The Werewolf (Fred F. Sears, 1956). It’s not exactly an undiscovered classic on the level of Detour, but it’s better than you’d expect from a Jungle Sam Katzman production. None of the actors do a bad job, and Steven Ritch as the title character actually elicits some sympathy from the viewer. The presentation is straightforward … there’s none of the usual fantasy element of the werewolf story, just a tale of a man who becomes a victim of a scientist’s experiments. Some people seem to equate exceeding expectations with actual quality, but The Werewolf isn’t anything special. It’s just better than the usual junk, and closer to film noir than to Lawrence Talbot. 6/10. For another Katzman/Sears classic, try Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942). Interesting Bette Davis romance that goes a few places I didn’t expect. Davis is the “ugly” youngest daughter in the Vale family, and she is dressed for the part: mousy makeup, nondescript dresses, old-people eyeglasses. She ends up in a sanitarium, where a doctor played by Claude Rains sets her on a different path. From there, she goes on a long cruise, where she meets Paul Henreid, playing a decent man stuck in a bad marriage. They fall in love, they separate at the end of the cruise. Already the warning signs are up: woman is “fixed” thanks to two men. And when she returns home, I feared the worst, thinking her awful mother would force her to retreat to her earlier stage. But Davis won’t put up with it … she really has changed for the better. There is still plenty of romance to come, and various plot shenanigans that keep our attention if nothing else. But Davis opts for the life she has made for herself, even rejecting Henreid, and it is quite refreshing. Won an Oscar for Best Music Score. #748 on the latest update to the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. My favorite Bette Davis movie is All About Eve.
The Killer Shrews (Ray Kellogg, 1959). I’m not sure what it means, that I’m trying to catch up on Oscar-nominated movies, and I’ve got an All Is Lost Blu-ray sitting here, yet I’ve bypassed it for two Creature Features in one week. Like The Werewolf, The Killer Shrews is marginally better than you’d expect from the title, with “marginally” being the important word. The main character is played by James “Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane” Best. The female lead … well, the only woman in the entire film … is played by a former Miss Sweden. Ken Curtis was the producer, as well as playing a cowardly drunk, only a few years after playing an important role in The Searchers and only a few years before he joined the cast of Gunsmoke, playing Festus. Curtis’ un-credited co-producer was radio legend Gordon McLendon, who also took on the only acting role of his career (he stinks). Sidney Lumet’s father plays a scientist who creates the title characters. It’s hard to pass up classic dialogue like “Hematoxic syndrome - it must be hematoxic syndrome.” To top things off, it runs only 69 minutes. Somehow, with a budget of around $159 and coon dogs standing in for the shrews, it’s still mildly scary. 6/10. It’s easy to suggest a companion piece: The Giant Gila Monster, made simultaneously as a double-feature partner for the Shrews.