Transmissions to Earth: THE VULTURE (1967)
(Obscure) Movie Review by L.L. Soares
It’s been awhile since I wrote an installment of TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH, where I’ve been focusing on strange and often overlooked movies, but I recently saw a flick that fit this column perfectly. Too bad it isn’t very good.
THE VULTURE is an odd little British film from 1967, directed by Lawrence Huntington, whose first movie was way back in 1930 (AFTER MANY YEARS) and who directed most of his movies in the 40s and 50s with titles like WOMEN AREN’T ANGELS (1943) and THERE WAS A YOUNG LADY (1953). His specialty seemed to be low-budget mysteries and noir wannabes. The fact that nothing he did was all that famous is certainly a bad sign. THE VULTURE was Huntington’s last film as director, and a foray into horror and science fiction that is neither very horrific or very scientific, although it pretends to be.
It begins with a woman walking through an old graveyard at night and seeing a grave open up, followed by the sound of flapping wings above her. The incident scares her so much to faints and her hair turns white (!). We find out later, when she recovers from “shock” in the hospital, that what she saw was a “great black bird with the head of a man.” Of course, nobody believes her. That is, until Dr. Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton) comes to Cornwall, England to visit his wife’s uncle Brian Stroud (Broderick Crawford) and gets wind of the strange occurence. Lutens is a man of science (back home in America he is part of the “Atomic Program”) and finds the story too irresistible to ignore, despite the fact that everyone around him thinks he’s nuts to pursue it. Everyone except his wife Trudy (Diane Clare), of course.
There is a strange parchment that tells of a curse placed upon the Stroud family by Frances Read, a sailor who owned a mansion a hundred years ago and who had a pet vulture he brought back from Easter Island. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Read was buried alive with his pet, vowing revenge on the descendants of the Strouds, which in current time include tycoon Brian, his brother Edward Stroud (Gordon Sterne) and Trudy Lutens, in that order. They are all marked for death.
There are also a few suspicious characters including Melcher, the Sexton (Edward Caddick) who sneaks around warning people not to interfere with the curse, and a German antiquarian expert named Professor Hans Koniglich (Akim Tamiroff) who walks with two canes after a “bad fall” and who finds Dr. Lutens’s theories about the mystery to be quite fascinating.
The incident at the gravesite turns out to include the theft of a box of ancient gold coins from the opened grave, and the “scientific” explanation of events that involve an experiment in teleportation (like THE FLY, 1958) and someone’s atoms being combined with those of the corpse of Frances Read and his pet vulture. And, like THE FLY, it involves someone who has acquired the appendages of an animal, in this case, the titular vulture.
The mystery isn’t all that hard to figure out, even if it does make no sense.The acting for the most part runs the gamut for serviceable to atrocious—with character actors Crawford (best known as the star of the TV series HIGHWAY PATROL from 1955 to 1959) and Tamiroff, who had previously been in tons of the movies, including the Orson Welles films MR. ARKADIN (1955) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) being the big draws here.
The “horror” scenes, being what they are, occur mostly off camera, but we do occasionally hear the flapping of giant wings and see the talons of some giant bird swooping down and grabbing people, to carry them away to their doom. The talons are especially awful-looking and stiff, like they were made of papier mache. The Vulture himself, when his identity is finally revealed, is onscreen for mere seconds—the giant bird with the human head (and hands) —and isn’t convincing at all.
There aren’t any scares to be found in THE VULTURE, and the plot moves pretty slowly for the most part. The effects are dismal, and the “scientific” explanation is laughably absurd. So there isn’t much to recommend this movie. It is pretty hard to find, though, and I’d seen stills from it years ago and was always curious to find out what the movie was actually about. Of course, these kinds of movies rarely are as good as you’re lead to believe, and this one is no exception. THE VULTURE is pretty forgettable, except for some scenes of goofy dialogue and the completely silly solution to the not-so-chilling mystery.
Not worth the effort it took to finally track it down, but at least I finally saw it.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
Directed and Written by Lawrence Huntington
Starring: Robert Hutton, Akim Tamiroff, Broderick Crawford and Diane Clare