Movie Madness and/or Mania: The Cry Baby Killer (Jus Addis, 1958)

I say this even as a devotee of 1950s JD movies: there is only one reason to see this one, and that is for a glimpse of a scrawny 20 year old Jack Nicholson, a decade before Easy Rider, before he fully grew into his face.

Produced by Roger Corman for Allied Artists, but directed by prolific TV director Jus Addiss (as far as I can tell this was his only theatrical feature), it starts promisingly enough, with the typical Corman opening credits of the era- freaky Modern Art and fake rock-and-roll. But (sadly) this is no Bucket of Blood.

The film opens with Jimmy Wallace (the larval Nicholson) getting beat up by rival delinquent Manny and his snickering, sublimated, sidekick. Manny retires to local all-night drive-in, where he has taken up with Jimmy former girlfriend, Carole.

Jimmy shows up for a rematch, and in the confusion the sidekick pulls a gun, Jimmy gets it away from him and shoots, before holing up in the storage shed behind the restaurant, taking a hostage the cook and a hapless tourist and her baby who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The cops and an opportunistic TV reporter with a mobile broadcasting truck from the improbably-named KQQQ lay siege to Jimmy and his hostages.

What even is this movie? Is it a social-problem movie about gangs and delinquency? Is it an Ace in the Hole-style critique of tabloid media circuses? Is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of permissive parenting? Is it commenting on the LAPD’s eagerness to use all of their fancy new riot gear?

What it is is very short- IMBD shows the running time at 70 minutes, my DVD listed it at 67, but even with a brief introduction by Corman, the credits rolled on my copy at the 59 minute mark.

Nonetheless, in manages to squeeze a lot into its running time, including a budding romance between the middle-aged carhop and the first police officer on the scene.

It also has a lot of scenery chewing by young Nicholson- if anything it is remembered for the scene when he freaks out and starts screaming at obviously fake crying baby he’s inadvertently taken hostage.

Nicholson aside, the quality of acting varies wildly- veteran TV actor Harry Lauter (as Det. Lt. Porter) and Lynn Cartwright (wife of screenwriter Leo Gordon, and I just learned “Old Dottie” in A League of Their Own!!!) are more than serviceable; veteran actor Smoki Whitfield, after decades of playing Pullman porters and witch doctors, is actually quite good as the quietly heroic cook who tries to talk Jimmy back from the edge.

…and on the other side are the rest of the delinquents, who all look middle-aged and noticeably stumble through their lines.

Also notable is the sound design, which is something you don’t notice unless it’s terrible, which it is. At one point dialogue that is supposed to be coming over a police radio is clearly just somebody standing off-camera and yelling.

How does it all end? Well, as the LAPD advances on the shack with tear gas at the ready, Carole (that faithless wench) gets on the bullhorn and persuades Jimmy to surrender, when he emerges still carrying the handgun she deflects the advancing officer’s rifle shot and runs into his arms. Crisis averted!

Did everyone learn a valuable lesson?

Yes, Detective Porter!

I guess everyone can go home then.

Availability: Long out of circulation, it finally got a home video release on DVD in 2006; bonus features include a brief intro by producer Corman, along with a colorized version of Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, which also features an early Nicholson performance and is a much better actual movie.

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Polly French Takes Charge (#2) By Francine Lewis

“Winning the election is fine but that’s just the start. Now we really are in up to our ears.”

Concluding our 2017 series on Whitman’s girls’ series of the 1950s, 60s and 70s is the second volume in the short-lived Polly French series.

Background: Polly French has become something of an object of derision for me over the past year, what with its hysterical cast of characters whipping the whole town into a frenzy over a high school election. I am somewhat relieved to report that for Polly’s second outing, everyone has calmed down a bit. I still don’t love (or even like) the series, but at least it doesn’t have everyone chasing hobos around cornfields all night!

The Plot: Now that Polly and her cousin Alan Gray have swept the students General Organization election, they have to fulfill their campaign promise to start a club for student theatrics. Alan seems to already be regretting accepting the nomination: Continue reading

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Robin Kane #2: The Mystery Of The Phantom By Eileen Hill

It was impossible to tell just what it was, but they were certain it wasn’t the rain this time. Something looking like a great black ghost moved stealthily, steadily through the studio…

It’s still fall, and I still have a few Whitman girls’ series on the docket. Lost Classics hasn’t revisited the Robin Kane series since Year One, so that seems like a good idea…

OK, about 2 pages in I remember why I gave up on Robin Kane.

The Plot:  Well, the good news is that 13 year old Robin seems to have suffered no ill-effects from her adventure capturing cattle rustlers, including the notorious bandit El Gato, in the last book. Continue reading

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Wrapping Up The Imaginary Summer Book Club: The Haunting Of Hill House By Shirley Jackson

(Click here for information on the 2017 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature.  This month, the September selection, Shirley Jackson’s  The Haunting of Hill House.)

Well,  a week after Halloween we finally get to Shirley Jackson’s iconic ghost story… but really the chilly winds of November make for an even better backdrop for reading it… despite the fact the story itself takes place in the summer.

The basic set up (a disparate group of people converge on a sinister house to embroil themselves in supernatural phenomenon) has been done with casting ranging from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to the Bowery Boys.

In the opening page we learn that it is Dr. John Montague (“…a doctor of philosophy; he had taken his degree in anthropology, feeling obscurely that in this field he might come closest to his true vocation, the analysis of supernatural manifestations”) has gone through a lot of trouble to secure the rental of Hill House for the summer, initially envisioning “a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions.” Continue reading

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Donna Parker: Mystery at Arawak (#6) By Marcia Martin

She really hadn’t meant to pry, but why did Helene seem so terribly upset and worried? What could be in the letters that was so important, and so private? She acted almost as though it were a matter of life a death…

In our second installment of our 2017 look at Whitman’s  hardcovers girls’ series, we again pick up with the extremely pleasant Donna Parker books.

Background: When last we left 14 year old Donna she had, over the course of a 6-month period, restored the faith in humanity of a disposed French count(and earned an electric sewing machine for doing so!); won a scholastic journalism award and thwarted a group of communist spies;  kept house while Donna’s parents set off on a whirlwind tour of Europe and India and dealt with some pretty heavy issues at home, then rushed off for a long-promised trip to mid-century California, land of palm trees and “voice culture” lessons. More strictly serialized than most contemporary girls’ series, Donna has returned from the west coast in time to pick up a half-season as a Junior Counselor at Camp Arawak.

The Plot: Donna is initially dismayed to learn that Camp Cherrydale doesn’t need any more staff for the year, but she is recommended by her old employer for a Junior Counselor position at the much larger and more formal Camp Arawak (“Miss Tessie made it very clear that the blue camp uniforms were to be worn at all times, with the exception of Sunday, when everyone wore white”); Donna initially has hard time fitting in, and immediately upsets her Senior Counselor, Helene, first by accidentally opening a drawer that contains her mail, then making a polite inquiry about college: Continue reading

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Meg: Mystery In Williamsburg (Meg Duncan #6)

What were the suspicious strangers after? Why were she and Kerry locked in the old jail? And who chased them in the garden? These were only a few of the questions Meg needed to answer.

If it’s October, it must be time for our annual look at Whitman‘s intrepid girl-heroines, the beloved Donnas, Ginnies and Kims (…and yes, the less-loved Robins, Trudies and Pollies).

And once again, we’ll kick off with suburban tweenage sleuth Meg Duncan, complete with absent parents, beloved bachelor uncle, and spunky tomboy sidekick.

Background:  I have commented before that I am bad at mysteries (Dan is Regan’s nephew? WHA-?), and even as an adult reader I am usually more or less surprised by the outcome of whatever whodunit is pitched at an audience 30 years my junior.  So I probably give the Meg Duncan series at least an extra star for plotting so rudimentary and obvious that even I can figure out where they are going long before the final chapter. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown By Sylvia Tate

(Click here for information on the 2017 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the August selection, Sylvia Tate’s The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown.)

This is the very definition of a Lost Classic: upon its publication 60 years ago, Sylvia Tate’s satirical look at Hollywood’s declining star system inspired both a feature film from the production company of the star who could have served as inspiration for the novel AND a copycat crime-slash-hoax from different starlet whose biography could have also provided inspiration.

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

As the book opens, Laurel Gold, blonde bombshell star of radio, TV and song-and-dance films “with the accent on sex”, is on her way to a Christmastime benefit performance, resentful that her agent has booked her yet again as fundraiser for a bunch of orphans. Laurel, a former big band singer and mash-up of Monroe, Mansfield, Betty Hutton, and Doris Day, is proud of her reputation as a hard-as-nails businesswoman, who exerts control over her own career in a  man’s world.

So, when she’s kidnapped by a couple of amateurs, charming David Daniel “Dandy” Kern and brooding hunk Mike Valla, she’s more put out over their incompetence than anything else- except perhaps the fact that they plan to ransom her for ONLY $50,000. Continue reading

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