The Monster Maker

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(4/10) Released in 1944, this low-budget mad scientist entry from PRC features some good acting by seasoned veterans and looks like the studio actually gave a crap about how it turned out. The script has some merit, but unfortunately it doesn’t hold up for a whole hour of film.

The Monster Maker. Directed by Sam Newfield. Written by Larry Williams, Pierre Gendron, Martin Mooney, Nell O’Day. Starring: J. Carrol Naish, Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell, Wanda McKay, Terry Frost, Glenn Strange. Produced by Sigmund Neufeld for Producers Releasing Corporation. IMDb score: 4.7

J. Carrol Naish, Crash Corrigan and Tala Birell in a promo shot for The Monster Maker.

This is one of those lower-than-low budget mad scientist films that were made in the forties, one feels, simply to fill a film-shaped hole in a program. But this isn’t the shittiest of the bunch, and it has its moments, even a small twinkle of originality attached to it. And it stars J. Carrol Naish as a mad scientist, so that’s reason enough to watch it. Continue reading

The Mad Monster

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(2/10) In a nutshell: George Zucco makes an early outing as a mad scientist, and Glenn Strange does his first monster in this cheap Poverty Row werewolf film directed by Sam Newfield in 1942. Although shot in only five days with a bad script and cheap sets, it narrowly avoids the list of awful movies thanks to the performances and some atmosphere.

The Mad Monster. 1942, USA. Directed by Sam Newfied. Written by Fred Myton. Starring: George Zucco, Glenn Strange, Anne Nagel, Johnny Downs. Produced by Sigmund Neufeld for PRC. IMDb score: 3.1

Poster for The Mad Monster, with Glenn Strange and Anne Nagel.

Poster for The Mad Monster, with Glenn Strange and Anne Nagel.

After the release of Universal’s Frankenstein (1931, review) and The Invisible Man (1933, review) and Paramount’s Island of Lost Souls (1932, review), Hollywood was flooded by mad scientist films, and the trend accelerated rather than waned in the early forties. Shape-shifting monsters were a staple thanks to several filmatisations of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, including a high-profile version by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941, starring Dick Tracy and Ingrid Bergman. Their popularity was boosted by Universal’s release of The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. in 1941, and throughout the forties many studios started churning out films concerning man-beasts, not irregularly with a transformation caused by a mad scientist. Few of the Poverty Row studios, however, took the route of the werewolf, perhaps because creating a believable werewolf makeup required talent and resources that these studios simply didn’t have. One exception was The Mad Monster, made by Producers Releasing Company (PRC) in 1942, just six months after the release of The Wolf Man – it remained Poverty Row’s only werewolf film, perhaps because the abysmal result discouraged others to follow the same path. Continue reading

Ghost Patrol

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(1/10) In a nutshell: Tim McCoy’s really big hat delivers the best performance in this awfully derivative and amateurishly made sci-fi-tinged modern western. Ghost Patrol marks the beginning of the surge of American death ray films, and fortunately the demise of the first wave of sci-fi westerns.

Ghost Patrol. USA, 1936. Directed by Sam Newfield. Written by Wyndham Gittens. Starring: Tim McCoy, Tim McCoy’s really big hat, Claudia Dell, Walter Miller, Wheeler Oakman, James P. Burtis, Lloyd Ingraham, Dick Curtis. Produced by Sigmund Neufeld & Leslie Simmons for Excelcior Pictures Corp. IMDb score: 4.8

Tim McCoy with the fastest draw and the biggest hat in the West.

Tim McCoy with the fastest draw and the biggest hat in the West.

The second half of the thirties saw a brief upturn in the interest of science fiction with the rising popularity of pulp magazines, long-running comics in newspapers, and of course cinema serials like Flash Gordon (1936, review). The mad scientist theme had also taken hold, starting with Frankenstein in 1931 (review). Although the serials The Voice from the Sky (1930) and The Whispering Shadow (1933, review) had toyed with the concept, the classic serial concept of the megalomaniac villain threatening the world with outlandish weapons had not yet taken root fully in 1936. In Ghost Patrol we therefore get a perfectly sane scientist, who nonetheless has created a ray that can shoot planes from the sky, who gets kidnapped by a band of bandits. Oh, should I say western bandits. We also get western star Tim McCoy with a big hat (it is really, really big). Oh, and there are no ghosts in the film. Nor really any patrols, either. It is slightly unclear where the name comes from. Continue reading