Cast & Crew
Press agents Jerry Miles and Mike Strager are hired by ex-gangster Ace Miller to promote the opening of his new nightclub, the Zombie Hut. As part of their campaign, Jerry and Mike advertise the appearance of a real-live zombie on opening night and hire Sam, a boxer, to pose as the creature. When radio announcer Douglas Walker, Ace's nemesis, recognizes Sam and threatens to expose Ace unless he produces the real article, the ex-gangster tells Jerry and Mike that they will join the living dead if they fail to produce a zombie at the club's opening. In search of a zombie, the two visit Professor Hopkins, the curator of a museum, who refers them to zombie expert Dr. Paul Renault, a resident of San Sebastian Island. To avoid carrying out their mission, Mike and Jerry decide to hide out in California, but Ace overhears their plans and orders his henchmen, Benny and Gus, to escort them to the next boat bound for San Sebastian. On the island, Joseph, Renault's assistant, watches as Mike and Jerry come ashore. Joseph reports the arrival of the newcomers to his boss and also delivers a new vial of zombie vaccine. Because the subjects of his experiments keep dying, Renault sends his zombie servant, Kalaga, to recruit some new guinea pigs. Meanwhile, at a café in town, dancer Jean La Danse overhears Mike and Jerry discussing zombies and offers to help them find one if they will book her passage on the next boat leaving the island. After the two agree to her terms, Jean leads them into the jungle, unaware they are being followed by Kalaga. As they proceed toward the sound of native drums, Kalaga knocks down Mike, and when Jerry becomes separated from Jean, the zombie spirits her away. To hide from the hostile natives, Mike and Jerry take refuge in a hut, where Jerry climbs into a straw trunk and Mike disguises himself in blackface. When the natives thrust their spears into the trunk, Jerry runs into the jungle and is followed by Mike. The two climb a tree and from their perch, they see Dr. Renault's castle. Inside the castle, the doctor is about to inject Jean with his formula when his dogs begin to bark. Sent to investigate, Joseph finds Mike and Jerry hiding in the tree and escorts them back to the house. After they question Renault about zombies, the doctor decides to eliminate them by using them as his guinea pigs instead of Jean. When Joseph requests that they dig two holes, Jerry willingly agrees, unaware that he is digging his own grave. The impact of Mike's shovel hitting the ground triggers a secret passage to open, sending Mike into a tunnel where he sees Kalaga. Scurrying back outside, Mike tells Jerry about the zombie, but Jerry dismisses his friend's ravings as a hallucination. That night, as Jerry undresses in the closet of their bedroom, Kalaga steals in through a secret passageway and abducts Mike. Thinking that Mike has stepped out into the hallway, Jerry climbs into bed and goes to sleep. Meanwhile, in the lab, Renault injects Mike with his zombie serum, and after his patient enters a state of suspended animation, the doctor orders him to return to his room. When Jean tries to call for help, Joseph ties her up and orders Kalaga to bring Jerry to the lab. As the doctor straps Jerry to the operating table, Jean frees herself and knocks Joseph unconscious. The little monkey that has trailed Jerry into the house then slips into the lab and steals the doctor's syringe. While Renault chases the monkey, Jean frees Jerry, and they run out of the lab. The doctor follows them, and as he and Jerry struggle for control of the doctor's gun, Kalaga appears at the door. When the doctor orders Kalaga to kill, the zombie cracks Renault over the head with a shovel and throws him into one of the open graves. After retrieving the zombie-like Mike, Jerry and Jean hurry to the boat and sail back to New York. On the opening night of the Zombie Hut, Walker gleefully anticipates debunking Ace, while Ace anxiously awaits the return of Mike and Jerry. When their boat docks, Mike, Jerry, Jean and their monkey are met by Benny and Gus, who escort them to the club. Before Mike can make his debut as a zombie, however, he comes out of his trance. Ace threatens to kill them, but after quickly switching off the lights, Jean takes the syringe from the monkey and injects Ace with it. When Ace is presented onstage, the experts authenticate that he is a real zombie, and a relieved Jerry sinks into the couch and sits on the syringe.
Louis Jean Heydt
Bob St. Angelo
Rosemary La Planche
Albert S. D'agostino
Walter E. Keller
Robert E. Kent
Philip Martin Jr.
Richard Van Hessen
Zombies on Broadway
Certainly Brown and Carney posed no threat to Abbott and Costello and are mostly forgotten today, but their most representative film, Zombies on Broadway (1945), might have actually inspired Universal to match up Bud and Lou with monsters with their popular genre parody, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Filmed on leftover RKO sets from Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) and Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie (1943), Zombies on Broadway even featured two actors from the latter film - calypso singer Sir Lancelot and Darby Jones, repeating his role as a zombie with ping pong ball-like eyes.
The plot revolves around two inept Broadway press agents (Brown & Carney) ordered by their gangster boss (Sheldon Leonard) to produce a real zombie for the grand opening of his new night spot, "The Zombie Hut." Their search leads them to the tropical isle of San Sebastian where they encounter the suspicious Dr. Paul Renault (Bela Lugosi). Although Renault's henchman tells the duo that the good doctor is there "to study a blight that affects banana trees," we know he is busy trying - and failing - to create the perfect zombie. And Brown and Carney, along with a local cabaret performer (Anne Jeffreys), are ideal guinea pigs for the mad scientist's on-going experiments. In the slapstick hijinks that ensue - and yes, there's a monkey involved - Carney gets transformed into a zombie and is brought back to New York as the night club's star attraction. Right before the curtain rises with the audience chanting "We want a zombie!, We want a zombie!", there is a last minute change of plans, the result of a stray hypodermic needle containing the zombie potion.
Bela Lugosi had just completed a minor supporting role, teamed opposite Boris Karloff, in The Body Snatcher (1945) for producer Val Lewton when he signed on for Zombies on Broadway, directed by Gordon Douglas (Them!, 1954). It wasn't the first time he had parodied his horror film image - he'd been tormented by the Bowery Boys earlier in Spooks Run Wild (1941) and Ghosts on the Loose (1943). But here Lugosi plays it relatively straight and the contrast between his dark, glowering demeanor and Brown and Carney's goofiness worked well. So well, in fact, that RKO teamed them up for a sequel, Genius at Work (1946), with Anne Jeffreys again providing the sex appeal.
While Zombies on Broadway proved to be an agreeable programmer for undiscriminating audiences of the forties, it was mostly dismissed by critics such as the New York Herald Tribune which called it "an appalling little film." Even future director Joe Dante, a teenage correspondent for Famous Monsters of Filmland, dismissed it in his article on the most feeble horror films of all time: "Pretty funny except when it was supposed to be!....The comedy scenes were pretty grim, playing in a style that reminded one of Abbott and Costello with the Black Plague." True, a lot of the comic patter falls flat and there are moments of blatant racist humor that are typical of its era - the nervous black janitor, superstitious natives, etc. But we're here to tell you that it's not THAT bad and even Michael Weldon's The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film proclaimed it "a very strange film" which is some kind of recommendation.
The funniest scenes involve Carney - one where he gets his foot stuck on an ox skull, another where he emits a "silent scream" as he's abducted from his bed, and all of his scenes as a pop-eyed zombie. His makeup is hilarious and maybe the reason these sequences work so well is because Carney is mute - there's no thudding dialogue to deliver and the humor is purely visual. Also, Anne Jeffreys is appropriately sassy as the knife-throwing nightclub chanteuse and it's hard to forget Darby Jones as the main zombie; his uniquely angular body is just as distinctive as Michael Rennie's alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Best of all is that title which is bound to produce smiles of disbelief whenever you mention it to fellow film travelers.
Producer: Sid Rogell, Benjamin Stoloff
Director: Gordon Douglas
Screenplay: Robert Faber, Robert E. Kent, Lawrence Kimble, Charles Newman
Cinematography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editing: Philip Martin
Art Direction: Albert S. D¿Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Wally Brown (Jerry Miles), Alan Carney (Mike Streger), Bela Lugosi (Dr. Paul Renault), Anne Jeffreys (Jean LaDance), Sheldon Leonard (Ace Miller), Frank Jenks (Gus).
by Jeff Stafford
Zombies on Broadway
Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics Collection - A DVD Review
The Walking Dead from 1936 is a pivotal film for Karloff. Although very short (65 minutes) it's a quality Warner Bros. effort directed by the respected Michael Curtiz. The plot is essentially a gangster vengeance movie. Framed by vicious hoods Ricardo Cortez and Barton MacLane, unlucky ex-con John Ellman (Karloff) is executed for a murder he didn't commit. But his body is revived by scientist Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn), who wants Ellman to tell him of secrets beyond the grave.
As can be guessed, the film's genre identity is somewhat confused. Director Curtiz handles the gangster aspect in familiar Warners' style, with Joe Sawyer playing a Murder, Inc.- style hit man named Trigger. Curtiz and Karloff put equal effort into the spooky content, splashing Germanic shadows across walls and arranging for the undead Ellman to unaccountably materialize in locked rooms, like a ghost. Ellman eventually migrates to a rain-soaked cemetery, as if drawn to death; amid all the fast "Warner Urban" wisecracks and action, Karloff must carry the horror angle on his own.
Oddly enough, The Walking Dead is identical in structure and similar in execution to John Boorman's spacey crime revenge saga Point Blank. Like that film's Lee Marvin, Karloff's Ellman is presumed dead yet returns to menace his enemies, all of whom perish without his direct assistance. In Ellman's case they fall on their own guns or out of windows, under trains, etc.
Karloff lumbers about like Frankenstein's monster, an effect heightened by removing a dental bridge and sucking in his right cheek to augment the cadaverous look. Like a ghost, Ellman asks each villain, "Why did you have me killed?" The inconsistent The Walking Dead never decides if Ellman is a literal zombie or a "Telltale Heart" guilt hallucination. The faux-religious ending chastens Edmund Gwenn with a "man was not meant to know" message, over an image of a stone angel in the cemetery.
Karloff is of course superb while the other leads deliver characteristically snappy Curtiz performances. Marguerite Churchill and Warren Hull are a truly insipid pair of youthful lab assistants never taken to task for refusing to testify for Ellman at his murder trial. The Walking Dead looks much more modern than the same year's The Invisible Ray but it marks the end of the first phase of Karloff's Hollywood career. From here on he'd land less prestigious roles, albeit always with star billing. Karloff would repeat the theme of vengeance from beyond the grave ad infinitum in a series of cheap Columbia pictures.
Author Greg Mank goes deep into The Walking Dead's production history for his commentary, detailing a long list of no-no content nixed by the Production Code office before filming began. 1930s Hollywood horror was dismantled by censor demands both here and in England, where a number of the earlier movies had been banned outright.
Universal's 1939 Tower of London and Son of Frankenstein cued a significant comeback for the horror film, but Karloff soon found himself typed as a mad doctor or glowering criminal. Before withdrawing to a much more rewarding Broadway career he appeared in a rush of minor scare pictures, eight in 1940 alone. RKO's You'll Find Out is actually a musical comedy, a vehicle for Kay Kyser's novelty "Kollege of Musical Knowledge" swing orchestra. Kyser's band of extroverts are more amenable to film work than most musicians, although comedian Ish Kabibble is perhaps Not Ready for The Big Screen -- he's like a fourth, even more unpleasant Stooge.
The movie is a standard kill-the-heir non-mystery, with Kyser's band performing at the high-toned Bellacrest mansion. Agent Chuck Deems (Dennis O'Keefe) is in love with Janis Bellacrest (Helen Parrish), the innocent target of a crooked judge, a charlatan psychic and an assassin posing as a professor: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre. Each of these actors is asked only to present their established screen personas. In a plotline dotted with novelty songs and séance hocus-pocus, the waste of great talent is almost painful. Karloff and Lugosi play the script straight and manage to survive with their dignity intact. Impish scene-stealer and ad-libber Peter Lorre has a field day using his eyes and toothy smile to add layers of gleeful malice to his performance.
With the bridge out and the phones dead the three villains try out poisoned darts, bolts of electricity and a falling spike as murder weapons. Kyser uncovers the evil scheme when he discovers Lugosi's lair in a subterranean room. The so-called horror angle wraps up much like a Droopy cartoon, with Ish Kabibble's pooch chasing the villains while carrying a stick of dynamite in his mouth. As a comedy You'll Find Out is likely to leave modern audiences completely unmoved.
Peter Frampton fans might be amused by the debut of a "talk box" invention called the Sonovox, which uses the voice as a filter for amplified musical instruments. Kay Kyser promotes the device as if the movie were an infomercial. Much more central to film historians is the set dressing used in Lugosi's secret chamber. The art directors raided the RKO prop department and unearthed a pair of Triceratops stop-motion animation models that may have been built for Willis O'Brien's aborted dinosaur epic Creation. Even more interesting are two spider models attached to a secret doorway -- they look awfully similar to the surviving still of the giant spiders in the famous censored "spider pit" scene cut from the original King Kong.
Some wartime horror pictures were haunted house comedies following in the footsteps of popular Bob Hope and Abbott & Costello hits. 1945's Zombies on Broadway is a bizarre comedic wanna-be from Wally Brown and Alan Carney, RKO's answer to Abbott & Costello. The duo's dynamic is definitely personality-challenged; as a comedy team it simply doesn't distinguish itself.
But Zombies on Broadway may be the strangest quasi-sequel ever made. Brown and Carney are Jerry Miles and Mike Streger, maladroit publicity flacks who have promised to find a fake zombie for the new nightclub of gangster Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard). Ordered to come up with the real McCoy or die, the pair sails to the Caribbean island of San Sebastian, a noted zombie hangout. They're greeted at the dock by Calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who improvises an instant folk ballad commentary. It's immediately apparent that this is a comedy spin-off from Val Lewton's popular 'straight' horror film I Walked with a Zombie. Not only does Sir Lancelot recycle his same menacing song from the Lewton original, but the tall & cadaverous Darby Jones returns as the somnambulistic zombie Carre-four, here given a name change to Kolaga.
That's where the comparisons end, as Zombies on Broadway opts for slapstick hi-jinks. Singer Jean La Dance (Anne Jeffreys) helps Jerry and Mike escape from the clutches of Bela Lugosi's uninteresting Doctor Renault. Lugosi uses a serum to transform Mike into the walking dead. In this case, all that happens is that Mike receives a pair of (rather disturbing) zombie pop-eyes, of the same kind worn by Darby Jones. Jean and Jerry are overjoyed, and hustle Mike back to Broadway to perform! It's all over before we remember to laugh.
Veteran director Gordon Douglas doesn't waste time with fancy details. Dotty curator Ian Wolfe and Broadway columnist Louis Jean Heydt provide spirited support. Fledgling actor Robert Clarke plays a character called Wimp. You have to start somewhere.
For its final film the collection leaps ahead thirteen years to 1958, when cheap productions were cashing in on Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, a smash hit that ignited an international horror boom. A quickie production from prolific producer Aubrey Schenck (T-Men) and director Howard W. Koch, the cut-rate Frankenstein 1970 delivers the minimum quota of shocks to qualify as a feature film. Seventy year-old Boris Karloff is given bold star billing, a spooky makeup job and a disagreeable character to play.
The screenplay by George Worthing Yates and Richard H. Landau (The Quatermass Xperiment) revamps the Frankenstein legend with an unpleasant update involving a movie crew shooting a Frankenstein story in the Baron's own castle. Brash director Douglas Row (Don "Red" Barry, former cowboy star) has rented the castle and irritates his host with insensitive remarks. The Baron (Karloff) is established as a victim of Nazi torture, to explain his mutilated eyelid. He now has an atomic reactor in his basement, and looks to the film's cast and crew for the raw materials for his new monster. The poky script has several lengthy one-shot scenes that prove Karloff adept at sustained dialogue. But suspense and surprises are sadly lacking. The Baron carries a heart in his hand and drops a jar containing human eyes to the floor, details surely inspired by the Hammer series.
Perhaps convinced that a good first impression is the key to finding a distributor, Schenck and Koch topload Frankenstein 1970 with the film's only stylish scene. A prologue follows a claw-fisted monster pursuing peasant girl Jana Lund into a foggy pond, and then wading in to strangle her. The murder turns out to be a movie-within-a-movie being filmed by director Roy's camera crew, and nothing of its kind is seen again. Audiences surely felt cheated for wanting to see that movie, not one about some boring film folk. TV personality Tom Duggan smiles incongruously while the other actors work overtime to extract some excitement the script. The "twist" ending doesn't add much to Karloff's humorless character, an unusually grouchy mad doctor. Considering that Karloff does wonders with modest movies like The Haunted Strangler, he doesn't look happy making this one.
The Allied Artists release Frankenstein 1970 is filmed in CinemaScope and occasionally finds an impressive composition. But little details undercut its impact. Frankenstein's futuristic mad lab scenes use archaeic sound effects from old Universal pictures. When the bandaged monster rolls out of the reactor furnace on a rickety hospital gurney, it appears to be pulled by a string. Apparently somebody thought it was funny for the Baron to dispose of surplus body parts in a device that makes the noise of a flushing toilet. Kids in 1958 matinees must have jeered every time Karloff nears the disposal.
Interviewer Tom Weaver hosts a commentary for Frankenstein 1970, joined by Bob Burns and actress Charlotte Austin. Burns tells stories about meeting Boris Karloff in person, and Ms. Austin has fine memories from the set. She is grateful that she didn't have to go into the freezing water with Jana Lund and recounts a shot ruined when Mike Lane's bandaged monster couldn't carry her down a flight of stairs without dropping her. Weaver enumerates some censored content, such as a silhouette scene in which the monster was supposed to squash a victim's head.
A rather motley assortment of horror odds 'n' ends, Warners' Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics box will nevertheless be a must-see disc for genre fans. The transfers are all good, with The Walking Dead showing its age and Zombies looking marginally softer than the others. Frankenstein 1970 can boast a flawless enhanced widescreen transfer. You'll Find Out and Frankenstein 1970 come with original trailers.
For more information about Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics, visit Warner Video. To order Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics Collection - A DVD Review
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Maurice Seiderman, the head of RKO's makeup department, fashioned five masks to create the zombie-like faces in the film. Actors Darby Jones and Sir Lancelot also appeared as a zombie and calypso singer, respectively, in RKO's 1943 film I Walked with a Zombie.