    The Halperins followed “White Zombie” with another horror film, “Supernatural” (1933), starring Carole Lombard and Randolph Scott. That one is not as good as “White Zombie” but it’s still worth seeing. When the Collective for Living Cinema, at 41 White Street in lower Manhattan, scheduled it in 1976, I asked William K. Everson if it was worth the risk of walking twenty minutes at night through the (then) deserted and (then) somewhat dangerous streets of lower Manhattan to see it. He said: “Yes.”

  • Tony Williams

    Correction, Robert. WHITE ZOMBIE has received its due in at least two instances, the first is “Haitian Horror” JUMP CUT 28 (1983) and the second is Gary P.Rhodes 2006 well-researched book that is devoted to the entire film.

  • Thank you for these wonderful news I read on train to the Finnish Oscars (Jussi festival”. A “new” film to see from Edgar Ulmer! I love RUTHLESS, STRANGE ILLUSION, STRANGE WOMAN, BLACK CAT and PIRATE OF CAPRI the most. But of course, DETOUR and BLUEBEARD are great, too.

    Ulmer really did know how to make good with necessity, a really passionate filmmaker who never stopped creating and has a wonderfully varied body of work for us to revel in.

    Whom I’m hoping to win a Jussi prize? The veteran actress of stage, television and film, Ms. Liisi Tandefelt, who has also won a gold medal at the Prague Quadriennale. Tandefelt is awesome as the older Aliide Truu in Antti J. Jokinen’s film version of the all over the world widely published bood by our Sofi Oksanen: THE PURGE.

  • Mike, your views on the architectural structures in the films of Ulmer are very interesting. The Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa included BLACK CAT as an example in his book The Architecture of Image – Existential Space in Cinema.

    Robert – your description of THE MAN FROM PLANET X – which I would really like to see – sounds like an earlier version o Nicolas Roeg’s David Bowie science fiction THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH from Walter Tevis’s book.

  • Hannu:
    “Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa included BLACK CAT as an example in his book The Architecture of Image – Existential Space in Cinema”

    This book sounds very informative! Thank you for telling us about it.

    Ulmer’s films are rich architecturally.

    Sets, lamps and props made out of geometric shapes, such as spheres, cylinders, rectangles and triangles. These recall the geometric, abstract painting and sculpture that was popular in Russia and later Germany and the United States in the 1910′s through 1930′s, and which included the Constructivist movement in art. This art movement lacks a convenient overall name; one can refer to it as Constructivist, as a simple umbrella term:

    mansion: The Black Cat,
    foyer with circles: American Matchmaker,
    lab: Goodbye Mr. Germ,
    nightclub: Tomorrow We Live,
    boat: Isle of Forgotten Sins,
    psychiatric facility: Strange Illusion,
    spaceship, metal space artifact: The Man From Planet X,
    triangular panel walls: Beyond the Time Barrier

    Modernist lamps:

    American Matchmaker,
    boat lamps: Isle of Forgotten Sins,
    spherical lamp: Bluebeard,
    hero’s piano lamp: Detour,
    stacked ellipsoid lamps on hero’s desk: Ruthless,
    desk clerk’s lamp: Murder Is My Beat

    Tilted ceilings and walls:

    trapezoidal cellar walls: The Black Cat,
    nightclub: Tomorrow We Live,
    tilted window at Carradine’s: Bluebeard,
    tilted mirror: Strange Illusion,
    angled ceiling of heroine’s room, tilted poles in the night club: Carnegie Hall,
    lab: The Amazing Transparent Man,
    futuristic sets: Beyond the Time Barrier

    Repeating architectural modules:

    multi-paned windows, corridor with doors: The Black Cat,
    two alcove walls, two lamps, repeating squares of quilted wall, telephone circles in dream: American Matchmaker,
    doors in hall, bar, balcony, tablecloth, shelves in oval frame, porch at villain’s: Isle of Forgotten Sins,
    multi-paned windows: Bluebeard,
    lunch counter, motel units, used car lot, drive-in glass brick windows, apartment house mail slots, telephone switchboard, gas station poles: Detour,
    bridge, fence, mirror, church pews, wallpaper: The Strange Woman,
    balconies, theater boxes, musicians and instruments, nightclub: Carnegie Hall,
    mansion rooms, footmen, pier with lights, symmetric dining room, office: Ruthless,
    theater balconies, musicians’ music stands, window doors in theater, prison cell grids: The Pirates of Capri,
    cabin units in motel: Murder Is My Beat,
    teller windows in bank: The Amazing Transparent Man,
    triangular panel walls, multi-paned windows, gas pumps, ladder: Beyond the Time Barrier

    Objects with moving parts recalling Kinetic Art, often involving light :

    telephone circles in dream: American Matchmaker,
    jukebox, revolving bed: Detour,
    doors with mirrors, floor indicator lights in elevator: Ruthless,
    spaceship, metal space artifact: The Man From Planet X,
    moving overhead light, radar screen: Beyond the Time Barrier

    Maze-like paths through furniture in a set, or buildings in an exterior:
    music store: Jive Junction,
    docks: The Strange Woman,
    heroine’s living room: Ruthless,
    formal gardens, roofs of Naples: The Pirates of Capri,
    motel grounds, apartment, nightclub: Murder Is My Beat

    Technology lab benches or bench-like areas, often with many segments arranged in a rectilinear grid:

    lab: Goodbye Mr. Germ,
    boat: Isle of Forgotten Sins,
    telephone switchboard, car dashboard: Detour,
    radio broadcast control panel: Carnegie Hall,
    observatory work room: The Man From Planet X

    Exterior shots of buildings in a Modernist or Bauhaus tradition, with complex, interesting facades:

    mansion: The Black Cat,
    Bronx buildings: American Matchmaker,
    white mice house: Goodbye Mr. Germ,
    nightclub exterior, factory exterior: Murder Is My Beat

  • mike schlesinger

    Speaking of Tom Neal, I was subjected to a double feature of him yesterday: KLONDIKE KATE (in which, as the alleged hero, he sports a Gable mustache and woos Ann Savage pre-DETOUR) and BEHIND THE RISING SUN (in full putty-eye make-up as a Japanese soldier). He’s execrable in both, making me wonder how he ever got to be a “star” in the first place.

  • Within the Law (Gustav Machaty, 1939) is a low budget version of the old stage melodrama war horse by Bayard Veiller. It’s Lightly Likable, and a pleasant diversion. Gustav Machaty is best known for Ecstasy with Hedy Lamarr.

    Tom Neal plays the genteel Rich Kid. He’s all done up in good pinstripe suits, and looks like someone you’d meet at a millionaire’s Long Island cocktail party. This was much of his image in his early days as actor.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jack Benny used to remind his audience that reading his fan mail improved his mind. For instance, he would point out, did you know that execrable means lousy?

    Was Tom Neal a star? He has an enduring spot in film history for playing the lead in DETOUR. But does being top billed in a handdful of Columbia Bs and PRC films while the majority of leading men were tied up in military duty mean that you can walk alongside such giants as Michael Whalen, Richard Travis and the immortal Sonny Tufts?

  • Robert Garrick

    Well, Tom Neal worked alongside Lugosi in “Bowery at Midnight” (1942, Monogram) so he’s a star to me. Anne Archer’s dad, John Archer, was in that film too.

    And don’t forget that as far as I know, Neal is the only actor (or actress, or director) ever to earn a degree from Harvard Law School. He may have the best academic resume in movie history.

    Thurston Howell, III was a Harvard Law grad too, so you know they’re really smart.

  • David Cohen

    Is the photo that accompanies this article from the filming of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY? It is a terrific shot.

  • mike schlesinger

    Well, I DID put “star” in quotes! :-D