“On an island community off California, Tom Stewart is preparing to marry the woman he loves. His plans are threatened by his old girlfriend, Vi, who shows up secretly. During a confrontation at the top of the island’s lighthouse, the railing breaks and Vi falls. Tom has a chance to save her but doesn’t. Tom’s relief at Vi’s accident soon fades when her vengeful spirit begins showing up wherever he goes.” (courtesy IMDB)
The jewel I have excavated from the cavernous Public Domain for your pleasure this week is named Tormented (1960) and was produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon. His name may be familiar, if not his nickname of Mister BIG. He earned this nickname because his films reveal an obsession with height. In many of his movies people are menaced by mega-fauna or humongous humans. Bert Ira Gordon gave an ungrateful world films such as The Cyclops (1956), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Empire Of The Ants (1977). The admirers of the novels of my old friend H.G. Wells have yet to forgive Bert for twice-murdering the same book. First as Village Of The Giants (1965), and then again under it’s original title Food Of The Gods (1976). Although it’s far from being H.G.’s best work, it certainly didn’t deserve that fate!
Hopefully you’ll be able to put aside the righteous indignation and craving for revenge my account of the grave wrongs done to Herbert George has aroused in you, and calmly watch Tormented, which is a ghost story. I too was taken aback by that revelation. When I discovered there was a Bert I. Gordon film with absolutely no giants of any kind, well, I haven’t been so surprised since the night I found an alien mind parasite in my dustbin – but that’s another story. Whilst Tormented doesn’t hold a candle to one of cinema’s best ghost stories, The Innocents (1961), made in the following year, I believe you’ll find it quite watchable. A fair-to-middling film with only a few minor flaws.
I’m confident the science fiction enthusiasts amongst my readers will recognise our leading man, Richard Carlson. He had the good fortune to be cast as the lead in two of that genre’s best films of the fifties, It Came From Outer Space (1953) and The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). He was also the lead in the Ray Harryhausen classic The Valley Of Gwangi (1968), and directed the occasional undistinguished film. Nevertheless, his career was notable enough to earn him a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
Joe Turkel, who plays Nick the blackmailing beatnik, had a memorable supporting role in Stanley Kubrick’s first masterpiece Paths Of Glory (1957). He was one of the three condemned soldiers, who gets knocked unconscious and is executed while strapped to a stretcher. Soon after he was working for Bert I. Gordon – from Stanley Kubrick to Bert I. Gordon in three short years? That definitely sounds like a career going in the wrong direction. But Mister Kubrick did not forget Joe, and had him play Lloyd the creepy bartender in The Shining (1980). In 1968 he had the honour to be directed by Roger Corman in The Saint Valentines Day Massacre (1968), but you’d probably remember him best from Blade Runner (1982) in which he plays the source of all the trouble, CEO Eldon Tyrrell, whose head gets squished by Rutger Hauer.
The rest of the cast hail from television. The ghostly Vi Mason is played by Juli Reding, who was in episodes of 77 Sunset Strip and other shows in the sixties but has done little since then. Vi Mason may well be a second-rate singer, much she’s far more interesting, lively and attractive than Tom Stewart’s insipid fiance May Hubbard, played by a miscast Lugene Sanders from The Life Of Riley. Tom must be marrying May for her money and her family’s senior social status – I can see no other reason why he would prefer May to Vi.
Little Sandy is played by Susan Gordon, daughter of Bert I. Gordon. Her only other film, Picture Mommy Dead (1966) was one of his, too. She is fondly remembered by admirers of The Twilight Zone for her performance as Jenny in the final season episode The Fugitive, in which she befriends an alien leader who’d rather spend his time on Earth. In addition to producing and directing his films, her father also did the visual effects in collaboration with his wife Flora M. Gordon. They started rather badly and despite years of practice, they never got any better. The bodiless hand on the prowl should have been a high-point – but it wasn’t. Check out Luis Bunuel’s masterpiece The Exterminating Angel (1962) to see just how effectively such a scene can be done. The Gordons really should have stuck to other tasks and allowed the master cinematographer they had working for them, Ernest Laszlo, to handle the visual effects as well. They couldn’t have done worse.
Ernest Laszlo was born in Budapest in 1898 and by 1927 he was in Hollywood and was one of many cameramen shooting Wings (1927), the very first film to win the Academy Award for best film. He became a director of photography in 1928 and had a long, industrious career with highlights including Stalag Seventeen (1953), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Judgment At Nuremburg (1961), It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Airport (1970) and Logan’s Run (1976). In 1965 he won the Academy Award for Ship Of Fools (1965), the only film where Lee Marvin gets beaten up by Vivien Leigh – an unforgettable scene. In Tormented he saves the odd-angled shots for the last scene in the church.
It looks like Tom was intending to murder little Sandy by pushing her off the lighthouse. Perhaps Sandy would have had better luck than Vi, or Tom himself, and landed on that balcony immediately below the lamp-room balcony. We get our best look at it just before the blackmailer’s first appearance. It’s never visible when the camera is on the same level as the lamp-room. We only ever see it from one angle, but it’s likely it runs right around the lighthouse tower. It’s bad luck that the lighthouse door which at first refuses Sandy admission, later lets her in, in time to witness Tom murdering the blackmailer. It’s too bad the blackmailer doesn’t often go to the movies. If he did, he’d know what happens to a blackmailer when they turn their back on their victim when there are no witnesses present.
And the footprints that mysteriously appear on the carpet are decidedly smaller than the footprints that appear on the beach. The store mannequin head that stands-in for Vi’s head in one scene does not convince. Someone should have got a clip over the ear for that one. But then again, expecting good visual effects in a Bert I. Gordon film is like expecting moonlight at midday. Most reprehensible of all is Fritz the seeing-eye dog. He allows spooks to frighten him so much he abandons his training and allows Mrs. Ellis to go sightless into the lighthouse, in peril of her life. What a wimp! Bad dog! Bad dog!
That brings to an end our time with Mister BIG. I eagerly anticipate having your company again next week when I will discuss another glorious film from the public domain for Horror News. I know there’s much suspense waiting to see if the film I choose will amuse, bewilder, antagonise or enchant you. Until then, toodles!