KARLOFF & LUGOSI HORROR CLASSICS (1936-1958). Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made a series of memorable movies together during the 1930s and '40s (including The Raven and The Body Snatcher), but those aren't the titles showcased in this four-picture collection arriving in stores just in time for Halloween. Instead, these are minor efforts featuring one or the other of the actors (only one of the included films co-stars both), and while they're hardly the "horror classics" promised in the title, aficionados will nevertheless want to take a look.
As the Warner Bros. studio's go-to guy, Michael Curtiz directed a number of classic motion pictures, including The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca (for which he won his Oscar). Clearly, this designation allowed him to dabble in all manner of genres, and among the few horror flicks he helmed was The Walking Dead (1936), an interesting yarn in which ex-con John Ellman (Karloff), fresh from serving time for accidentally killing a man, gets duped by a group of corrupt businessmen who manage to have him framed for murder and sent to the electric chair. A brilliant scientist (Edmund Gwenn) manages to bring him back from the dead, and Ellman then proceeds to visit each of the men who set him up. Featuring Karloff in his prime, The Walking Dead is a solid little chiller unfortunately marred by a weak and hurried conclusion.
An Oscar nominee for Best Original Song ("I'd Know You Anywhere"), the slender but engaging You'll Find Out (1940) serves as a showcase for wildly popular bandleader-radio star Kay Kyser, who even manages to include his famed "Kollege of Musical Knowledge" routine into the proceedings. The plot finds Kay and his band members, including comedian Ish Kabibble and singer Ginny Simms, journeying to a secluded mansion for a birthday gathering. There, they encounter a dapper judge (Karloff), an oily medium (Lugosi) and a fake psychiatrist (Peter Lorre), all of whom have murder on the mind. The best film in the set also turns out to be, ironically enough, the one that least deserves the "horror" tag, but it's great to see these three fantasy-flick legends sharing the same screen as cohorts in crime.
The weakest picture on display, Zombies on Broadway (1945) looks like a comedy whose script Abbott and Costello rejected immediately. The shenanigans center on bumbling press agents Jerry and Mike (Wally Brown and Alan Carney), who are sent to the West Indies by their mobster boss (Sheldon Leonard) to find a real zombie to use in his new nightclub, the Zombie Hut. Upon arrival, they get mixed up with a mad scientist (Lugosi), a mysterious dancer (Anne Jeffreys), hostile natives and, oh yeah, a bona fide zombie (Darby Jones). It's a workable premise, but Brown and Carney are about as funny as a blister.
The 1932 version of Frankenstein is the movie that made Karloff a star, but unfortunately, Frankenstein 1970 (1958) has no connection to that classic. Previously playing the monster, the actor here switches roles to play the doctor himself – or rather, the last of his descendants. Planning to use a nuclear reactor to bring his creature to life, Baron Frankenstein obtains the necessary body parts by murdering those foolish enough to hang around his castle, including the members of a film crew shooting a horror flick on location. Frankenstein 1970 does take the rare route of killing off the most sympathetic characters and allowing the most obnoxious ones to live, but beyond that, there's little worth noting in this mediocre monster movie.
DVD extras consist of audio commentaries by various film historians on The Walking Dead and Frankenstein 1970, and the theatrical trailers for You'll Find Out and Frankenstein 1970.
The Walking Dead: **1/2
You'll Find Out: **1/2
Zombies on Broadway: *1/2
Frankenstein 1970: **
THE PROPOSAL (2009). After the stereotypical rom-com inanities of 27 Dresses, director Anne Fletcher partially redeemed herself – as both an able filmmaker and a progressive woman – with this summer box office smash. Working with screenwriter Pete Chiarelli, she's managed to put out a picture that paints its heroine in one-dimensional strokes only part of the time. True, The Proposal depicts Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) in the same manner as most Hollywood flicks (see New in Town for another recent example): Because she's a career woman, she has no time for friends, lovers, hobbies or, apparently, even a rascally Rabbit (the battery-powered kind, that is). She's a ruthless, soulless workaholic, and the only reason Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) works as her assistant at a New York publishing house is because he figures it's a good career move. But when it looks as if Margaret will get shipped back to her Canadian homeland because of an expired visa, it appears as if his future will similarly get derailed. Margaret, though, has a plan: Force Andrew to marry her so that she can remain in the country. That these two will eventually fall for each other will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, yet the predictability of the plot isn't a detriment, since the film fits as comfortably around our expectations as a favorite old robe hugs our frame. And while the picture occasionally goes out of its way to make Bullock's character a ninny, the actress refuses to let the role manhandle her, and she and the ever-charming Reynolds work well together. Unfortunately, Fletcher and Chiarelli can't help but go for the easy, imbecilic laugh at several key junctures, and the film even includes one of those cringe-worthy moments in which a person declares his devotion to his beloved in front of a crowd of people. Still, this Proposal has enough merit to warrant some consideration.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Fletcher and Chiarelli; two deleted scenes; an alternate ending; and seven minutes of outtakes.