Thursday, January 31, 2008

Doll Man's Knotty Adventures

Doll Man is one of the more interesting characters of the Golden Age. Although small in stature, he ended up having more legs (and showed more legs) than all but a handful of superheroes of the era. Perhaps one of the reasons for his staying power were the wonderfully creative covers designed for both Feature Comics and Doll Man’s eponymous title. Many of these covers feature all sort of wonderful bondage-based traps for our man Darrel Dane. Here’s a look at a few of my favourites.

All of the Doll Man bondage covers the cover to Feature Comics #93 is my favourite because of the sheer craziness of the trap. A James Bond villain could not have designed a better Dolltrap. This is about as crazy as it gets – as the villain took the time to hammer the pistol into place and used a very complex system of rope and knots. Correct me if I’m wrong, but won’t Doll Man be just fine if he simply back up and creates some slack in the rope? Like any Bond villain, I am certain that this guy was defeat because he was too clever for his own good.

The cover to Feature Comics #124 is an example of using everyday household objects as a part of your superhero torture plans. I am not sure exactly what is going on here, but I imagine Doll Man put a wrinkle in the villain’s plans. This obviously steamed off the bad guy who, feeling pressed for time, quickly thought up an ironclad way of ridding himself of his mini-foe. Doll Man’s fate depends on how quickly the iron’s automatic shut off kicks in.

The final selection for this round of Doll Man bondage covers comes from Doll Man #10. Like all of the others traps, the villain who set this one must have incredible fine motor skills. It’s must take a lot of patience and concentration to tie such teeny tiny knots. The Encylopedia Brown in me can tells me that Doll Man has been capture in England, as the hot and cold water faucets are on the wrong side (at least as far as us North Americans are concerned). So, not only is he dealing with some water torture; he might be groggy from jet lag. This may explain why he hasn’t figured out that all he needs to do to escape is grow back to normal size. Darrel Dane, you may be the smallest knife in the drawer, but you ain’t the sharpest.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Captain America #259

Sure, this issue may come across as a bit of an After School Special, but sometimes you need a little warm & fuzzy preachiness in your early 80s funnybooks. While the cover may lead you to believe that this will simply be a throwdown between Cap and our man Otto, there's much, much more going on here. Cap has been asked by and old army buddy (he must have 10,000 of those) to track down his son, who has runaway to join a biker gang. OK - the fact that the bikers all look like they're audtioning for Easy Rider 2 is a bit funny, but it's tough to deny the power of Captain America's unrelenting earnestness. Added to all of this is a second storyling involving Doc Ock's desire to steal Cap's shield. It's amazing how much gets accomplished in a single issue. In the end, we learn that family is more important than gang membership. Sure it's a bit sappy, but it's an example of solid storytelling. Whenever I look back to stories that I've enjoyed reading over and over, I'm never surprised to see Dave Michelinie's name in the credits. Mike Zeck was always such a good fit for Cap - methinks a TPB of the stories put out by that creative team would look nice on my bookshelf.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Cheyenne Kid #10

Ditko drawing a western? It happened, true believer and it looked good. Most of us associate Ditko's work as existing exclusively in the Super-Hero and Horror genres, but early in his career he tackled a wide variety of genres. This cover to Cheyenne Kid #10 (a book I'd love to track down one day) shows that Ditko had a good feel for what makes a western cover work. This wonderful portrayal of Custer's Last Stand may not be on par with the Paxson painting, but it's pretty impressive. Lots of great action, interesting perspective and you really see the dignity and desperation of the central figures.

It's too bad that Stan Lee didn't ask Ditko to contribute some covers during the Mighty Marvel Western period. There were some great Kirby covers to be sure, but I would have loved to see what Ditko would have done with characters like Rawhide Kid, Iron Mask or the Fat Man. I'd be interested in knowing whether or not Steve enjoyed drawing westerns or if, like many artists, he found drawing horses to be a pain in the saddle.

Quick DVD Reviews

Starter for 10
This is a lovely little piece of British filmmaking. James McAvoy is getting all sorts of press for Atonement, which is great because his role here (and as the glue in Last King of Scotland) was greatly overlooked. I haven’t seen a decent coming of age tale in a long, long time. So many are either too light (just about any American teenage comedy of the past two decades) or too dark (If… comes to mind). This one strikes the perfect balance – it’s as bittersweet as your 20th year. Grade: A-

Hot Fuzz
Another British comedy but this one is much more broad and has all the subtlety of an Arsenal fan. Lots of good laughs, especially in the first half as we get some nice ‘fish out of water’ moments. The plot gets in the way a bit in the second- half, but it’s still better than 90% of the comedies produced. For all I know the overly long and ridiculous shootout at the end was a clever shot by shot remake of the overly long and ridiculous shootout at the end of Bad Boys 2 (I wouldn’t know – haven’t seen it), but the joke wore thin and it ended up feeling over long and ridiculous. Grade: B+

This one didn’t do it for me. Felt like gladiator porn. I watched it in bits and pieces over 3 nights, so that’s not a good sign. I did like a few of the shots – especially the heavily silhouette stuff. It would have worked better as a straight battle movie – without all of the mystic/mythical stuff and if they had used a better computer for Xerxes’ voice. Grade: D

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lilliputian Bondage Covers

As I flipped through a stack of Kamandis, one cover in particular jumped out at me. Kamandi is tied down in a most Swiftian way. It occurred to me that I had seen some other covers that paid homage to Gulliver’s Travels, with a large central feature at the mercy of a group of miniature people with a bondage fetish. A few other covers with this them came to mind (as well as Alex Toth’s splash to Brave and Bold #53), but I am certain there must be others.

The aforementioned Kamandi #45 cover by Ernie Chan is from the post-Kirby era, a period in which there was cover to suite almost every theme. Wrap-around Snake Cover? Check! VW Beetle Cover? We have that! Giant Crab Cover? Look no further! Kamandi faced a lot of threatening creatures during the 70s, but these tiny humans really seem to be giving him a tough time. I’m normally not the biggest Ernie Chan fan, as his covers have a really generic feel to them, but I like the overall design here.

Like Kamandi, Turok and Andar faced every threat imaginable on a monthly basis, so it only makes sense that they’d eventually run into some little people with a lot of rope in Turok, Son of Stone #17. Andar seems to have drawn the short straw, but luckily the pygmies are so engrossed in their knot-tying that they have not noticed Turok striking a ‘Blue Steel’ pose while try to move the mountain out of the way. All kidding aside, this is one gorgeous painted cover. I believe this cover was reprinted during the Gold Key years.

One of the best covers from the pre-Hero age at Marvel is Jack Kirby’s cover to Tales of Suspense #20. The Colossus is a classic Kirby monster, and it’s obvious that he wields a bit more strength than Swift’s Gulliver. The ship’s captain and the first mate don’t seem to be on the same page in terms of dealing with Colossus, so that might explain why the rest of the crew seems so disorganized. This cover is simply a thing of beauty and might be the finest of all Lilliputian Bondage Covers.

The cover to Justice League of America #215 is pretty much the antithesis of the Kirby cover. Both have a ton of action and characters, but George Perez’s cover here is irritatingly noisy. While I love the notion of a normally microscopic Atom super-sized, the perspective is really jarring and the ‘up the nose’ shot just doesn’t work if it’s not from Gil Kane. Superb concept, but poor execution. This cover teaches us that a Lilliputian Bondage cover is a fickle thing, and must be mapped out carefully from the beginning. Sorry George – quite often your crowd shots work, but this one simply does not.

There’s a quick look at Lilliputian Bondage Covers – I’d love to hear of any other that you’ve stumbled upon.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Charlton Notebook: Charlton Bullseye #8

After some time as a quasi-dormant reprint factory, Charlton came up with a pretty unique idea in 1981. They’d publish an anthology series (much like DC’s Showcase) but feature unknown talent (much like DC’s New Talent Showcase). It was a pretty risky experiment, and I’m assuming that it failed quite miserably, but it is quite interesting to check out all of these years later. It does seem odd that this series hit the stands at the zenith of Miller’s Daredevil, Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men and Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans. The Big Two were cranking out very professional looking opuses, and Charlton decided to counter with what amounts to a comic book one notch above a fanzine. The funny thing is; it works – at least for this issue.

While the book may appear to be a typical Charlton horror, it actually features two very nice science fiction stories. The first story, written by Bill Anderson and drawn by Mark Heike (who stuck around in funnybooks for quite some time), is a great little tip of the hat to EC, as it features an eerie lead up to a funny twist ending. It is very nicely executed. The second story “Escape From the Rock” is a very entertaining story with story and art by Michael Grace involving a prison run by aliens. Whatever happened to him? He had some real talent, as this is a very impressive debut. The final story is a bit more of a ‘paint by numbers’ Atlas-like horror story by Mark Heike involving a portal to hell. It’s not as good as the others, but still a solid piece of bronze-age horror. All in all, this book was a pleasant surprise that ended up being more than just another Charlton oddity.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week - The Fly #5

Steve Ditko and Rudy Nebres together? Whodathunk? Luckily, the fine folks of Red Circle did and the result was this great cover. It looks like the Fly has stepped into the pre-hero Marvel Age and is under attack by a Tales to Astonish reject. This is a wonderfully atmospheric cover, and I really like the collaboration between Ditko and Nebres. Inking Ditko must be quite a challenging as so many inkers are accustomed to tightening pencils, and yet if Ditko's pencils are tightened too much they lose all of their organic charm. On Stalker, Wally Wood did an excellent job of polishing Ditko's work without losing the Ditkoesque nature, and I think Nebres succeeds here. This Fly series is being added to my 'To Buy' list. That's the joy of Ditko - you never know where he'll pop up next.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

You've Been Warned: DC Super-Stars #9

Generally, I have a great deal of patience for DC reprints. Quite often, the haphazard way in which they are organized and presented is quite charming. Want to thrown a Captain Triumph reprint into a Superman 100-Pager? Sure, why not? You think Ibis, the Invincible is a good fit for Detective Comics? Who am I to argue? The sheer randomness of it all is quite startling, and it’s begs the question of who was behind the wheel. I can live with that though – as it is obvious that DC just wanted to stuff as many stories into a book as possible. At the very least, the reader never knew exactly what he or she was going to get.

It’s a whole other story when DC tries to put together a ‘Themed’ reprint collection, as the are normally only held together by the loosest of threads. “The Man Behind the Gun” is perhaps the lamest of all of this type of books cranked out by DC in the 70s. It main flaw is that it is attempting to say something about the power of the gun for both good and evil and is using a very weak selection of random stories to get the point across. At least with Super-Heroes vs. Super Gorillas, we weren’t expected to do any thinking. The editorial stance by DC (Jack Harris, specifically I guess) is beyond loony. It’s hard to read a text article that delves into the history of gunpowder after reading a story about a Luthor-invented Super-Gun.

The fairly impressive and sinister cover belies the silliness inside. We start with the aforementioned Superman tale from 1961. Wouldn’t a Batman tale involving a gun have been far more appropriate? Next we have a Nighthawk story with lovely Ruben Moreira artwork. Not only is it a fairly weak story, but this one was reprinted 4 years earlier in Johnny Thunder #1. Reprinting reprints? That’s lame even for DC in the 70s. Next up is a standard issue war story involving courageous gunners on a damage boat (boy – we are including all type of guns here, aren’t we?). It’s nothing exciting, but the Andru and Esposito art is certainly dynamic. When I first saw this cover – I thought the book would be mainly gangster stories, but there is only one, from a post-Code issue of Gangbusters. It’s a so-so story sadly missing the moralizing that tends to make crime comics fun. The GCD says this was drawn by Gene Colan, but it tastes more like Ralph Mayo to me. Finally, we are left with a fairly solid sci-fi story from an early issue of Mystery in Space about a very destructive ray-gun. If this story were actually written in the 70s, the potential dangers of such a gun would have been explored. Instead, it is just used to kill Plutonians and the like.

All in all – it a weak collection of reprints ostensibly linked together because of the presence of firearms. It gave me a headache, and everything after the cool cover was a real letdown. Avoid.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Val Lewton on TCM: A Moody Marathon

I get the feeling that someone at TCM got the Val Lewton Horror Collection for Christmas and thought “Holy crap – we’ve got to run a marathon of these”. I certainly can’t fault that logic, and they really are a treat to watch back to back. I picked up the DVD collection back in 2005 and thought the same thing – but I don’t work for a network so nothing came of it. I only caught bits an piece of some of the movies on TCM (about 10 minutes of I Walked With a Zombie while rocking my 4 month old daughter to sleep, and 10 minutes of Isle of the Dead while eating breakfast this morning). What strikes me is how unbelievably captivating they are – an atmosphere is established immediately and it sucks you right in. The Val Lewton Collection came with a documentary “Shadows in the Dark”, which was quite illuminating. As far as I can tell, the TCM marathon included a new doc – I’ve recorded it and look forward to watching it when I get a quiet moment. Rather than go through each movie, I thought I’d share a few random thought on a few of them because that sort of rudderless opining is why blogs were created. If I find the time or inclination, I may eventually comment on all of them.

Isle of the Dead
Right off the bat let me tell you that while there is an island, there aren’t many of the ‘Dead’. What we’ve got here is a fairly claustrophobic tale of a small group of people quarantined on a Greek island. They slowly succumb to disease one by one. If you are expecting the suspense of a film like Cat People, you should look elsewhere. If you’d like to see Karloff playing a stern Greek General with curly hair, this is the film for you. Even without the ‘horror’, it’s actually quite interesting, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen Karloff play a role like this. He is very convincing – a real joy to watch. I’m just impressed that someone gave the green light to a film set during the 1912 Balkan war.

I Walked With a Zombie
Obviously, this is the greatest movie title of all-time. Although the collaborations with Robert Wise and MarkRobson were strong, the team of Lewton and Tourneur simply cannot be beat. There are so many great shots in this film, that I’d be surprised if they didn’t teach it in film school. As he was cranking out B movies for a failing studio, Lewton always had a tight budget and it’s a testament to his skill that he could always do so much for so little.

The Seventh Victim
This is a true hidden gem. I’ll bet this one would likely qualify as Lewton’s most misunderstood film and I would really think that it had people scratching their heads back in the 60s. This script could indeed use some tightening and there are some redundant characters, but like Cat People and Zombie, the atmosphere is gripping. I’ve got to think that some people were paying attention as certain items such as a creepy shower scene and a satanic cult composed of cheery seniors were later used by big name filmmakers. Certainly far from a perfect film, but both Kim Hunter and Jean Brooks are strong and there are enough ‘ahead of its time’ aspects of this film to warrant repeat viewings.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Star Wars #17

I turned 5 years old in 1977, so to say that I grew up a Star Wars nut would be a gross understatement. I had Star Wars figures, colouring books, posters, blankets etc… When it came to Star Wars comic books, however, I somehow only got my mitts on them from time to time. Of course, like many kids of that era, I started off with the Treasury Size Editions. I still have the tattered remnants of my Vols.1 and 2 – complete with my attempt to write my name on the back cover of #1. I also have the double sized version, compiling both issues.

My first floppy book, however, was issue #17 and what a strange way to start. Although we start of aboard the Millennium Falcon, we are transported back to Tatooine via Luke’s daydream. We learn a great about Luke’s pre-Episode IV life and this is almost like a prequel minus Jar Jar Binks. The great Dave Cockrum cover really stands out, as it harkens back to a time when I actually thought Luke Skywalker was cool. Inside, the Goodwin/Claremont story is strong, and fits nicely into the Star Wars saga. Herb Trimpe is obviously having some fun – who wouldn’t? We’ve got a return (or is that pre-turn?) of the Sandpeople. I had a real fascination with them as a child, so they are always an added bonus. I only hope that my kids are able to be totally consumed by something the way Star Wars consumed me. This book was a big part of that, but my copy has been lost somewhere along the way. I always casually keep my eye out for it, but it never pops up. I recently bid on an original art page from the issue, but lost by a ton. Apparently some other have fond memories of the Trimpe/Milgrom work on this issue.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Favourite Places in the World: Freshwood Grill

I’ve written about far away places in West Africa and Louisiana, but this is a great little spot just around the corner from my house. The Freshwood opened a couple of years ago on Roncesvalles Ave, and my wife and I have been there for brunch many times. It’s got a great menu with lots of interesting choices at reasonable prices, a nice garden patio during summer and it is very kid friendly (we don’t take our 2 year old son and 3 month old daughter out much, but we’re comfortable with them here). We’re having major renovation done at our house, so we’ve been without a laundry room for a while. This means I get to make a weekly pilgrimage to our local Laundromat, reminding me of my undergrad days. Luckily, the Freshwood is just a few doors up Roncesvalles, and I can park myself there with a pint (Amsterdam Two Fisted, thank you very much) and read some funnybooks (made my way through a chunk Weird Western Tales last time) while 4 loads of laundry dry simultaneously. Is it shallow of me to say that this is the highlight of my week? If you’re ever in the High Park/Roncesvalles area, check it out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Amazing Adult Fantasy #8

When you think of the countless pre-hero monster stories drawn by Steve Ditko for Marvel, it’s surprising how few covers he contributed to their line of fantasy titles. Jack Kirby got the lion’s share of the work. It’s a shame, for as much as I love Kirby, it’s nice to see Ditko’s perspective. Ditko does appear to have been the “go to” cover guy for Amazing Adult Fantasy. It’s for this reason, that this title’s covers really stand out from those rest – they are just so darned Ditkoesque. I love the design of this cover, as he is playing around with reality – something he did much more of for Charlton. Stripped of all unnecessary details, we are left simply with the two men and the menacing Krill. I’m sure that someone will note that the Krill’s shadow is all wrong because the moon is on the other side, but let’s not get too picky here. Perhaps there is some sort of yard light casting that shadow. It’s for you to figure out, after all this is the magazine that respects your intelligence.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sweeney Todd: There Will Be Blood (and Pies)

With a little boy who’s just turned 2 and a 3 month old girl still reliant on her mother for sustenance, my wife and I don’t get out on our own all that often. The other day, we managed to get ourselves organized and get out to the movies for the first time in over a year. As it is such a rare occasion, we try to pick something best seen on the big screen. This time around, we settle on Sweeney Todd knowing that the Burton/Depp/Bonham-Carter triumvirate was likely to make for a memorable visit to the cinema.

First let me say, that I tend to despise musicals. Ever since I was a child, they have just never sat well with me. As a young teen, I recall squirming in my seat at the Pantages watching those sweaty cats warble ‘Memories’ for the 3rd or 4th time. Every time I see the Sound of Music, I just want to jump on screen on strangle Frederick so that he’ll stop trying to hump Maria’s leg. So, I don’t tend to rush out to see musicals – but I always enjoy seeing the latest idea to emanate from Burton’s Robert Smith inspired head so Sweeney it was. I’ve decided that I really like musicals so long as they meet a couple of requirements. The first is that they must star Depp, Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman and Borat. The second is that there must be a good amount of bloodletting. This film was way more violent than Dream Girls!

I’m sure that this film will be criticized for a variety of reasons. Perhaps Burton has messed around too much with Sondheim’s original vision (I wouldn’t know). Perhaps because Depp has pulled the Elsa Lancaster wig out of the closet one too many times (not in my opinion). I’m sure that some will decry the gore (especially if they’ve made the mistake of taking their 10-year old daughter along). I’m not sure what people have against Burton - but I can’t think of another director these days who can get me excited about each new project. From the goofiness of Big Wee’s Big Adventure to the sappiness of Big Fish, I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.

This is just another addition to a fine body of work. Burton will get one of those lifetime Oscars in 30 years and we’ll stare in awe when they roll the clips from various movies. This guy still makes honest to goodness movies. He is able to puts his crazy thoughts onto the screen – that’s a real accomplishment. From the set design (a slightly gothic pseudo-Dickensian London) to the costumes (stylish but not ostentatious) to the casting (from Depp to each and every Extra) – everything is perfectly executed. The leads are fantastic and I was really impressed with the young actors. In the midst of all of the killing and general chaos, one gets a real sense of desperation. Everyone is a loner, looking for someone to whom they can cling. That’s the lasting impression I get – along with that ‘Joanna’ song that’s been stuck in my head all day. Grade: A

Monday, January 07, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Brave and the Bold #197

When I first started interacting with fellow comic book fans online, I was pleasantly surprised how many people named this issue as one of their favourite Batman stories. I bought it off the rack as a kid, and was likely bummed out that Jim Aparo didn’t draw the interior art. I also imagine that most of the nuances of the story passed well above my head. It was nearly a decade later, as I re-read all of my old comics books during a period of serious procrastination, that I discovered what a wonderful gem we have in Brave and Bold #197. Alan Brennert’s story would likely not be published today for two main reasons: 1) It involves Earth-Two, that old Petri Dish where one could play with characters without impacting continuity too much and 2) It involves fairly realistic human emotions.

In their relatively advanced years, Batman and Catwoman come together and develop a real understanding of each other’s motivations. There is a scene that I consider to be among the top comic book ‘moments’ of all-time. As she watches Batman remove his costume, Selina gasps as at the scars that he has developed over the years. Those few panels say as much about Batman as anything you’ll ever see. Joe Staton’s pencils are perfect for this story, as he manages to give Earth-2 the necessary timelessness. His square-jawed Batman bridges the gap between Dick Sprang and Bruce Timm. I don’t know how long it will take for the DC Showcase series to reach issue #197, so I highly recommend that you hit all of your favourite comic book haunts and track down a copy.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Hockey Covers

Although part of the national identity up here in Canada, hockey has traditionally had a relatively small audience in the U.S. This may partially explain why there are so few comic book covers dedicated to the sport. Or so I thought… Once I actually started tracking down hockey covers, I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of hockey covers out there in funnybook land.

Anyone who has ever been scheduled to play a game at 11:30 PM knows full well that ice time is scarce at many of the nation’s arenas. This great cover from House of Secrets #113 by Nick Cardy brings to mind the battle for ice time. It gives the reader a an idea of what a figure skater finishing up her rehearsal feels like with a bunch of beer leaguers breathing down her neck. I'm not sure who's coming up through the ice, and that bit of the cover seems a little unecessary. Horror and hockey is like a natural fit, but it’s a combination that has only been used a few times.

If you’ve purchased a copy of Heroic Comics, you know that it’s one of the most affordable Golden Age comics on the market. You also know that it’s one of the lamest titles out there. The saving grace is the painted cover (as well as some bit and pieces of artwork by some of the biggest names in comics). This cover from Heroic #57 is absolutely stunning and shows the perils of hitting the pond too early in the season. I can’t figure out who drew this cover. The initials ‘AT’ are at the bottom right. Alex Toth did draw some stories for Heroic and I’ve certainly seen him sign his work ‘AT’ before but I’ve never seen him paint a cover. I don’t have my Toth checklist handy (it’s in storage) so I can’t check. I was trying to think of other artists with similar names who had worked on Heroic, but all I came up with were Al Ulmer, Arthur Simon and Al Williamson. Anyone know if this is Toth?

I had to include this Charlie Biro cover from Boy Comics #50 as it’s about the craziest hockey scene I’ve ever witnessed. I didn’t know the Hanson Brothers played hockey during the Golden Age. I don’t own this book, but I’d love to read the story ‘The Most Hated Coach in hockey’, but I’ve always wondered how Biro would portray Mike Keenan. It's not exactly the safest rink for spectator either, as someone needs to install glass along the boards. As for the play on the ice, try to make sense of CB’s shot on goal. That puck has a mind of it’s own. “CB’s Miracle” indeed.

And now for the inevitable Toronto Maple Leafs cover. Babe Ruth Sports was one of only a handful of comics to deal with real life sports, kind of a four color Sports Illustrated. The cover to Babe Ruth Sports #7 features Hockey Hall of Famer Turk Broda. Not only was he one of the finest goalies of his generation, he definitely has one of the coolest names of all time – probably better suited to a Scorcese gangster film than between the pipes. Does anyone know who drew this cover. Not Harvey stalwart Lee Elias, that’s for sure. Perhaps Bob Powell & Co?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Unlocking the Strange Door

Every now and then, I stumple upon a slighty flawed, but nevertheless immensely enjoyable, old movie that I feel has been neglected by the sands of time. I'm not talking about a movie like Citizen Kane, but something more like He Walked By Night or The Stranger. I've found another one to add to that list, The Strange Door from 1951. Included as part of a Boris Karloff collection as a horror film from Universal, what we find instead is a moody little thriller, with Karloff playing a supporting, yet memorable role. The real star of the show he is Charles Laughton, who never met dialogue that he couldn't chew up and spit out with delight. He plays a demented, slightly effete aristocrat who has been waiting 20 years for payback. He overacts with great glee, even with a mouthful of venison one scene. It's great fun - without an ounce of horror.

The plot moves along quite nicely, and the supporting cast is adequate, if only a little wooden. A dashing Alan Napier appears all too briefly. I was actually quite surprised to learn that this film was released in 1951, and it feels much more like a Universal film circa 1938, and I mean that as a high compliment. It's a shame that this kind of film became extinct, replaced by giant insect movies. It's an interesting little forgotten gem, and worth checking out.