October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat with King of the Zombies

Coming attraction slide for King of the Zombies (1941)

Happy Halloween!  Today's spooky treasure is the quintessential WWII zombie horror comedy musical.  Yes, there were so many - but how many included a cast of zombies singing "The Grave Digging Song"?  Not many, I can assure you.  Not only that, but how many zombie pix can you name that were nominated for an Academy Award for Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

If you really must know, here's the plot synopsis from the AFI database.  No, I haven't seen it.  We'll just have to take their word for it.
"Pilot James "Mac" McCarthy (Dick Purcell) goes off course somewhere between Cuba and Puerto Rico and is unable to pick up any radio transmissions. When he and his passengers, Bill Summers and his black valet, Jefferson Jackson, hear a lone transmission in a foreign language, they crash land the plane on the island below. The lost men discover themselves in a graveyard, and follow the sound of drums to a nearby mansion. There they are greeted by Viennese Dr. Sangre (Henry Victor) , who treats Mac's minor head wound with the warning that untreated injuries are easy prey for evil spirits. Sangre says there are no radios on the island and allows the men to spend the night as his guests, although he insists that Jeff stay in the servants quarters in the basement. Jeff becomes alarmed when the maid, Samantha (Marguerite Whitten), and the cook, Tahama (Madam Sul-Te-Wan), call forth two "zombies," but when he runs upstairs to tell his boss, Sangre dismisses the idea as ludicrous. Sangre's wife Alyce (Patricia Stacey) also appears to be in a trance-like state, which Sangre attributes to jungle fever. Sangre appears surprised when Bill tells him about American Admiral Wainwright (Guy Usher), whose plane disappeared in the same location. Sangre then tells the men that no one in his family, which includes his beautiful niece, Barbara Winslow (Joan Woodbury), can leave the island because they are Austrian refugees lacking passports. 
Later that night, Jeff confides in Samantha that Bill is a government agent on a secret mission. Sangre's butler, Momba (Leigh Whipper), Samantha and Tahama leave Jeff alone in the kitchen just before midnight, with the admonition not to pay notice to anything unusual. When two zombies nearly attack Jeff, he runs to Bill and Mac's room for safety. Jeff is later awakened by the appearance of a woman who seems to come and go through a wall, and when he awakens Bill and Mac, they believe him only after finding an earring. The three men split up to search the house, and Bill finds Barbara in the library reading a book on hypnotism. Barbara says that she is reading the book to help her aunt, who has been in the trance-like state since arriving at the island, and Bill confides his belief that Sangre is hiding a radio. Bill and Mac finally believe Jeff's stories about zombies after Mac is attacked by one. The next morning, Mac and Bill discover a freshly dug grave in the cemetery, and that someone has stolen the plane's radio. Mac goes in search of a generator, while Bill returns to the house, unaware that the admiral is being held hostage in a cellar and that Tahama is trying to pry military secrets from him with the use of voodoo. After Sangre calls in a report to his German allies, Mac disappears. Sangre then lures Jeff into the cellar, where he hypnotizes him into believing that he is a zombie. 
While Bill is searching for Mac, he finds Barbara using hypnotism on her aunt, and assumes that she is collaborating with Sangre, despite her protests that she is trying to restore her aunt's memory. Mac returns in a zombie-like state, and a physician called by Sangre says that he has been dead for hours. When Momba receives orders by radio for Sangre to transmit the stolen military information, he and Tahama prepare a special ceremony to wrest the information from the admiral. Jeff lines up with the other zombies for dinner, but Samantha breaks his spell. Jeff then meets with Bill and moments later, they hear a woman's scream and find Alyce dead. Bill and Jeff follow the sound of drums into the cellar, where Sangre is holding a ceremony during which the admiral's thoughts are to be transmitted into Barbara's brain. Bill breaks up the ceremony and when Sangre orders the zombies to attack Bill, they instead follow Mac, and turn on Sangre. Sangre shoots Mac and, while backing away from the zombies, falls to his death into a firepit. After Wainwright phones the Coast Guard, and Mac's injuries are treated, Wainwright tells Bill that Sangre forced his plane to land with a false radio signal, then killed his crew and tortured him for Canal Zone fortification plans. When his torture did not work, he used Alyce and Barbara as test subjects with other methods."       
Pretty spooky!

October 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Baby Peggy!

Coming attraction slide for Captain January (1924)
Today we take a special time-out to wish HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to Diana Serra Cary, known to her fans as Baby Peggy.  Peggy-Jean Montgomery was born 93 years ago on this date, October 19, 1918 and appeared on screen as Baby Peggy a just scant 19 months later.

Baby Peggy was one of the first child actor mega-stars.  In 1924 she signed a $1,500,000 contract with producer Sol Lesser's Principal Pictures, and Captain January (1924) was first her first release as the "Million Dollar Baby."  Over the course of her well chronicled career (if you haven't read her autobiography Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? you really should) Diana appeared in more than forty shorts and nine features, most of which are now thought to be lost.

Last year Diana was gracious enough to write about the filming of her first feature, The Darling of New York (1923) in one of STARTS THURSDAY's first guest articles, which she further details in the following video interview.

...and Diana isn't finished yet.  She is the subject of a brand new documentary, Baby Peggy, The Elephant in the Room, which has been screening at selected festivals and venues this summer.  It's a wonderful portrait and one not be missed if you get the chance.

Happy Birthday Diana!

Take a deep breath and blow out those candles!

October 25, 2011

Barbara Kent: 1906-2011

Barbara Kent and Raymond Keane in coming attraction slide for The Lone Eagle (1927)

Today we pay tribute to Barbara Kent, one of the last surviving actors of the silent era who died last week at the age 103.  Kent's first screen appearance came in the role of Hertha in Clarence Brown's  steamy Flesh and the Devil (1926) starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo.  Not a bad way to start!  Those of you that know the film will remember Kent as playing Lars Hanson's teenage sister with the hopeless crush on Gilbert's character, Leo von Harden.

Barbara Kent featured in coming attraction slide for No Living Witness (1932)
Though her film career was relatively brief (1926-35) Barbara Kent appeared an a number of noteworthy silent films, most notably as Marjorie in William Wyler's gritty boxing saga The Shakedown (1929), and as lead character Mary in the touching Lonesome (1929).  For the past year and half she has also appeared uncredited on the masthead of the groundbreaking blog Starts Thursday!  Yes folks, that's her helplessly helplessly surrendering to Raymond Keane passionate embrace atop this very web site.

Not all of Barbara Kent's leading men were human, in No Man's Law (1927) she co-starred with Rex the Wonder Horse
It is has been widely reported that Kent was the last remaining adult actor from the silent era, which may or may not be the case depending on how you define the term.  Carla Laemmle who just turned 102 was 16 when she appeared in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).  What is not in question however, is that we have lost one more of the few remaining gems of the silent era, a reminder that we should treasure those that remain all the more.

The Lone Eagle image courtesy of the Niles Essay Silent Film Museum, No Living Witness image courtesy of the Rob Brooks Collection, and image of No Man's Law courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library.

October 1, 2011

Gloria Swanson Heads for Buenos Aires in "My American Wife"

Custom slide for My American Wife (1922)
I'm back today with two custom venue-produced slides for the 1922 feature My American Wife, starring Gloria Swanson and Antonio Moreno.  In addition to their uniqueness, one thing I like about one-of-a-kind custom produced slides is that, unlike their studio produced brethren, they are that they are uniquely associated with a particular venue and presentation.

Custom slide for My American Wife (1922)

In the case of My American Wife, these two slides came from a collection accumulated from venues in Oakland, California.  The sides themselves were manufactured across the bay in San Francisco, by the Art Slide Studio located at 964 Market Street.

Oakland Tribune, March 7, 1923

Gloria Swanson was the marquee name for the feature, but it is interesting to note how the sponsored newspaper "articles" tout the "handsome and of course... dark Latin type" of Antonio Moreno.  My American Wife was released not long after Rudolph Valentino's triumph in Blood and Sand (1922), so the studio's intent to build Moreno up as the "new and more dashing 'sheik'" comes as no surprise.

Gloria Swanson in My American Wife (1922)
Most online sources also lack even a plot summary of the film, which I reproduce here from the Oakland Tribune (March 7, 1923) account:

In "My American Wife," he [Moreno] has the role of a young aristocrat of Argentine [sic] who becomes enamored of a beautiful Kentucky heiress [seriously?], portrayed by Miss Swanson."

Of course the plot is important, but more critically -   What is she wearing?

This vital information is provided by another Oakland Tribune advertorial (March 6, 1926) which notes that "The locale of the story gives Miss Swanson an opportunity to display an entirely new and striking wardrobe."

...and that's why our Kentucky heiress really finds herself in Buenos Aires.

Alas, My American Wife is a "lost" film, and no prints are known to survive.  The only glimpses we can hope to have of Miss Swanson's glorious costumes must come by way of surviving still photographs, and of course, glass slide advertisements.

And the Art Slide Studio?  It too is lost.  The building is now a check cashing establishment, and its location on Market Street is unfortunately is one of the more blighted stretches of the once grand boulevard.

Former site of Art Slide Studio, 964 Market Street, San Francisco, California