Saturday, March 03, 2012

Seeking Edgar Ulmer’s Film Legacy

Movie director Edgar Ulmer from the 30s and 40s was worried about his legacy. Would anyone remember him for “Detour” and “The Black Cat”? Good question. Answer: yes and no, but an international documentary about Ulmer from Kino Video seeks to establish him in the lexicon of innovative directors with testimonials from contemporary directors Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders.

Ulmer is a contradiction in that he resisted being ground up in the Hollywood “hash” machine of the major studios and yet he had an unsustainable faith that the “mythic Hollywood” would allow him to establish his legacy as a movie genius. So he chose a path less traveled. Ulmer signed on with poverty row studio PRC (Producers Releasing Corp.) And he said he enjoyed his years at PRC, making movies on a shoestring. Necessity is the mother of invention so with few resources he crafted at least one memorable movie, “Detour”, at PRC. (“The Black Cat” was a loan out to Universal).

Some of his movies dealing with desperate living are available cheap, like at the dollar store. (Two different DVDs that I bought of Miracle Pictures “Monsoon” (“Isle of the Forgotten Sins”) are un-playable. The Kino issue of “Isle” is playable but the soundtrack is distorted. Obviously it was made from a 16mm print but I am happy to have it.

The 1943 “Isle” movie is interesting in that it features a somewhat comical puppet as a deep sea diver searching for sunken gold. John Carradine and Gale Sondergaard spark romantic while Sidney Toler of Charlie Chan fame and handsome Rick Vallin (Ava Gardner’s fiancé in “Ghosts on the Loose” at Monogram) are evil doers. Toler in a swimsuit with sagging titties flopping in the breeze is amusing and not all that sinister. The villains’ shootout in the closing minutes is notable in that not a drop of blood was shed.

Like an earlier Ulmer film, “Moon Over Harlem”, it reveals incidents in the lives of people living on the edge.

So what happened to PRC and Ulmer? The notable director rests in peace at Hollywood Forever cemetery, a short distance from Santa Monica Blvd. and LaBrea Aveniue where once PRC made movies with Lash Larue and John Carradine. Now it is the undistinguished Movetown Plaza Shopping Center. Not even a plaque exists to commemorate a fascinating era 60 years ago when movies were made cheap in six days.

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