Posted in 1950s, holidays, Movies

Horrors in an Austrian castle

The Black Castle, made during the twilight of the classic horror era, had a special pre-release show on Halloween 1952 and went into general release the next week. Among the first cities to screen it were Philadelphia and Los Angeles (the latter on 20 November). It premièred in NYC on Christmas. Between January–April 1953, it was only shown in Southern, Southeastern, and Midwestern cities with a population between 5,000–50,000. In August 1953, it finally was released to the entire U.S.

A few sources claim it premièred in Sweden, though I was unable to find any actual dates for this, and IMDB cites its Swedish opening as January 1953, after the NYC première.

On a dark and stormy night, two coffins are supposed to be closed and prepared for burial. The servants dispatched to this task notice the corpses look rather alive, and that their eyes aren’t closed. We then hear the desperate unspoken pleas from the man, begging them not to bury him alive.

What in the world led up to this?

Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) is determined to get to the bottom of his two friends’ disappearance. He’s convinced Count Carl von Bruno (Stephen McNally) of Austria had a hand in it, and talks his colleagues into letting him take on this mission.

While Ronald is at a nearby tavern called The Green Man, a sword fight breaks out, and his finger is scratched. It turns out that the two guys who started it are very close to Bruno.

Ronald presents himself at Bruno’s Black Forest castle as Richard Beckett. Also in the castle are Bruno’s buddies from the fight, one of whom, Count Steiken, was wounded and is screaming as he receives treatment from Dr. Meissen (Boris Karloff).

Bruno tells Ronald there’s going to be a leopard hunt very soon, with an imported leopard being contained (and very hungry) until it’s time to release him. To throw off Bruno’s suspicions about his real identity, Ronald insists he’s never gone hunting in Africa.

That night, Bruno’s new bride Elga (Rita Corday) walks in on Ronald while he’s snooping around the castle. Ronald pretends he was trying to find Bruno, and after striking up a friendly rapport with Elga, he’s led to Bruno in the cellar.

Also in the cellar is the caged leopard (who looks like an obvious panther), being tortured by servant Gargon (Lon Chaney, Jr.). Elga strongly objects to this upcoming canned hunt, and the sport of hunting in general. After Elga and Ronald leave, Bruno takes the whip from Gargon and starts torturing the poor defenceless animal too.

While Elga is leading Ronald to a strange secret room, a trap door is triggered by a stone on the floor, and they’re caught in a cage. Elga convinces her husband she got lost while trying to go another way, and Gargon releases them. Bruno reveals an alligator lagoon behind the door, and says there’s no getting past it if they want to escape.

The next day, the hunting party sets out, and Ronald catches the leopard after falling into a ditch. Bruno shoots the animal while Ronald is wrestling with him, which infuriates Ronald. It’s not good hunting etiquette to shoot someone else’s prey.

All is seemingly forgiven, however, when Bruno says he killed the leopard with Ronald’s own rifle, and gives him the winning prize of two beautiful dueling pistols, the pelt, and some money.

At a celebratory party that night, Ronald dances with Elga. When they’re speaking alone outside in the moonlight, Ronald recognizes a strange human head charm on her necklace, which matches a ring we saw him wearing after the tavern fight. Elga says she doesn’t know anything about it other than that it was a gift from Bruno.

It seems as though this is the beginning of a beautiful romance, but Elga’s suspicions are aroused when Ronald reveals he took the pendant from her while they were kissing on top of the stairs. She demands to know what he was really doing in her husband’s room and why he came here.

Ronald initially says he can’t explain, then closes the door (behind which an unknown someone is eavesdropping) and tells her Bruno is a murderer. Some years ago, he held power over a native tribe in Africa by posing as a white god, with the goal of gaining control of a fabulously rich empire. Ronald was there on an expedition at the same time. Though they never personally met, their forces were in battle together, and Bruno was wounded in the eye by one of Ronald’s men. This proved he was a mortal, not a god, and the natives rose up against him and drove him out of their country.

Ronald’s two best friends were there too, and Bruno swore he’d get revenge against them. Now Ronald is convinced Bruno murdered them. The natives gave each of them that pendant as a token of appreciation, and they swore they’d never part with these gifts. “Only murder could’ve placed this in the Count’s hands.”

Ronald says he’s leaving in the morning, but promises to return for Elga.

Dr. Meissen approaches Bruno and says his friend Count Steiken is waiting in the trophy room with a very interesting revelation. As Steiken is about to say something about Ronald, he drops dead.

Though nothing incriminating was said, Bruno goes to Elga’s room and claims Steiken told him all about her dalliance with Ronald. After she admits her feelings for Ronald and that she never married Bruno by choice, Bruno leaves her with the demented Gargon.

Bruno cordially bids farewell to Ronald in the morning, without letting on he knows about the affair. However, when he’s at The Green Man, Dr. Meissen comes to him with a story about Elga being in grave danger, and says Ronald must return. If not, Bruno will kill her just as he killed his first wife.

By the time Ronald returns, claiming he forgot his new dueling pistols, Bruno has been tipped off about Ronald’s suspicions of his murderous crime. Little does Ronald realize he’s walking right into a trap from which he might not escape.

Posted in 1950s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Presents from the Lindmaas

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This week will be my last Christmas-themed excerpt, in honor of the recent Orthodox Christmas. It comes from Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. It’s set during January 1951.

Milena Kalvik, age 26, is the nanny of Tarmo and Meri Lindmaa. Their father Vahur, a widower about to turn 33, lost his wife in the final bombing of Tallinn, Estonia in 1944. Meri is particularly attached to Milena, never having known her birth mother. She was born in a posthumous C-section two months prematurely, and has a very unusual scar on her face from the rushed surgery done in the dark with only a knife.

Milena has had feelings for Vahur almost since they met, and adores his children, but doesn’t think he could ever reciprocate.

The Lindmaas are Taaraists, followers of Estonia’s original religion Taarausk (Taaraism), which is built around Nature worship. Taara is their supreme god.

Milena fetches the gifts she bought for Vahur, Meri, and Tarmo. Though they don’t celebrate Christmas, it felt wrong to not give them anything in return. For Tarmo and Meri, she bought James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks and Anne Parrish’s The Story of Appleby Capple, respectively. Vahur’s present is a painted necktie with Bengal tigers.

“I hope you like our gifts,” Meri says. “Tarmo and I spent a lot of time making them. It was easier to do when you don’t live with us anymore.”

Milena unwraps a set of four coasters from Tarmo, painted with geometric patterns in a rainbow of colors, and a green, heart-shaped ceramic candy dish from Meri. Her heart skips a beat when she discovers a rough-cut pearl necklace from Vahur.

“You didn’t have to get me something so personal,” Milena protests.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“I’m only your children’s nanny. The other jewelry you’ve gotten me is unprecedented enough.”

“Why shouldn’t I honor such a special person with pearls?” Vahur smiles at her. “I’ve never seen you wearing pearls, and thought you deserved your own, in a unique style. So many other ladies wear basic, boring white pearls, but how many wear rough-cut pearls? It’s special, just like you.” Vahur takes it out of the box and fastens it around Milena’s neck. “Every lady deserves pearls from a man, and since no one else did it, I took it upon myself.”

“So you feel sorry for me because I’m an old maid?”

“Perish the thought. Taara’s keeping you single so long because your husband’s very special and worth waiting for. It takes more time to match some people. Not everyone is lucky enough to find a soulmate at all of sixteen or twenty. You’ll appreciate him more when he reveals himself.”

Milena’s heart flutters at that choice of phrase. She can’t let herself believe Vahur is speaking about himself, but the possibility exists. Her heart beats even faster when Vahur helps her on with her winter wraps and takes her arm.

Posted in 1950s, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, holidays, Marek, Tamara, Writing

WeWriWa—Marek’s gifts to Tamara

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Since it’s December, I’ve switched to Christmas-themed excerpts (even though my own winter holiday is Chanukah). This week, the snippet comes from Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. It’s set during January 1951.

Lyuba and Ivan’s youngest child, nine-year-old Tamara, is still using crutches and calipers over a year after she had a stroke from being brutally attacked by her second grade teacher and all but one of her classmates. She’s very disappointed and upset she can’t practice walking normally outside the house, no matter how much her family tries to reassure her this won’t last forever.

Tamara’s gift is from eleven-year-old Marek Kalvik, the surprise late-life sixth child of dear family friend Katrin Kalvik-Nikonova. When he recently testified at his mother’s kangaroo court trial for alleged un-American activities, the judge taunted him by saying no one will want to marry him. In case that happens, he asks Tamara if she’ll promise to marry him when they’re grownups, but only if she really wants to.

Tamara limps back to the davenport and pulls off the wrapping paper. She lifts the flaps of the box within and finds a stuffed turtle, an onyx and silver bracelet, an obsidian bead necklace, and a letter. Ivan suspiciously eyes the jewelry as Tamara holds the turtle in her lap and reads Marek’s letter.

December 27, 1950,

Dear Toma,

I hope you get this by Orthodox Christmas. My brothers-in-law, Nikita, and Viivi helped me with selecting your presents. Taavi and Sulev told me turtles represent long life, good health, persistence, determination, emotional strength, and being grounded despite chaos. I asked them about more jewelry to help you with healing, and they said blue stones like lapis lazuli help with relaxation and calming, and black stones like obsidian and onyx help with protection. When we’re older, I’ll buy you black pearls. They protect people from negative energy and have lots of healing energy too, but pearls are grownup jewelry, and lots of money.

The ten lines end here (by the way I counted). A few extras follow.

I hope you don’t think you already have too many stuffed animals and too much jewelry. Each one is different and special, but you might not see it that way when people keep giving them to you.

Posted in 1950s, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Diana and Pamela’s first Christmas

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Since it’s December, I’ve switched to Christmas-themed excerpts (even though my own winter holiday is Chanukah). This week, the snippet comes from Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. It’s set during January 1951.

Diana (Dee-AHN-ah) and Pamela (Pah-MEL-ah) Zotova, newly turned eight months old, are staying with Lyuba and Ivan’s family in St. Paul while their mother Raisa and aunt Lyudmila, Raisa’s twin sister, are hospitalized. Raisa and Lyudmila realized too late they chose terrible husbands just to escape small town life and move to Minneapolis. They recently found much better future second husbands, but they first have to figure a way out of their unhappy current marriages.

Diana and Pamela smile big smiles at Irina as she unwraps the presents Raisa and Lyudmila got them, which Filaret delivered on Saturday. From their mother, they have a brightly-colored ring-stacking toy and stacking cups. Their aunt got them toy drums and rattles with cat heads at either end.  Diana’s rattle depicts Siamese cats, and Pamela’s has red tabbies. Out of fear of Gustav’s wrath, Filaret set up a savings account for them in lieu of physical presents.

“They’re so cute,” Tamara says. “Can we keep them? I want little sisters. Everyone else in our family has younger siblings.”

“They’re Raya’s babies, not ours,” Lyuba says gently.

The ten lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.

“She’ll be very sad if we don’t give them back.”

“They won’t be happy to go home,” Sonyechka says. “Gustav is a very bad person. He doesn’t treat Raya or his babies very nicely.”

“That’s not our affair to meddle in,” Ivan says. “If Raya’s the good, sweet person we remember her as, she’ll come to her senses eventually and leave that mudak. If I’ve read the situation with the count correctly, Raya has her second husband waiting in the wings.”

“Speaking of future husbands, why doesn’t Toma open her gift from Marek?” Sonyechka holds up a jade green package.

Posted in 1950s, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Christmas tree contention

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Since it’s December, I’ve switched to Christmas-themed excerpts (even though my own winter holiday is Chanukah). This year, the snippets will come from Chapter 87, “December Dilemmas and Delights,” and Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. They’re set during December 1950 and January 1951.

The chapter’s second section features cousins Andrey Safronov, Tomik Barashka, and Vilorik Zyuganov, who live together, and their respective girlfriends, sisters Zoya and Zhdana Karmova, and Susanna Eristova. Susanna is a cousin of the Karmova girls. In April, Tomik and Vilorik came to the U.S. after several years in London. Though they’re happy to be out of Stalin’s clutches, there are many things about the West they can’t get used to.

Though Andrey is an unbaptized atheist, he went to Russian Orthodox church camp and school after coming to the U.S., and began celebrating Christmas to be like all his friends. Tomik and Vilorik can’t believe he would take part in a holiday that’s not his.

Tomik and Vilorik cross their arms and stand back when they reach the pop-up lot. Andrey and Zoya browse the fairly limited supply of trees before selecting a five-foot Fraser fir dripping with needles.

“Is it to your liking?” Andrey calls to his cousins.

Tomik grunts. “I won’t decorate it or spend much time by it. You’re the one wasting your money on a bourgeois symbol.”

“What the hell is bourgeois about a Christmas tree?” Zhdana asks. “Poor and working-class people have trees too.”

“It’s not really bourgeois,” Susanna says.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“They were taught to bandy that word about as a catch-all insult. Whatever meaning it may have originally had is long since lost. It’s like describing everything as fantastic, even when it’s not. By the time it really does apply, no one thinks the person is serious.”

“It may not be an exclusively bourgeois convention, but it certainly was popularized and embraced most heartily by that lot,” Tomik says. “We shouldn’t want any vestiges of bourgeois society in our midst.”

“How did you get approved for immigration?” Zoya asks. “You’re completely open about your Communism. Little does the HUAAC know an entire family of Communists is living across three boroughs.”

Andrey pays for the tree and lifts it in his arms. During the walk back to the southern portion of the neighborhood, he, Tomik, and Vilorik take turns carrying it.