Monday, April 2, 2012

Murder Before Midnight (1950-1953)

WBKB-TV, 1950-1953
Cast: Allen Harvey (Swami Drana Badour), Art Hern (Swami Drana Badour)

During the dawn of the 1950s, local Chicago television station WBKB (Channel 4) was, in all actuality, ahead of its time when it produced and aired a little programmer called Murder Before Midnight. Every week a different movie thriller would be showcased and hosted by an unusual Swami character, who went by the name of Drana Badour. The strange mystic spoke in an eerie voice and wore the appropriate attire and turban. The show's macabre theme music would play as the time grew nearer for the film to begin. Captivated television viewers would then be lured into Drana Badour's crystal ball where the week's mystery or horror thriller would start.

Very little is known about this obscure television gem, but filmmaker and freelance writer Donald F. Glut (Dinosaur Valley Girls; The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula) has stated that the show debuted on January 23, 1950, and he has generously shared knowledge about Murder Before Midnight at the Monster Kid Classic Horror Forum. Likewise, authors Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw have also provided a brief background of the program in their insightful book Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows from Shock Theatre to Svengoolie (2007; Lake Claremont Press; 1893121135). However, Okuda and Yurkiw have erroneously commented that the show ended its run in 1952. Ol' Sicko-Psychotic himself has picked up his shovel and did a little digging of his own, only to discover that Murder Before Midnight continued its run until August 24, 1953, according to the TV listing section in the Illinois newspaper - the Freeport Journal.

Murder Before Midnight was unique in that it not only had a creepy host as the master of ceremonies, the first of his kind in television history, but the show also featured a movie thriller in nightly installments, Monday through Saturday from 11:30 pm - 12:00 midnight. The half hour program would then usually be followed by the Nite Owl Movie, which showcased a random mix of full-length movies from various genres. Beginning on June 17, 1951, however, the WBKB studio began to do something special with Murder. On Monday nights, the local TV station started showing the entire length of the week's feature from 11:30 pm until 1:30 am. On these nights, Murder would be followed by the Ulmer Turner News prior to the station going off the air until later that morning.

Considering how quickly and frequently shows were cancelled during the golden age of television, it's apparent that Murder Before Midnight had a successful run locally. No doubt that introducing a viewer-participation gimmick added to the show acquiring a loyal following. "After the movie segment was over," Glut has stated, "the Swami would do an over-the-air quiz, phoning people at home and asking questions relating to the movie. Winners got a jackpot prize offered by sponsor Allied Motors."

Although the Swami Drana Badour hosted such horror titles as The Ape Man (1943), Revenge of the Zombies (1943), The Face of Marble (1946), etc., the majority of the program consisted of mystery and suspense chillers. Similar films found themselves as part of the film repertoire of later TV horror hosts that soon followed in the Swami's footsteps (i.e., Vampira's Lady of Horrors, 1954-1955, KABC and Vampira, 1956, KHJ; Dr. Diablo's Terror! Theatre, 1957, KCOP; Ottola Nesmith's Nightmare!, 1957-1958, KTLA). A couple of the Swami's known mystery and suspense flicks -- Red Dragon (1945) and The Panther's Claw (1942) -- were presented by other horror hosts, such as Vampira and Dr. Diablo, in their own programs. It's very likely that even more of the Swami's films would have appeared in the shows previously mentioned if they would have lasted as long as Murder Before Midnight did. The reason for so many suspense thrillers in these early programs was due to the fact that horror pictures were difficult to acquire and at affordable prices, as Maila Nurmi (a.k.a. Vampira) had once pointed out. These were local shows, after all, and they had a modest budget. Sadly, this is still the case in current times, which is why most horror hosts continue to show the same features, usually in public domain, as their colleagues.

Originally, the man behind the turban was WBKB's very own television announcer Allen Harvey (see top pic). Eventually, actor Art Hern took over the role of the mystic Drana Badour. Hern was a former radio actor, best remembered as one of the cast in the 1939-1949 radio program Captain Midnight. After the cancellation of Murder Before Midnight in 1953, Hern was cast as a regular in the television series The Happy Pirates, a children's program which starred Dick Two Ton Baker (see pic on the left). At the time, WBKB changed ownership and was bought by ABC (Channel 7). Over the decades, Art Hern continued to work in various films, such as Simon, King of the Witches (1971) and Transylvania Twist (1989), up until his death at the age of 90.

The following is an incomplete listing of the films shown on Murder Before Midnight, as mentioned by Donald F. Glut, Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw. Perhaps sometime in the near future we will learn more about this intriguing show and its fascinating hosts.

The Accused (1949) -- College professor Dr. Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young) kills one of her own students (Douglas Dick) when he attempts to sexually assault her. Fear of discovery consumes her as Homicide Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) investigates, and complications arise when she becomes romantically involved with the student's guardian (Robert Cummings).

The Ace of Spades (1935) -- Based on a novel by John Crawford Fraser, blackmail and murder are featured in this crime drama. Starring Michael Hogan, Dorothy Boyd, and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

The Ape Man (1943) -- The unmentally sound Dr. James Brewster (Bela Lugosi) conducts radical experiments that transform him into a half-ape humanoid. With the aid of a gorilla, Brewster seeks out human victims in hopes of finding a cure using their spinal fluid. Also starring Louise Currie, Wallace Ford, and Henry Hall.

Bandits of Chinatown (19??) -- Okuda and Yurkiw mention this title in their book, but I have not come across any information on a film containing this title. They probably meant Shadows Over Chinatown (1946). See entry below.

Below the Deadline (19??) -- Unknown if it was the 1936 or the 1946 version that was shown on Murder Before Midnight. Both are crime dramas.

Blake of Scotland Yard (1937) -- Feature version of serial, has Sir James Blake (Herbert Rawlinson) up against a criminal mastermind known only as The Scorpion. The villain is after an invention of Blake's niece Hope Mason (Joan Barclay) and her friend Jerry Sheehan (Ralph Byrd), who had hoped to donate it to the League of Nations.

The Case of Charles Peace (1949) -- Respectable businessman by day, the terror of Manchester, England by night. Charles Peace (Michael Martin-Harvey) is a clever thief, who will even resort to murder to make his escape. With Chili Bouchier, Valentine Dyall, and Bruce Belfrage.

Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) -- Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) and his children Iris (Marianne Quon) and Tommy (Benson Fong) investigate the murder of a scientist who had invented a defense weapon. Featuring Mantan Moreland, Arthur Loft, and Gwen Kenyon.

The Corpse Vanishes (1942) -- Mad scientist Dr. George Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) murders virgin maidens for their body fluids in order to keep his elderly wife (Elizabeth Russell) young and alive. Aiding him in his diabolical endeavors are a wicked crone and her two vile offspring. Also starring Luana Walters, Tris Coffin, and Minerva Urecal.

Dark Alibi (1946) -- Three men are framed for robbing a bank and committing murder. Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is summoned to investigate the truth before the convicted men are executed. Starring Mantan Moreland, Ben Carter, and Benson Fong.

Detective Kitty O'Day (1944) -- Feisty secretary Kitty O'Day (Jean Parker) and her boyfriend Johnny Jones (Peter Cookson) are knee-high in trouble when they become suspects in the murder of O'Day's boss. Wanting to clear their names, the young couple attempt to unveil the real killer. Also featuring Tim Ryan, Veda Ann Borg, and Ed Gargan. 

The Face of Marble (1946) -- A mad scientist (John Carradine) and his assistant (Robert Shayne) invent electric machine to bring back the dead. With Claudia Drake, Maris Wrixon, and Willie Best.

Hammer the Toff (1952) -- Lost British film that was based on a novel by John Creasey. Detective Richard "The Toff" Rollison (John Bentley) investigates the theft of a metal formula. Featuring Patricia Dainton, Valentine Dyall, and John Robinson.

The Important Witness (1933) -- A young woman witnesses a murder and is taken hostage. The lady in peril makes an attempt to escape, but is quickly pursued by the ruthless killers. Starring Noel Francis, Donald Dillaway, and Dorothy Burgess.

The Intruder (1933) -- A murderer is aboard a cruise ship that gets caught in a violent storm. The survivors wash up on a mysterious jungle island, and become targets of the unidentified killer and wild gorilla. Featuring Monte Blue, Lila Lee, and William B. Davidson.

Lord Edgware Dies (1934) -- Agatha Christie's beloved Investigator Hercule Poirot (Austin Trevor) appears in this early murder mystery. Also with Jane Carr, Richard Cooper, and John Turnbull.

Meet Sexton Blake (1945) -- The famous Detective Sexton Blake (David Farrar) and his pal Tinker (John Varley) must solve the murder of a man with a severed hand and retrieve stolen documents wanted by the War Office. Also starring Manning Whiley, Dennis Arundell, and Betty Huntley-Wright.

The Night Comes Too Soon (1947) -- a.k.a. The Ghost of Rashmon Hall. Based on a short story by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. A newlywed couple move into a haunted house, in which a murder was once committed. Desperate for help they turn to Dr. George Clinton (Valentine Dyall), a friend who happens to have knowledge in dealing with the paranormal. Anne Howard, Alec Faversham, and Howard Douglas are also featured. 

The Night Has Eyes (1942) -- a.k.a. Terror House. An attractive school teacher named Marian Ives (Joyce Howard) and girlfriend Doris (Tucker McGuire) visit the Yorkshire moors where a friend had disappeared a year ago. Caught in a storm the two women take refuge in a strange cottage inhabited by a disturbed man named Stephen Deremid (James Mason). Also featuring Wilfrid Lawson, Mary Clare, and John Fernald.

The Panther's Claw (1942) -- Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt (Sidney Blackmer) tries to solve weird blackmail case. With Rick Vallin and Lynn Starr.

Paul Temple's Triumph (1950) --  Third entry in the series about an aspiring novelist named Paul Temple (John Bentley) and his wife Steve Temple (Dinah Sheridan) in search of an abducted scientist who has invented a dangerous formula that could be used as an atomic weapon in the wrong hands. Barbara Couper, Hugh Dempster, and Dino Galvani also star.

The Phantom Shot (1947) -- Interesting take on a murder investigation allows viewers into the thoughts of Inspector Webb (John Stuart) as he interrogates several witnesses. Featuring Olga Lindo, Howard Marion-Crawford, and John Varley.

Red Dragon (1945) -- Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler), with the aid of his son Tommy (Benson Fong) and his chauffeur Chattanooga (Willie Best) searches for a stolen atomic-bomb formula in Mexico. With Fortunio Bonanova, Robert E. Keane, and Carol Hughes.

Return of the Ape Man (1944) -- Scientists Professor Dexter (Bela Lugosi) and Professor John Gilmore (John Carradine) discover a prehistoric caveman frozen in the Arctic. Dexter, however, turns homicidal and decides to use people for his experiments on the neanderthal. Also starring George Zucco, Frank Moran, and Teala Loring.

Revenge of the Zombies (1943) -- Scott Warrington (Mauritz Hugo) and a hired detective (Robert Lowery) investigate the mysterious death of Scott's sister Lila (Veda Ann Borg) and discover that she and many others have been turned into zombies by a mad scientist (John Carradine) working for the Third Reich. The zombies, however, seek revenge against their creator.

Salute the Toff (1952) -- a.k.a. Brighthaven Express. Based on author John Creasey's 6th "The Toff" novel. Detective Richard "The Toff" Rollison (John Bentley) investigates a missing person. Carol Marsh, Valentine Dyall, and Shelagh Fraser are also featured. This British motion picture is now considered lost. 

Shadows Over Chinatown (1946) -- During a murder investigation, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) uncovers a criminal gang's scheme of collecting the life insurance of their victims. Starring Mantan Moreland, Victor Sen Yung, and Tanis Chandler.

A Shot in the Dark (19??) -- Unknown if the 1933, 1935, or the 1941 version was aired. All three are murder mysteries with a killer on the loose.

Someone at the Door (19??) -- Unknown if it was the 1936, 1939, or the 1950 version that was shown. All are crime thrillers based on a play by Campbell and Dorothy Christie.

Tangled Evidence (1934) -- A man with an interest in the occult is murdered. Now Inspector Drayton (Sam Livesey) must prove the man's niece innocent of of the crime. With Joan Marion, Michael Hogan, and Michael Shepley.

There Goes Kelly (1945) -- Two young page boys working at a radio station try to solve the murder of a singer. Starring Jackie Moran, Wanda McKay, and Sidney Miller.

Three Witnesses (1935) -- Based on the novel by S. Fowler Wright. This rare crime thriller remains unavailable to the public. However, the Library of Congress seems to have the only known existing copy of this film. Henry Kendall, Eve Gray, Richard Cooper, and Geraldine Fitzgerald star in this British picture.

White Zombie (1932) -- Neil Parker (John Harron) and Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) are a young couple engaged to be married in Haiti. Their journey takes them to a rural and ominous region steeped in macabre rituals and deeply rooted beliefs in the power of voodoo. Unfortunately for them, a wicked voodoo master named Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi), intends to turn Madeleine into one of his zombie slaves.

Woman in the Shadows (1934) -- John Bradley (Ralph Bellamy) and Louise Loring (Fay Wray) are a couple of desperate people on the run from the law. Melvyn Douglas, Roscoe Ates, and Ruth Gillette also star.