Friday, October 8, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I didn't want to blog about The Razor's Edge or Nightmare Alley in detail today because I had a different movie in mind. After tonight's Hammer horror films on TCM, TCM Underground is going to show a pair of lesser-seen William Castle movies. The latter of these is the odd Thirteen Frightened Girls, overnight at 4:30 AM ET.

The girls, although there are more than 13 of them and they're not really frightened, are all the daughters of diplomats who are stationed in the same capital; the daughters all live together in the dormitory of an international boarding school. Candy, the American girl (played by unknown Kathy Dunn) admires one of the American agents and sees that her father (Hugh Marlowe) has a problem: his agents aren't able to get any clandestine information from the other countries. So, Cathy has a brilliant idea: use her friends as contacts to get into the other embassies, and since young woman are invariably inveterate gossips, she'll be bound to pick up on some secrets. She duly does, and passes them on anonymously to her father.

This causes a scandal among the diplomatic corps, as they're all trying to figure out who this new super spy is. Eventually, it winds up with poor Cathy getting in way over her head, having to fend off an assassination attempt from a Dutch agent, and getting kidnapped and held in the Chinese embassy (one of the few other recognizable names in the cast, Khigh Dheigh from The Manchurian Candidate, shows up here). Even then, she's not out of danger.

Thirteen Frightened Girls is a bizarre movie, largely because it's so tough to classify. It's certainly not a horror movie like the ones for which Castle is famous -- indeed, there are no gimmicks here. Is it a real spy movie? Is it a spoof on spy movies? Is it supposed to be a teen flick for the drive-in market? I'm not quite certain, and perhaps that uncertainty is a joke that Castle was trying to play on us. It's not terrible, but it's certainly not great, either. Instead, it's just wacky enough in its not fitting convention that it's fun enough to watch once and think, "What was William Castle thinking?" And after that, it's fun to let all your friends in on the secret of what a weird movie this is.

Thirteen Frightened Girls made it to DVD as part of a William Castle box set, but I don't know if it's individually available.

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