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Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Study in Classic Horror- HORROR ISLAND (1941)

Another haunted house comedic thriller, and while it’s not as cleverly executed as The Cat and the Canary from a couple of weeks ago, it contains surprisingly fewer clichés. Oh, it’s got secret passages, a hand that reaches out and pulls someone into a wall, and another Scooby-Doo miscreant, but it’s also got a few twists I didn’t see coming and an impressive parade of character actors.

The plot feels like an early draft for the Gilligan’s Island pilot: an assortment of diverse characters on a recreational mini-cruise, only this time there’s a spooky castle and the possibility of buried treasure. For Bill Martin and his sidekick Stuff, it’s a chance to give gullible tourists a cheap thrill and pocket their money, but for their recent acquaintance Tobias, it’s a quest for real treasure. Throw in a competitor for the treasure known only as the Phantom, and of course, things start to go awry.

Dick Foran and Peggy Moran, who were paired the previous year in The Mummy’s Hand, do a fine job of leading the cast. They’re no Hepburn and Tracy, but they do fairly well with the witty banter that leads to them falling in love for no reason, as is typical in films of this era. (Too bad the partnership didn’t continue “Foran and Moran” has such a nice ring to it.)

Then there’s the supporting cast. I’ve always had a fondness for great character actors, and it seems like there’s always more to discover. Fuzzy Knight plays Stuff, the archetypal gruff but kind sidekick; Leo Carrillo is the colorful Tobias, Hobart Cavanaugh returns from Night Key as a mousy historian and Walter Catlett plays an inept police sergeant. These were the most notable performances, but the motley crew of passengers is rounded out nicely with John Eldredge, Lewis Howard, Ralf Harolde and Iris Adrian. And I shouldn’t forget Foy Van Dolsen and his turn as the Phantom.

There’s not that much more to say. It’s not exactly the makings of a classic, but it’s a fun romp, and for a movie that was filmed and released in less than a month, it holds up pretty well.

This week’s supporting features:

The Looney Tunes cartoon Alpine Antics (1936)

The Our Gang short Moan and Groan (1929)

Next week’s film:

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) starring Bela Lugosi and Sidney Fox

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