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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Living Great Apes are Smarter than Australopithecines

Kamandi created by Jack Kirby. © DC Comics
Scientists have measured the rate of blood flow to the cognitive part of the brain, based on the size of the holes in the skull that passed the supply arteries.
“Our study revealed a higher rate of blood flow to the cognitive part of the brain of living great apes compared to Australopithecus,” Professor Seymour said.

“At first, brain size seems reasonable because it is a measure of the number of neurons. On second thought, however, cognition relies not only on the number of neurons, but also on the number of connections between them, called synapses.”

“How does the intelligence of modern great apes stack up against that in our 3 million-year-old relatives, the australopithicines such as Lucy? Non-human great apes have smaller or equal sized brains compared to the size indicated by the fossil braincases of Australopithecus species, so Lucy is generally considered to have been smarter.”

“However, the study shows that cerebral blood flow rate of human ancestors falls well below the data derived from modern, non-human primates.”
Roger S. Seymour et al. 2019. Cerebral blood flow rates in recent great apes are greater than in Australopithecus species that had equal or larger brains. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286 (1915)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Part 3 of the Jack Davis "You'll Die Laughing" Topps Card Series

Part 3 of the Jack Davis "You'll Die Laughing" Topps card series is now up at the
Atomic Surgery FB Page

Friday, November 15, 2019

Miriam Hopkins in The Richest Girl In The World (1934)

$30,000 A DAY TO SPEND...and nothing to live for!

That’s Dorothy Hunter (Miriam Hopkins), who became the richest girl in the world after inheriting a fortune as an infant when her parents were lost in the sinking of the Titanic. Since then, she has been raised by her guardian, John Connors (Henry Stephenson), who has kept her so far away from publicity that the press only has a picture of her as a baby. In rare public appearances, her friend and secretary, Sylvia Lockwood (Fay Wray) impersonates her. But, Sylvia has recently married Phillip Lockwood (Reginald Denny), and wants to leave Sylvia’s employment to start her own life. Dorothy is fine with this because she believes that she will always be alone as she doubts that she could never find any man who would not love her just for her money.

Enter Tony Travers (Joel McCrea) who Dorothy falls head over heels for. Although they are both clearly attracted to each other, Dorothy decides to put him to the test. Since he believes that Dorothy is really Sylvia, and vice versa, Dorothy devises a series of ever more outlandish circumstances to drive Tony into Sylvia’s arms. If he can resist her, then Dorothy will believe that he really loves her for herself and not the money that he believes Sylvia (pretending to be Dorothy) has.

All this has the makings of a great screwball comedy, but it quickly becomes apparent (at least to this reviewer) that Dorothy is probably a bit nuts, if not an out-right masochist. She goes to absurd lengths to make Tony believe that Sylvia is in love with him, continuously driving him away every time he breaks from Sylvia to return to the real Dorothy. Even when the farce is resolved you have to wonder how long a relationship will last with a person like Dorothy who goes to such great lengths to make her life miserable.

The viewer quickly moves from good-natured bemusement, to discomfort, to almost horror as you watch Dorothy sabotage her hopes for happiness. Dorothy’s plot involves making Sylvia continue to impersonate her, while Sylvia’s husband and Dorothy’s guardian are forced to stand impotently on the sidelines. Every one of these characters should have pulled the plug on Dorothy’s crazy charade at the very beginning to save everyone’s (and the viewers) dignity; but then there would be no movie, right?

Directed by William A. Seiter, The Richest Girl In The World, has the typically lush RKO production values of the period, including music by Max Steiner and cinematography by future film noir legend Nicholas Musuraca (Out of The Past,1947).

Despite the problems with the script, the leads of Hopkins, McCrea, and Wray have good chemistry together, with Hopkins and McCrea sharing a couple of very funny scenes – all involving alcohol. The movie flaunts its post-prohibition status with Hopkins and McCrea never passing an opportunity (or so it seems) to get drunk. Hopkins and McCrea starred in a number of films together (Barbary Coast, 1935; Splendor, 1935; These Three, 1937; Woman Chases Man,1937) and have an easy rapport together.

McCrea and Wray
Although I’m a big fan of Hopkins, and I’ve never seen McCrea give a bad performance, I watched this film primarily to see Fay Wray. This was one of at least 22 films that Wray made between 1933 and 1934, but most are rare and hard to locate. But, thanks to Warner Archives, more of these are becoming available. Watch for a review of Wildcat Bus; featuring Wray in a starring role to be posted here soon!

Is The Richest Girl In The World worth my time? I can’t completely recommend it, but I would urge anyone who is a fan of Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea or Fay Wray to add it to their library. Although my review may seem overly harsh, there are enough good scenes between Hopkins and McCrea to hold you to the finish (over long at 76 minutes). If, like Tony and Dorothy, you watch this with a good highball you can enjoy its strengths (the performances) while scratching your head over how the script by Norman Krasna ever got nominated for an Academy Award!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

The Mummy's Curse (1944) represents the almost last gasp for Universal’s original classic horror cycle before its final coda with Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein in 1948. That film saw Lon Chaney, Jr., give his final performance (in continuity) as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman, as well as Bela Lugosi’s only other performance as Count Dracula since his 1931 debut in the role.

Although Universal cranked out the oddball House of Dracula in 1945 (again with Chaney as Larry Talbot), and She-Wolf of London (1946), as the tangentially last tread in the Wolfman tapestry, after this the Mummy would be put to rest until being re-exhumed in Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955). That film has little to recommend it, except for the novelty of seeing the Dick Van Dyke Show’s put upon, Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), as the head of an ancient Egyptian cult. Deacon turned up in a surprising number of genre films, including This Island Earth (1955), The Birds (1963), and The Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956) that also features this film’s Princess Ananka as a pod person!

 Peter Coe & Martin Kosleck
The Mummy’s Curse was directed by Leslie Goodwins and stars bland Dennis Moore as Dr. James Halsey, Virginia Christine as Princess Ananka, and Chaney in his third and last outing as the Mummy, Kharis. By this time, the franchise has thrown logic and continuity to the wind, e.g., the previous film, The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) ended with the Mummy sinking into a swamp in Massachusetts, only to turn up here in a swamp somewhere in the deep south.

For The Mummy’s Curse, the viewer only needs to know that Kharis is again brought to life by an Egyptian priest (Peter Coe) to recapture the ever-illusive Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) so that the two ancient souls can be returned to their rightful burial places in Egypt. Of course the plan goes off the rails when priest’s acolyte, Ragheb (the ever reliably evil, Martin Kosleck), gets the hots for Ananka leading, ultimately, to the ‘demise’ of the ancient lovers. Christine makes an effective Ananka, regally beautiful and blessed with the knowledge of the past, but she is given little to work with in this by-the-book script.

By now, Kharis has been reduced to a shambling, almost mindless henchman who is about as threatening as an incapacitated senior in a wheelchair. It’s farcical how this crippled mummy, with only one good leg, can carry out any of his missions, let alone murder as many people as he does. Every time that Ananka runs past or away from him, you can almost see Kharis sigh with resignation as he turns to shamble off after her – again!  In the finale, the script finally allows Kharis to through off his enfeebling shackles to unleash a hitherto suppressed power as he tears the Princess’s tomb apart to destroy the turncoat acolyte. Always give the kids a rousing finish!

Buried under bandages and make up, Chaney is so unrecognizable that any stuntman could have performed the role; indeed, some critics have made the case that Chaney was employed only for his name recognition, and that he actually was only in his Mummy make up for some key scenes. Given how humiliating such a role must have been, it’s no wonder that all reports from the making of the film indicate that Chaney was perpetually drunk on the set. Such a fall from his highpoint in 1941’s, The Wolfman! As a side note, I’m sure the opening credits for The Mummy’s Curse are played over a panning shot of the forest set from The Wolfman.

Is The Mummy’s Curse worth my time? Only if you are a die-hard fan of The Mummy franchise, or a completist (like me) for watching all of the classic Universal monster films.
However, it does contain one of the eeriest scenes in any Universal horror film – Princess Ananka clawing her way out of her bogy tomb. This scene can still raise the hairs on the back of one’s neck even after all these years. Its legacy can be seen in films like Night of The Living Dead, and many others. Even if you decide to skip watching the whole movie, at least fast forward to this classic scene. 

Finally, sadly, this is the only entry in the four film "Kharis" series (post Karloff’s 1932 Mummy film) in which perennial horror-favourite, George Zucco, does not appear.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mad Love (1935) – or, The Prime of Ed Brophy’s Hands

Mad Love (aka The Hands of Orlac in Britain) was the American debut for Peter Lorre in this oft filmed version of Maurice Renard's novel, The Hands of Orlac. It was directed by German-√©migr√© film maker Karl Freund who had already made his mark on horror in America as the cinematographer for Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) and directing Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932).

Mad Love was one of MGM’s few dips into the Horror well. With Freund directing and co-starring Dr. Frankenstein himself - the ever twitchy Colin Clive (below) - one can almost be forgiven for mistaking it for an actual Universal horror film. 
Indeed, if it was a Universal film, Lorre’s (sorry – spoiler!) insane Dr. Gogol would probably be included with the ranks of that companies Famous Monsters. Disguised as the executed murderer, Rollo, and wearing dark goggles and brandishing a pair of glistening metal hands from under a dark cloak that would have made Dr. Doom proud, I would certainly have bought and assembled an Aurora model kit of the character back in 1960’s.

The plot is a familiar one to any fan of the genre. Pianist Stephen Orlac (Clive) has his hands crushed in an accident. His desperate actress wife, Yvonne (Frances Drake) turns to her dangerously obsessed admirer, Dr. Gogol, for help. Gogol is a brilliant surgeon, but even he can’t save Stephen’s hands. Instead, he grafts the hands of a recently executed murderer, Rollo the Knife Thrower (Edward Brophy) onto Orlac’s wrists. When Orlac starts to display Rollo’s facility with knives, Gogol decides to use the specter of a resurrected Rollo to drive Orlac insane and thereby win Yvonne’s love (huh?). 

Of note, Universal’s The Raven released the same year also had a mad surgeon (Lugosi) whose medical skills play into his plan to drive his beautiful young patient into his arms.

Even without Gogol’s interference, one has to question Orlac’s sanity; as he practices following his surgery, Orlac keeps a pair of plaster (I hope) hands labeled ‘The Hands of Orlac’ on top of his piano. 
The Grand Guignol story plays out as you would expect, except for noting that the film slyly winks at itself by having Yvonne playing an actress performing in an actual Grand Guignol. The plot even manages to shoehorn in the Pygmalion myth which leads to an almost comic finale of Yvonne standing in for her own wax statue that Gogol has fixated on in lieu of having her.
Freund gives the film a lush texture of deep blacks and rich whites that includes a lot of expressionist touches. It fails, however, to really display Gogol’s brilliantly designed disguise to full effect. What’s the point of creating an outstanding ‘monster’ and then never showcasing it? Gogol’s disguise is only seen in a brief close up and then again mostly in medium and long shots when he arrives back at home. Here the film displays the same ‘keep the audience at a distance’ feel that Freund used in Dracula to mimic the theatrical sensibility of that film script’s origin. Maybe all this was dictated by the censors?

As much as I admire Lorrie’s over-the-top performance, my favourite parts of the film come from utility supporting actor, Edward Brophy, as ex-circus performer, Rollo the Knife Thrower (below). As a convicted murderer being escorted to his execution, he has a contagiously upbeat attitude even while walking up to the guillotine, quipping with his guards and the American reporter interested in his story. The screenwriters (John Balderston & Guy Endore) must have known that Brophy had played a Rollo Brothers Circus proprietor in Freaks (1932) three years earlier and made his name and profession a nod to that earlier film.

With a body like a stubbed-out cigar butt and a broad, rubbery face, Edward Brophy was born to play criminals and heavies (often good-natured) or the comic relief, e.g., his dim-witted Goldie Locke sidekick to Tom Conway’s suave Falcon in RKO’s long running B series. You’ve seen him in dozens of films from the 30’s and 40’s, and for me, it’s always a pleasure to watch him do his usual bumbling stuff. Even when his Joe Morelli forces his way into Nick and Nora’s bedroom brandishing a gun in The Thin Man (1934), you can’t really be scared of him. He later turns up again playing Nick’s friend, Brogan, in The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).

Edward Brophy started performing in small parts in 1919, and first gained notice as Buster Keaton’s foil in a classic scene in The Cameraman (1928) in which the two men share a too-small wardrobe. Brophy had steady work in films and died while filming John Ford's western, Two Rode Together (1961). His biggest and best role may have been as The Champ’s manager in the 1931 film. Movie watchers of a certain age will recognize his voice performing Timothy Mouse in Walt Disney's classic, Dumbo (1941).

Internet sources claim that Brophy was the model for Doiby Dickles, the Golden Age Green Lantern’s comedic sidekick. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but the rotund character does fill a similar role to Goldie Locke in The Falcon movies.

Keye Luke Alert: Atomic Surgery favorite and Charlie Chan’s No. 1 son, Keye Luke (below, with Lorre), turns up as Dr. Gogol’s assistant, Dr. Wong, and performs at least one operation with the same skill as Gogol supposedly has.

Is Mad Love Worth watching? Definitely! A minor classic, it deserves to be mentioned in the same discussion that would include Universal’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936) (at least).

Availability:  Easy to find in Horror multi-DVD packs from the usual on-line sources.