Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 90: "Return of the Vampire" (circa 1973)

A classic Lugosi role, post-Dracula.
Movie trivia experts love to quote the statistic that Bela Lugosi only played Dracula twice onscreen -- once in the original Dracula (1931) and again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), both for Universal. But, in truth, Lugosi played variations on Dracula for decades. He was so identified with the character that it's almost impossible not to see elements of the Count in every role he played subsequently, including his three assignments for Edward D. Wood, Jr. Supposedly, the script for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) refers to Lugosi's Ghoul Man as "the Dracula character." I can neither confirm nor deny this, since I've never seen the Plan 9 script.

One of Lugosi's most memorable post-Dracula films is 1943's The Return of the Vampire, a Columbia production directed by journeyman Lew Landers. Set in England, as was most of Dracula, this atmospheric horror classic has Lugosi as a very Drac-like vampire named Armand Tesla, who assumes the identity of scientist Dr. Hugo Bruckner. Note that Lugosi's characters in Glen or Glenda (1953) and Bride of the Monster (1955) are both scientists, one a little cranky and the other outright mad. Armand Tesla also has a werewolf henchman, which may have given Ed Wood some ideas when he wrote Orgy of the Dead (1965).

As it happens, The Return of the Vampire shares its title with one of Ed Wood's short stories from the 1970s. Although this particular tale was not included in Blood Splatters Quickly (2014) or Angora Fever (2019), it would have fit in easily in either anthology, and it's a perfect Wood tale for the Halloween season.

The story: "Return of the Vampire," originally published in Fantastic Annual (Gallery Press, circa 1973). Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: A woman named Mina lives in a gloomy coastal mansion with her ailing husband Jonathan. She inherited the place from her friend Lucy, but she wants to move for her husband's benefit. Jonathan had been committed to an institution and was only allowed to leave under the condition that Mina marry him and become his caretaker. She loves Jonathan but admits he is not doing well here and is even too weak to make love to her.

One stormy night, Mina decides to seduce Jonathan by wearing her sexiest nightgown. At first, he is cold and unresponsive, but soon he warms up and starts making passionate love to her. Suddenly, Jonathan and Mina have anal sex for the first time, which Mina finds both painful and pleasurable. Afterwards, she hears Jonathan moving around the bedroom and getting dressed, but she has no idea where he could be going. While Mina wonders about what has happened to Jonathan, a vampire appears in the bedroom and rapes her. This is the same brutish, screeching creature that Jonathan had described when he was in the institution.

Still reeling from this experience, Mina goes to the tomb below the mansion to search for Jonathan. She finds him there, making love to the deceased Lucy! To Mina's horror, Lucy comes back to life and sinks her fangs into Jonathan's neck. Mina knows her husband is lost to her now and awaits the next appearance of the vampire.

Wood trademarks: Character names from Bram Stoker's Dracula, including Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy (cf. "Exotic Loves of the Vampire"); sheer nightgown (cf. Glen or Glenda); ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation); man unable to perform sexually (cf. Necromania); preoccupation with bodily temperatures, both hot and cold (cf. many stories in Angora Fever); tombs and musty odors (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space); tongues and tonguing (cf. another common motif in Angora Fever); pubic region (cf. "Witches of Amau Ra"); cocktails (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses, many stories in Angora Fever); "dork" (cf. "Kiss the Pain Away"); "body juices" (cf. "Trade Secrets"); vampire holding his cape "far out on either side" (cf. Plan 9); necrophilia (cf. "Cease to Exist," "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh"); the word "conventional" and its connotations (cf. Necromania).

Excerpt: "I waited not a moment. I didn't bother to even seek out my negligee which must have fallen to the floor… I didn't bother to wrap the shreds of my torn nightgown around my naked body and indeed the bodice was completely torn beyond repair. I simply let the material hang as I raced out of the bedroom and into the sitting room where darkness once more was the center of attraction."

Reflections: Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood (1994) recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, generating a fair amount of press coverage. That film ends with captions telling us what happened to the major characters, including Ed Wood himself. Eddie, we are informed, descended into "alcoholism and monster nudie films" before dying in 1978. Stephen C. Apostolof, director of Orgy of the Dead, took umbrage at that line, but I think it was the gentlest possible way of describing the back half of Eddie's career.

Moreover, the descriptor "monster nudie" is as good a summary of Ed Wood's aesthetic as any, especially when it comes to his short stories. Eddie loved to write erotic stories infused with elements borrowed from classic Universal horror movies and Gothic literature. In "Return of the Vampire," he really pours on the atmospheric details, e.g. the ominous storm outside, the inhospitable landscape, the unwelcoming mansion, etc. Give or take the graphic anal sex scenes, this is a story to read on a rainy October night.

But can we say that Eddie only reluctantly included the sexy parts when he would have preferred to write straightforward, non-pornographic Gothic horror? Eh, I don't think so. Eddie's sex scenes, here and elsewhere, do not seem obligatory, desultory, or perfunctory. On the contrary, Ed writes these with a lot of enthusiasm, and he works his own desires into the text whenever possible. In this story, for instance, there is a lot of attention paid to nighties and negligees, and Mina makes sure to tell us how "sheer" her nightgown is. Wood's fans will immediately be reminded of the notorious "department store" scene from Glen or Glenda, in which the hero(ine) goes shopping for sheer nighties and manages to horrify the snooty lady behind the counter.

So, then, "Return of the Vampire" can be described as a synthesis of Ed Wood's interests and passions. In short, this story is Ed Wood!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Time for a spooktacular Halloween comics roundup!

These people are not trick-or-treaters! Do not open your door to them!

The frost is on the pumpkin, the leaves are on the ground, and the kids are all back in school having their spirits broken. That's right, fall is underway! And I have such a limited imagination that I can't think of a better way to celebrate autumn than with another comics roundup! So let's rake some comics into a big pile and then dive in!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

The infamous Circus Liquor sign in North Hollywood.

I confess that I've become obsessed with Ed Wood in recent years. It wasn't always so. Like a lot of other cultural omnivores with offbeat tastes, I was well aware and highly appreciative of Ed's work for decades. In fact, I'd long thought of Eddie's debut feature Glen or Glenda (1953) as one of the most unique and wonderful films ever made. Unexpectedly, almost five years ago, I found myself swept up into an obsession with Wood and his career. Over time, I'd learn a great deal more about Ed than is contained in the popular myth. I'd soon meet other dedicated Woodologists. I continue to find them an incredibly creative and talented bunch of genuinely great people. 

This week, it's my privilege to ask ten questions of cartoonist, animator, illustrator, and painter Milton Knight. An amazingly talented artist, Milt is also a certified Woodologist, one who is consumed by ephemeral details in Ed Wood's films and who delights in finding fresh insights into Ed and his work. Milton is exploring some heretofore unknown aspects of Woodology, and I wanted to know more about his process.

10 Questions With Milton Knight

Artist and Ed Wood fan Milton Knight.
1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater?

No. I like to wear turtlenecks, though, and love women in them.

2. You recently identified dancer/stripper/burlesque performer Bebe Hughes (aka Bebe Hughs, Bebe Barton, and several other names) in the alleged insert footage from Glen or Glenda reputed to have been shot by W. Merle Connell. She is ubiquitous in Something Weird Video's Nudie Cuties series. Tell us how you identified her and anything else you know about Bebe.

I’ve long followed cheesecake and pinup stuff, and she appeared [in] a lot [of it]. It might have been from Nightmare of Ecstasy that I learned her name. She’s in many of the Connell productions, the shorts, the burlesque and exploitation features. Also in some shorts produced for private viewing by William H. Door, credited by her first name. Never undressed; I've only seen one nude modeling shot of the "artistic" type. She was apparently regarded as the cute comedienne, always pulling faces and doing mincing little walks. I'm wondering if she had a connection because of her husband. Someone involved with Wood was quoted as saying he played the intruder who ravishes her on a couch in the nightmare sequence put into Glen or Glenda. By the way, she is [credited as] "Bebe Berto" in [Connell's] Test Tube Babies (1948).

3. I know you possess an affinity—to put it mildly—for the character Sheila the Fence in the Wood-scripted The Violent Years (1956). What's your attraction to her, and what else do you know about the actress who portrayed her, Lee Constant?

Wood had a thing for female criminals hanging around in their loungewear, waiting for the bell to ring with the next plot development, e.g. Jail Bait, The Violent Years, The Sinister Urge. It really was a lazy kind of storytelling, looking forward to television, but also sexy and incongruous. All the thrills of a criminal life, in ladylike leisure with a cocktail in her hand. So many questions left unanswered and unasked.

I know nothing about Lee Constant herself, whose only film this apparently was. It's possible she specialized in radio, as did Barbara Weeks, the portrayer of Paula’s mom. I was surprised to learn Constant was the wife of Timothy Farrell, the big bad in Wood’s Jail Bait. I like to imagine him in an onscreen criminal teaming with his real-life wife, baiting, berating, and out-"Shaddap!!"-ing each other. 
Author's note: I was also surprised to hear that Lee Constant was married to Timothy Farrell. When I expressed my happiness to Milt, he double-checked this factoid with other Woodologists and learned it was not so. But the truth is equally superb: Tim's wife Shirley appeared in The Violent Years!
4. Why Ed Wood?

It didn’t happen because I sought him out. In the '80s, I was familiar with the iconography of his horror films but had not been seduced. Friends introduced me to the series of Sleazemania tapes [from Rhino Video], and I kinda got hooked. There was something sinister about the exploitation films. I had doubted stuff so crude could be legally distributed as movies. 

Wood strikes me as a director guilelessly willing to drop his heart on the chopping block. Glen or Glenda was exploitation, but was obviously, even tragically, sincere. And, as has been noted by others, the extraterrestrial guy in Plan 9 is speaking the bitter truth regarding the arms race and "stupid minds," and it's the sterling example of the establishment that silences him with a fist. Wood's leads tend to be vulnerable, sensitive, and, when angered, even petulant. With Wood, there aren’t billions of dollars to hide behind. In many cases, [his characters] say things that people don't dare say.

"Athletic soft porn."
5. Scalli's Gym is a Quality Studios set we both know well, Quality being the cramped Santa Monica Blvd. soundstage where Ed Wood filmed parts of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Please take us there.

A mainstay of W. Merle Connell productions was athletic soft porn—sturdy women bending and stretching, ogled from provocative camera angles. The dingy, chintzy gymnasium sets [at Quality] were used and reused for pseudo-educational cheesecake (The Body Beautiful), burlesque comedy (What Happened to Tom in the Ladies' Gym), and serving in crime features as wholesome fronts shielding evil activities [such as] bookmaking, sports "fixing," and drug pushing, as in The Devil's Sleep and Racket Girls, two films starring Timothy Farrell as the infamous hustler Umberto Scalli. (The third was Dance Hall Racket.) Farrell was probably the most charismatic of the exploitation regulars and always more personable as the villain than in his preachy, law-abiding doctor and reporter roles. 

Dens of crime such as Scalli's Gym and Scalli's Dance Hall were never convincing of menace, however, and were simply a device to provide audiences with the vicarious pleasure of watching characters drink, neck, and get stoned.

6. If there is one mystery about Ed Wood or his work that you would love to solve, what is it?

Not that it would make a major change in my life, but I'd like to know what happened in the lives of the minor players like Harry Keatan, and the actress who played Mary, the exploited Hollywood hopeful in The Sinister Urge.

7. You lived at 5637 Strohm Ave in Hollywood, a mere stone's throw away from two of Ed's residences. He and his wife Kathy were living at 5617 ½ Strohm in late 1972, and they'd lived at 1627 Strohm in 1964. Tell us about that location.

It was actually in North Hollywood, a then unglamorous city in the San Fernando Valley. The section was bland, industrial, but centrally located for film work. The main strip was Burbank Blvd., which had an array of staple businesses: restaurants, used car dealers, sound studios. Buildings over one story tall were few. There still is the "landmark" Circus Liquor [on Vineland Ave.], with its towering neon clown. On the side streets were small and probably inexpensive houses.

5617 Strohm Ave. as it looked in 2018.

From 1991 to 1998, I rented an apartment at the end of a block, near a power station. Dumpy, relaxed. Mostly families with kids. The downside was that it was right under the flight pattern of Burbank Airport. I was on the second floor, and the place shook every five minutes. A few houses down was what I only recently learned had been one of Wood's rentals in the 1970s. During my stay in the neighborhood, it was the pleasant, unobtrusive little place it had probably been twenty years earlier. It isn’t clear to me whether the Wood couple lived in the main or the rear house. Kathy remembered the landlord as living in the rear, but one of Ed's business letters claims that as his address. I believe it was the same house that had a little sale going in the front one afternoon. Didn't get much.

8. You are an accomplished artist and cartoonist, possessing a style rooted in early classic American animation. What's the connection to Ed Wood, and how has he influenced your work, if at all?

The kind of leering, "Pssst… hey!" storytelling. The softcore, high-heeled, red-lipped eroticism.

Two of Milton Knight's paintings. At right is his self-portrait.

9. I have come to believe that Ed was involved in burlesque films in the early '50s in ways we may never know. You know this milieu intimately. What's your take?

There was the W. Merle Connell/Quality Studios connection, and a majority of the burlesque features were photographed by Wood’s favorite [cinematographer], William C. Thompson. Wood may well have been lurking around, writing extra material, but wouldn't have made a great creative dent because these features were, by and large, filmed revues. Dancers and ready made comic bits. Few had plots or clever setups, and never anything as grandly esoteric as Orgy of the Dead.

10. Glen or Glenda?

Absolutely touching.

A poster for Milton Knight's show.
Many thanks to Milton Knight! Check out his incredible work here and here. And if you are in the vicinity of Bloomington, Indiana, his next gallery show Motion and Emotion is little more than a week away.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg takes us on a trivial pursuit.

It's time once again to turn our attention to Woodologists, i.e. those super-devoted Ed Wood experts who transcend mere fandom. In the past, I've quizzed author James Pontolillo and filmmaker Keith Crocker. This week, though, the person I want to quiz is you! 
That's right. I want to see how much you know about Edward D. Wood, Jr. and his various personal and professional associates. See if you can answer the following ten questions. If you can, you're seriously obsessed!

So how'd you do? Was this a breeze or were you utterly baffled? 
BONUS QUESTION: For which group did Eddie briefly serve as a chaplain after the war? 
I'll answer these questions and many more you never thought to ask in future installments of this series.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sure, let's do a comics roundup! What's the worst that could happen?

Let's just jump into it.

As another summer fades into autumn, blah blah blah... here are some comics. Is it mostly Mary Worth again? Yeah, probably.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 89: "That's Show Biz" (1972)

These are the movies that saved Hollywood, according to Ed Wood.

Hot Flicks magazine from 1972.
During his troubled and abbreviated life, Edward D. Wood, Jr. did the best he could to document his own career as a writer and filmmaker. He was proud of the work he did in those fields and kept updating his resumes with his accomplishments. When Eddie died at the age of 54 in December 1978, he'd only recently been evicted from his final apartment and was unable to keep many of his mementos from 30 years in show business.

Fortunately, since then, Ed's loyal fans have undertaken the responsibility of documenting this man's unique and fascinating life. Some of those fans congregate regularly on a Facebook forum moderated by Bob Blackburn, who befriended Ed's widow Kathy and became co-heir to Ed Wood's estate. Joining this forum has given me access to material I never would have known about otherwise.

Recently, for instance, punk musician and longtime Ed Wood fan Howie Pyro shared an interesting article that Eddie wrote in the early 1970s. Let's take a closer look.

The story: "That's Show Biz," originally published in Hot Flicks, vol. 1, no. 1 (1972) from Gallery Press. According to Bob Blackburn, Ed's resume lists this story as being written in 1971.

Synopsis: The motion picture business has come a long way in just 70 years, and the early pioneers of the medium would be shocked by what's happening on the big screen today. The public lost interest in movies after World War II, and theaters started shutting down. Things got worse in the 1950s when television came of age. People could see big stars in their own homes for free, so they no longer felt the desire to go to movie theaters.

In the 1960s, film production costs kept rising, resulting in higher ticket prices at the theater. Kids could no longer afford to go to the movies. Then pressure groups started complaining about the amount of violence in motion pictures. Meanwhile, viewers with their own projectors began to show 8mm movies at home. Theaters would have to do something bold to survive, so they decided to defy the censors and exhibit movies with nudity and sex. It would generate controversy, but it was worth the risk. Eventually, movies contained full-frontal nudity and "hard-core sex acts."

Movie theaters are once again thriving, thanks to these sexy films. Will it last? Who knows? Naturally, children are not allowed to see these explicit new movies, but they'll eventually grow up and, with luck, become the next generation of ticket-buyers.

Wood trademarks: Hollywood history (cf. Hollywood Rat Race); history of sex in films (cf. "What Would We Have Done Without Them?"); mention of classic cowboy stars Tom Mix and Buck Jones (two of Eddie's real-life heroes); random use of italics (cf. "Filth is the Name for a Tramp," "Cease to Exist"); ellipses (Eddie's favorite... punctuation).

Excerpt: "Nudity hit the screen in all its glorious body exposing delights. Slight nudity had been seen from time to time in foreign films and those theatres which showed such things were about the only ones who were surviving during those disasterous [sic] years for Hollywood."

Reflections: Edward D. Wood, Jr. always loved movies and grew up wanting to be part of the film industry. I believe that, if he'd had his druthers, he'd have made old-fashioned Westerns with white-hatted heroes and black-hatted villains. Either that, or Gothic horror films in the Universal tradition. The simple cowboy pictures and spooky Dracula derivatives that Ed preferred were already falling out of favor by the time he arrived in California in the late 1940s, however, so he made films that were more in sync with the public's tastes. For most of the '50s, this meant science-fiction (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster) and crime drama (Jail Bait, The Violent Years).

By the mid-1960s, however, Eddie's film career had bottomed out, and the only work he could get was in sexploitation and, eventually, outright pornography. That's where he'd stay for the rest of his life. While this would be a crushing blow to any ambitious artist, Ed Wood tried at least to put a positive spin on the situation. In "That's Show Biz," Ed semi-seriously argues that the nudie flick has saved Hollywood. "Perhaps this second breath for the movie business," he writes, "will be enough to cure the cancer which so nearly devoured it during the last twenty years." So there you have it. Porn cures cancer. Kind of makes you look at the industry with more respect.

Ed Wood wrote quite a bit of nonfiction over the years, much of it for publisher Bernie Bloom. Bernie would hire Ed to write short stories for his mags and stroke books, but he also used nonfiction articles like "That's Show Biz" to pad out his publications. A lot of these articles are what I'd call capsule histories or pocket histories of topics related to sex, movies, crime, the occult, etc. The college articles I reviewed a few weeks ago are good examples. Eddie rarely includes specific dates or facts in these articles, and he uses real names only sparingly. My supposition, then, is that he did these with zero research and instead relied on his own memories.

Did anyone even read these articles back in the 1970s? People just bought these magazines for the pictures, right? Well, Hot Flicks, vol, 1, no. 1 carries a cover price of $4. That's nearly $25 in today's money. This was not a cheap product. So the porn connoisseur might want to get his money's worth out of this issue by reading every bit of text it contained.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 88: "Set To Go Off" (1970)

This week, Ed Wood gives us his subtle, nuanced take on the Vietnam War.

Bob Hope and Raquel Welch in Vietnam, 1967.
More than any other issue, the Vietnam War is responsible for the social divide known as the generation gap in the 1960s and '70s. Sure, young people had differences with their parents over lots of things—sex, drugs, music, art, fashion, hairstyles, race relations, etc. But none of those had the sheer, visceral impact of the war.

Young male baby boomers were being drafted into the military to fight and die in Southeast Asia, and they naturally began to rebel against a war they neither condoned nor even understood. The politicians sending them to Vietnam belonged to the older generation, the one that had survived the Great Depression in the 1930s and fought World War II in the 1940s. America's parents tended to side with the politicians. They'd gone to war, so why shouldn't their sons do the same? How was this new war different? No protest, no matter how vehement, could make them understand.

When I think of Vietnam and the generation gap, I can't help remembering an interview that author Richard Zoglin did with NPR's Terry Gross in 2014. Zoglin appeared on Fresh Air to discuss his biography of comedian Bob Hope, and the conversation turned to Hope's stalwart support of the Vietnam War. The author explained:
Bob had done his work [entertaining the troops] in World War II and then started up again in 1948, doing some Christmas shows for the troops. He did that through the '50s. When Vietnam came along, it was a routine. It was a yearly thing. At Christmas, he would go overseas, and his specials would be televised. Again, he was like maybe a lot of people from that generation. He was from the World War II generation. He could not conceive of a war that the United States wouldn't pursue to victory, that wouldn't be backed by everyone, the way it was in World War II.
Compare that to the sardonic lyrics of "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," a 1965 protest song by Country Joe and the Fish, a psychedelic rock group popular among the youth of the era. This tune, a mock recruitment anthem, became especially legendary after the band performed it at Woodstock in 1969. Sentiments like these assuredly kept Country Joe and the Fish from ever being booked on a Bob Hope Christmas special.

Well, come on all of you, big strong men 
Uncle Sam needs your help again
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun

And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it's five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die!

Edward Davis Wood, Jr. was decidedly of the older generation. He was born in 1924, lived through the Depression, joined the Marines at the age of 17, and served his country during World War II. Though he greatly exaggerated his heroism, he was extremely proud of his military service and would speak of it often for the rest of his life. It's very doubtful that he would have had any sympathy for protesters or draft dodgers. Note that some of the characters in The Class Reunion (1972) speak with disdain about antiwar demonstrators. ("Nothing like those street apes ever happened when we were their age!")

War and the military are semi-common themes in Ed Wood's creative work, going back at least as far as his late '40s play The Casual Company. Among his short stories, we find "No Atheists in the Grave" (1971) and "The Wave Off" (1971), which both include mentions of combat but avoid naming Vietnam specifically. Jeff Trent, the square-jawed pilot of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), is another proud ex-Marine. And then there is Alan from Glen or Glenda (1953), who is drafted into the Army during World War II and serves successfully but whose penchant for cross-dressing makes him feel alienated from his fellow soldiers.

It's sometimes difficult to discern Ed Wood's true feelings about warfare. His magnum opus, Plan 9, is essentially a parable about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Eros the alien warns us that the human race will eventually build a bomb powerful enough to destroy the entire universe. (Jeff Trent responds, in typical caveman style, by punching Eros square in the jaw.) On the other hand, in Hollywood Rat Race, Ed refers to the atomic bomb as a "magnificent undertaking" and applauds the "many people of many trades" who helped build it.

Until Operation Redlight (1969) resurfaces, we may never get the definitive Ed Wood statement on the Vietnam War. Perhaps until then, we can draw some conclusions from a truly bizarre and outrageous short story published in 1970 and set explicitly during the Vietnam conflict. I'll warn you now that this is an ugly story with some very unpleasant racial and sexual themes. Only its cartoonish absurdity keeps it from being truly offensive.

The story: "Set To Go Off," originally published in Illustrated Case Histories, vol. 1, no. 3, November/December 1970. Credited to "Jacques Rippee." Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

De Palma's Casualties of War .
Synopsis: Wally Armbruster is an excellent soldier, even though he does things his own way and doesn't really feel like he belongs in the Army. One day, in Cambodia, Wally and his buddy Thomson are surveying a small village that consists of only a few huts. There, they find a pretty Vietnamese girl of about 16, whom Wally immediately identifies as a member of the Viet Cong. Thomson suggests taking her prisoner, but Wally wants to have sex with her first. While Thomson notes that the girl seems terrified, Wally insists the young woman is "set to go off."

Wally undresses, and the Vietnamese girl initially tries to fight him off before resigning herself to her fate of being raped by the American soldier. She says she is the last living member of her family; all the others were killed by the Americans. Wally asks her why she didn't clear out of the village when she had the chance. "Stayed for you," she answers. When Wally finally penetrates her, he realizes too late that the girl has turned herself into a human landmine.

Wood trademarks: Warfare (cf. "The Wave Off," "No Atheists in the Grave"); war brides (cf. "Tank Town Chippie"); basic training (cf. Glen or Glenda); ridiculous sexual slang (in this case, calling a woman's vagina a "wazoo"); euphemism for penis (in this case, "his staff"); mention of bobcat (cf. Plan 9); ludicrous twist ending (cf. many stories in Angora Fever and Blood Splatters Quickly); feeling a sudden cold sensation throughout one's body (cf. Orgy of the Dead); wordplay (numerous puns on "peace" and "piece").

Excerpt: "He looked down. There was a ragged pile of shredded flesh and splintered bones where the lower half of his body had been. His blood mingled with the blood of the girl. He turned and saw her. The look of horror was frozen on her dead face."

Reflections: I cannot claim to understand what was going on in Ed Wood's mind when he was writing these short stories half a century ago. All I really know about Eddie's creative process is that he wrote extremely quickly, often while eating, drinking, watching TV, and carrying on various conversations with friends. My guess is that he came up with the ending of "Set To Go Off" first and worked backwards from there. The entire reason this story exists is to unleash that ghoulish and improbable final twist.

But how do you get to an ending like that? One interpretation of "Set To Go Off"—and the one that bodes best for Ed Wood—is that this is simply a story about sin and punishment. Eddie is playing God and doling out some cosmic justice to arrogant rapist Wally Armbruster, who ignores the warnings of his buddy Thomson. Wally gets what he has coming to him, while Thomson (a possible nod to William C. Thompson?) survives unscathed. The end. Nothing more to it.

If that were the case, however, why would Eddie go out of his way to set up Wally Armbruster as "one hell of a good man in a fight" and "a true innocent"? The soldier's combat-readiness has nothing to do with the story, and Wally is anything but innocent by the end of it. Ed even includes an itemized description of Wally's clothes and tells us that this man "never felt like a soldier." These details help to humanize the character and make him seem more three-dimensional. The story is told in the third person, but Wally is definitely our viewpoint character until the very end, when he literally gets the last laugh. Does Eddie want us to sympathize with this guy?

Is it possible that "Set To Go Off" is actually an antiwar story, showing us that the conflict has brought out the absolute worst in these soldiers? It's not difficult, after all, to see parallels between Eddie's short story and Brian De Palma's controversial 1989 film Casualties of War, in which some American soldiers kidnap and rape a Vietnamese girl. Eddie is not coy about calling this a rape story. He even has Wally say to his victim, "Never saw a girl this scared to get raped." But Wally also insists that the girl "wanted" this to happen. Does Eddie agree with him or not?

In the end, "Set To Go Off" is one of the more upsetting and disturbing stories in the Wood canon, and it showcases the darkest corners of Ed's imagination. We're a long way from Glenda or Plan 9 here, even if the story does share themes with those movies. If we are to understand this man fully, we cannot ignore stories like this one, as much as we might want to.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part 11 by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg orbits around Ed Wood.

If you had told me, when I began writing articles for this series back in 2015, that within a few years I'd embark upon the post-production of a lost, never-completed film shot in 1974 by an associate of Ed Wood, I would not have even remotely believed you. But now, after two years of work, that film is finally complete and will soon see the light of day via VOD and a deluxe Blu-ray disc from Darkside Releasing.

It all started with Operation Redlight, another seemingly lost film and something of a Holy Grail for Ed Wood obsessives. Wood wrote and stars in the 1969 film. Just weeks into writing these articles, I found a profile for Redlight's co-producer and cinematographer, Jacques "Jack" Descent, on Facebook. I messaged him, inquiring about the film, and was ecstatically surprised to hear back from Jack with previously unknown details about Redlight

Jacques Descent and Greg Dziawer in September 2017.
We became fast friends, Jack eagerly answering every little question I could think of. Then in his late 70s, he was enthused to go back in time to his years in the film industry, a quarter century after retiring from that pursuit. A little-known figure despite his nearly three decades in show business, Jack played a role in close to 50 feature films. He was a talented cinematographer and producer. Sadly, many of his projects, like Redlight, have faded into obscurity. Some, in fact, never even made it into post-production. One such unfortunate project was a softcore sex film from the early '70s he vaguely recollected as A Girl For All Seasons. He remembered nothing else, and my research efforts turned up nothing.

In late 2016, I received an email from Jack informing me that an archivist had contacted him, having found the original 29 reels of raw 16mm superneg footage and corresponding 1/4" Nagra reels for a film the archivist could not identify. In the first reel, the archivist noticed a poster hanging in the background for the 1967 softcore film Watch the Birdie...Die! Painfully, Birdie is another lost film. Like Redlight, it was directed by Don Doyle. On the poster, the archivist astutely noticed the producer credit for Jacques Descent. 

Just a handful of images from that first reel were enough for Jack to recollect that the film was A Girl For All Seasons. Produced and shot by Jack in Hollywood over three days in June 1974 under the working title 4 Dames 4 Dreams, the film wrapped production and then disappeared. Unable to raise the funds for post-production, Jack moved on without looking back, another lost film in his wake. 

Until now, that is! I requested the raw film materials from that archive, and they agreed to send them. We then had the audio digitized and the film reels scanned in 4K. Jack and I debated at length how the film should be edited. We had no script, just five and a half hours of raw film footage. Although the clapperboards suggested a linear narrative, we finally agreed upon it being non-linear, a blend of fantasy and reality. While the result is not quite Pirandello, it proved to be an ambitious and arty film for its genre, budget, and era. 

Jack engaged a few editors before finally landing on the right post-production crew, Rev13 Films in Montreal. When Jack passed in June of last year, the footage had been assembled into a rough cut that approximated the complete restored version.

While all of this was transpiring, I continued writing articles here on a (mostly) weekly basis. Through my research for those articles, I learned about Ed Wood's myriad connections within the sex film industry of the early '70s. Ed crossed orbital paths with the people, places, and things in that milieu far beyond what had previously been known. I realized that Dames & Dreams—Jack's final title for 4 Dames 4 Dreams—was rife with Woodian intersections. The following are just a few of them.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 14 by Greg Dziawer

This week's film has that touch of mink.

As the 1970s wore on, hardcore pornography deepened its roots as a mass cultural object. This was a pioneering era that can never be replicated. We know now, more than ever, just how active Edward D. Wood, Jr. was in the sex film industry during these crucial years. And although we have a great deal more to learn, it's widely accepted that Ed played a role—multiple roles, really—in the production of 8mm silent porn loops.

The SE logo as it looked in 1978.
More than any other, the brand that led the charge of pornography into America's bedrooms was Swedish Erotica. I'll refrain from repeating myself and instead direct you back to previous articles in which I've obsessed over the ephemeral details in these short erotic films. Swedish Erotica loops were marketed directly to consumers rather than theaters or arcades. You had to supply your own projector and screen, and the films originally lacked sound, but at least you could watch them in the privacy of your own home.

Until the late 1970s, Ed Wood worked for a company called Art Publishers, Inc, which released Swedish Erotica films and tie-in magazines. The company was run by Noel Bloom, son of porn publisher Bernie Bloom. A decade earlier, Bernie had hired Ed to work in the West Coast office of Pendulum Publishers, Inc., which initially specialized in adult magazines and paperbacks. When Noel began producing adult loops in the early 1970s, he naturally recruited old pro Ed Wood to work on them.

The Swedish Erotica loop series arguably peaked in 1978. Well over a hundred loops were released to the home market that year. Ed passed in December of that year, but he had been penning subtitles for Bloom-family loops at least as far back as 1972, and he continued receiving paychecks from Art Publishers, Inc right into the final year of his life.

I've been transcribing the subtitles from dozens of loops for the last few years. These subtitles are odd throwbacks to an earlier, more primitive era of cinema, almost like the intertitles from silent movies. I've increasingly come to believe that the subtitles for the Bloom-family loops were written by Ed Wood himself. He likely wrote box cover summaries and even loop titles as well.

And that brings us to our next specimen: Swedish Erotica loop #146: "Blond Mink." This film, released near the end of Ed Wood's life, may not feature the most stellar set of subtitles I've come across, but it deserves some attention nevertheless.

The loop begins with a title card and credits. Three crew members are listed, but their names are different from those credited in earlier Swedish Erotica loops. A rather straightforward sex scene then ensues. Prolific porn performer Paul Thomas, a talented adult director in his later years, stars alongside blonde-haired Sindee Moore, who appears here without her usual colorful neck scarf. While the earliest Swedish Erotica loops developed narratives and characters and were shot with a careful artistry, those pretenses had almost completely evaporated by 1978. In "Blond Mink," the guy simply shows up at the girl's place, and they immediately get it on. Strangely, though, one last pretense was hanging on by its fingertips—the subtitles.

We are getting close to the end of the subtitled loops by Swedish Erotica #146, and the evolution of the subtitles through the mid-'70s mirrors the evolution of the narratives and artistry. The subtitles are so superfluous by 1978 that their existence seems utterly unnecessary. You'll see what I mean as you read the following transcript.

Girl: OHHHHHH...GOD... 

A pair of mink stoles.
That's it—a measly 14 words spread across four lines, totaling about ten seconds of screen time during this seven-and-a-half-minute loop. Incredibly, the last line appears while Paul and Sindee are still engaged in oral foreplay, loooooong before the loop's literal climax. In the earlier Swedish Erotica loops, that moment would have been accompanied by plenty of panting UMM's, OHHHH's, and AHH's. 

For those keeping score, "Blond Mink" has an average of 3.5 words per line. It's not the lowest average I've seen (that's 2.6), but by far, it's the least number of lines. As with other latter-day Swedish Erotica loops, the subtitles appear fittingly in purple.

Why even bother with the subs at this point? Old habits die hard, apparently. The subtitles died, too, roughly around the same time Ed passed. It's plausible that this is his work, but the text is so scant that there's too little evidence of Ed's unorthodox, highly distinctive writing style. That said, we do have two ellipses in the third subtitled line, punctuation oft-employed by Ed. And in 14 words, "tongue" appears twice. Ed's adult paperbacks and magazine short stories are rife with slashing, piercing, and darting tongues, either when his characters are kissing or when (as here) they're engaged in oral sex. The OHHHHHH, meanwhile, is just exemplary.

The title, too—and I'm again suggesting it was likely Ed's invention—is productive to interrogate. Knowing Ed's penchant for grammatical errors, I first thought it odd to see the word BLOND without an E. Upon further study, used as an adjective, Ed may have been right to utilize the masculine form of the word, especially in the United States. 

And then we come to the word MINK. Minks are carnivorous mammals related to otters, weasels and ferrets. We know them best for their fur. I have two of my grandmother's mink stoles, the old-fashioned kind with the heads still on, in my attic right now.

The blonde—the word is feminine if used as a noun and generally derogative—does, in fact, eat meat in the film, so perhaps being carnivorous is the reference. Given his angora affliction, it's also possible that Ed Wood had fur on the brain. Somehow, though, I don't think so. In one of his blond(e) moments, Eddie seemingly confounded "mink" and "minx." 

Urban Dictionary defines a minx as "an alluring, cunning, or boldly flirtatious girl or young woman. [She] has unusual seductive powers such that she could commit acts that would otherwise be considered inappropriate, while still maintaining an air of class or poise." That perfectly describes this film's leading lady. Surely, this is what Ed meant the title to reference. 

Ed Wood could very well have penned the box cover summary for this film as well. Though characteristically overheated in the most generic manner of porn, the word "luscious" jumped out at me as a word Ed used often for a full decade, going back to his magazine work at Pendulum.

A summary of the film. Note the spelling change in the title.

You can watch "Blond Mink" here. And keep watching this space for more dizzying updates as the Wood Loop Odyssey continues to spin out of control.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The saga of Rex Morgan and Brother Almonzo

Rex gets a little handsy in this latest adventure.

There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just say it. I read the comic strip Rex Morgan, MD every single day. Yes, I know that this is shameful. Yes I do it anyway. There's not much to this strip. Rex is a doctor. He's married to a woman named June. He has some really creepy kids. The cast is rounded out by various patients, people who work in Rex's office, and assorted friends and relatives.

Anyway, in his most recent adventure, Rex is investigating some phony spiritualists who claim to be able to heal people. He attends some kind of vaguely New Age seminar and recognizes one of the con artists, Brother Almonzo, as being Rene Belluso, an art forger from a story that happened several years ago. Rex takes Brother Almonzo aside and tells him the jig is up. In his desperation, the conman tries to bribe Rex. And then this happens:

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 87: "What Would We Have Done Without Them?" (1975)

This week, Eddie takes us back into nudie movie history.

A coin-operated peep show.
Edward D. Wood, Jr. is, for better or worse, still known primarily as a filmmaker rather than a writer. Even though Eddie's books and articles represent a vast and colorful body of work, rich in themes and ripe for rediscovery, most documentaries about the man make only passing references to his writing career. A typical doc might show a couple of paperback covers from the 1960s before going back to talking about Ed's movies. Cue the umpteenth clip of model flying saucers dangling on the ends of strings.

If people haven't read Nightmare of Ecstasy or Muddled Mind, they may have no idea that Ed Wood was a writer at all, other than his screenplays. Part of the problem has been availability. Due to rights issues, only a few of Ed's dozens of novels (Killer in Drag, Devil Girls, Death of a Transvestite) are readily available on sites like Amazon today. The rest are expensive collectors' items. In recent years, the anthologies Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever have made nearly a hundred of Eddie's short stories easily accessible to his fans. But this represents merely a tiny fraction of Wood's written output

And Ed Wood's nonfiction remains even less known than his fiction, if that's possible. While Eddie's short stories and novels have been somewhat neglected over the years, his fact-based articles and books, nearly all of them sexual or sex-adjacent in nature, have been basically abandoned. Almost no one writes about this material, voluminous though it is. So, today, I thought I'd shed some light on one of Eddie's lesser-known nonfiction works from later in his career.

The story: "What Would We Have Done Without Them?" Originally published in Body & Soul, vol. 8, no. 1, May/June 1975. Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

A "camp" classic.
Synopsis: Though the porno film may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, it's actually part of a heritage that goes back to the earliest days of filmed entertainment. In the old days, there were arcades with hand-cranked machines that allowed the viewer to flip through photographs. Then there were primitive "peep shows" that displayed brief filmed striptease routines. Eventually these shows evolved, adding color and full nudity. Many of these shows focused on nudist camps, since that setting allowed filmmakers to present nudity in a non-sexual way. Eventually, the appeal of these nudist films wore off, and the coin-operated machines weren't profitable enough for film producers or arcade owners.

The next step was projecting these films onto a big screen for an audience, rather than showing them to one viewer at a time. Nudity started becoming commonplace in theatrically exhibited films made after World War II and shown at burlesque theaters. Some of these films had stories, but many were simply the same old strip shows of the past. Patrons back then would sit through live strippers and old newsreels before getting to see the films. Even though these films were cheaply made and shown in black-and-white, they initially attracted long lines of curious spectators.

But this, too, lost its novelty, and producers realized they would have to invest more money in these movies. Some of that money came from theater owners who depended on the producers to stay in business. By the mid-1960s, the movies featured some "petting and kissing" between boys and girls. And, at long last, color became standard. But the stories were still "weak." Ultimately, knowledgeable audiences simply demanded that the films include actual sex. And this practice continues now, despite the efforts of "pressure groups," who have only succeeded in making sex films into a thriving multi-million-dollar business.

Wood trademarks: Sex film industry (cf. "Sex Star"); strippers (cf. "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); jollies (cf. "Insatiable," "Never Up-Never In," "Blood Drains Easily"); ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation).

Excerpt: "Sex simply had to rear its purple head… and that meant sex with no holds barred. The people in the audience weren't going to take any more of this kidding around. When they came to see a sex show that’s what they were going to see or they were going to cut up the seats, tear down the screen and jam the projector where it would do the most good."

What a difference seven years can make!
Reflections: By 1975, if you consider Orgy of the Dead his debut in the genre, Ed Wood had been working in the sex film industry for a decade when he wrote this article. And that decade happened to be a very tumultuous and eventful one for adult entertainment. It's a long way from Orgy, which features topless dancers but no bodily contact between men and women, to Deep Throat (1972), which features full nudity and real intercourse captured on film. The public profile of the sex film had risen as well, with Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers becoming nationwide celebrities and "respectable" couples attending pornographic films without shame. The very idea of "porno chic" would have been unthinkable in 1965.

It's interesting to me that Ed was already looking ahead to the future. "Where the business can go from the movie projector is only up to the scientists who might invent something else," he writes. Note that phrase "from the movie projector." Remember, as of this article, the greatest technological advancement in the history of nudie films was showing them in movie theaters rather than peep show booths. The rise of the VCR was still in the future. Did Eddie sense that something like this was on the horizon? While this article makes no mention of the 8mm home-market loops such as the Swedish Erotica series, the very existence of these films may have suggested to Ed that "home entertainment" was the next frontier for pornography.

Ed Wood was a famously speedy author, cranking out manuscripts as fast as possible to get that quick cash to buy booze. That meant he was probably not doing a great deal of research on his nonfiction pieces, instead relying on his own memories and that old Wood standby, simply making stuff up. There is a noticeable lack of specific dates and proper names in "What Would We Have Done Without Them?" He mentions a few basic time periods ("the late 1940's, just after W.W. II" and "the middle of the sixties") along the way, and gives some sample titles for peep show booths (A Day In The Life Of A Nudist, Nudist Fun,  and Life At A Nudist Camp), but he otherwise skimps on specifics. In general, Eddie seems to view the progression of the adult film as occurring on a few basic fronts: economic, technological, and legal/moral. And on all counts, Ed Wood finds, the nudie has made great strides.

One reason why readers may shun Ed Wood's nonfiction is that they feel it will not offer him as much opportunity for artistic expression as his short stories and novels. But rest assured, Ed manages to put his personal spin on every topic he covers. Here, for instance, is his description of nudist films:
And as advertised the films did depict the goings on at the nudist camps. Mother and father bouncing a ball around or playing tennis in their all-together. There were always the scenes of extremely fat people as well as the more handsome of bodies and this was called taking the curse off. It was thought, at the time, that in showing only the youthful bodies of the males and the females having their nudist fun, that some label of pornography might be put on them and the place would be busted. But by showing all the types of figures which visit such places then the little film remained art.
The tone is rather similar to that of Ed Wood's how-to-break-into-showbiz manual Hollywood Rat Race. Ed was well aware of the legal gamesmanship necessary to stay afloat in the adult movie industry. I can almost hear the producers now. "Pornography? Why, no, your honor! This is art! I mean, just look at all those extremely fat people up there on the screen!"

Friday, August 9, 2019

It's an old-fashioned summertime comics roundup! (Part 2)

Which one's Mutt and which one's Mindy? I can never remember.

Comics. We all love them. And you know what they say. You always hurt the ones you love.

That said, let's continue with our survey of comic strip parodies, mashups, and pastiches.

It's an old-fashioned summertime comics roundup! (Part 1)

Sadly Priscilla's Pop is not one of the strips covered in the following article.

Hey, y'all! How's your summer going? That's nice.

I don't know about you, but I'm in the mood to throw some more newspaper comics onto the rusted-out Weber barbecue grill in the backyard and char them to cinders. Does that sound like fun? Okay, then. Let's get to it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part 8 by Greg Dziawer

Connecting some weird, weird dots this week.

It's been years now since I first began spotting the same pair of distinctive Chinese Guardian Lions in numerous films related to Edward D. Wood, Jr. Not only do these statuettes show up in two of the adult features Ed directed, Necromania (1971) and The Young Marrieds (1972), they also appear in literally dozens of silent 8mm adult loops that Ed likely worked on during the first half of the 1970s.

Here there be lions: Dunn in Bride of the Monster.
But these lions aren't limited to Ed's pornographic work. A little while back, for instance, I also noticed them in Bride of the Monster (1955), standing guard in both Kelton and Capt. Robbins' offices. In the film, these two offices are edited to seem like they're adjacent to one another. But since these interiors were shot in a studio and the statues look identical in both rooms, I believe the same lions were used to dress both sets. (I'd recommend watching the colorized version of Bride of the Monster to see them most clearly.)

Since Bride was shot at Ted Allan Studios in Hollywood in October 1954, these humble sets are seemingly far removed in time and space from Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd. where the loops and adult features were lensed. Is it possible these are the exact same lions? I find the visual evidence inconclusive, as there are many styles of Guardian Lions with subtle variations, and the lions in Bride are hard to see clearly. They certainly look very similar and the size is about a match. 

The fact that there are any Guardian Lions whatsoever in Ed Wood's movies is nonetheless intriguing. And, come to think of it, Ted and Hal's studios were both in Hollywood, just a few miles apart. The films themselves were separated in time by little more than a decade and a half. A blip, really. Now add Ed Wood's presence to the mix, and it really makes you wonder.

Just little more than a week ago, I was Googling Wood regular Lyle Talbot, and found him credited in a 1959 sponsored short called The Road to Better Living, made at the behest of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Intrigued by that title, I decided to investigate further. Lionizing (har har) mortgage bankers, this film at times seems perilously close to canonizing them. When I shared it with the proprietor of this blog, he referred to it perfectly and perhaps not uncoincidentally as "mortgage porn."

The film is a treatise on the mortgage banking industry and how it has helped to build America. Talbot is top-billed in The Road to Better Living, essaying a key role as public, I mean banker, Jim Chandler. Talbot brings the same level of earnest empathy to the character he employed as Inspector Warren in Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (1953). The film's final line, delivered by the narrator, has a familiar ring: "Together, with men like Jim Chandler, we are steadily building our own road to better living, now and for the future." May God help us.

I'm not suggesting that Ed Wood had anything to do with The Road to Better Living. The film was shot in Hollywood by Jerry Fairbanks, a prolific producer of polished industrial films. What is interesting, though, is that in the film's very opening shot, as narrator Art Gilmore takes his seat, we get a clear shot of a Guardian Lion on the shelf in the left background. When we return to Gilmore periodically throughout the film, he is in medium close-up and we only see partial shots of the lion's bottom half. It's my surmise that this is the female lion, representing nurture, but it's hard to tell from this side view. 

Two shots of the lion in Better Living.

Lion at Grauman's.
Fittingly, the lions symbolically represent wealth and prosperity. If you study the shots of the lions in Bride with those in Better Living, you will notice how strikingly similar they look. Could the very same prop have shown up here five years later? I don't know what set it was shot on, but undoubtedly we are somewhere in Hollywood. Ted Allan's studio, worth noting, was primarily used in low-budget features and documentaries. 

Could this, in fact, be the same pair of lions throughout, or just curious clusters of coincidence? We may never learn the truth, but—who knows?— we just might! I'll continue to keep my eyes peeled and share any lionspotting right here!

Speaking of which, reader Bob Blackburn commented via Facebook:
You made me think of the two guardian [lion] statues outside of Mann's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd, [which] used to be Grauman's, about oh, maybe a half mile from [Ed Wood's apartment at] 6383 Yucca, and I wouldn't be surprised that Eddie might not have wandered down there when folks were getting their handprints or whatever done, or maybe to see the tourists and dream of someday getting his handprints in the cement forecourt.
That places the lions ubiquitously in his everyday world throughout his adult life, so he would have recognized them on the sets of Bride and the adult loops and features as more than decoration, but emblematic of Hollywood aspirations.

Extra: While you have your detective hat on, studying the lions, take a peek at this sponsored short, an epic about salt. Yes, you read that right. And while you are watching it, listen carefully to the narrator. Is that an uncredited Lyle Talbot?