Saturday, October 31, 2020

Horror Hotel aka City of the Dead ( 1960 )

"Is it Whitewood you seek?" 

A tall distinguished-looking man asks this of Nan Barlow ( Venetia Stevenson ) when she comes to a crossroads one dark, foggy evening searching for an old village. It is indeed Whitewood that Nan seeks. After hearing her college professor Alan Driscoll ( Christopher Lee ) tell her tales of the witchcraft that took place in the 17th-century Massachusetts village, she decides to spend a week at the legendary Raven's Inn in Whitewood. 

This old and rotting inn was the site where Elizabeth Selwyn was burned at the stake for being a witch, way back in 1692. There is even a plaque on the wall to inform visitors about the historical significance of the inn. When Nan arrives, the town and the inn, appear to be deserted. 

The innkeeper, Mrs. Newless ( Patricia Jessel ), attempts to turn Nan away claiming that there are no rooms available...until Nan mentions that Professor Driscoll sent her. Mrs. Newless gladly gives her a room then because this misguided young woman is clearly intended to be the next sacrificial victim for the witches.

Patricia Russell ( Betta St. John ), the daughter of Reverend Russell, the sole minister in the town of Whitewood, has her suspicions about the evil lurking within Raven's Inn but she doesn't realize the danger that she herself is in until Nan disappears one evening. It is not until Nan's brother Richard ( Dennis Lotis ) and her boyfriend Bill ( Tom Naylor ) come to visit Whitewood in search of her that the centuries-old coven of witches is finally destroyed. 

"We'll be waiting for you!"

City of the Dead was a British production, yet it perfectly captured the atmosphere of New England with its legends of witchcraft. It was a budget horror film that did poorly at the box office when it was first released. The film did a little better in ticket sales when it was retitled Horror Hotel for its U.S. release a year later but has only recently gained the recognition it deserves because it really is a very chilling film and a well-made production, too. 

John Llewellyn Moxey, an Argentinian director, was making his directorial debut and he did a splendid job of packing in a lot of story and action in such a short runtime ( 76 minutes ).....not to mention a lot of fog! Moxey later devoted his time to television work and directed numerous episodes of shows such as The Saint, The Baron, Hawaii 5-0, Mission Impossible, Charlie's Angels, and Murder, She Wrote

The cinematography of Horror Hotel makes it seem like a production with a much bigger budget than it had. This was thanks to its cinematographer, Desmond Dickinson, who had a long career in film in England ( he photographed Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Browning Version, and Murder Most Foul to name a few ). 

Venetia Stevenson is pretty-as-a-picture as the ingenue Nan, and Betta St. John has a good role, too, but the film's starring attractions really are Patricia Jessel and Valentine Dyall ( he portrays Jethrow Keane ). These two pros, both Shakesperian stage actors, lend their characters such devilish charm that it is almost disappointing to see their demise, especially after centuries of living at the Raven's Inn.  
Christopher Lee has a small but interesting part as Nan's professor, while Norman MacOwan, an old character actor, was making his final film appearance as Reverend Russell. His character, who fervently pleads a warning to all visitors of Whitewood, helps to increase the fear factor.

All in all, if you want a good scare on a Halloween night, then it is well worth checking out this bewitching 1960 gem. 

Want to spend an evening in Whitewood?

Friday, October 30, 2020

TV/Movie Set: Bedknobs and Broomsticks ( 1971 )

It has been a long, long time since we have featured a TV/Movie set article, so to bring the series back to life, my sister and I selected a house design that we have loved for years - the Bedknobs and Broomsticks manor. It's so fitting for this time of year, too. 

This beautiful English Tudor belonged to Eglantine Price ( Angela Lansbury ), the heroine of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a bewitching 1971 musical from Walt Disney Studios. The film tells the story of a would-be witch who attempts to learn the secret of the missing spell of "Substituiary Locomotion" in order to help England defeat the Nazis during World War II. 

Miss Price's secluded house overlooked the chalky white cliffs of Dover. It was an ideal place for her to practice witchcraft without the citizens of Pepperinge Eye knowing what she was doing. She was disappointed to get saddled with three orphaned evacuee children from London, but once they learned that she was an apprentice witch, they come to her aid and help her to locate the missing spell.

Here is a quick sketch of the layout of the interior of the house. Since only one side of the living room was shown, I left that part of the sketch undone. 

Let's take a look at the house more closely with some screenshots......


John B. Mansbridge, a fabulous art director who was in charge of many of Walt Disney's productions throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was the art director of this film and he did a beautiful job of recreating a World War II-era English manor. Peter Ellenshaw is also credited as art director for the production, but since he was a matte artist, most of his work was probably painting the exterior shots of the house ( see the two screenshots above ). 

Like many old manor homes, Mansbridge designed the house to look like it had a number of additions added to it over the years. The "original" house did not have a kitchen, so as you can see in the sketch, it is one of the additions and located off the living room instead. 

When Miss Price first arrives home with the children in tow, we see a glimpse of a stone wall behind her. Later in the film, this would be the wall that the Nazis attempt to climb when they attack her house. 

Miss Price's house is very strongly built. The local clergyman ( Roddy McDowall ) knows this, too, and when he comes to deliver a telegram for Miss Price he tests out her porch by jumping up and down on it! He wants to have her house as his own, although the reason why is never expanded upon in the script. 


Our first view of the interior is the living room. Isn't it charming? Miss Price's house is filled with numerous chairs, bric-a-brac, and lots of pictures hanging on the walls. The old beams add character to the place and it makes one think of the interior of an old inn. 

In this scene, Miss Price is heading towards a closet to stow away her new broomstick and below we see the stairs leading up to the room which she will give to the children to use. 

You can see the dining room behind Miss Price in this screenshot:

When the Nazis take over her house ( because of its prime location overlooking the Channel ), they make the living room their "headquarters". That's John Ericson as the handsome young Nazi captain. 

Emile Kuri and Hal Gausman were responsible for the set decoration and they did such a wonderful job. Both Kuri and Guasman had worked as set decorators on other Disney productions such as The Parent Trap ( 1961 ), Mary Poppins ( 1964 ), That Darn Cat ( 1965 ), The Secret of the Pirates Inn ( 1967 ), and Blackbeard's Ghost ( 1968 ). 

As Miss Price leads the children up the staircase we see lots of prints of hunt scenes and animals on the wall and, in the children's room, there is a picture of a military officer and battle scenes which gives us a hint into the character of Miss Price's father ( it was once his house ). 


The fact that Miss Price left his room unchanged and told the children to "be very careful of everything in it" tells us a little bit about her character. 

Carrie is given the devon to sleep on and the boys will share the brass bed. Later, this becomes a traveling bed when the famous "traveling spell" is applied to one of the brass bedknobs. 

It's a plain room, but it gets plenty of light from the window. It could do with some new wallpaper, however. 

"Now how's a ruddy big bed like that going to get out of this room with those little windows?" asks Charlie. He's at the "age of not believing" and doubts magic altogether. But as you can see, the bed does indeed whisk itself away!


We don't get to see much of the dining room in the film. It's small but cozy. Miss Price serves the children cabbage buds, rose seeds, and other vegetarian goodies. The kids naturally like Mr. Brown's cooking better - he makes sausages and mash!


Speaking of Mr. Brown, here he is. This floundering magician helps Miss Price in her hour of need and the more time they spend together the fonder she grows of him. He was portrayed by that wonderful English actor David Tomlinson ( Three Men in a Boat, Mary Poppins ). 

The kitchen is very bright and cheerful and has a beautiful hearth stove in one corner. Miss Price also keeps the pantry well stocked with garlic ( does she believe in vampires, too? )


Just off the kitchen is a storage room which we only get a glimpse of when the door to the workshop is open. This is the entry way leading to Miss Price's "witching room". She practices all of the latest spells from Mr. Brown's Correspondance College of Witchcraft here. 

She was especially excited when she got to fly her first broom. Cosmic Creepers, her cat, watched as she came tumbling down from the sky after her first attempt. It takes some practice to work a broom properly. 
Miss Price didn't have too much luck the first time she tried the Substituary Locomotion spell either and the household wardrobe began to take on a life of its own. 

At the end of the film we see this view from the front of the manor. I wonder if Miss Price knew what a prime piece of property she owned! Perhaps she did, and that was why she wanted to defend her corner of England...even via witchcraft. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Today's game features a spooky scene from a film that is very fitting to watch on Halloween. A front view of this character would have been too easy for our readers, so in keeping with the title of the game we hope this is "impossibly difficult"!

Have no idea what this game is about? Simply click on this link here for the rules and the prizes.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Phantom Stage - Universal's Haunted Stage 28

The old story of a phantom haunting a Hollywood sound stage was brought to television in a number of episodes of various series throughout the 1970s-1980s ( most notably in the two-part "The Hollywood Phantom" episode from The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries ) but did you know that this plot idea was actually based on a real legend? 

Stage 28 was one of the oldest sound stages built on the Universal Pictures lot in Hollywood. The studio was planning to film the horror classic The Phantom of the Opera ( featuring Lon Chaney ) and needed a stage large enough to house their own creation of the interior of the Paris Opera House. Construction on the 21,000 square foot stage began in July of 1924 and was completed in a few months. Because the set would need to be able to support hundreds of extras, the stage was built with steel girders in of the first steel stages of its kind. The beautiful Opera House set was built inside and filming of The Phantom of the Opera began shortly thereafter. A strange occurrence also happened at that time: an electrician fell to his death, presumably while maneuvering around the catwalks at the top of the stage. 

Years later, rumors began to circulate that the ghost of a "phantom" running along the catwalks was seen. Others reported the lights flickering on and off suddenly and doors opening and shutting. 

The set to the Opera House remained at Stage 28 long after the film was completed. The studio thought that it may come in use in a future production...and indeed it did. Its most famous reappearances were in Todd Browning's Dracula ( as The Royal Albert Hall ), the 1943 color remake of The Phantom of the Opera starring Claude Rains, and the theatre sequences in Charade ( 1963 ). 

Even with the Opera House set still in place, there was plenty of space in Stage 28 to construct other sets and this stage was one of the most used at Universal Studios. The special effects department from The Bride of Frankenstein ( 1935 ) used this stage to film the destruction of Frankenstein's laboratory, Abbott and Costello's Here Come the Co-Eds ( 1945 ) was filmed within its doors, and the interiors of the Bates Motel in Psycho ( 1960 ) was also filmed inside Stage 28. 

In 2014, Universal Studios demolished the stage to make room for expanding their theme park but not before carefully dismantling The Phantom's famous Opera House set and putting it in storage. Perhaps one day, it will reappear in another film or be put on display for film fans to see. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

British Pathe: Model Racing Cars ( 1956 )

This 1956 British Pathe newsreel takes us to the workshop of Alban Adams and Christopher Crockett who are building 1/16th scale race cars modeled after authentic Formula 3 automobiles. 

Adams claimed to have been the inventor of slot cars ( check out this website for more details about that ) and his little racers featured motors that ran on diesel fuel and were capable of up to 60mph (!).

Unlike American slot cars, the metal rails do not have an electric current running through them and the "slot" is used primarily to guide the cars around the track. They are highly-detailed and it looks like Adams made everything himself ( the chassis, motor...even the tires! ). I think eventually when sales skyrocketed he must have hired lots of help. 

Ready to watch Model Racing Cars? Simply click on the link below:

Model Racing Cars ( 1956 ) - 2:07 minutes 

Similar British Pathé newsreels:

Cable Racing ( 1967 ) - 1:32 minutes

Monday, October 12, 2020

From the Archives: Doctor Dolittle ( 1967 )

Rex Harrison performed with a number of different actresses throughout his long career but he probably never expected to act with this fine lady. In this scene from Doctor Dolittle ( 1967 ), Sophie is posing as a baby in order to be smuggled out of the circus so that the kindly doctor could return her to the ocean to search for her husband. 

This original lobby card looks a little different than others that we have posted because it is from the UK release of the film. Note how much room they give for credits compared to the American lobby cards. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm ( 1951 )

Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride made their fifth film appearance as country yokels Ma & Pa Kettle in Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm ( 1951 ).  This delightful comedy had the pair returning to their old ramshackle home in the country and discovering uranium on the property. 

The characters of Ma and Pa Kettle first appeared in The Egg and I ( 1947 ) as farm neighbors to Betty and Bob MacDonald ( Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray ). They were then given their own film - Ma and Pa Kettle ( 1949 ) which in turn launched a ten-film series. Each of the movies could easily be watched on their own, but to understand the characters better, it is best to see them in order. 

Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm was the fourth film in the series and had their eldest son Tom and his wife Kim expecting their first child. Ma struggles to get along with Kim's Bostonian parents, especially Kim's mother Barbara whose notions of proper child-rearing clash with Ma's. In order to stay clear of them for a spell, Ma and Pa Kettle move from their new suburban house back into their old farm. While there, Pa decides to dig a well and thinks he has discovered uranium when he finds he carries an electric charge on him.

This movie isn't the best in the series but it still provides a number of chuckles, especially Ma fussing over wearing a face mask ( apropos for the pandemic today ) and the conclusion with Pa Kettle driving madly in a jalopy to outrace a train. The script features a number of small dramas happening to the various characters, all of which intersect and conclude by the end of the film. Tom's mother-in-law Barbara Parker ( Barbara Brown ) clearly does approve of the Kettles but it is good to see her have a change of heart by the finale. Jonathan ( Ray Collins ) and Barbara Parker would later travel to Paris with the Kettles in the next film, Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation ( 1952 ).

"Ma, I bet you once had an hour-glass figure" - Barbara

"Yeah...but the sand sure shifted!" - Ma

All of the Kettle films featured recurring characters from the first film and, in this installment, we see Pa's Indian friends Crowbar and Geoduck ( Teddy Hart and Oliver Blake ), shopowner Billy Reed ( Emory Parnell ), and Sheriff John ( Rex Lease ). Sadly missing is Birdie Hicks ( Esther Dale ), the Kettles arch-nemesis. 

The homespun humor of the Kettle series was box-office gold for Universal Pictures and this film alone raked in over $2 million dollars in ticket sales. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Did You Know? 9 Striking Notes about The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band

There are so many great articles online and everyday we come across some that have facts and trivia that are too tempting not to share. So, today, we are beginning a new series of passing along these links so you can enjoy our finds, too. "Check it Out!" is the name of this new series and you can simply click on the tag/label to find other similar posts in the future. 

We begin with a page of trivia relating to Walt Disney's The One and Only Genuine Family Band ( 1968 ) posted by D23, Disney's official fan club site: Did You Know? 9 Striking Notes about The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band. 

This colorful film had a stellar cast ( John Davidson, Walter Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren, Buddy Ebsen, Janet Blair, etc ) but was not a big success for Disney Studios when it was released and still receives mixed reactions even from Disney fans. The plot - based on the real-life Bower family and their family band - had a little bit of something for everyone but its political theme was too heady for young ones. It's redeeming features were the presence of Davidson and Warren ( who were reunited from The Happiest Millionaire ), the great Richard and Robert Sherman songs, and its beautiful Black Hills of Dakota-in-autumn setting. 

John Davidson tells Lesley Ann Warren its "'Bout Time" their romance began