Monday, October 31, 2011

70's Music - Live! Pop! Live!

Thanks to television shows from Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street, plus rock music on Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore and especially shows like Soul Train and the late night classic, The Midnight Special, there really are all sorts of great live performances out there of all sorts of classics 70's tunes, some of which, I'm betting most of you have never even thought of hearing live.

Or maybe ever want to.

But be that as it may, here's 5 hits to have yourself a full-fledged middle-class, 1970's jam out pop orgy.

So let's dive right in......

 Manfred Mann's Earth Band performs their huge hit version of Bruce Springsteen's, Blinded by the Light, that not only is a great performance, but also, as opposed to the studio recording, thoroughly understandable, when they sing the lines....

.. revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.

Despite what Helen Reddy says in the introduction to the next song, we really never heard from the Sanford Townsend Band again after their one hit, Smoke From a Distant Fire, but still here's a nice live performance from the Midnight Special.

Okay that was fun.

But if you want 70's pop, I have 70's pop for you right here brothers and sisters.

Are you ready for a live performance from none other than, Paper Lace with The Night Chicago Died????

Well you better be, because here it is.

Let's keep the rare live stuff going.

And you don'y get much more rare than this live performance of Brownsville Station with their ode to high school, Smokin' in the Boy Room.

Well enough of this whitebread stuff.

Let's finish with up with this quiet, sad performance from the legendary Bill Withers, Ain't No Sunshine..

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cap'n Rick's Cartoon Fun Time

Hey kids it's the weekend and it's no time for heavy thinking, so let's watch some great cartoons instead.

It's easy to forget in this modern era when Mickey Mouse is the ultimate symbol of everything corporate and status quo, that in his early days that the mouse starred in some excellent adventure/comedies.

1933's The Mail Pilot, directed by Disney veteran David Hand, features Mickey doing like Lindy and making sure the mail gets through despite the best efforts of Black Pete.

Some great site gags combined with a nice little adventure shows us the mouse when he was still an every-man hero, and one of the best cartoon characters in the business.

Also from 1933 is the the Fleischer brother's Snow White, starring Betty Boop, Koko the Clown and Bimbo.

It's a fun little cartoon, the highlight of which features Koko possessed by the spirit of Cab Calloway bringing us a fantastic version of St James Infirmary turning a good cartoon into a classic.

Mostly forgotten these days, Heckle and Jeckle were at one time major cartoon "stars".

From 1948, here is what I consider to be the pairs finest moment, directed by Eddie Donnelly, The Power of Thought.

In this surreal adventure the magpies come to the realization that as cartoon characters they have the ability to do anything that they want to, and then proceed to give their newly discovered powers a full test run.

From 1953 Tex Avery takes a not so serious look at that new invention for the modern age, television, TV of Tomorrow.

Mostly the tv is used for the normal batch of Avery sight gags, but it does give us a great look back to the earliest part of our modern media driven era.

Closing out where we began, let's go back to Disney for a bit, from 1944's seriously underrated, classic, The Three Caballeros, here's is Donald Duck having himself some fun with a young lady from mexico, in the Cactus Dance...

The short makes such great use of color and the mixture of live action and animation is flawless.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Gene Kelly

My mother was a professional dancer, which meant that from the time my brother and I were very small, we were dancers too.

Now honestly, Matt and I were good for the dance floor at our local disco, but neither of us inherited anything even slightly resembling my mothers grace or skill.

Still, a nice thing about being raised to love dancing from such a young age, is that it has helped me to develop a enjoyment of dancing in almost any form. I don't care if it's ballet of square dancing, watching people move with grace and style has always been a thrill for me.

So on that note let's watch some dancing..........

Let's start out with something modern.

Check out this talented young street performer in Paris.

What I love about him, and to be honest, something I love about all good dancers, is just how easy they make these amazingly difficult moves look.

Next, here's a fantastic, bouncy clip of a roomful of folks in the mid-1950's doing their very best Lindy Hop, with none other than Bill Haley and His Comets as the band....

A bit more modern, but also way more exotic, the huge cast of thousands dance scenes in the films coming out of Bollywood are always just awesome to watch, and inevitably makes me wish that our heroic action stars would break out in song and dance every once in awhile.

Then again, I remember Bruce Willis and his Bruno stage and I think we're better off leaving this kind of thing to the professionals...

In the 90's one of the biggest traveling shows of the era was the mega-hit Riverdance.

Michael Flatley and Jean Butler took Celtic step dancing to a whole new level and managed to capture the attention of the whole world while doing it.

Next up , here's a look back at some of the great dancing we'd see every week on the greatest show on 1970's television, Soul Train.

Here's Don Cornelius, introducing the kids, and with Curtis Mayfield playing, the funk goes down....

I really love this clip from David Byrne's wonderful love letter to average Americans, True Stories. In it we get everything from modern ballet to cab dancing, and Pop's Staples, just boogieing.

My favorite Hollywood dancer has always been the great Gene Kelly.

To close, here is a great piece with Gene dancing while wearing roller skates fro the 1955 film, Always Fair Weather...

Kelly, is always a treat to watch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vignette - The Last Time

The Last Time

by Rick Diehl

They always met in some seedy hotel room, since neither the man or the woman made enough money to pay for anything better without causing their spouses at home to get suspicious of the spending. Honestly though the room never really mattered, since their hunger for each other overshadowed everything else in their lives by that point, and compared to the common sense that both of then had long sense left behind, the quality of the room they met in, was a minor thing to ignore.

He was not young anymore, but not quite ready to relax completely into middle age yet either. But the gray hair in his beard and the expanding pot belly told him that time was no longer on his side, if it ever had been in the first place. She was younger, in her early 30’s, small and pretty, but beginning to show the wear of time and poverty.

It wasn’t that he didn’t love his wife, or that she didn’t love her husband, it was just after meeting at a party a few months earlier, they somehow couldn’t stop themselves from finding reasons to keep “accidentally” running into each other, and so, within a few days of meeting, they were very much involved. I can’t really say that they were in love, put it was inarguable that there was something lacking in each of their lives that they were able to fill with each other.

They were lying on top of the bed, naked, enjoying the afterglow from making love, and sharing a cigarette, taking turns blowing smoke rings into the air and laughing, when she turned over beside him in bed, and became serious, she told him that she was going to tell her husband about her affair and that she thought that they should leave their spouses and move in together.

The man went very quiet, and became very serious and the room became very cold, and for the first time the woman noticed that the room was dirty and cheap. Finally he spoke.

“What, are you fucking insane?” he finally burst out, a bit louder than he meant, “What are our kids going to say when they find out we’ve left their parents to run away with each other?”

She drew up tight, pulling her knees toward her face and wrapping her arms around her legs, and despite his anger the man couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was at this moment with nothing but the brown 40 watt light bulb dangling above.

“I’m not trying to be mean,” his voice going soft, “but we both have our own lives and this was never meant to make those go away.”

“But what would be wrong with us taking the chance, can you really say that you’re happy at home?”

He had to admit to himself that she had a point, or why else would he have been where he was in the first place. But then he thought some more about the slow, boring life he had at home, and realized that as miserable as he was in that place, it was his life, and like it or not, he wasn’t willing to change that.

“Look, maybe someday when the boys are out of the house, and she’s doing better at her job, maybe then I can think about leaving, but until then, I can’t. And what about you, are you willing to put your little girl through that?”

She stepped off the bed and instead of heading into the shower like she did every other time, she began to quickly put on her clothes, and gather her purse.

He tried to get her to calm down and sit with him, but she was angry and hurt and soon enough, she walked toward the door, and he knew that this could be the last time he ever saw her.

He asked her to stop and clam down a minute and talk to him.

She turned and looked at him and smiled, but there were tears in her eyes.

“You already told me once how you feel, you don’t need to tell me twice.”

“If you don’t want to come be with me, you don’t have to, you’re a grown up and can make your choices?”

“So is this it then?” he asked, “Is this the last time we’re going to get together?”

“I just don’t know” she said, and then began to sob.

He got up, still naked and took her in his arms, holding her tight while she cried for a very long time.

After awhile he let her go and put on his own clothes and they left, dropping the key in the box on their way to their cars, and then they went home, she went east and he went south.

The sun was very high in the sky, and a single bird could be heard singing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In the Days Before Mixtapes, K-tel Was King

Minnie Ripperton, Elton John, Barry White and Kung Fu Fighting, Carl Douglas were all to be found on K-Tel collections

I pulled up my mp3 player a little earlier today and it tells me that I have 6436 individual songs that if I left alone to play would go on for almost 19 days without repeating a single cut.

This doesn't really surprise me very much since I spent a good hunk of the last 10 years with CD after CD and album after album slowly ripping the entire mess until it all took up about 40gb of computer space.

It's just another example of the wonderful technological world we live in.

But as you may remember, that's not always how it used to be.

In the late 1970's and throughout the 1980's, many of us took ourselves very seriously in our design and production of mixtapes collecting the very best music out there in a perfect order for playing at the next great party just over the horizon.

The art of the mixtape though really did not come into being until the later part of the 70's which meant that before then, we only had a few options.

You could play a pile of singles, or you could play DJ and be ready to flip disk after disk, or you could take the easy way out and send $5.99 over the telephone and get yourself whatever this months latest collection of rocking hits had come out from the worlds busiest record company K-tel.

K-tel, Pure Power Ad

K-tel specialized in putting out collections of one hit wonders and getting former stars to re-record their hits on the cheap.

K-tel, 22 Explosive Hits

I wanted to put up as many examples of K-tel commercials as I have, not only because I have a real love for the loud, overblown style of the things, but I also get a kick out of being reminded of songs and bands that appeared on the scene for only a second and then vanished like smoke.

K-tel, 22 Fantastic Hits

Of course it wasn't all hit collections with K-tel, they also were known for country, gospel, humor, and oh yeah, a two album set of the music and wit of William Shatner.

K-tel presents, William Shatner, Captain of the Starship

So, here's to K-tel, for silly commercials, and decent songs, and being able to put on a side and have time to make out with a girl before having to turn the thing over.

K-tel, Believe in Music


1974 - Little Annie Fanny and Oh Wicked Wanda

Little Annie Fanny

When I was 12 behind the apartment complex we lived in, down the road and next to a small patch of trees, sat a small, beat-up and abandoned shack. It was a wooden building, with large separations between the boards that sunlight would stream through in a dirty orange color. There was one small, miraculously intact window, but the floor was dirt and the door would only close when the board we had nailed into it was attached to the door frame

Abandoned and empty it was a natural spot for vermin or wildlife to take over, and indeed it had been infested by 6 or 7, 5th grade boys who in their youthful bravado would sit around on stolen lawn chairs or bits of cardboard, smoking cigarettes and looking tough, telling dirty jokes, going through the bountiful treasures we would find in our excursions dumpster diving in the apartment  complex down the street that catered to the young GI’s and was a constant source of quality black light posters, odd smoking items, underground comics and tons and tons of Playboys, Penthouses and other glossy magazines.

We looked at page after colorful page of knowing, 70’s girls showing themselves off to the world, much to the overwhelming excitement of these boys who discovered they really liked girls, but hadn’t had that first powerful hormone blast turning them into the screaming, vicious, little monkeys of puberty.

Now I was always a strange kind of kid, I admit that. And while I certainly enjoyed the happy sight of naked young girls as much as the next guy, being the lifelong comicbook geek that I am, I spent way more time reading the comic strips inside of Playboy and Penthouse then I spent looking at the naked girls.

Playboy featured Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s satirical sex farce, the great Little Annie Fanny.

Annie plays dress-up

Fanny, produced by the legendary Mad magazine team, was brilliantly drawn, with each page meticulously produced, hilariously funny writing from Kurtzman and a sharp political sense that was always pointed and smart.

Annie drawn by Will Elder

I really enjoyed Little Annie Fanny.

The obvious Orphan Annie parody, the sexy blonde with unsinkable breasts, the broad slapstick mixed with subtle parody made Fanny one of the great comicstrips of the 1960’s and 70’s.

Little Annie Fanny

As much as I liked Little Annie Fanny, it was pretty obvious even to 12 year old me, that there was a lot of things going on in the Kurtzman and Elder strip that I just didn’t understand. Still Fanny even if I didn’t get all of the jokes, the fastpaced, good natured, slapstick of Annie Fanny was a real eye opener, not only about sex, but also politics, satire, celebratory and that comics could be more then Superman or Casper.

A Happy Christmas to all

As much as I liked Fanny though, my favorite “spicy” adult comicstrip was over in Bob Guccione’s Penthouse.

It’s funny about Guccione, whenever I saw him interviewed on television, he always came across as the perfect 70’s douche, with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, lots of gold chains, and cocaine dripping out of every orifice,. And yet, Guccione was also the publisher of Omni, the decades premiere science magazine and who it was later revealed after his death, had anonymously financially supported science programs in numerous primary schools across the country.

Sorry, got distracted there for a minute.

Wicked Wanda and Candyfloss

The comic over in Penthouse that was the sly and sexy, Oh Wicked Wanda, written by British novelist FredericMullally and exquisitely drawn by artist Ron Embleton.

Sweet Gwendoline

Wanda, the literary daughter, of British bondage artist, John Wille’s Sweet Gwendoline, was a fun loving but happily evil, lesbian daughter, of billionaire industrialist and degenerate, Walter Von Kreesus, who died of exhaustion at the hands, and other parts of Wanda’s 16 year old protégé and companion, the eternally underdressed, and often insatiable, Candyfloss.


Along with her monstrous servant J. Hoover Grud, and Homer Sapiens, the perverted mad scientist in residence at the Von Kreesus schloss, Wanda and Cadyfloss would face adventure all over the world and eventually across time itself in her quest for wealth, power and a general good time.

Homer Sapiens, J Hoover Grud, Wicked Wanda and Candyfloss

Sharp, cynical, aware and more then willing to use either her sexuality or superior physical strength to get her way, Wanda was as far from the innocent Little Annie Fanny as you could get.

Candyfloss and Wanda prepare for a new adventure

As different as Wanda was from Fanny, both strips had several things in common, including great art, truly funny writing, the use of both political and social satire and a willingness to go places American comics had never gone before.

Sister Wanda and Sister Candyfloss

Sunday, October 23, 2011

70's Television - Teenage Girls in Trouble

Linda Blair, Born Innocent (1974)

When talking about exploitation movies, we normally are talking about films made on the quick by small production companies for little budgets, with maybe the top of the line material coming out of American International Pictures, at the very best. But in the 1970’s two of the major television networks, ABC and NBC, dived into the exploitation movie business with a gusto, producing a series of films featuring teenage girls in danger from drug addiction, alcoholism, the reformatory, prostitution and occasionally Martin Sheen, that without the advantage of the nudity and language of most B-Movies managed to be some truly amazingly, trashy films.

ABC had started it’s Movie of the Week series in 1970 and found itself with an instant hit soon moving to two nights a week. Steven Spielberg’s first film, Duel was a movie of the week, as was the original, truly scary first appearance of Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchack, in The Night Stalker. Plus the series had some excellent dramas, a few comedies that have lived on in cult status, some pilots that went on to become regular series, such as the Six Million Dollar Man, and plenty of science fiction and horror.

ABC Movie of the Week Opening 1970

But along with the standard tv movie fare a series of films came out that all painted a truly scary picture of the dangers teenage girls face when going out into the big bad world of 1970’s America.

Go Ask Alice (1973) was originally presented with much fanfare from the network as both an adaptation of the best selling teen novel, but also a realistic and hard hitting look at the problem of drug abuse in America.

Jamie Smith Jackson - Go Ask Alice (1973)

Jamie Smith-Jackson stars as Alice, a young all American high school student living a quiet life with her parents including her college professor father, played by William Shatner.

After moving to a new city, Alice, an avid diarist, finds herself an outcast until she meets up with an old friend who takes her to a party where the two are served LSD laced sodas, leading poor Alice down the road to harder drugs, eventually running away from home and ending up first as the sexual slave of a scary California couple and then turning tricks in the street.

A bad moment for Alice and friend in Go Ask Alice (1973)

Eventually Alice pulls herself together and with the help of a kindly priest, played by Andy Griffith, returning home to her family and her old life.

Andy  Griffith and  Jamie Smith-Jackson, Go Ask Alice (1973)

That is until she is once again drugged against her will, is seriously injured and finds herself committed to an insane asylum.

Jamie Smith-Jackson, Go Ask Alice (1973)

Still with the love and support of her family Alice eventually recovers from her injuries, gets off of drugs, returns to school and begins dating a nice boy from the local university.

But tragedy strikes yet again as a voice over from Alice’s mother at the very end of the film tells us that shortly after giving up writing her dairy, Alice died of an overdose.

Go Ask Alice (1973)

So remember kids, don’t do drugs.

In the classic 1973 film The Exorcist, Linda Blair stunned audiences with her portrayal of a small girl possessed by Satan. After her success in that film, Blair moved to the small screen where things really didn’t go much better..

In, Sweet Hostage (1975), Linda plays a bored teenage girl living in the middle of the smallest town in the heart of the California desert, who one day gets kidnapped by insane asylum escapee Martin Sheen, and taken to a cabin hidden in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Sweet Hostage, part 1

Luckily for Linda though, Sheen is a friendly psychopath, less Ted Bundy and more Jack Kerouac, who isn’t interested in raping or killing the girl but instead wants to show her the beauty of the world and the wonder of poetry and nature walks.

Martin Sheen being moody in Sweet Hostage (1974)

Of course after some initial resistance on both sides, true love blooms and after a night of serious Ephebophilia on the part of Sheen’s character, a series of convoluted events conspire to “rescue” Blair sending her back to her dull, desert life and Sheen to the morgue.

Martin Sheen and Linda Blair, Sweet Hostage (1974)

A film that simply could not be made today, Sweet Hostage features a 15 year old Linda Blair with a 30+ year old Martin Sheen in a love story that is both very strange and still very sweet, while also being fundamentally wrong on so many levels that in the end all the viewer can hope is that once the Blair character grows up and gets out of her little town that she gets all sorts of therapy, but somehow you are pretty sure that will never happen.

As if being kidnapped by Martin Sheen wasn’t bad enough, the year before Blair starred in one of the most controversial and shocking television movies of all time, the notorious, Born Innocent (1974).

Poster for the DVD release of Born Innocent (1974)

Aired on NBC, Born Innocent is the story of an innocent and abused runaway girl who is arrested and sent to a girls reformatory made up of some of the meanest, most evil girls this side of the Big Bird Cage.

While most of Born Innocent is standard “women in prison” fare, the movie stunned the tv audience with a now infamous, extended scene where Blair is raped in a shower by her fellow inmates with the handle of a plunger.

The infamous rape scene from Born Innocent (1974)

While most of America was willing to watch teenage girls in all sorts of trouble, this was a bit too much and the outrage in the US at both NBC and the films producers led NBC to publicly apologize and promise to cut the scene if the movie was ever broadcast again.

Born Innocent (1974)

Despite the controversy, or maybe because of it, Born Innocent was a huge ratings hit, so soon enough Blair was back, this time as a young teenage girl who discovers the danger of both alcohol abuse and dating MarkHamill, in Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975).

Linda Blair and Mark Hamill, Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975)

Not nearly as shocking as Born Innocent, Sarah T still managed to have Blair sexually assaulted while passed out, showing yet again that Linda Blair either had the most difficult on screen teen years, or maybe the most realistic. Having actually lived in that era, I have my own opinions.

Original trailer for Sarah T, Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic

The next year, giving Linda a break from all the dangers of 70’s teendom, NBC cast former Brady middle child Eve Plumb in the story of a young girl who falls into prostitution, Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976).

Eve Plumb and Bo Hopkins, Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976)

Dawn is another innocent girl fleeing from a bad home life who falls into the stable of what had to be the only white pimp in 1970’s cinema, long time film badman, Bo Hopkins.

Dawn falls in love with a male prostitute Alexander, played by Leigh McCloskey, who would get his own spinoff the next year, and we follow the two as they fall further and further into the life of LA street whores, until in another convoluted and violent finale, the two are freed from their evil pimp and Dawn returns home to her family knowing at last, much like Dorothy, that there is no place like home.

Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976)

Honestly, Dawn is not that great a film, sleazy but too much of a soap opera for my taste, but there is still something perversely appealing about watching Jan Brady turning tricks.

As television moved into the 80’s there would still be films with young girls in danger, but the stories would begin moving toward more traditional television tropes and leave the real sleaze behind. But as a fan of truly awful movies, the films of the 70’s, both despite and because of their flaws remain both enjoyable exploitation films, but also interesting reflections of the morals of the time.

It was a little hard not to notice that while each and every one of these films took the old approach of warning the American public about the existence of these problems in modern society, they all went to great lengths to be as raw and exploitive as they possible could get away with, and meanwhile the American public were happy to huff and puff about the shocking nature of these movies, but they still got great ratings.

And as Network long since showed us all, ratings are what really matter.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ernie Kovacs Nairobi Trio

The Nairobi Trio

I was watching a little Ernie Kovacs on YouTube tonight and decided to share this classic piece.....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1976 - It's Time for Action ..... Figures, that is

Time for more lost toys of the 70's.......

Bicentennial Badassery

Probably not the most exciting action figures ever made, but never the less in 1976, who wouldn't have wanted a set of bicentennial action heroes?

Washington, Jefferson in a really bad hat, Franklin, Revere, Jones, Henry and Nathan Hale, noose not included, all stand ready to fight for our individual freedoms, plus they fit in GI Joe gear.

Jumping the Shark Playset not included

Mego was the king of 70's action figures running lines of figures based on superheros, movies, television series and classic monsters. One of their more obscure figures was the Fonz from Happy Days, who came with articulated thumbs.

Some of the other television based action figures that were a bit more on the obscure side were toys for the one time popular ABC crime drama the Rookies....

The Rookies ready to put those damm hippies in their place

The Rookies, with their supply of bullhorns, and riot gear, was the show for all the kids out there who wanted to grow up and become cops, just so they could write tickets.

Starsky came dressed in his finest 70's Leisure Suit

I keep looking at the gear that comes with the Rookies and I can't help but think of the cops in New York City macing protesters, but the Starsky and Hutch figures are cool.

Gage and DeSoto ready for some paramedic excitement

The figures based on Jack Webb's hit series Emergency, came with limited gear, but still the combination of firemen and medicine made for a toy with some potential.

Most of the early Mego's featured characters with removable masks, including both Batman and Spider-Man

As for the Mego superheros, I was a huge collector of the DC characters, but never seemed to be able to find any of the Marvel ones for sale at my local store, which was really frustrating.

I was almost 30 before I got my Captain America figure.

Batcave Playset, Batmobile and Jokermobile

I loved the Jokermobile and tried to convince my mother to buy me one when we saw it in a store, but sadly it never happened, but the good news was that she had bought me Corgi cars instead.

The stylish ships of Space 1999

While not a huge fan of the series, I was however a big fan of the design of the British television import, Space 1999.

Everything in the series had a practical look to it but with an obvious futuristic intent, which was very common from shows by the team of Gary and Sylvia Anderson.

Space 1999 reused sets from their earlier series UFO, but with a more somber color scheme and a slightly more practical look.

Action Figures based on Barbara Bain, Barry Morse, and Martin Landau

The figure based on Lee Major's Six million Dollar Man, was actually pretty nifty.

The arm opened up to show the bionics inside, the legs opened as well, plus you could look through a tiny hole in the back of the figures head and there was a tiny telescope inside.

Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Action Figure

I also really enjoyed the lines evil robot foe, Maskatron, who had his own face plus a Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman face for use in espionage.

Next time time I'll take a look at Star Trek toys.

That should be fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

1934 - The Black Cat

Movie Poster, The Black Cat (1934)

It was the during the brutal days of the Great War, when all of powers of the world fell upon each other in a drawn out display of horror, destruction and death that Hungarian psychiatrist Vitus Werdegast met architect Hjalmar Poelzig, then commander of Fort Maemorus. The outpost would fall to the Russians, causing the death of thousands and leading to Werdegast’s spending 15 years enslaved in a Soviet Gulag, losing his wife to Poelzig in the process.

18 later, and recently freed, Werdegasts plans for a reunion with his “old friend” Poelzig. Vitus however, finds his plot complicated by the unexpected intrusion of a young married couple from America, Joan and Peter Alison. Circumstances force the trio into uneasy traveling companions, arriving together at Poelzig’s brilliantly designed estate.

Title Card Sequence, The Black Cat (1934)

After the huge success of both Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal Pictures was anxious to team their two great horror stars in several films, sometimes with mixed results. Luckily, 1934’s, The Black Cat is a near perfect combination of stylish direction, tight scripting, spooky sets, plus Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, two fantastic actors at the very top of their game.

Bela Lugosi, Jacqueline Wells and David Manners
The Black Cat (1934)
The Black Cat is not actually based on the classic story by Edgar Allen Poe. Written by pulp novelist, Peter Cain, under the name of PeterRuric, produced by the great Carl Laemmle and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, the film uses Poe's title, but the story is completely original.

One of the best of the early talkie horror films, The Black Cat is a story of cruelty, necrophilia, sadism and revenge. Taking place during the bitter years between the Wars, The Black Cat has a style and slow moving yet real horror that has rarely been matched in the near 80 years since it’s release.

Honeymooning in Europe, American couple Peter and Joan Alison, Dracula's, David Manners and actress Jacqueline Wells are asked to share their train compartment with the mysterious Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi). Despite Joan’s initial hesitation the young couple find Werdegast to be a friendly and courteous traveling companion. Telling the pair stories about Hungary before the war and generally setting the two at ease with his personable manner.

Later as the couple dozes, Werdegast looks across at the sleeping girl and with a sorrowful expression on his face quietly reaches out and ever so gently brushes his hand across a sleeping Joan’s hair.

Looking over at the now awake Peter, Werdegast quietly begins to speak, telling Peter how he had left for war 18 years before, leaving behind a wife, who looked very much like Joan. and then how because of treachery, he had been captured and kept imprisoned in a Russian camp for the last 15 years.

Werdegast speaks to Peter about the horrors he saw in the prison camp and how few had ever managed to escape, how few had ever returned, but with sudden strength in his voice and steel in his eyes, he looks at Peter and tell's him that despite every hardship, he has returned.

Lugosi really shines in the scene, reflecting the loss and despair, along with the thirst to survive, it's really an outstanding piece of work from an actor who is often accused of overacting.

After leaving the train the three take a transport bus for the last part of their journey, joined by Thamal (Harry Cording), Werdegast’s imposing man servant. Later as their bus races through a typical Universal Pictures violent thunderstorm, the comic relief bus driver misses a turn and rolls the small bus, injuring Joan.

Leaving the bus, the three men with Thamal carrying Joan in his arms quickly make their way to the palatial estate of brilliant architect, Hjalmar Poelzig. Arriving at a late hour Poelzig’s butler informs the group that his master has already gone to bed and to come back the next day, but Werdegast steps inside informing the servant of his identity and telling him that Poelzig should be expecting them.

While Werdegast cares for Joan’s injuries, the butler using an oddly futuristic, at least for 1934, looking intercom system, places a call to his masters private chamber, letting him know that he has company and that one of the guests is Vitus Werdegast.

Rising from his bed, with the silhouette of a woman laying beside him, Poelzig makes his appearance.

Boris Karloff and Lucille Lund, The Black Cat (1934)

Entering the room were Werdegast and Peter are caring for the sedated Joan, Poelzig is obviously shocked to see his old "friend" standing in front of him. But as Werdegast explains the situation Poelzig quickly recovers and begins looking at Joan in a way very much like Werdegast had on the train awhile before. After letting Peter know that he and his wife are welcome, he invites Werdegast to speak to him in private.

Jacqueline Wells in The Black Cat (1934)

Once alone Werdegast wastes no time in accusing Poelzig of betraying his command, murdering his own men and causing the few survivors to be enslaved by the Russians. And more importantly to Werdegast he is aware that Hjalmar told his wife he was dead, and took her and his young daughter into his home.

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat (1934)

Ignoring the accusations of treason and murder Poelzig instead denies having had Poelzig's wife and tells him he is insane. But before the conversation can continue Peter enters the room as suddenly the two men become all smiles and happy conversation.

David Manner, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, The Black Cat (1934)

Unexpectedly though when a small black house cat enters the room, Werdegast reacts with terror, throwing the closest object he can reach at the animal, and having what can only be described as a complete panic attack

The Black Cat (1934)

Werdegast's fear both amuses Poelzig and helps to portray him to Peter as possibly mad, meanwhile Poelzig continues to be all smiles and good humor to Peter and Joan, who is dazed from medication, who joins them..

Boris Karloff in the Black Cat (1934)

After the Alison's and Werdegast go to bed, Poelzig makes his way to his basement where it seems that along with his other collections he is keeping the dead body of Werdegast's wife in a glass display case.

Polezig with Werdegast's deceased wife

Poelzig sits with the corpse for some time seeming to gain if not strength but resolve. Polezig makes his way to Werdegasts room and confronts him only to discover that he is in the wrong room and has woken Peter instead. Again all smiles and good manners, Poelzig makes his apologies and heads into Werdegast where the psychiatrist demands to know what happened to his wife.

Werdegast and Poelzig, The Black Cat (1934)

Finally giving in to Werdegast's demands, Poelzig agrees to take Vitus to his wife, as long as it is just him coming. Hjalmar takes him to his basement and shows him the body of his dead wife.

Lucile Lund as Karen Werdegast Poelzig, the Black Cat (1934)

As Vitus looks on in horror Poelzig explains that she had died of influenza only two years after the end of the war, and that he had kept her preserved just the way she had been the day she died, because after all, he loved her too.

Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig, The Black Cat (1934)

A stunned Werdegast demands to know the fate of his daughter, only to be told by Poelzig that she died as well. Enraged at the desecration of the woman he loved, Werdegast pulls out a revolver and prepares to shoot Poelzig, only to be thrown into another panic attack when Hjalmar's cat comes into the room.

Bela Lugosi as Vitus Werdegast, The Black Cat (1934)

Crushed and defeated, Werdegast allows Poelzig to lead him back to his room all the while Poelzig describes to Vitus how they both in their own way have been dead these past 15 years, and it is now time for Vitus to accept that fate.

Returning to his room in victory, Poelzig is met by the woman in his bed who we only glimpsed earlier, telling her only that there had been an accident.

Boris Karloff and Lucille Lund, The Black Cat (1934)

Though much younger then Werdegast's late wife, the girl in the bed is the spitting image of the woman in the glass case. Looking deeply into her eyes, Hjalmar reaches out and gently brushes his hand against the girls face in much the same way the Vitus had with Joan on the train.

Calling her Karen, the same name as Werdegasts wife, Poelzig lies down next to her and tells her she means everything to him and that he will never let anyone take her from him, not even her father.

Boris Karloff and Lucille Lund, The Black Cat (1934)

It seems that Poelzig has not been as completely honest with Vitus about their mutual loss as we might have believed.

Henry Cording and Bela Lugosi, The Black Cat (1934)

Meanwhile back in his room Werdegast is not as destroyed as he has led Poelzig to believe. His servant Thamal prepares to go and kill Poelzig in his sleep but is stopped by Vitus who informs him that the estate is packed with explosives and if they are not careful they could end up killing everyone.

Back in his room with Karen beside him Poelzig begins to read up on certain Satanic rituals, involving the sacrifice of a young woman.

Poelzig's reading material, The Black Cat (1934)

Smiling knowingly, Hjalmar turns out the light, and turns toward his "wife" as the scene goes to black..

Jacqueline Wells, The Black Cat (1934)

The next morning Joan wakes up without much memory of the night before and is visited by both Werdegast and Poelzig, who is friendly and charismatic, but still somehow frightens Joan.

Leaving the girl to dress, the two men go off for another confrontation, this time with Vitus demanding that Hjalmar leave Joan alone. taking up the bait Poelzig tells Werdegast that he plans to use Joan that night as part of a Satanic Ritual and challenges Vitus to a game of chess to determine the girls fate.

Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in The Black Cat (1934)

Throughout the day the two men play their game of chess, all the while Peter and Joan become more uncomfortable, sensing that something is not right with either men and that they may very well be in danger.Peter asks Poelzig to provide the couple transportation into the nearest village which Poelzig agrees too.

While the couple packs their bags, Hjalmar smile at Vitus and makes his final move of the game, declaring checkmate.

As the couple start for the door they are met by Werdegasts servant Thamal, who prevents them from leaving, knocking Peter unconscious in the process.

David Manners, Jacqueline Wells and Harry Cording in The Black Cat (1934)

Keeping his end of the bargain the defeated Werdegast orders his servant to take the now unconscious Joan back to her room, and to keep her there until time for Poelzig's ceremony that night.

Later that evening as Hjalmar plays the organ in preparation for the nights events, Vitus is overcome with guilt and decides to break his work and to help Peter and Joan to escape.

Werdegast warns Joan of the danger she faces, The Black Cat (1934)

Shortly after Werdegast leaves to prepare their escape, Karen wanders into Joan's room and the two talk about her past, with Joan telling her she knows her father and Karen insisting that can't be true as her father died in prison.

Karen speaks with Joan, The Black Cat (1934)

Joan tries to convince Karen about her father, but before she really can, Poelzig comes into the room stopping the conversation cold.

Boris Karloff, Lucille Lund and Jacqueline Wells, The Black Cat (1934)

After angrily sending Karen back to their room, Poelzig sends up his loyal followers who have gathered at the estate to prepare Joan for what is looking more and more like a human sacrifice.

The Black Mass, The Black Cat (1934)

With his followers gather Hjalmar begins his rite to use Joan as a sacrifice to bring wealth and power to his followers and to return the original Karen to life.

Members of Poelzig's Satanic Cult, The Black Cat (1934)

As his followers look on, Poelzig prepares to kill Joan, but at the last minute Werdegast and Thamal stop the ceremony causing all sorts f chaos and saving Joan.

Poelzig's Black Mass, The Black Cat (1934)

Meanwhile Peter has managed to escape from his cell in the basement and is soon joined by Werdegast, Thamal and Joan.

Joan tells Werdegast that his daughter is alive and the bride of his greatest enemy.

Werdegast runs to his daughters side only to find her dead, killed by Poelzig as part of his plan to resurrect her mother.

The sight of his dead child, sends Werdegast finally and completely over the edge.

Poelzig and Werdegast over the corpse of Karen Poelzig
The Black Cat (1934)

All pretense of gentility stripped away the two men fall into battle with each other trying to kill each other with their bare hands. With both

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, The Black Cat (1934)

Just has it appears that Poelzig has won, a badly injured Thamal arrives on the scene and before dying himself, helps Vitus chain Hjalmar onto a hanging rack in his basement chamber of horrors.

Vitus and Hjalmar have one final conversation, The Black Cat (1934)

Now totally mad Werdegast happily describes how to go about skinning an animal.

The end of Hjalmar Poelzig, The Black Cat (1934)
And then shows him.

After a very long time, Poelzig dies, and seeing Vitus trying to help Joan, Peter thinks she is being attacked and shoots Werdegast.

Dying, Vitus gives the couple time to get away and then with his last bit of strength pulls the lever setting off the explosives in the building.

Poelzig victorious, The Black Cat (1934)

The Black Cat is not a film with tons of gore or violence, but instead slowly builds the tension between the two foes as they politely battle to the death.

In a rare switch of roles from their normal team-up's Lugosi is the "hero" with Karloff clearly playing the villian.

What is interesting about Lugosi's Werdegast is that while the situation makes him the person who we want to win, with his henchman and willingness to place both Peter and Joan in danger, Vitus could easily be the villain in a some other picture.

And Karloff is simply hypnotic as Poelzig, who is clearly based to a degree on Alister Crowley, Britain's "Most Evil Man Alive". Charming, funny, charismatic, Karloff is totally believable as man who would steal a person's wife and then sleep with her daughter.

He is a total bastard, but somehow a bastard that you can't help but like, even as he does some truly perverse and twisted things.

The Black Cat is one of the greats of the 1930's and if you haven't seen it, even after my spoiling it, you should give it the time,

It's all up on YouTube in 10 minute chunks, but even that way, it's well worth a look....