TEST TUBE BABIES (1948) & THE FLESH MERCHANT (1956)

Test Tube Babies (W. Merle Connell)

We have been remiss in failing to cover the weird movie saint, W. Merle Connell (1905-1963).  Do not judge us too harshly. Since Connell didn’t have an angora fetish (like Ed Wood) and failed to live out one of his seedy plot lines by actually getting himself murdered (a la Al Adamson), there is no colorful biography to help promote him. Rather, what he did leave behind is a jaw-dropping body of work, comparable to cinema’s most memorable hacks. Many of Connell’s films are deadly dull, failing to live up to their colorful titles (The Devil’s Sleep, and Untamed Women). However, Connell managed to bring us two dreadful gems that belong in the cult movie annals, which is enough to qualify him for 366  Weird Movies beatification.

Test Tube Babies (W. Merle Connell)

Test Tube Babies (1948) was distributed by Screen Classics and produced by George Weiss (yes, that’s the same guy and same hole-in-the-wall outfit that brought us Glen Or Glenda). Cathy (Dorothy Duke in picnic dress) and George (William Thomason in white shirt and tie) wish they could stay out in the country forever. But George doesn’t make “the big money” as a junior architect.

George Weiss on set of Glen Or Glenda with Bela Lugosi

“You make more than enough to support a family,” Cathy replies, assuring him of his manhood, in idyllic harmony with chirping birds.

Test Tube Babies (W. Merle Connell) 1948

George and Cathy really want to have sex, so they get married, buy a suburban cookie-cutter house, and run through the beach with sand caressing their young lover toes. Are those dark clouds on the horizon?

Wearing her short, frilly, white nightie, Cathy serves George strawberries and cream. George is so happy that he gives Cathy a husbandly smack on the rump. The wallpaper blushes. George is worried. His buddy Frank Grover is making eyes at Cathy.

Frank is taking George to work, but Frank had too much lemonade last night. Later, when Frank and Cathy are alone, he calls her “sugar” and slips her some tongue, but Cathy won’t tell! She’ll just do a little strip tease for hubby and invite him to bed.

Test Tube Babies (W. Merle Connell) 1948

Gee, all of George and Cathy’s friends are having babies and baby showers. So what do George and Cathy do? They ain’t go no babies, so they can’t have a baby party. Cathy opts for a swinger party. Yup, we now become privy to one of those parties, where everyone drinks too much “lemonade” and starts necking and wife swappin’ (sort of). A bleached blonde shows up (?) and does a burlesque dance (?!?).  Shore ’nuff—someone gets jealous. It all ends with a catfight and some half-nekkid tramp losin’ her top while wrasslin’ on the floor (take that, Will Hays!) Cathy waxes perplexed and, just so you know,with all that going on, Connell still manages to make it all boring, which is no easy accomplishment.

Cathy is all mixed up. Everybody else has babies. Her marriage just ain’t what it should be without a baby.

“Yeah, you’re right Cathy. These parties ain’t no fun. We need a baby, NOW!”

But see, George and Cathy have been married a year now, and shestill ain’t knocked up!

“Well, something shoulda happened by now. Maybe we need to go to a—whatta ya call it?”

“A gynecologist?”

“Yeah, one of them.”

“Yeah. Forget these dumb parties. We’re gonna go see the  gynecologist!!!”

That gynecologist (Timothy Farrell, who also payed the sex-changing Doc, in Glen Or Glenda) shockingly tells Cathy to get undressed for the examination. Shortly afterward, Cathy asks:

“How does it look to you Doc?”

“I see no reason to worry about your physical condition, dear. You can bear children. I think we better look at George now.”

“It can’t be George, can it Doc? I, mean, it can’t be the man’s fault?’

George is dumbfounded.

“George,” says Doc, “it is common for someone not normal, like you, to have a normal sex reaction and still be sterile. In each drop of reproductive fluid, known as seamen, there are as many as 15 million tiny sperms capable of inducing pregnancy. Enough of them could be housed in a thimble to father the entire world ten times over, but not you, cuz’ your sperms are completely dead.”

No, Cathy, afraid to tell ya, George just can’t man up. George looks at the carpet a lot.

“I don’t want no adopted babies. I want one of my own,” cries Cathy. “What is this artificial insemination?”

“George,” says Doc, “why don’t you sit down and have a cigarette?”

George buys a whole carton. He even buys Doc a pack.

Doc takes Cathy into the back room. Shortly after, the two emerge.

“Why don’t you have a cigarette, dear,” Doc tells Cathy. Doc gives Cathy a smokey treat. Hmm. Just how artificial was this insemination? This is drama, Georgie!

Bring out the chips, dips, cigarettes (sanctioned by Doc. Thank you Doc!) and acid to find out if Cathy is gonna have a… Test Tube Baby! What does Frank have to do with any of it? What do test tube babies have to do with artificial insemination? The world may never know, but perhaps a gifted 366 reader has more insight (or acid) than I do. But, know this—George Weiss says we all need to avoid parties and start havin’ babies to make even the dourest, dullest marriage work! America has been blessed by Screen Classics for bringing family values to our homes. Hallelujah! Make America Great Again.

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A BELA LUGOSI RETROSPECTIVE

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi

According to Bela Lugosi‘s official bio, before coming to America he had been a star on the Hungarian stage, appearing in major Shakespeare productions.  However, several biographers  have disputed Lugosi’s “star” ranking during that period.  It seems most of his roles had actually been small ones.  Regardless, Lugosi enlisted in the Hungarian army during the First World War, was wounded several times, and later had to flee Hungary during a tumultuous political climate which was unfriendly to his leftist leanings.  After a stay in Germany, Lugosi arrived penniless in the States.  Eventually, he made his way to the New York stage and began appearing in plays and silent films.  In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role of Dracula in Hamilton Dean’s famous stage play. With that, Lugosi became a major star of the stage, and stardom brought him numerous female fans, including Clara Bow, with whom he had a brief affair.

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi
In 1929, director Tod Browning, shopping around for the lead of the film version of Dracula, cast Lugosi as a vampire-like inspector in The Thirteenth Chair (1929).  Although Lugosi was not a great actor in the conventional sense, he did have an undeniably magnetic screen presence and brought an air of European mystery to the most rudimentary melodramas. Browning capitalized on this as few directors could and it worked, leading to Lugosi landing the career-making role of Bram Stoker’s Count in Browning’s 1931 film, Dracula.  The 49 year old Lugosi was perfect for the part.  His idiosyncratic mannerisms, unique mangling of the English language (which, despite rumor, he did not deliver phonetically), and otherworldly persona made for a compelling figure, a point made all the more obvious when compared to Carlos Villarias’ laughable performance in the Spanish language version of Dracula (shot at the same time on the same sets as Browning’s classic). Years later, Lugosi bitterly complained about the typecasting which resulted from the film, but realistically, Dracula was the best thing that happened to the actor. With his limited acting skills and heavy accent, Lugosi never could have been successful  in the romantic matinee roles he desired.

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BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

Bud Abbott & Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, and Bela Lugosi. lobby card

For some inexplicable reason, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are often confused with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Apart from the skinny guy/fat guy theme, the two comedy teams have nothing in common (except perhaps to muggles). In their prime, Stan and Ollie etched a creative brand of celluloid comedy full of nuance and infused with their winning personalities that raised laughter to an art form. With Stan as the uncredited creative force, they produced a body of short films, from the silent era to the late 1930s, which remain the proverbial comedy yardstick. With two notable exceptions, they were less lucky in their studio-controlled features, which sadly led to their eventual fall from grace.

Bud Abbott & Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Glenn Strange, Bela Lugosi, and Lou Costello lobby card.

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SOMETHING WEIRD TRAVELING ROADSHOW FILMS: STREET CORNER (1948)/BECAUSE OF EVE (1948)

Street Corner (1948) theatrical poster

Possibly nothing sums up Western hypocrisy more than its attitudes toward sex.  Over twenty years ago, I worked for an unnamed video store chain during the Pee Wee Herman scandal.  Being a family values corporation, we received a memo to remove all Pee Wee videos from the stores immediately.

Street Corner (1948)Street Corner 1948 lobby card.

A  few years later, when O.J.Simpson made the news, our office ordered every video they could get their hands on starring the former football hero.  Recalling the company’s family values policy towards Pee Wee in our next managers’ meeting, I was uncouth enough to say: “Where, in our mindset, is it worse for someone to have allegedly pleasured himself in an adult theater than it is for someone to have allegedly slaughtered two human beings?” After said meeting, my superior issued me a written verbal warning for “inciting negativity” in my comment regarding comparison between  Pee Wee and O.J. I think, for him the most provocative thing was the unsaid agreement, registered through laughter from fellow managers, that my comment generated.

Street Corner (1948) lobby cardStreetCorner 1948 lobby card

It is, alas, easier for us to laugh at previous generations’ attitudes towards sex than our own. Roadside Show films from yesteryear are now considered archaic camp, while certain unnamed masses rally to show support for contemporary sexual constipation propagated by the likes of Duck Dynasty and Chick-fil-a.

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