The House of 1000 Dolls is a thriller that was directed by Jeremy Summers and originally released in November 1967. It stars Vincent Price, Martha Hyer and George Nader. Nader plays a medical doctor on vacation in Tangiers who starts digging into the murder of a friend and finds himself crossing a white slave trade organisation for whom stage illusionist Felix Manderville (Price) and his wife Rebecca (Hyer) are procurers in chief. Produced for American International Pictures (AIP) by trash impresario Harry Alan Towers – most famous for his work with the late Jess Franco – this is a fast paced, cheap and cheerful thriller that is more interested in girls in their knickers than anything else. Despite an undoubtedly sleazy premise and a pretty grubby reputation, it’s as saucy as the Benny Hill Show and about as subversive.
AIP were the kings of low-budget exploitation pictures but nevertheless managed to produce several films of undisputed quality, notably the series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations directed by Roger Corman and starring the aforementioned Vincent Price. Unfortunately The House of 1000 Dolls bears more of the hallmarks of being a Harry Alan Towers production than it does of AIP. What that means for the poor viewer is that while the film purports to be an exotic thriller featuring jet-set locations, glamorous women and hunky heroes what it actually offers is a humdrum, set-bound 90 minutes featuring the odd dolly bird in her smalls and stolid beefcake Nader.
Having said that, there is some compensation in the form of Vincent Price. Price is one of my favourite actors; I know he’s too hammy for some tastes but I think he’s terrific, right up there with Peter Cushing and some distance above Christopher Lee. For me Price is less inhibited than the refined Cushing and therefore able to play a greater range of parts, although he’s not quite so good in heroic roles. I’ve always felt that Lee, while quite happy to take parts in just about any sort of movie, feels himself to be far superior to the material; this is borne out by the number of times you’ll see or hear him trashing his back catalogue, claiming not to know it was ‘that sort of film’. You never get that impression with Price – he gives it the beans whatever the movie, and let’s face it he’s appeared in some real stinkers over the years.
It has to be said that The House of 1000 Dolls isn’t his finest hour and a half but he does a decent job with what is really a pretty thin part. He’s the best thing in it by some considerable margin and it’s a mystery why he’s off-screen for much of the movie. Perhaps there was some contractual wrangle, who knows; but Towers was canny enough to know who would get punters through the door and it certainly wasn’t George Nader. Whatever the reason, Price doesn’t get nearly enough screen time and the whole movie suffers as a result. And that may be the reason why there’s so much footage of girls in their underwear in what must be the tidiest brothel in Morocco. Naturally, this being a Towers production, there’s a small but prominent role for Maria Rohm, another Franco veteran / survivor who also happened to be Mrs Harry Alan Towers.
Director Jeremy Summers does a competent enough job but visually the film is totally anonymous which is probably why Summers quickly ended up working in television. Over the course of a forty-year career he racked up an immense number of directorial credits on series as diverse as Danger Man, Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), Tenko, Howard’s Way and Brookside. One in the eye for auteur theorists everywhere.
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