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Recently Watched Silents


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#1 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 September 2017 - 09:04 PM

People On Sunday (1930) - German precursor to the Italian neo-realism film. 5 non-professional actors star in this tale of a typical Sunday idyll in and around Berlin. We meet taxi driver Erwin Splettstober, wine salesman Wolfgang von Waltershausen, music store clerk Brigitte Borchert, film extra Christl Ehlers, and model Annie Schreyer, attractive young people who are looking to relax on a sunny Sunday. The first four travel out to the country for a frolic in and around a lake, during which romantic attachments are formed and lost. This is cut together with documentary footage of average German citizens enjoying their Sunday in various ways.

 

This hard-to-classify effort has a stellar line-up behind the scenes: Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak worked on the screenplay, the direction was by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, and an uncredited Fred Zinnemann worked on various aspects of the movie, as well. The cinematography, although primitive and obvious in its trickery (I'm thinking of the often reflected light creating a sun-dappled effect on the actors' faces), has a modernity and immediacy seldom seen in films of the time. I think my favorite sequence of the film was a montage of close-up faces, of all shapes and sizes, of people around the lake. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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#2 LawrenceA

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Posted 16 September 2017 - 07:04 PM

I Flunked, But... (1930) - Japanese collegiate comedy from Shochiku and director Yasujiro Ozu. A group of young men in college are desperate to pass their final exams and graduate, so much so that they decide to try and cheat, with varying results. Featuring Tatsuo Saito, Kaoru Futaba, Kinoyu Tanaka, Tomio Aoki, and Chishu Ryu.

 

The usual Ozu humanity is present, as is the universal themes at play. However, I have to say this offering from the great Japanese director failed to impress me as much as his other works that I've seen. The characters failed to jump out as individuals, and I had a bit of trouble following the proceedings. Still, it's interesting to see how the college life then and there differs from the here and now, and how much Western culture was already present in pre-WW2 Japan, such as pennants for Michigan state hanging in a dorm room, or posters for Hollywood movies.   6/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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#3 LawrenceA

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 01:30 PM

City Girl (1930) - Romantic drama from Fox and director F.W. Murnau. Minnesota farm boy Lem (Charles Ferrell) travels to the big city of Chicago for the first time to sell his family's annual wheat harvest. He meets tough-cookie waitress Kate (Mary Duncan) who dreams of a simpler life. The two fall for each other and get married, but they receive a less-than-warm reception back home from Lem's angry, tyrannical father (David Torrence). Kate is disappointed when Lem won't stand up to his father's violent ways, and things get more complicated when a work team arrives for the harvest, and the men start making advances on Kate. Also featuring Edith Yorke, Richard Alexander, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Tom McGuire, Patrick Rooney, Ed Brady, Roscoe Ates, Jack Pennick, and Anne Shirley (as Dawn O'Day).

 

Although less artistically flashy than many of Murnau's films, this is stronger narratively. While Murnau was said to be disappointed that producer William Fox insisted on the casting of Duncan in the female lead (Murnau wanted to cast Janet Gaynor), I have to say that I was very impressed with Duncan's performance, and I consider it the highlight of the film. Torrence is also good as the mean father, and I like that he's given a nuanced background, showing that his ill-temper is a result of his worries over making ends meet and paying the bills, a source of stress for most farmers. The only drawback for me with this movie was that the end tied everything up a little too neatly to be believable. But hey, it's Hollywood. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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#4 LawrenceA

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Posted 07 September 2017 - 11:26 PM

Where East Is East (1929) - More psycho-sexual weirdness from Tod Browning and MGM. Lon Chaney stars as Tiger Haynes, a wild animal trapper living and working in Indochina. The joy of his life is his daughter Toyo (Lupe Velez), and he's a bit upset to learn, upon returning from his latest hunting excursion, that she has found a boyfriend in Bobby Bailey (Lloyd Hughes). Tiger eventually warms to the nice young man, but things turn south when Toyo's mother Mademoiselle de Sylva (Estelle Taylor) shows up. She's a heartless vamp, and she immediately sets her sites on Bobby. Also featuring Louis Stern, Mademoiselle Kithnou, and Mrs. Wong Wing.

 

Chaney, sporting a claw-scarred face, is good in what would be his next-to-last silent film (the last, 1929's Thunder, is considered lost). I was very impressed by Lupe Velez. She's a name I've known for years, and I've seen a couple of her later films, but this was the first time I really paid attention to her. She's terrific here, and I see why she became a star. Hughes is a damp rag, but Taylor exudes some interesting exoticism, even if she seems like an afterthought whenever Velez is on screen. The ending, involving a guy in a bad gorilla costume, is vintage Browning perversity.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#5 LawrenceA

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Posted 07 September 2017 - 02:32 PM

A Throw of Dice (1929) - German-Indian co-production from director Franz Osten. King Sohat (Himansu Rai) and King Ranjit (Charu Roy) both love games of chance, and they both fall for the same girl, a hermit's daughter named Sunita (Seeta Devi). They decide to duel for her over a game of chance, but when one is proven to have cheated, the other will not stand for it.

 

The German Osten made a number of films in India from the 1920's through the 1930's. The costumes, sets and scale are very impressive, with a literal cast of thousands of extras, and a menagerie of exotic animals such as elephants and tigers. The story is very basic, though, almost childishly so, but that may explain its appeal across cultural barriers. None other than Satyajit Ray said that no other film portrayed the splendor and beauty of India better than this movie, which is high praise indeed. I liked the visuals, but the story and characters proved a bit too simplistic to leave any more lasting impression. This is one of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.   7/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, a pristine print, and featuring a new score, and a lengthy interview with the composer.

 

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#6 LawrenceA

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Posted 06 September 2017 - 08:15 PM

A Straightforward Boy (1929) - aka Tokkan kozo, a 15-minute comedy short from Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. A pair of bumbling kidnappers (Tatsuo Saito and Takeshi Sakamoto) get more than they bargained for when they pick a particularly troublesome young boy (Tomio Aoki) as their next victim.

 

This is very humorous, as the deadpan kid causes all kinds of irritating annoyance to the two criminals. One question I was left with concerns the hair style of Sakamoto: his head has several circles shaved in it. Was this a common style in Japan in the late 1920's? The movie is in rough shape, as are many of these early Ozu films. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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#7 Jlewis

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Posted 06 September 2017 - 07:12 PM

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) - No, that's not deja vu. This is another, short American arthouse take on Poe's story from the same year. The Usher siblings host an unexpected guest as things deteriorate mentally for them. Featuring Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, and Melville Webber.

 

Directors Webber and James Sibley Watson drop all pretense at a narrative in this 13-minute short, but it's crammed with excellent experimental imagery and effects. A lot of this looks ahead of its time, and the techniques would be put to greater use in future films, including Roger Corman's 1960 version.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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Their next famous film is even weirder. Already discussed A Lot In Sodom here: http://forums.tcm.co...ghts/?p=1483489

 

Watch it here: https://archive.org/...t_in_Sodom_1933


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#8 Marianne

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Posted 06 September 2017 - 02:49 PM

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) - German melodrama from director G.W. Pabst. Louise Brooks stars as Thymian, the teenage daughter of a well-to-do pharmacist (Josef Rovensky). When Thymian is taken advantage of by her father's sleazy assistant Meinert (Fritz Rasp), she becomes pregnant. After the baby is born and given up for adoption, Thymian is sent to a reform school, where the harsh treatment sends her on to an even darker, more troubled future. Also featuring Andre Roanne, Vera Powlowa, Franziska Kinz, and Arnold Korff.

 

The source material was a scandalous novel by Margarete Bohme, and the film seems to be going for moral shock and titillation. Rasp is terrific in his defining role as the shark-like predatory Meinert. This was Brooks and Pabst's second collaboration, after 1928's Pandora's Box. Both films have developed a following since their release, and Brooks has become something of an iconic cult figure. But it's mainly from her appearance, as her performances are rather a blank slate. Some viewers may project more depth or nuance onto her, but to me she's a pretty mannequin. I wish the copy I had seen was better, and a top-to-bottom restoration would add much to film's appeal, I think.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

 

 

http://www.brattlefi...62fb8b-38189452

 

Apparently a new print is available. At least for Diary of a Lost Girl.


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#9 LawrenceA

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Posted 05 September 2017 - 07:57 PM

The Old and the New (1929) - Soviet collectivist farming propaganda from directors Sergei Eisenstein and Grogoriy Aleksandrov. When peasant farm woman Marfa (Marfa Lapkina) is driven to the edge of ruin by the old way of farming, she decides to join other fed up agriculturalists and form a collective farm, working together for a better common future. But the enemies of progress are always at their heels: the fat capitalists, the false-hope Church, and a lazy bureaucracy.

 

We all know how the Soviet collectivist farming utopia really turned out, and when the lecturing sections of the film are at the forefront it's a tedious bore. But when the directors let their artistic instincts come into play, there's a lot to enjoy here. The visual compositions are often interesting and aesthetically pleasing, and I liked a scene where one farmer dreams of the skies raining milk and cream, and another scene with a new tractor hauling a train of wagons like some kind of centipede over the hills. The filmmakers also gathered a lot of interesting faces, and use a lot of close-ups. Beauty is not the order of the day, and it almost seems like some of Fellini's later period grotesqueries. I also don't recall a movie featuring so many people with roaches crawling on them. This won't be for many viewers, but for those who appreciate the value of technique and composition, this is recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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#10 LawrenceA

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Posted 03 September 2017 - 09:11 PM

The Last Warning (1929) - Very entertaining mystery-comedy-suspense picture from Universal and director Paul Leni. A Broadway theater is re-opened by Arthur McHugh (Montagu Love) several years after his friend was killed during a live show. McHugh has decided to restage the same play, using the same performers and stage crew as was there the night his friend died. But someone, or something, seems to not like the idea, leaving threatening notes around the theater, as well as causing scary, even dangerous, accidents. Also featuring Laura La Plante, John Boles, Roy D'Arcy, Margaret Livingston, Burr McIntosh, Mack Swain, Bert Roach, Carrie Daumery, and Slim Summerville.

 

Leni and La Plante are reteamed after their success with 1927's The Cat and the Canary, and this is in the same vein, only set in an old dark theater rather than an old dark house. The cast is filled with performers with wonderfully expressive and interesting faces. I also liked the terrific work done with the title cards, as they often appear animated to help express the mood of the wording. Leni uses a lot of cinematic techniques well, too, such as close-ups, swinging cameras, Dutch angles, and expressionistic lighting. Combined with a very exciting finale, this ended being one of the very best films of its sub-genre. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: archive.org, with a bad print that was heavily pixelated and poorly framed.

 

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#11 LawrenceA

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Posted 03 September 2017 - 07:26 PM

I Graduated, but... (1929) - Short, 12-minute fragment is all that remains of this early work from Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Young man Tetsuo (Minoru Takada) is a recent college graduate looking for a job in Tokyo. His mother (Utako Suzuki) and wife Machiko (Kinuyo Tanaka) come to visit from the country, and he lies to them, saying that he has a job. It's only after his mother leaves that he confides in his wife that no jobs are hiring. Machiko eventually gets a job as a barmaid, embarrassing Tetsuo.

 

There's not a lot of time for nuance, but enough of Ozu's small, human touches remain to make this enjoyable. The universal appeal of the story line, relevant even today, is a plus. I also liked how American culture is present in several small ways, even in pre-WW2 Japan, such as the characters smoking Camel brand cigarettes, and a Harold Lloyd Speedy poster on the wall in Tetsuo's room. I wish the entire film had survived, but this fragment alone is worth seeing.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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#12 LawrenceA

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Posted 02 September 2017 - 03:52 PM

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) - German melodrama from director G.W. Pabst. Louise Brooks stars as Thymian, the teenage daughter of a well-to-do pharmacist (Josef Rovensky). When Thymian is taken advantage of by her father's sleazy assistant Meinert (Fritz Rasp), she becomes pregnant. After the baby is born and given up for adoption, Thymian is sent to a reform school, where the harsh treatment sends her on to an even darker, more troubled future. Also featuring Andre Roanne, Vera Powlowa, Franziska Kinz, and Arnold Korff.

 

The source material was a scandalous novel by Margarete Bohme, and the film seems to be going for moral shock and titillation. Rasp is terrific in his defining role as the shark-like predatory Meinert. This was Brooks and Pabst's second collaboration, after 1928's Pandora's Box. Both films have developed a following since their release, and Brooks has become something of an iconic cult figure. But it's mainly from her appearance, as her performances are rather a blank slate. Some viewers may project more depth or nuance onto her, but to me she's a pretty mannequin. I wish the copy I had seen was better, and a top-to-bottom restoration would add much to film's appeal, I think.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#13 LawrenceA

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Posted 02 September 2017 - 01:21 PM

Desert Nights (1929) - John Gilbert's final silent film was this short but enjoyable desert survival movie from MGM and director William Nigh. Gilbert plays Hugh Rand, the foreman of an African diamond mine. He gets word from the company head that a wealthy father-daughter duo, Lord Stonehill (Ernest Torrence) and Lady Diana (Mary Nolan), are due to arrive and that Hugh should escort them on a desert hunting trip in the Kalahari. Things go south when Stonehill and Diana turn out to be a team of con artists out to steal a diamond cache, and the duo and Hugh get stranded in the desert with no water. They have to make it back to civilization without killing each other. Also featuring Claude King.

 

Gilbert is at his charming best, although he looked a bit odd in shorts. Nolan is an attractive lead, and she exudes brassiness when needed. The story is purely routine desert survival stuff: searching for water, poisoned water, falling down sand dunes, etc. But it's handled well enough. It was all downhill from here for Gilbert, unfortunately, as I've grown to appreciate him more as an actor and screen presence thanks to my recent viewings of several of his silent classics.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#14 LawrenceA

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Posted 01 September 2017 - 10:41 PM

A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) - Aka Escape from Dartmoor, a British-Swedish psychological drama/romance from director Anthony Asquith. An intense young man (Uno Henning) escapes from prison and makes his way cross-country to a secluded farmhouse, where he finds a young woman (Norah Baring) with a small child. The film then flashes back to show the story of how these characters intersected in the past, as the man and woman worked at a barber salon, he giving shaves and she a manicurist. He was hopelessly in love with her, but she had eyes for a frequent customer (Hans Adalbert Schlettow) who has money. As the young man's jealousy grows, his mental state becomes fragile, leading to violence and tragedy.

 

This was made right at the end of the silent era, and it uses many of the best cinematic innovations of that era. The sound era was encroaching fast, though, and part of the film takes place in a movie theater showing a "talkie", and how the audience reacts to it as opposed to the silent Harold Lloyd short they see before the feature. Henning is phenomenal as the distraught young man, giving a performance that makes the Oscar winner from that year (Warner Baxter from In Old Arizona) look like amateur hour. Baring and Schlettow are also fine. This was a real surprise, and I hope more people seek this one out. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck

 

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#15 LawrenceA

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Posted 01 September 2017 - 02:40 PM

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) - No, that's not deja vu. This is another, short American arthouse take on Poe's story from the same year. The Usher siblings host an unexpected guest as things deteriorate mentally for them. Featuring Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, and Melville Webber.

 

Directors Webber and James Sibley Watson drop all pretense at a narrative in this 13-minute short, but it's crammed with excellent experimental imagery and effects. A lot of this looks ahead of its time, and the techniques would be put to greater use in future films, including Roger Corman's 1960 version.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#16 LawrenceA

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Posted 01 September 2017 - 01:29 PM

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) - French arthouse version of Poe's tale, from director Jean Epstein from a script co-written by Luis Bunuel. Allan (Charles Lamy) has arrived in the remote wilderness at the mansion of Roderick Usher (Jean Debucourt). Usher worries about his sick wife Madeleine (Marguerite Gance), and their live-in doctor (Fournez-Goffard) is tending to them. Roderick seems to be coming unhinged, and Allan worries about them all.

 

The sketchy storyline is beside the point in this telling, as it's a visual tour-de-force more interested in dreamy or nightmarish imagery than a coherent narrative. Epstein's use of Dutch angles, close-ups on inanimate objects, drifting smoke and fog, and dramatic lighting all help create a memorable experience. I warn potential viewers to find a quality print, though, as many of those online are shoddy at best.   8/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#17 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 August 2017 - 08:14 PM

The Student of Prague (1926) - Another adaptation of the story, this time from director Henrik Galeen. Conrad Veidt stars as Balduin, the money-hungry student who sells his reflection to sorcerer Scapinelli (Werner Krauss). While this gives Balduin the means to enter high society and woo the refined Countess Margit (Agnes Esterhazy), it also means his sinister double is loose in the world. Also featuring Elizza La Porta, and Ferdinand von Alten.

 

Veidt looks a bit old to be a student, but he's terrific as he starts to lose his grip on things. There's a lot more style in the filming, too, compared to the earlier 1913 version I watched this week, and I particularly liked the last ten minutes or so, which features a lot of atmospheric dread.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#18 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 August 2017 - 05:34 PM

The Sorrows of Satan (1926) - Faustian morality play from Paramount Pictures and director D.W. Griffith. After an introduction showing a war between angels and the transformation of Lucifer and his cohorts into demons (!!!), we move to contemporary times and meet would-be writer Geoffrey Tempest (Ricardo Cortez), who lives in a shabby boardinghouse across the hall from another struggling writer, Mavis (Carol Dempster). After Geoffrey makes a comment about selling his soul for money, Prince Lucio (Adolphe Menjou) appears at his door with news that Geoffrey has inherited a vast fortune. Lucio tempts the young man with the expensive life, including sultry temptress Olga (Lya De Putti), but will the love of wholesome Mavis be enough to save Geoffrey's eternal soul? Also featuring Ivan Lebedeff, Marcia Harris, Lawrence D'Orsay, and Nellie Savage.

 

While the proceedings run slowly at times, Griffith throws in enough memorable imagery to make this worthwhile. I particularly liked a scene where the demonic shadow of Lucio looms over Geoffrey. Menjou is dapper, slim and perfect in his role. Dempster, the last of Griffith's "favorite ladies" after the Gish sisters and Mae Marsh, retired from the screen after this film. She wasn't much liked by critics at the time, but I thought she was good here.   7/10

 

Source: archive.org

 

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#19 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 August 2017 - 02:20 PM

Moana (1926) - Another ethnographic documentary from Robert Flaherty, this time focusing on Polynesian islanders, specifically the island of Savai'i in the Samoans. Most of the film depicts the gathering and hunting of foodstuffs, be it trapping a wild boar, fishing, catching a large sea tortoise, pulling up taro root, and in one famous scene, watching a young boy climb a perilously tall tree to gather coconuts. Everything leads up to a rite of passage ceremony involving dancing and tattooing.

 

Flaherty and his wife lived among the islanders for two years gathering footage. As in other films by the director, Flaherty staged some scenes, although ironically it was during a review of this film that the word "documentary" was first used to refer to movies. The version I watched was the beautiful 2014 restoration supervised by Flaherty's daughter Monica. It's known as Moana with Sound, as Monica went back to the islands and recorded ambient nature sounds as well as the chit-chat of natives in their own, non-subtitled, tongue, as well as some of their singing. This new soundtrack was placed over the silent footage from '26. After watching it, I would think the original film would be a bit less enjoyable without the sound. This movie was a hit on the exploitation circuit, where they played up the topless native girls.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#20 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 August 2017 - 10:22 PM

Midnight Faces (1926) - Terrible early Old Dark House mystery comedy from the long-forgotten Goodwill Productions company. Francis X. Bushman Jr. stars Lynn Claymore, a nice young fellow who has inherited a large mansion in Florida swamp country. He arrives to take up residence with his attorney Richard (Jack Perrin), and his racist-caricature black manservant Trohelius Snapp (Martin Turner). Of course it isn't long before a group of strangers show up, strange things start happening, people start disappearing, and a caped figure begins lurking in the shadows. Also featuring Kathryn McGuire, Edward Peil Sr., Charles Belcher, and Nora Cecil. 

 

Cheap, dumb, and often idiotic, this is a complete waste of time for all but the most ardent of horror/mystery completists. The plot makes little sense, and although it's less than an hour long, that's still too much.   3/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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