Tuesday, July 25, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Tangled Destinies (Forgotten Terrors)


Fred Olen Rey’s Retromedia DVD brand has recently released “Forgotten Terrors,” a single-disc collection of four extremely obscure (well, one of the titles is only pretty obscure) films from the early ‘30s.

The first of the movies, all of which last about an hour, with two flicks on each side of the disc, is 1932’s Tangled Destinies. This indicates that Retromedia is guilty of pulling a bit of a fast one--again, check out the box art--as neither Tangled Destinies, nor two of the other three movies, are in fact horror films. They are rather (more or less) Old Dark House murder thrillers.

In our first feature, thirteen (bum bum bum) passengers and crew members of a commercial air flight—this must have seemed like a fairly novel plot devise back then—are forced to land in the middle of nowhere by a violent storm. They seek refuge in a nearby deserted house and make themselves at home. Here we meet the broad collection of types that will make up our cast: The sassy actress, the professor, the minister, the amiable lowbrow mug (a boxer, who’s main line is “Can I help?”, which he says at about a dozen junctures), the pretty young heiress, the sharpie, the stalwart pilot, the lawyer, the rigidly polite yet inscrutable Chinese fellow, etc. The main character, it turns out, is a feisty old woman.

Anyway hoping for a carnage-laden Ten Little Indians sort of affair will be severely disappointed, as in the end there’s but one murder. The McGuffin is a bag of diamonds, and soon one character reveals that he’s a detective. Meanwhile, the cast moves around the three rooms they spend most of the film in, making soup in the kitchen, repeatedly going down into the basement to change fuses whenever the lights go out (which happens quite often), etc.

The latter is part of how pronouncedly cheap the film is, with its paucity of sets, awkward blocking and frequent blackout scenes. (In fact, they don’t even play music under the opening title cards, but instead dub in and loop some plane engine noises!) No doubt this was shot in less than a week, and it shows.

One certainly can’t say much for the mystery or suspense elements—let me put it this way; I saw the film like two days ago, and had to really think in order to remember who the killer was—much less the typically limp comic relief material. And, as is usual in this sort of things, nobody at any point much acts like a real human being. Even so, I thought the movie a genial way to waste an hour.

The characters are the usual collection of clichés. Per tradition, the official detectives are markedly ineffective at their jobs. Instead, it's the old woman* and, in a bit modern viewers will appreciate, the automatically ‘suspicious’ Chinese guy, who actually do more to solve the crime.

[The 'old woman' is clearly actually played by a much younger woman—or maybe a man, with a dubbed voice—in makeup and a gray wig. This was so apparent that it was distracting, since you were wondering if that would prove true of her character, too, and 'she’d' prove to be the killer.]

Even at under an hour, this movie is slowly paced and talky, and one’s tolerance for cheapie films from that period will dictate whether you find it pleasing or insufferable. The presentation is pretty mediocre, especially in the outside nighttime scenes that open the film, when the characters’ faces are surrounded by a hazy white halo. This is probably because they used overly bright klieg lights to light the scene.

Still, for viewers of a certain age, such as myself, this is how we remember such fare looking back in the day when we watched stuff like this on our 20-inch black & white TV sets. Again, though, these sorts of movies are definitely an acquired taste. Even so, for the sort of people who would be interested in watching material like this, the fact that the movies are even available is enough to satisfy.


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