Monday, 27 December 2021
Curt Siodmak (brother of film director Robert Siodmak) had a varied and interesting career as a novelist, screenwriter and occasional director, mostly in the science fiction and horror genres.
Lon Chaney Jr provides an introduction to each episode, in the guise of a man who has been cursed for all eternity for some terrible crime. He can only escape the curse if he can find some crime more heinous than his own, so he is telling us these stories in the hope of convincing us that there really are worse crimes than his own (although he doesn’t tell us what his crime was).
Three episodes were later edited together to make a movie called The Devil’s Messenger, and since all three episodes were quite good the movie ended up as a reasonably good anthology movie.
One of the recurring themes in this series seems to be the fuzziness of the boundary between reality and illusion, and between sanity and madness. Strange things happen, but are they really happening? These are ideas that are explored fairly effectively in several episodes.
It’s also a series that captures an atmosphere of subtle weirdness quite well.
A few other episodes are available from various sources. Something Weird Video’s DVD release of another interesting anthology series of that era, The Veil, includes two episodes of 13 Demon Street as extras. The horror in 13 Demon Street is perhaps slightly more overt but like The Veil it suffers at times from not providing totally satisfying payoffs. It’s less original than The Veil but overall it’s slightly more effective.
The Vine of Death
The Vine of Death was directed by Curt Siodmak who also co-wrote the script with Leo Guild. An archaeologist in Copenhagen plants some 4,000-year-old bulbs, from an extinct vine known as the Mirada Death Vine. Legend has it that the vine has an affinity for dead human bodies. The bulbs appear to be hopelessly desiccated but the archaeologist, Dr Frank Dylan, has the crazy idea that he can get them to grow.
This is a genuinely weird and creepy story and it’s pretty good.
The Black Hand
The Black Hand was directed by Curt Siodmak and written by Siodmak and Richard Jairus Castle. It’s a pretty hackneyed idea. Dr Heinz Schloss is involved in an auto accident and to escape from his burning car he has to amputate his own hand (which is at least a suitably macabre touch).
He transplants a psychopathic murderer’s hand onto his arm (without knowing that it’s a murderer’s hand) and of course you know what’s going to happen next. It’s mostly predictable but the fact Dr Schloss is a surgeon adds a bit of interest - a surgeon has to be able to trust his hands.
It’s reasonably well executed but the basic idea has been handled better before, notably in the movies The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Mad Love (1935).
The Photograph was written and directed by Curt Siodmak. Donald Powell is a fashion photographer and he’s a bit of a creep. His friend Charlie thinks he needs a break. He should go to Maine and do some real photography. Donald takes his advice. The first thing that attracts his interest in Maine is an old house, but he’s even more interested in the young woman who emerges from the house. For Donald it’s an instantaneous obsession. With disastrous consequences.
Now it’s one of the photos he took in Maine that has him worried. It doesn’t look the same any more.
This episode is inspired by the classic M.R. James ghost story The Mezzotint. It’s slightly more interesting than it appears at first glance since there’s considerable ambiguity about what actually happened in Maine. It’s even possible that nothing happened.
Fever was written and directed by Curt Siodmak.
And it is a nicely spooky story. I liked this one.
The Girl in the Glacier
The Girl in the Glacier was written and directed by Curt Siodmak. The body of a naked girl, frozen in the ice of a glacier for 50,000 years, is found in a mineshaft. The block of ice in which she is embedded is taken to a museum. Dr. Ben Seastrom, the anthropologist put in charge of trying to preserve the girl’s body, becomes obsessed by her. He starts to develop some pretty strange ideas about her.
In fact he starts to fall in love with the long-dead girl. He buys some pretty clothes for her. He also gets the idea that maybe she isn’t really dead, that maybe if he can find a way to very slowly unfreeze her she’ll come back to life. Maybe he’s brilliant but he’s clearly crazy. Or is he?
Again it’s not a dazzlingly original idea but it’s handled quite well.
Condemned in the Crystal
Condemned in the Crystal was directed by Curt Siodmak and written by Dory Previn (better known as a singer-songwriter).
Radian takes his doctor’s advice. When he finds the building he finds a gypsy woman, a fortune-teller. She sees John Radian’s future in her crystal ball. She tells him his future and that he cannot escape it. Of course he tries to do so.
This is a nicely suspenseful episode, with some cleverly ambiguous touches. We know what is going to happen because we’ve heard the fortune-teller tell Radian, but her prediction seems to make no sense. We cannot see (and John Radian cannot see) how such a thing could happen. The ending is effective. A good episode.
It’s not easy to make an overall judgment on this series based on the half-dozen episodes that I’ve seen. A couple of the episodes are certainly unoriginal but others really are pleasingly weird and disturbing. 13 Demon Street had potential and it’s worth a look.
Friday, 10 December 2021
Overall though it’s the formula as before. If you have a formula that works why change it?
So, some reviews of early fifth season episodes chosen at random.
The Queen’s Ransom
In The Queen’s Ransom (which aired in 1966) Simon finds himself involved, very indirectly, in a revolution after he saves the life of a deposed Middle Eastern king. The revolution is intended to restore King Fallouda to his throne. The Saint has mixed feelings about revolutions but in this case he feels that the restoration of the king really would a good idea. The problem is that the money to finance the revolution will have to come from the sale of Queen Adana’s jewels and they’re in a safety deposit box in Zurich. The Queen will have to fetch them and Simon’s job is to protect her and the jewels.
This episode then becomes a kind of Couple on the Run story as Simon and Queen Adana are chased about Europe by the king’s enemies who intend to get those jewels. It’s a typical Saintly adventure, with Adana and Simon at each other’s throats at first, much to Simon’s amusement.
The sparks really do fly between the Queen and the Saint. There’s no hint of romance (Queen Adana is very happily married to the King and is absolutely faithful to him). Queen Adana tries her best to be regal and mostly succeeds although at times she is reminded that before she was a queen she was the daughter of a London bus driver. Dawn Addams does a fine job of being queenly while giving us occasional subtle glimpses of her working-class background.
A very entertaining episode.
The Reluctant Revolution
The Reluctant Revolution takes place in the South American dictatorship of San Pablo. Simon runs across an attractive young woman named Diane (played by Jennie Linden) who has a gun in her purse. He fears she might be going to try to kill someone and that proves to be the case. She wants to kill the dictator’s right-hand man, and that gets both Diane and Simon mixed up in an attempted revolution.
The Saint isn’t altogether sure he approves of revolutions. They usually end with a lot of innocent people being killed. If only one could have a revolution without bloodshed. Perhaps it can be done, if Simon can make use of his skills as a confidence trickster.
An enjoyable episode.
Interlude in Venice
In Interlude in Venice Simon is seeing the sights when trouble finds him (as it always does) and he has to rescue an American girl from a too-insistent would-be Lothario. The American girl, Cathy, is about to get herself in more hot water (something she seems to have a talent for), this time with a sleazy prince.
As you would expect it turns out that things are not quite what they seem. A pretty decent episode.
The House on Dragon’s Rock
The House on Dragon’s Rock, which was directed by Roger Moore, is a very untypical episode of The Saint. It’s more like a 1950s science fiction monster movie with a bit of Hammer-style gothic atmosphere thrown in. Simon arrives in a small Welsh village to find that strange and disturbing things have been happening. The latest mystery is the disappearance of a shepherd named Owen and when Owen is finally found the mystery remains as deep as ever.
The villagers are convinced that it has something to do with the scientific experiments being carried out in the big old house on Dragon’s Rock.
This is not just a monster movie story, it’s also a mad scientist story with Anthony Bate as Dr Charles Sardon making a pretty effective mad scientist. Dr Sardon has his own ideas about the future of the planet.
Much of this episode was actually shot in Wales, with mostly Welsh actors. To venture so far from the studio was highly unusual for 1960s British television. And there are special effects. OK, the special effects are roughly of the standard you’d expect in a 1960s Doctor Who episode but given the tone of the episode they work well enough.
Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased).
Roger Moore plays things pretty straight which, given the outlandish plot, was probably a very sound idea.
There’s an obvious attempt to get away from the flat lighting so characteristic of 1960s television and achieve a more atmospheric effect.
The House on Dragon’s Rock is a great deal of fun.
The Man Who Liked Lions
A journalist, a friend of Simon’s, is murdered in broad daylight in Rome. Needless to say Simon makes it his business to find out why. The trail leads him first to artist Claudia Molinelli but what Simon really wants is to find the Man Who Likes Lions. Eventually he finds him. He is Tiberio Magadino (Peter Wyngarde) and apart from being obsessed with lions he is obsessed by Ancient Rome. He dreams of recapturing the glory of Ancient Rome but it’s the way he earns his living that interests Simon.
The plot isn’t all that special but it’s the outrageous execution that makes this a memorable episode.
This is one of several memorable TV guest roles that Peter Wyngarde did in the 60s before finding fame in Department S and Jason King. His most notorious guest role of course was in the A Touch of Brimstone episode of The Avengers (the one with Mrs Peel as the Queen of Sin).