Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Twonky - 1953


I had the twonkies when I was a child.” - Coach Trout

It shaved me today.” - Kerry West

Something is happening, but you don't know what it is.” - Bob Dylan

A philosophy professor battles The Twonky. Colleges will survive into the dystopian period.

Writer-Producer-Director Arch Oboler has one of the great punchline names (3 vowels and 3 consonants.) He directed Five (1951), The Bubble (1966), and Bwana Devil (1952.) Hans Conried was in Peter Pan and The Great Dictator and The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. Janet Warren appeared in The Ghost of Frankenstein and Buck Privates. William H. Lynn was in The Outcasts of Poker Flat. The movie is based on a short story by Henry Kuttner. The title music by Jack Meakin sounds like a bonk, a plonk and a twonk.

Meet the device with a 'super-atomic brain.' To give away the secret of 'The Twonky' would be a miscarriage of justice. Maybe the secret of 'The Twonky' is a thing we weren't meant to know. Post-war America met its greatest enemy in the ubiquity of the television set. It is true that no one could anticipate the long-term ramifications of beaming visual media into the home. Conried's character is a philosophy professor; philosophy was dead the minute the television was invented. Finally, in the dystopian future of 1953, Technology will ultimately and totally control our lives; we should have listened to Hulot in Mon Oncle. Conried's protagonist character lives in a palace with a twelve-inch television. Hollywood loves deflating stuffy intellectuals with the introduction of unknown phenomena. Early on there's a joke about 'obstetrical history' that has to appreciated for its ironic understatement. What exactly is a 'red cent'? Who doesn't love a 'wubba-wubba' soundtrack? 'Coach Trout' is a humorous character name. That character is the voice of cynical realism (one who's usually less than functional except to deliver exposition) At one point, Coach Trout drops a load of incredibly detailed information pertaining to the fantastic, and one goes, 'Wait. How did he know that?' Coach Trout orders his students to 'Smash the Twonky!' That's sagacious advice. Then the elderly Coach looks at the co-ed's backside and implies something rather sexual. That wouldn't fly today. An absent wife is compared to an “entertainment.” 'I got no complaints' sounds like a motto of middle-class conformity. There's some special fx magic as the Twonky ties a knot for Kerry West. Disney might have taken this premise and overcharged in the color go-go 1960s; alas, until the third act, most of the movie takes place in Conried's house, and that tends to limit the scope. The trilling on the soundtrack is incessant. The middle part of the last century was a time of much humorous drinking. That television prefers Sousa over Mozart, which might be a preference for the popular over the high-brow.  The police threaten to send our protagonist to Alcatraz. The sassy black maid tells Conried that she has a larger television. The college is integrated, so I guess that's progressive. The Twonky can change genders. That's progressive too. A clerk brags about his experience with 'time-payment merchandise.' The Twonky is as nightmarish as a Dalek. This is something like a slightly more humorous take on a body snatching movie. Women come to collect money and never leave. Is this a horror movie or a comedy? Is The Twonky Oboler's masterpiece? Stay tuned on your orthicon tube to this very channel.

The Twonky is on Youtube in atrocious quality, missing, in fact, the title card. It was apparently recorded from a television broadcast. I want to live in any town where they show on The Twonky on television. I might even watch The Twonky on my Twonky! The movie is 69 minutes long, so there's that to its credit. Other sources give a running-time in the 80+ minute range, so I don't know if anything is missing.  No one wanted a partial Twonky.  File it next to the Babadook and The Hidan de Maukbeiangjow.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Head (1959)


“Put down that telephone. You really are insane.”

“I think that, on the contrary, men are certainly going to look at you.” - Dr. Burke

“Are you an undertaker? You hold me like I was dead.” - Lily

“The last chance was to perform the dog operation on your head.” - Dr. Oud

A mysterious stranger arrives. Something's coming to a head at the Tam-Tam club.

Director Victor Trivas has a few directorial credits, but his writing credits are more numerous, including Hell on Earth (1931) and The Stranger (1946.) Barbara Valentin was a sex symbol in Horrors of Spider Island (1960.) Producer Wolf C. Hartwig produced that film and a whole bunch more. Christiane Maybach was in A Study in Terror. Horst Frank was in The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971.) Michel Simon worked from the mid-20s to the mid-70s. Karin Kernke was uncredited in Schoolgirl Report 12 (1978.) Paul Dahlke had a career from the mid-30s to the mid-80s.

It is an important lesson: Science will not stop until it destroys us all. Another lesson: Someday our matter will become the matter of others.  Better lesson: The soul of a harlot is scientifically transportable to the body of a deformed virgin. We have here a German variation on the mad scientist trope. That character says things like, “I have beaten death” and “I have saved your brain for mankind” and “You'll learn that everything is possible!” and even "The price of my genius was madness."  Well, that's all pretty clear.  Our good doctor is a real tragic superman, alright.  He makes something 'Serum Z,' and that's nothing but fun. Such films wrestle with the dangers of becoming addicted to the erotic tease of scientific progress. Sex is science, after all. It's a clear progenitor to The Brain that Wouldn't Die. This is a better produced film by far, but you may have more fun with 'Jan in a Pan.' Stan in a pan? The film picks up the thematic trope of 'obsessive, doomed love' too. The good doctor says things like, "You belong to me alone!"  Unfortunately, the development of the plot sinks in a gloomy black and white swamp. There's some cool tech in the lab to keep the film in line with its type. Vital signs are indicated by a polygraph type squiggle. I suppose only very rich people in the 1950s had TVs installed into their walls. The film provides the expected continental sex appeal, uh, for those who care more for anatomy than surgery. The sets are spacious, if unrealistic in practical function; a spiral staircase runs through the center of the house, from the lab to the upstairs quarters. Your ostensible noble scientist is a drunken Lon Chaney Jr type with a Nietzsche mustache; his less than noble colleague takes it to another level of science to keep him alive. That shot of the moon looks a lot like a blacked-out shot of the sun. The wide trick shot is unconvincingly matted. A lab is destroyed with a superimposition.  The serious German inspector is a classic type, but he plays a very small part, doing not much in the way of inspecting.  The end title card is in a fun, spooky font.  There's a painting in the artist's studio that I don't think you would have seen in an American film at this time. At one point the stripper refers to being in 'Europe,' so there's that geographical certainty. But, really, how many other films give you a female hunchback? Come on, Irene!

'The Head' can be viewed on Youtube in a dubbed print of abysmal quality. Some reels have visible matting at the top of the frame. Does the harsh splicing of music indicate the removal of offending material? Use your, uh, noggin, and figure it out.