Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 12 by Greg Dziawer

These two explorers are looking for their mummy.

Before Glen or Glenda, there was Tomb Itmay Concern.
A certain degree of creative parsimony is a necessity for any exploitation filmmaker, especially one operating with the lowest of low budgets. As Edward D. Wood, Jr. embarked upon his directing career in the early 1950s, it was the cheapskate exploitation world that afforded him his first big opportunity to write, direct, and star in a feature film: Glen or Glenda (1953). Its producer, George Weiss, is legendary as a prolific filmmaker in this milieu. Exactly when he met Ed is unclear, although Dolores Fuller notes on page 66 in her autobiography A Fuller Life (2009, BearManor Media) that George was "an independent producer Eddie knew" prior to them collaborating on Glen or Glenda

To sketch in some relevant details, many of the interiors in Glen or Glenda were shot at Quality Studios, a tiny facility on Santa Monica Blvd. run by W. Merle Connell, who often acted as director and/or cinematographer on the hundreds of shorts and the passel of features shot there. Like Weiss, adept at shooting on a shoestring, Connell began filming strippers in LA burlesque houses in the early '40s. He adopted the name Quality Pictures for what became mail-order product in the latter half of that decade. Eventually opening his own studio, he would frequently partner with Weiss, a producer whose office was in the immediate vicinity at 5634 Santa Monica. Many of Weiss' Screen Classics Inc, films, including Glen or Glenda, were shot at Quality.  (Ed Wood later shot Plan 9 from Outer Space at Quality a few years later.) And Glen or Glenda's supposed insert scenes of burlesque strippers have since been attributed to Connell. 

The IMDb entries for both Weiss and Connell represent only a small percentage of their total output, with most of their films remaining unlisted. This week, we're documenting one such film, a charming 1950 burlesque short with the improbable title Tomb Itmay Concern. (And, yes, that's "itmay" with no space. It's intentional, as we'll soon see.) 

The film's setup could not be simpler. Two male archaeologists enter a sparse tomb—the sole set—where they use water to revive two sexy female mummies, neither of whom display any wrapping or signs of decay. The water, it seems, has been placed in the tomb specifically to tempt any visitors to bring these women back to life.

Waterboys: Don Mathers (left) and Little Jack Little explore a tomb.

Bela Lugosi and George Weiss on the Glenda set
For audiences in 1950, the plot of Tomb Itmay Concern must have been a reminder of the superstitions that had swirled ever since Lord Carnarvon, the first to enter King Tut's tomb in 1922, passed away due to a supposed "curse" placed upon him for having desecrated the crypt. In fact, in late 1949, the superstition was again at the fore, as another archaeologist had perished not long after entering an Egyptian tomb. Early the following year, the story of Carnarvon's death itself was resurrected, and it was determined that the man had died of normal, non-supernatural causes.

Just as with Glen or Glenda and its ties to the sensational Christine Jorgensen sex change saga, Tomb Itmay Concern had a story ripped from the headlines of the day. Viewers back then would doubtless have these "curse of the tomb" stories flitting around at least at the edges of their consciousness. 

The film's straight man, played by Don Mathers, explains that this is the the tomb of Princess Itmay, revealing the title card to have been the film's first joke and not a gaffe. Tomb Itmay Concern, then, is a pun within a pun. ("Tomb" being a play on "to whom." The same gag turns up in an episode of Tom and Jerry Tales from 2006 and a 2017 short by Adam Taylor.)

After quelling his partner's fears, Mathers exits the crypt to explore elsewhere. His sidekick, the "comic" relief, naturally can't resist reviving the girls. Once he does this, the diminutive explorer is no longer frightened, not even for a split second. This sidekick role is essayed by burlesque comedian Little Jack Little, who also appeared in Connell's final feature: a nude cutie from 1960 called Not Tonight Henry. Mathers, too, appeared in this production.

Pinup queen Inez Claire
Having endured Little's lame jokes, audience members might have expected the proceedings in Tomb Itmay Concern to turn tragic, as in so many of Universal's Mummy movies. The Mummy's Hand (1940) even features a comedic duo (Dick Foran and Wallace Ford) not unlike Mathers and Little. Instead, viewers were surely pleasantly surprised to experience a sexy dance number by the mummified princess.

Itmay is played by Inez Claire, who had been stripping since at least 1944 and who maintained a lengthy and active career in burlesque. According to the credits, her servant is played by one Sally Starr, not to be confused with the 1930s film actress and cheesecake pinup or the 1950s cowgirl. This Sally Starr was a dark-haired stunner. Sadly, she doesn't dance in Tomb Itmay Concern, but she does use a banana as a prop in a joke that goes nowhere. Starr's skin color is also the subject of two of Jack Little's jokes, including the one that ends the movie!

The film, with Connell credited as both producer and director, is filed for copyright under Quality Pictures Co., not Screen Classics. The credits contain no mention of Weiss. But, also mentioned in her autobiography (page 67), Dolores Fuller notes that Weiss ran Quality Pictures. Incidentally, Tomb Itmay Concern runs exactly 10 minutes.

In future articles, I'll untangle the exact working relationship of Wood collaborators Weiss and Connell. I'll also delve into far more of their work that remains little-known to this day. Although we can't say whether Ed Wood was involved in any way in Tomb Itmay Concern—and I doubt he was and am not suggesting it—he was definitely approaching the orbit of Weiss and Connell at the time this short film was made. He may have been there already. Dolores Fuller mentions (page 66) that Eddie "kept abreast of developments" (no pun intended) in the world of low-budget Hollywood filmmakers at the time.

A final thought. The core idea of this short is the same in a nutshell as that for Orgy of the Dead (1965). That film even contains a mummy, albeit a more traditional one with wrappings. Could Tomb Itmay Concern have been a possible source of inspiration for Ed Wood? 

Tomb Itmay Concern is the final short on the jam-packed fifth volume of Something Weird Video's incredible Roadshow Shorts series. The volume contains more than its fair share of other material from Weiss and Connell, for those interested in exploring more of their work.