Jan Merlin: Statuesque Among the Stars, 1925-2019

  Jan with his Emmy Award!

My co-author and most important literary collaborator has gone from this world.

Jan Merlin might be recognizable to a generation or two of film and TV fans as the villain who populated a hundred TV shows. He made movies with Ann Sheridan, George C. Scott, and Woody Allen. He starred in two 1950s TV series, The Rough Riders—and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with Frankie Thomas.

A veteran of the Navy in World War II, Jan went from the military during the big war to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he learned the craft of acting, though he had many talents. He always thought his acting fame was a lesser role. He was always the antagonist to some western star, or some dubious military man.

Yet, despite playing dastardly villains almost constantly, with his Aryan looks (Polish American out of New York City), he was a genteel man with a sense of art and brilliantly self-educated. Like a generation of those who were never able to attend college, he more than made up for it with a dozen books to his credit. He loved fiction—drawing  upon his movie background, or his experiences in Japan after the war.

Together we did a half-dozen books of which I am most proud. We did only one work of fiction, The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth. Most of our Hollywood history tales were based on his insider knowledge of how a set work, from knowing nearly every star of the 1950s and 1960s. He laughed they were all “six feet tall,” no matter what the truth might be.

We wrote about Boys Town, Billy Budd, Reflections in a Golden Eye, among other films, giving a unique perspective on daily life during the studio shoot. He knew Brando, Taylor, Clift, James Dean, in ways that others could never understand. He threw James Dean out of the Pier Angeli house at her mother’s request.

When we did not write books together, he gave me editorial and research insights for my books on James Kirkwood and Audie Murphy. Oh, he knew them too.

Now he is gone, irreplaceable in my life and in Hollywood history, with all those insights and memories. He had stories he would not tell about the damaged figures of show business. He took those secrets with him, as much as I wanted to hear them. He was loyal to the memory of the business he loved and hated.

Once I called it ‘Tinseltown’, and he reprimanded me: it was a cherished professional location, not a frivolous tabloid fantasy to him. He introduced me as his “son” on occasion, which amused me–and made movie star Frankie Thomas look at me with quite an impression.

Goodbye, dear Jan. I am so lucky to have known you and to have worked with you. I have been left a treasure trove of his life, and maybe one day I will tell what he told me. He was my touchstone to a bygone era and glorious movie history.

World’s “Best” Commercials?

DATELINE: From Wine to Cigarettes

‘Swedish’ lady sells coffee!

We now interrupt your viewing pleasure for a word from many, many sponsors from the alleged Golden Age of Advertising. For you more historically-minded, but young readers, that’s apparently the 1960s when this documentary collection of old black and white commercials dominated the airwaves.

The World’s Best Commercials is a misnomer at best. It was surely the Era of Advertising.

Your favorite TV show or movie was at the mercy of two or three minutes of sales pitches with a curve ball—or maybe that’s a screwball.

Yes, you may have the mad impulse to turn the channel, but you are facing 90 minutes of unrelenting, idiotic, culturally-altering advertisements, often lasting a minute in length. You will see rare cigarette and wine commercials, complete with marching cigarettes (after all, LS/MFT).

Attention spans were greater back then, or sponsors fewer.

In any respect, you will shock your sensibilities to learn about the Swing-Ding in which kids give themselves a self-propelled concussion with a tie-on toy. You wil meet again the “Swedish” Mrs. Olson who hucksters Folger’s coffee. You will learn that Miami is a hotspot as America’s Riviera.

And, without any organizing principle, or narrator, you simply sit back and are hit repeatedly with an endless barrage of products, many that are now gone (we think) or evolved into something else. We saw Baggies in three sizes. They were all the suburban rage back then, when you could pour silver dollars into them—and they would not rip or shred.

Several times we were moved to get up and go to the bathroom.

This compendium has nothing to do with quality, but likely what was readily available to the producers of this collection. Were we the only masochists who would force this stuff upon ourselves? If you are a student of sociology, marketing, or sociological marketing history, this film will thrill you.

This stuff is campy and may have even been humorous in its day.

You clearly see what was on the minds of the people controlling the purse-strings in those days:  suburban Mom. Kids, husbands, pets, all were at her whim to purchase or allow such items into the home. If you want to know who the big powers of the era were, this little ad ditties will tell you.

Pay TV reportedly was to end this blight on America’s vast wasteland of free TV.

Forgiving Dr.Mengele???

DATELINE: Shocker from Holocaust Survivor

 Preaching Forgiveness Eva Kor

We have to admit the moment we saw the title for this documentary about Mengele at Auschwitz, we were baffled and shocked. What kind of Nazi propaganda was this? It turns out the film is told from the viewpoint of Eva Kor, a survivor twin of the Mengele experiments. Her story makes a compelling version of Forgiving Dr. Mengele.

Her idea to forgive (not forget) the people who harmed her has infuriated other twin survivors—and Jews in general. She argues that their anger and hatred are destructive to themselves and their own healing.

She meets with a Nazi doctor—and she writes him a letter of forgiveness. They go to Auschwitz together, elderly and frail, holding onto each other. It is startling.

What a tale she has to tell. And, if she forgives the evil Nazi doctor, we want to hear why she has come to this conclusion.

From 2006, this film is brilliantly cut, swirling back and forth between modern Terre Haute with its placid environs, and the horror of black and white footage. Eva, now a realtor, walks along a luxury pool that turns into a puddle she walks around when she visited the camp in 1984.

She is survivor in every way. As a ten-year old child, she saw her first dead body in the dirt, unattended and naked, and she swore she would never give up life. Each day she willed herself to live through horrid experiments and deplorable conditions.

Fortunately, she was rescued in ten months—though she and her twin were damaged by the trauma, as expected. Once arriving at her destination, her mother was ripped away—and she never saw father and sisters again. Only she and her twin sister were together: saved for Mengele’s dastard medical plans.

When the Soviets freed her camp, she and her sister were the first two to march out of the barbed wire on film, a famous piece of celluloid.

Her life in America came after she married another Holocaust survivor. They raised three typical American children in the heartland of America—but she never leaves food on her plate and sleeps with her purse under her. These are holdovers from losing everything.

When she tackles forgiveness, she becomes a lightning rod in Israel, Germany, and the United States.

She and her husband subscribe to the notion that you can only transcend such a life-altering horror by forgiving the enemies who tormented you. It works for her, and she is a hard-working, admirable woman who laughed when they said she could not sell real estate because she had an accent.

What a remarkable person.

 

 

Time & Again Machine

DATELINE: Wells Novel on Screen Again

 Guy Pearce face-off with hologram enacted by Orlando Jones!

 

Back in 2002, forty years after the original classic George Pal movie, there came a remake of The Time Machine, based on the H.G. Wells classic.

This time the stalwart hero is Guy Pearce, and the story once set in London during the Victorian Age with an American as the time traveler, is now set in New York with an Austrailian as the American scientist. It doesn’t matter much as Guy Pearce is so brilliant, humorous, and always watchable. His rebel scientist eschews hats and wears his long hair greasy. It is quasi-Victorian, but totally Hollywood.

The film’s best moments are its paeon to the earlier film and story. As if to underscore the homage, they have brought Mr. Ed’s Alan Young out of retirement to play a cameo. He was one of the stars of the 1960 version.

Our favorite moment is when Orlando Jones shows up as a hologram at the New York Public Library who can tell us about the earlier movie, the Wells novel, and can even sing a tune from the bad musical version of the same.

The time machine itself is a Rube Goldberg mess that looks worse than the one used in 1960, and one character even calls it a “cappuccino maker.”

The impetus for time travel is, of course, the unfortunate death of our hero’s girlfriend. He goes back to fix the problem but discovers that you might go back a thousand times, but her death will occur every time, however differently.

The interesting travels through time also takes us 802,000 years into the future when the planet has clearly gone through some ice ages and re-growth. It is interesting that the evolving of humans seems minimal. You can blame that lack of insight on Wells, not the movie.

All in all, this old-fashioned and fun movie plays with the subject and our memories of it. It’s hard to believe that it was almost twenty years ago that it escaped our attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Wick: Serial Killer or Mass Murderer?

DATELINE: Kill Count Around 200?

Keanu with Anjelica.

We just had the pleasure of watching a film that is the epitome of political incorrectness in America after a half-dozen shootings in society. John Wick: Chapter Three Parabellum is a violent satire of gun use. At least, we think it is meant to be funny.

Para bellum is Latin for “prepare for war.”  It is only one of several high-toned touches of art and culture in a brutal shoot’em up. We did not have our clicker with us, but we believe Wick kills over 150 people, one at a time. It causes the movie to run for a full two-hours and have credits that will feature keanu’s chef.

Keanu Reeves has now appeared in three of these sagas, his big money-making series. At 55 he is giving contemporary Tom Cruise a run for old age. We cannot imagine how he can run, jump, kill, and duck endlessly and never be out of breath. And, he is shot and stabbed on more than one occasions.

You know that Wick is dangerous when he kills an assassin in the New York Public Library—with a book. And then puts the bloody tome back on the shelf.

The film is a series of set pieces of mayhem. It seems everyone in the world is packing heat—and most of those are hired guns. No wonder we have shootings every week. It’s part of a movie fantasy world.

Among the high-brow stars is Anjelica Huston playing The Director, some kind of Russian oligarch balletomane who runs a dance company like she’s a female Diaghilev. Also on hand for chuckles is Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne. Don’t worry about your stars being killed off: they will need to return for the fourth entry (yes, it is clearly coming).

In the meantime you can wonder about the brilliant choreography done by Reeves, and then there are outlandish set scenes like a swordfight on motorcycles.

We want to say the body count is quite high, but we think more panes of glass were broken than any other kind of vandalism. There isn’t a window in which someone does not put his head right through.

We also see plenty of blood splatter as heads are blown away with armor piercing bullets when a sword through the eyeball is not handy.

We haven’t seen this high a body count since Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood went Where Eagles Dare, killing Nazis.

 

 

 

 

Patrick Swayze Remembered!

DATELINE: Gone 10 Years!

 I am Patrick Swayze!

Has the Dirty Dancing Ghost star been gone for ten years?

The documentary put together by those who loved him (wife, brother, costars, friends, agents) is powerful its use of one word: “heart.” It seems to crop up regularly from a variety of people. He had it and he gave it.

The film description said he “challenged Hollywood’s notion of masculinity,” which perplexed us, as he seemed instead to epitomize it. He could play a cowboy, a dancer, a roadhouse thug, in action films where he did his own stunts. He was vibrant, and only handsome incidentally. He was an athlete or a ballet dancer, and from that root came everything else. This is one of a series of biographical films, this called I am Patrick Swayze.

His mother was the ultimate stage mother: she ran a Texas ballet school, and it was obvious Patrick Swayze would be part of that world. Knee reconstruction from football injuries put him in pain whenever he did those roles thereafter.

He did not want to be a teen idol, though his roller blading was stunning, and his dirty dancing made him internationally famous.

Friends talk of his soul of a poet, how well-rounded in arts he was. Rob Lowe and C. Thomas Howell were teammates, rivals, and friends, from the Coppola movie The Outsiders. He costars noted he was mild and dynamic at the same time.

We always found him watchable and curious about what he might do: sometimes he took on roles that did not interest everyone, but he was his own man in that regard. Then, he was sick with pancreatic cancer and gone abruptly. It now appears to be a grave injustice of the universe to take away a person who epitomized life.

He wanted to prove there was life beyond being a sex symbol, which led him to do sky-diving stunts in Point Break and brutal fight scenes. He was not wanted for one of his great roles, in Ghost.The director had to be convinced, but Patrick Swayze always convinced anyone who put his attentions on.

Like the proverbial meteor, he came, shined by in the firmament, and went away. Like many others, after seeing this film of his life, we miss him too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncanny Cats: Not Exactly T.S. Elliot

DATELINE: Cat Got Your Tongue? 

Way back in 1977, on the heels of a career of low budget horror movies, Ray Milland took off his toupee and faced the snarling, pouncing faces of cats. The film was titled The Uncanny, which is hardly catty enough.

Yes, what Alfred Hitchcock did for The Birds, this film wanted to do for your cute and cuddly pussycat. Don’t ask what’s up, pussycat, because writer and scientist Peter Cushing believes that cats are the devil’s messenger—and they have it for him. He has written a book and is trying to sell it to publisher Milland.

Like Erich van Daniken, Cushing’s paranormal writer has tackled the Pyramids, UFOs, and other topical crypto-science subjects—and has turned his attention to a conspiracy of cats. And, his feline nemesis is not a happy camper.

If your idea of fur balls turning evil is good for a laugh, this movie is for you. If you belong to Internet websites that features kitty cats doing funny things, you may be horrified. Well, that is the point of this film.

As for us, we never grab a pussy by the tail—and recommend you don’t either!

The sordid little tales are set in London in 1912, Hollywood in 1936, and in contemporary Montreal. We should tell you that the cold winter of Montreal does not stand in well for Los Angeles.

The cast is downright overblown: Donald Pleasance and Samantha Eggar are in Hollywood, and Simon Williams—fresh off Upstairs/Downstairsas wastrel James Bellamy has a cat moment himself. A few other known faces, like John Vernon, are also in the storyline.

The film did not ruin anyone’s career, having been lost for decades and forgotten by everyone involved. It isn’t HItchock level, and it is of varying brutality and humor, but you seldom find a movie in which cute kitty-cats are filmed like horrid monsters, leaping from balconies to kill.

As a curio, this one is worth peeking at.

 

 

Halston: Fashionista with Un-Common Touch

DATELINE: Clothes Make the Woman

 Halston, Taylor, Minelli at Studio 54!

Fashion designer extraordinaire, Halston was part of a generation that self-immolated by 1990. Most of them were gone: trend-setting, pop culture icons:  notably Halston (he only needed one name, like Liberace). A fascinating documentary aptly named Halstontells the tale.

The 1950s gave young talents like Halston and Warhol a youthful connection to fame, but it was by the 1960s they took charge of their lives. Halston was a gypsy of America, living in no true fixed abode. So, he was likely to be self-made.

He was ambitious and flamboyant, ready to take his energy and ideas into all kinds of creative realms. He was the pioneer who made Europe take note of American fashion, though he was later given rivals like Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein.

Halston tried to stay ahead of the curve, branching out into aesthetics like perfume with bottles as arty as popular. He melded movies and fashion together, finding that his association with people like Liza Minelli and Elizabeth Taylor were ways to grow socially and artfully.

It started to go wrong when he splurged into Studio 54 with Warhol, Capote, and the raft of disco dollies. It was, some said, the beginning of a dissolution.

The documentary never says much about his aging, but it’s there: clearly losing youth to something harder. He became as hard as his looks, or perhaps his looks took on his personality: moody, bossy, self-centered.  It wasn’t pretty, when he started to be less pretty.

Others thought his greed was the deciding factor that led to his destruction: he sold out to J.C. Penney, going from class to mass appeal. It alienated his well-to-do friends and undermined his name. He actually sold his own name, and lost control of it.

The end featured more intrigue that Ancient Rome, as he was pushed out (literally locked out) of his own empire by locksmiths and Playtex bra people who bought his name. A few thought it was drugs that did him in, if not promiscuity.

It was the 1980s and the deadly virus that swept through art circles in theatre, fashion, music, especially in New York, took him too. Andy Warhol once said that he’d want Halston and Elizabeth Taylor as his chums because they were so nice.

This celebrity name-dropping documentary may stir memories in a generation grown old. Halston was loved by many people who felt he epitomized tragedy by the end.

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Hunting Game

 DATELINE: Richard Connell Classic

 Fay Wray Sees Something!

If you are looking for the prequel to 1933’s King Kong,you will have found it with this first major adaption of Richard Connell’s famous (or infamous) story called The Most Dangerous Game.

Right from the opening credits, you will recognize the style and tone of the classic big monkey movie. That’s for a number of reasons: foremost, the producers of the Kong and Son thereof films honed their approach to the topic with this classic.

You have the basic premise of a sea captain taking his ship and passengers out into remote and uncharted waters where lurks an island with mystery. It almost seems like the same prologue to each film.  Officers are concerned with strange locales not on maps.

Instead of Bruce Bennett (or is that Cabot), you have interchangeable leading man Joel MacRae as the resilient young adventurer. When he is washed up on the shores of a strange island, he meets none other than Kong’s leading lady, Fay Wray, who is also stranded there with her brother, played by—you guessed it—the man who gave us the Eighth Wonder of the World—Robert G. Armstrong (not Carl Denham this time, but a ne’er-do-well with the same personality).

They are the guests not of a giant gorilla but of the King of the Island, General Zaroff, (played in slimeball style of the 1930s by Leslie Banks). It seems he has a strange fetish: he likes to hunt big game that is truly dangerous, like people. Back in those pre-Hitler times, he was not a Nazi, crypto-Nazi, or neo-Nazi, but some kind of twisted member of the aristocracy.

With its chase scenes through the jungle, the pounding music, and the production values of Merriam C. Cooper, you have a sense of been-there, done-that, from the next year version of King Kong.

It is a delight to feel the similarity, and you keep wondering where the dinosaurs are.

 

Madhouse/Funhouse/Nuthouse & Then Some!

DATELINE: One Last American International Horror

 

 

 Cushing & Price

 

Madhouse is a nuthouse extravaganza movie with a funhouse spirit.

Vincent Price finished up his American International contract, which featured so many classic Edgar Allan Poe tales done outrageously, that it seemed inevitable that he would go out with a blaze. Here, he plays a movie star who made a bunch of movies as “Dr. Death,” a hideous murderer. Art imitates life here.

His career went south when he was accused of cracking up and murdering his fiancée. Whether he did it or not is the crux of the horror. You may find more than a fair share of suspects trying to “gaslight” the old star.

Well, after a dozen years in a madhouse, he returns to acting to star, good grief, in a TV series based on his infamous character.

If you haven’t guessed that most of the funhouse nuthouse stuff is all tongue-in-cheek, you miss more than most of the Hammer House parody.

Joining Price is Peter Cushing as his best friend, fellow actor, and screenwriter of all those grisly murder movies.

If that is not spicy enough for you, A-I studios dug up their two other favorite stars of the 1960s—Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone—and featured them in amusing cameos. It’s no mean feat, as the two legendary stars were long-gone for about a half-dozen years by the time this film was before the cameras.

You have to love a movie that begins with everyone watching a film in a Hollywood mansion with the final credits rolling out the words, “The End” in blood red letters.

If shameless overacting isn’t your thing, then you may not appreciate the golden opportunity Price has been given: he even dresses the part, in white trench coat and matching fedora.

There is even an O.J. Simpson moment when Scotland Yard has everyone try on the murderer’s glove: if it fits, you know the rest…So, O.J.’s lawyers found the idea in this movie!

Playing Mr. Toombes, Price puts a cutrate on fellow cast members as they are all mysteriously dispatched as the new TV series takes place at British studios. It is a nicely set film with solid production values to make you forget this is what a good cast and production team can do with a low-budget.

 

 

 

 

Every Act of Life: Terrence McNally

DATELINE: Surviving Show Business

 Terry McNally & Eddie Albee back when….

In all my connections to Broadway writers, Terrence McNally never came up much.

Now James Kirkwood would talk about everyone in show biz! We gossiped about them all. Yet, there is no memory of him mentioning McNally.

Oh, they knew of each other: gay writers winning friends in great theater. Kirkwood certainly knew Edward Albee who was McNally’s first important boyfriend, but McNally may have been too openly gay for Jim Kirkwood. It’s the only conclusion to make.

Every Act of Lifeis a documentary on the life of McNally who worked with every actor imaginable since the death of Jim Kirkwood in 1989, and that may be the survival of your reputation in show business. Richard Thomas, Nathan Lane, Rita Moreno, F. Murray Abraham, Angela Lansbury, all share memories of their careers and personal ties to McNally and his funny and varied plays.

All Jim’s closest actor friends, like Sal Mineo, are long gone. One young writer once said to me: “Wow, I didn’t think any of Kirkwood’s friends were still alive.”

McNally survived, though people like Robert Drivas, his tempestuous and exotic actor boyfriend after Albee, died of AIDS in 1985 in the first wave of notable show business deaths. Drivas was a closet case, and yet it was open and flamboyant McNally who still lives nearly forty years later.

There is no accounting for survival, but you have to admire it when it shows up at your door. The film on the life of McNally is likely a tonic and a fizz for gay people who need superior role models. If you die too soon, you can’t be much of a mentor. If Jim Kirkwood were here, I might say you should never have told me to write your autobiography and play coy about your gay life. Yet, he did.

McNally, had I known him, would never have said such a thing, but those plays and characters never quite grabbed like Jim Kirkwood’s creations.

Oh, it’s too late now to do much about it, but we can celebrate the life of Terrence McNally, albeit a tad on the late side.

 

Dr. William Russo wrote Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony, available in paperback and e-book on Amazon.

The Hunt: Billions for Defense

DATELINE: Not a Cent for Distribution

hunt

The new movie entitled The Hunt, which is loosely based on the Richard Connell classic story most dangerous game has been shelved or postponed from release. It’s been shot dead by Trump and his automatic trigger finger on Twitter.

It now appears that the story about a pre-Nazi survival list is now too hot for Hollywood.  They have been a number of versions over the years including some with ice cube being hunted or Joel McRae back in the 1930s .

There was a version in the mid 50s and one in the 40s .  The tail has always been a twist on a survival list white nationalist elitist crypto Nazi who has poor people because they are clever and they are the most dangerous game to hunt .

Now President Trump has attacked the film because he doesn’t like the idea that billionaires maybe hunting down poor average Americans, or worse immigrants. He calls this racism of the liberal sword.

This man has no sense of literature, of a Connell story written first in the 1920s as a metaphor of privilege gone mad. There have been versions every generation—like Billy the Kid tales. Each story fits the moment of its production.

If we are learning any lesson, it is that you cannot maligned the reputation of good men who just happened to be billionaires who own 90% of the world.

You’re insulting Trump’s friends who are holding fundraisers in the Hamptons led by the owner of the Miami Dolphins who happens to have 7 billion or bad craft, solicitor of prostitutes in massage parlors who happens to have $4 billion.

These people would never engage in a sport that hunted down the people who buy tickets Or would they?

 

 

Lost Tomb of Genghis Khan

DATELINE: Literate & Bloody Genghis?

Genghis Khan? Gold with Genghis?

Another superior French production marks the visit of three scientists on the search for the burial spot of the Mongolian leader known for his bloodthirsty strategies of wiping out populations.

The Lost Tomb of Genghis Khan is somewhere in the hinterlands of Mongolia but has been kept hidden by a cult of devout worshippers—even until today. Not one scintilla of evidence from the tomb has ever appeared since his burial in the mid-1200s.

It is thought he was buried with immense wealth in a desolate spot where his sons and grandsons also now are entombed, notably Kublai Khan.

No one is sure of the exact spot because the funeral cortege murdered anyone who saw it along route. They did not want anyone to know the great Khan was dead: it would undercut his divinity until he was safely buried.

So, even in death, his cut-throat, brutal tactics were in place.

Yet, Khan was also known as the first Mongol to codify laws and create a written language to solidify his people. Nothing like writing laws to ban murder while you cavalierly murder your way to top!

Genghis received more than bad press outside his homeland, but he was revered as someone special within.

By use of drones and mapping without touching the ground, three scientists risk their lives to go to the secret location. They travel through bogs and across rough terrain as tourist academics, never letting anyone know their real purpose.

Yet, when they return a year later, it is clear that the cult of worship has known of their appearance: the burial mountain has fresh totems in stone around the area. It makes for hair-raising research.

Rough editing seems to come out where commercial interruptions might happen, and there is one English-speaking American expert in Chicago offering his sage wisdom.

This is an intriguing hour of history.

Ghosts of West: End of Bonanza Trail

DATELINE: Dead Memories of the Old West

ghost towns See no ghosts?

An utterly intriguing documentary on ghosts out west turns out to be utterly poetic and features no stories about ghosts. Be forewarned, and be prepared for a beautifully made film about the mystique of the Old West.

The dead memories are, in fact, the ghosts alluded to by director E.S. Knightchilde. Can that be a real name? Written and produced, the mysterious KNightchilde is nearly as ghostly as the missing ghosts.

If you also have an idea that this film will be about the lost Cartwrights, Ben and Hoss and Little Joe, it’s about another bonanza, though it is not far from Virginia City in Nevada to Colorado and Montana.

The film avoids color completely, blending its old photos and newer landscapes into one timeless black and white and silver image. When you add the poetic words of Theodore Roosevelt as part of the narrative, you have an idea that this is not going to be your traditional western tale.

Photos are rare and unusual, nicely packaged around the mining towns that quickly were abandoned. These are the ghost towns of the film: most of the little villages boomed for five or ten years and were deserted overnight. They were never intended to be long-term municipal places.

The single men who caroused, worked, and died there, hoped to strike it rich and escape that world. It was a place where, we are told, lynchings were commonplace, murders were standard, and all these dead people surely left ghostly haunting. We do not hear about that. It is the towns that grip the director who finds them shredded by tourists and scavengers. They are flattened for their mountain views and condo life of rich homesteaders of the 21st century.

The little towns that are dead with their dilapidated buildings grow scarce and have been saved by a few civic minded souls who have turned them into historical, living museums that you may wander around.

Only two interviews of older experts are shown, and they are the only bits of film in color, as to be expected with a film rich in poetry and aesthetics.

If you don’t mind beauty instead of fright, this documentary is worth staying around to watch.

Time Travelers in 1964

DATELINE: Lost & Forgotten Gem!

Foster & Hoyt Great Supporting Stars!

IB Melchior is hardly a name to be lumped in with the grand auteurs of long-ago: we think of Orson Welles, but there were others like William Cameron Menzies—and IB.

He wrote, directed, and produced, slipping into American International studios at the end, but keeping up high quality on a low-budget.

The Time Travelers is a joy to behold. Move over, Irwin Allen.

His sleeper is a take-off on The Time Machine and other sci-fi classics of the 1950s. With unusual intelligence, he put together a minor movie with a TV-generated cast of cast-offs: there’s an aging Preston Foster, off bad TV after a weak leading man life in the 1930s. He has a pointed imperial beard and wears an occasional monocle as the steady scientist behind a time travel machine.

There is Phil Carey, looking pauchy even at his peak of TV work as the assistant. You have white haired John Hoyt, taking his hair color cues from Brian Keith, as Varno, leader of a futuristic tribe of nuclear war survivors.

And there is Steve Franken, fresh off playing the Dobie Gillis nemesis, Chatsworth Osbourne, as the boyish (he was 34) foil. We never realized just how short he was.

Throw in a guest appearance from Forrest J. Ackerman, whose paranormal documentary by Paul Davids is The Life after Death Project. Here he suitably appears at the paranormal portal to the time warp.

The film features rovers on Saturn’s moon, Titan, discussions of exo-planets, and the kind of odd creatures that H.G. Wells was fond of using for troublesome survivors.

You might be surprised at how the effects work quite well in a simple manner before computer generated spectaculars. And, you do have real actors trying to keep a straight face.

It’s a wonderful little sci-fi classic that we dismissed back when—and suddenly have re-considered in old age as something a bit more special. If you love time warps and seeing a movie speed up and recap in one minute, you are in for a treat.