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ANDREWS & TOURNEUR 1950's: DEMON & FEARMAKERS

Year Released: 1958 
THE FEARMAKERS: Of the three motion pictures actor Dana Andrews starred in under the direction of Noir-Horror guru Jacques Tourneur, we'll cover two, made a year apart: CURSE OF THE DEMON and THE FEARMAKERS... So let's begin with the most obscure, and perhaps it's for a reason...

Dana nearly spooked in CURSE OF THE DEMON
Very rare a film go after the "Peace at any price" groups even and especially the 1950's when not a (for example and unrelated to this particular movie) science-fiction flick played out without a hidden or not so subtle message against nuclear weapons – and FEARMAKERS is a reverse sermon in a vacuum, beginning with a low-budget, rushed version of patriotism about as obvious as Michael Rennie leaving Earth following his Martian State of the Union Address...

Dana Andrews gives to faint spells no thanks to Korea
But enough of all that... FEAR is no space movie or a Film Noir despite one of that genre's signature leading men from LAURA, FALLEN ANGEL, BOOMERANG, DAISY KENYON, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, and especially OUT OF THE PAST director Jacques Tourneur, who Andrews requested after the surprise success and worthy turnout of their first collaboration (reviewed below) the year before, CURSE OF THE DEMON...

Our heroic when tortured after being captured in Korea war-vet Andrews has a horrible fake-looking beard in the prologue – and thereafter flashbacks – and it's nice to see him all cleaned up and suited, back home, processed by the Army as sane (despite reoccurring dizzy spells), ready to dive back into work – his own business: A somewhat complicated operation that has a big surprise waiting, and it's no party...

Korean War Flashbacks
At first viewing the plot runs in talky circles and depending on prior knowledge of the "Public Relations Business" of Public Opinion Polls, Consumer Analyses, Industrial Research, Census and Surveys, it really needs some paying attention to...

Dick Foran watches Marilee Earle & Dana Andrews
The movie does almost entirely through dialogue what Noir handles with guns and shadows, alleyways and romantic entanglements: After finding out that, while imprisoned overseas, his business partner died in a car accident right after selling the company to a man so obviously crooked he'd need a spinal shoehorn to stand erect, Andrews spends the rest of the picture figuring things out... When he gets word at a restaurant that his new boss may have something to hide, it takes two conversations with two different men – both very similar except one really gets the ball rolling, involving a possible murder...

Mel Torme as Bond... Barney Bond
The pace picks up later as the plot clears, and it's not Andrews, looking much healthier and somewhat back to his 1940's dapper style than most of his other 50's B-Pictures, nor is it moon-faced beauty Marilee Earle as secretary/inside-gal Vivian that truly makes this flawed yet entertaining programmer shine...

FearMeter: ****
Musician Mel Torme as office dweeb Barney Bond completely owns his scenes, which happen to be the most intriguing as they involve either Dick Foran as the gentleman heavy, or Vivian, or both – with Andrews playing a kind of parenthetical cat and mouse in-between, knowing the business better than anyone and realizing those otherwise kindhearted D.C. idealists are being used as pawns ("useful idiots"), selling their own in-pocket politician through the manipulation of public opinion: Thus,  Mel Torme's Barney (foreshadowing Rick Moranis in GHOSTBUSTERS, only more mellow and subtle) knows almost as much as Andrews, and far more than Foran (aided by a big thug henchman), who uses the put-upon, spectacle-wearing underling to weasel back information – but what makes Torme's character stand-out also sets him over the edge, and in that, he eventually "chews up the scenery" yet in a wonderful b-movie fashion...

The dwarfish geek lusts for Dana's smitten Girl Friday, while feeling sorry for himself, with a shaky gun at one point, and don't expect a bombastic climax: FEARMAKERS, unlike most of Tourneur's more atmospheric, multi-layered ventures, is basically a Cold War Thriller's desk job. But how the papers are shuffled, as described smoothly by Andrews, is the key in this obscure vehicle that's much better the second or third time around.

Hell, even the poster spoils the monster... no winning YEAR: 1957
CURSE OF THE DEMON: Director Jacques Tourneur, in his firs 1950's collaboration with Dana Andrews (the 1940's Western, CANYON PASSAGE, was their first), wanted the title creature aka Demon, resembling a werewolf had it derived from a grizzly bear after mating with a deranged buffalo, to be left unseen until the very end...

An essential and (particularly with directors like Alfred Hitchcock) commonplace theory since the investigation by Andrews as reporter John Holden, an author who debunks witchcraft (like Cornel Wilde would in GARGOYLES) and is simply begging to learn his lesson the hard way, isn't as intriguing since we know exactly what he's after, despite him not thinking anything strange exists at all... Instead of the audience being in-the-dark along with the main character (liken to any Gumshoe flick), we witness him as a completely misguided, in-denial pawn...

There's a real aspect of Horror-Noir throughout this Demon
On the other hand, maybe it's not so bad he's completely clueless. While the mystery of his search is punctured, the doubting author is more important having gotten the beast out of the way: the suspense relies on him finding out what we know while he catches up, as it were: The surprise element is deleted and taking its place is a sort of reverse mystery relying not on who or how but when he'll eventually come around (sort of like COLUMBO, the audience sees the murder and then experiences the detective figuring things out)...

How (and where) the Demon had stalked and killed its sole victim is anticipated as the climax nears – where will this same menacing nightmare occur again? In that, every location during the third act, and a few very early on, becomes a potential "highway from hell!"

Dana Andrews with GUN CRAZY starlet Peggy Cummins
For example, about fifteen minutes in, eerie, subtle music is heard and almost seems audible to Holden as he, inside a hotel, is looking down the long, spooky corridor, and then hears a slight noise, making him turn around, almost nervous. Without having experienced the demon's way of charging forward with that amount of space to gain momentum, this moment, one of the best, wouldn't mean a thing. Also, since the demon looks a bit hokey... as early noted, resembling more of a forest animal than an unholy entity... it's not something to hinge an entire film anticipating to experience for the first time: The creature returning is something else entirely, relying more on space and dimension than aesthetic. "If this world is ruled by demons and monsters," Holden says at one point, "we might as well give up right now." And that's just it, kind of: CURSE OF THE DEMON is about the Curse, and not the Demon.

"And they do live well!"
There's an attractive ingenue in the British GUN CRAZY starlet, Peggy Cummins – fitting the role since it does, after all, take place within foggy England, providing an underline gothic Baker Street vibe. She can be a tad whiny but her ongoing persistence and determination is one of the reasons Dana's Holden keeps at it: Adoring niece of the poor soul killed within the first seven-minutes, she wants to find answers, and believes the best clue lies within the massive estate of an eccentric millionaire...

"Very observant, Mr. Bond... I mean, Holden..."
Enter Niall MacGinnis as Doctor Karswell, looking as if James Bond's rotund villain Goldfinger had a brother into the Dark Arts...

He doesn't want Holden to write a negative piece about his "resourceful" (Stonehenge acquired) magic, and will do anything in order to stop the press so that his followers will have a place to worship without intrusion...

One particular scene, as a wind-swept tempest is conjured during a child's party outside his mansion, reminiscent of THE BIRDS (a few years later) trading vicious winds for wings, plays out like a subtle yet palpable nightmare... Still, Andrews doesn't believe, and as an actor he's a gem at pulling off determined, confident, headstrong characters, making for a perfect clean slate going in and out of proverbial mazes.

From the longer original cut: NIGHT OF THE DEMON
The best thing DEMON has going is the creative camerawork of the genius director who turned a somewhat basic CAT PEOPLE storyline into an engrossing, dark and foreboding classic (with help by the lead actress), and he also directed several of the other better Val Lewton films including THE LEOPARD  MAN and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE...

Curse: ****1/2
The underrated but not under-appreciated Horror-Noir icon makes this CURSE seem all too real, moving things around in a shadowy, meticulous, mysterious fashion using a hybrid of pulpy Noir and Gothic imagery – an unseen presence stalking our assertive yet vulnerable hero, and perhaps making you forget what the pontificating antagonist had conjured up, and plans on unleashing again – with Andrews as its sole target.

Originally titled NIGHT OF THE DEMON in England (not to be confused with the semi-obscure 1980's body count horror flick but with DEMONS, plural), CURSE was reissued in America about fifteen minutes shorter – one deleted scene involving an eerie group of seemingly common townsfolk refusing to disclose information, feeling more tacked-on than necessary: while the shorter version gets to the point quicker, the longer original is what was intended for audiences to see, feeling more like a cinematic page-turning novel (liken to a Hammer Film). And one final note in closing: For those who prefer the "less is more" aspect, which is what made JAWS and other terror flicks work, both versions show the proverbial monster outside the closet instead of the mysterious door opened halfway.
"Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes; & passing them used lots of skills" Science-Fiction, Rocky Horror Picture Show 
"Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes; & passing them used lots of skills" Science-Fiction, Rocky Horror Picture Show 
Dana Andrews starring in CURSE OF THE DEMON
Dana Andrews starring in CURSE OF THE DEMON
Dana Andrews starring in CURSE OF THE DEMON
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