Movie of the Week: Devil's Partner (1961)
As I’ve stated previously, I proudly have the Netflix package that sends me physical DVDs and Blu-rays one at a time. When I hear about a movie I want to see, I put it in my queue. However, more often than not, I receive my next disc and have no memory of why I wanted to see the movie. Such is the case with Devil’s Partner. Researching it now, I believe I saw it in a vintage newspaper ad as part of a double feature with Creature from the Haunted Sea.
Made in 1958, Devil’sPartner was not released until 1961, when it was acquired by Filmgroup (Roger Corman and his brother, Gene) and placed on a double bill with Creature from the Haunted Sea. The poster art is amazing: a naked blonde, her nasty bits obscured by her flowing locks, rides the back of a hunky centaur. A warning inscribed on a tombstone reads, “We do not recommend this picture for those who are easily shocked.”
It should come as no surprise that there’s no image in the actual movie that comes close to the movie’s magnificent artwork. However, for a low budget black-and-white thriller, there are some shocking moments. The opening is terrific. A bearded old man carries a goat into his shack. We see the silhouette of him stabbing the goat, and hear it cry. He then uses its blood to mark a hexagon painted on the floor and write on the back of a skin. A dark hand reaches out and the old man collapses…
…then, we see the credits. Although this scene is not terribly graphic, it seems pretty intense for 1958, even if a little less so for 1961. Its effectiveness is compounded by the fact that we’re thrown right into this satanic ritual with no preparation. Its purpose remains unknown for some time, as the action resumes with Nick Richards (Ed Nelson) stepping off a bus in the town of Furnace Flats, population 1,505. He’s responding to a letter from his uncle, Pete Jensen, who, it turns out, is the old man.
I wish I had not read the synopsis before watching Devil’s Partner. Its twist is revealed in the first sentence on the DVD sleeve and on IMDb. I’m not sure I would have seen it coming. Granted, it’s not that earth shattering, but the story unfolds so casually that it would probably have snuck up on me and given me a big smile. On the other hand, if not for the synopsis, I probably wouldn’t have known the purpose for the twist. The movie never really explains, “Why?”
Bad things start happening to certain residents of Furnace Flats, coinciding with the arrival of Nick Richards. They seem to stem from the romantic triangle among him, Nell Lucas (Jean Allison), and her fiancée, David Simpson (Richard Crane). Before long, we witness Nick performing similar rituals in the shack that result in animal attacks on these residents. Dogs, snakes and horses seem under a spell that causes them to become violent.
An interesting subplot emerges when David’s trusted German Shepherd mauls him, but doesn’t kill him. Wrapped in bandages for most of the movie, he becomes worried that Nell will reject him when his scars are revealed. It’s a superficial 1950’s concern, but one that drives the story, giving it more substance than expected. It also provides a reason for Nick to become more engrained in their lives and private affairs. He soon employs the town drunk, Papers (Byron Foulger) to assist him in his nefarious deeds.
Oddly, Nelson is listed at the bottom of the credits. (Don’t read those on IMDb, either, to avoid a spoiler.) The headliner is Edgar Buchanan as Nell’s father and the town’s one physician, Doc Lucas. Buchanan’s visage and voice are instantly recognizable; he played Uncle Joe Carson on The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. He has many theatrical screen credits, but I don’t recall seeing him in another classic horror movie. He’s great in this one.
He assists Sheriff Tom Fuller (Spencer Carlisle) in getting to the bottom of the mystery in Furnace Flats. Both are quick to accept supernatural causes and draw conclusions about what’s happening. It’s an expeditious screenplay, written by Stanley Clements and Laura Jean Mathews. This was Clements’s only writing gig; he’s best known for acting, playing “Stash” in the East Side Kids series and Stanislaus “Duke” Coveleskie in the Bowery Boys series.
Devil’s Partner was directed with no particular style or flair by Charles R. Rondeau. It’s one one of only four theatrical films he directed among a career of television work. In fact, the only behind the scenes name familiar to me is that of Ronald Stein, who composed the music. He should be familiar as the prolific composer of many classic horror and sci-fi scores of the late 50’s and 1960’s. Collectively and on paper, this sounds like a forgettable B-movie…
…but there’s something about Devil’s Partner that I really enjoyed. Maybe it’s just the fact that I knew nothing about it and watching it gave me the feeling I discovered something new and special. The truth is, there’s probably nothing very special about it. It’s severely flawed. However, it’s entertaining and it doesn’t necessarily unfold as you’d expect. Even without naked blondes and hunky centaurs, I recommend it. For a 60-year old movie, it seems like something new.
Written by Stanley Clements, Laura Jean Mathews Directed by Charles R. Rondeau Starring Edgar Buchanan, Jean Allison, Richard Crane, Spencer Carlisle, Byron Foulger, Ed Nelson Released September, 1961 RT 73 min. Home Video Alpha Video