Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I've been interested in William Cameron Menzies ever since I first stared with wonder at INVADERS FROM MARS (1953). After watching a bootleg of CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932) years ago I knew he was someone I should spend some serious time studying if I could ever get the chance. Nominated for several Oscars over his career he picked up two for his excellent art direction on a couple of silents in the 20's and often earned that credit on pictures he directed outright as well. Clearly a brilliant visual stylist he was also able to bring some genuinely good movies to the screen showing a solid eye for scripts as well. In recent months I've caught up with two of his movies that are pretty hard to locate and I've enjoyed both. THE SPIDER (1931) is the weaker of the two. It tells a fairly hackneyed story about a stage magician who has to discover the identity of a killer before the finger of blame is pointed at him. That it has to be done in the space a few hours with all the suspects locked in a theater after the murder is committed adds some fuel to the proceedings but not much. Its not a bad film and it has a few moments that shine brighter than the standard for this type of thing. On the other hand-

THE WHIP HAND (1951)- directed and designed by William Cameron Menzies is a taut cold war thriller. A real hidden gem this film deserves to be rediscovered and talked about. Well paced and tight it tells the tale of a vacationing fellow who rolls into a Minnesota lakeside village that has seen better days. It used to be renowned for trout fishing but a virus in the lake has destroyed the wildlife and the town’s fishing industry as well. Mildly interested in the town’s story but more interested in why the local rich man’s estate is so heavily and viciously guarded he sticks around for a while and starts to learn too much. I really think this is a great little movie and I wish more folks had a chance to see it. The print I watched seemed to have been taped from television- possibly a Canadian channel. I recommend it highly and not just because Raymond Burr plays one of the heavies. Maybe it could be added to a Noir box set?

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