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Arroyo & Want Ad Wedding

Ring a Ding Ding

     Turner Classic Movies last week disbursed a number of Screen Directors Playhouse half-hour TV movies throughout its schedule, giving us another host of fun quickies featuring great actors and directors. For Arroyo, Director George Waggner wrote a story that frankly could have been drawn out into a full-length movie. A fat Jack Carson is a self-appointed judge for a western town who metes out justice as two troublemakers enter town.

    A wagon train had been attacked by American Indians and one woman survivor shows up in Arroyo. She is injured and put to bed. Meanwhile, “the Dude” (John Baer) has gotten into an argument with a stranger, Bart (Neville Brand). This Bart was hired by the wagon train to lead it through the Indian country but did not keep his promise. The injured woman (Lola Albright) says she saw her husband killed during the attack, but Bart says the man rode away the night before.

     Carson is his usual tough self as a possibly crooked arm of the law and does a great job playing it cool as we all know western men are apt to do. Baer gives an appropriately emotional performance as Brand provides the plot with its sinister aspect. I have mentioned before that Screen Directors Playhouse episodes never feel rushed but magically seem to squeeze an entire movie in a half hour spot. That rings true here with a story that has its mystery and twists and flash ending. The story is certainly of the quality that could make it a big-screen hit, but audiences in 1955 got to watch it from their own homes instead.

     Next up is Want Ad Wedding, a cute romantic comedy directed by William Seiter. Polly Parker (Sally Forrest) is a “floater” at a department store, a job that involves her moving from department to department doing whatever tasks are needed. When she ends up in advertising, she gets sucked into a scheme dreamt up by her father Col. Jennings Parker (Leon Ames). He has spotted an ad in the paper asking for guests to attend the wedding of two military officers who are strangers in the big city. The colonel proposes to the advertising boss Chet Buchanan (Fred Clark) that the department store sponsor the wedding and provide all aspects of the decoration and clothing.

     In Polly’s efforts to pull of this last-minute wedding with her co-workers, she makes jealous a man who has been after her for a date for some time: clothing salesman Hank Douglas (Richard Webb). Although we only have a half hour to establish this romance, throw some hurdles in front of it, and bring it to a happy ending, Want Ad Wedding does so successfully. I think the actors make it possible through their sympathetic performances that convey their emotions toward one another. Webb is particularly essential in this task as we watch him long for Polly.

The Wolf Man

Dullsville

The Wolf Man (1941)

     I realize now I had higher hopes for what I perceived as among the great classic horror stories than I should have. I think the downfall of The Wolf Man might lie in its script. Silly, contrived and dumb dialogue make for many a hokey moment in this tale of the beast within all men.

     Lon Chaney (Jr.) plays Larry Talbot who returns home to his father’s English estate after 18 years away. He buys from a pretty girl a silver topped cane whose handle is a wolf with a pentagram on its side. When on a date with this girl Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), the couple and their chaperone Jenny (Fay Helm) visit some gypsies to have their fortune told. Unfortunately, one of the gypsies –the one played by Bela Lugosi— is a werewolf and soon thereafter shifts into his beastly form and kills Jenny. During the scuffle, however, Larry comes to the rescue, beats the dog dead with his silver cane and is bitten on the chest.

     The next morning the wound has disappeared and the gypsy is found dead in the spot where Larry had killed the wolf. The man’s journey into the life of a werewolf is facilitated by an old gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) while his father, played by Claude Rains, a local doctor and others insist that lycanthropy is merely a condition of the mind through which a man imagines he is a wolf. We are entreated to some fancy effects in the morphing of Chaney from man to beast and back using both lapsed and continuous dissolves. The first two transformations are of the feet only but the film’s close shows the man’s face change.

     The concept of a werewolf has been at the root of many horror films, the later of which depict a much more gruesome creature than the one Chaney played here. His wolf man is merely hairy with feet and hands resembling more canine-like anatomy and some enhanced teeth to boot. It is hard for me to know given my upbringing in an increasingly gory entertainment society whether or not this facade was terrifying to the public of the time, although it was a highly popular endeavor for Universal Studios. As I said, however, the poorly written dialogue makes it difficult for even actors of talent, such as Ralph Bellamy as the constable, to give a genuine go of it. Rains’ was the only solid performance, which alongside all the others seems out of place.

  •  The Wolf Man is set for 8 p.m. ET Oct. 10 on TCM.
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