Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vampyr (1932)

Hmmmm ...

Still not sure what to make of this one. An early 30's horror movie. That should be right in my wheel house. You'd think I wouldn't have to turn it off half way because it was putting me to sleep, but that's what happened. I finished it up the following night.

This is the story of Allan Gray, a young man obsessed with the occult, who happens on an Inn where he finds evidence of a Vampyr! First, in the middle of the night, some old dude saunters into his room and leaves a package with a note that it should be opened in the event of his death. Then he follows around shadows while they go and .... I don't know what they are doing. Eventually the old dude is shot by a shadow, a young woman becomes sick, and lots of surreal scenes are shot using primitive camera techniques.

This is not an easy movie to watch. Although it's not a silent film, it might as well have been. Most of the story is revealed in title cards using a hard to read gothic font and there is almost no dialog. Characters are introduced without explanation and the story line is convoluted at best.

Still, the movie has some merit. Very stylish and atmospheric, it scores high points for originality. The disembodied shadows running around was an interesting technique and the use of double exposures and backwards film may have been avant garde back then. But the pacing was tedious and the action non-existent. Thankfully it was only 72 minutes.

The movie could stand a second viewing, if for no other reason than to figure out what the hell was going on. I can't imagine seeing it again, unless I happen upon a fully restored showing at a film festival. The Netflix streaming copy is in need of some TLC. AMRU 3.

Before I end, take a look at the wikipedia entry for the movie. A lot went on with the making that I found interesting. Very low budget using non-actors, it was filmed for three languages and constantly re-edited. The cast stayed at the inn it was filmed in, which proved very uncomfortable. Oh, and the director ended up in a mental hospital. So it goes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Platinum Blond (1931)

Stew Smith (Robert Williams) is a newspaper reporter covering a society story. Seems a foolish young man of breeding and culture made some hard to keep promises to a lowly chorus girl, and she has the love letters to prove it. Stew meets with the Schuylers to get the story, where he meets our titular character.

Funny, isn't it how whenever someone refers to a character for whom the movie is named as "titular", that seldom that someone is either male or flat-chested. Apropos of nothing, that character is played by our very own Jean Harlow.

Boy meets Girl, boy earns the trust and respect of girl, boy MARRIES girl, girl's family approves not at all of the situation, work-a-day boy becomes a fish out of water, or more appropriately, a "Bird in a Gilded Cage", and starts to go a little nuts. We've seen the story a million times.

Jean was the biggest name and, as indicated earlier, the "titular" character, but the movie is really about Stew and Gallagher (Loretta Young). Gallagher is a woman, but not a real woman. She's one of the guys, a real pal. Seems our Stew never noticed how Gallagher absolutely glowed in soft focus. Live and learn.

Now, I didn't know anything about Loretta Young. I found out later that she had a child out of wedlock with Clark Gable (while he was still married, no less!) and is best remembered for her TV series. Back in the day, however, she was hot. 18 when the movie was released, she stood up to the more veteran actors and out shined Harlow herself.

It was kinda nice to go back to Capra thumbing his nose at society muck-a-mucks, and the performance of Williams was strong (and who doesn't like a little depression jiggle), but the movie left me somewhat flat. A little punching up of the script would have served it well. AMRU 3.

We all know that Capra and Young went on to long successful careers in cinema, and that Harlow went on to a tragic and short life, but Williams wins the cupie doll today. The sharp and witty reporter dropped dead of appendicitis three days after the premiere. So it goes.

"Yea, I know those bluenoses. Their ancestors refused to come over on the Mayflower because they didn't want to rub elbows with the tourists... So they swam over!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bowery at Midnight (1942)

Smack dab in the middle of Hollywood's obsession with New York City's Bowery district is Bowery at Midnight. Bela Lugosi is respected family man and phychology professor Frederick Brenner. But by night he leads a double life as kindly soup kitchen operator Karl Wagner. But later at night he leads a triple life as criminal mastermind, also Karl Wagner.

Apparently Bela uses the soup kitchen to recruit criminals to explore his own fascination of crime and murder. When does this man sleep? When one of his students visits the kitchen in order to surprise his hottie fiancee, he is surprised himself to bump into Prof Bela. Bela is eager to further his students education by bumping him off. Wonder how things will work out?

Not much of a movie. The only reason why I watched it was because another Lugosi movie I intended to watch on Netflix streaming was going offline, and the last couple days it was available, Netflix was "performing maintenance" on the title. Well, it's gone now and I never got to see it.

Time to split hairs. What is "horror"? Making the audience feel fear is not enough, otherwise many movies would fit the bill, plus quite a few baseball games. No, there must be an element of evil or the supernatural. Sure, Bela was evil, but if Jimmy Cagney played the role, there would be no doubt that this is a crime drama, not a horror flick. But because Bela plays the staring role, it's horror. No dice, pal. Didn't work for The Bat either.

Now, there is one horror element. According to IMDB, this is a Zombie film. Sure, add some zombies and Bam, you got yourself a bona fide horror film. Problem is, the zombies (if that's what they are), were added into the script as seamlessly as attaching a third arm.

Come to think of it, THAT would be a good horror element. But I speak (type) figuratively. Suddenly (spoilers ...) all of the people Bela killed appear in the basement to seek revenge. Were they really dead? Were they resurrected? Who cares, this movie stinks.

Not a horror film. Not a zombie movie. Barely watchable at the best of times. I feel obligated to give it an AMRU 2.5 because it's better than that Revolt of the Zombies trash.

Hey! Real life criminal and murderer Tom Neal is in it, playing a criminal and murderer! Wow, what casting!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Night in Casablanca (1946)

This was an experiment. Would the humor of the Marx Brothers translate for a 14 year old boy? Would the Brothers be as funny as I remember?

A young soldier is convinced Nazi treasure (the best kind) is hidden someplace in a Casablanca hotel, and he is determined to find it. Unfortunately, so are some former Nazis. The hotel manager is murdered by the Nazi in an attempt to take over the hotel, and gaining full access to search. Unfortunately for him, a Mister Ronald Kornblow (Groucho Marx) is brought in. His brothers (the funny ones, anyhow) tag along.

Antics ensue. Kornblow tries to woo hot Nazi chick (the best kind), soldier is arrested as a suspected Nazi, Nazi tries to knock off Kornblow, and a fun time is had by all.

Like with Mae West, it's hard to appreciate the originality of humor after it's been duplicated a million times over. Even with that perspective, I couldn't find many of the sight gags funny. What chance did my son? But slowly, over time, he started to appreciate what Groucho was doing. The biting remarks, and comedic put downs:
"Sir, this lady is my wife. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"If this lady is your wife, you should be ashamed of yourself."

His amusing flirtations:
"My name's Beatrice Rheiner. I stop at the hotel."
"My name's Ronald Kornblow. I stop at nothing."

"You know, I think you are the most beautiful woman in the whole world."
"Do you really?"
"No, but I don't mind lying if it'll get me somewhere."

"After all, I'm a man and you're a woman ... and I can't think of a better arrangement."

"Oh, come on now. You wouldn't say no to a lady."
"I don't know, why not? They always say no to me."

In the end, my son was won over. I'm sure it's not the best Marx Brothers film, but it was fun. Groucho referred to it as the last Marx Bros film, but it wasn't. Love Happy (1949) with Marilyn Monroe was, but he hated that movie. AMRU 3.5. I'm putting The Cocoanuts onto my Netflix queue.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

Four years after completing White Zombie, the genius team came up with a sequel: Revolt of the Zombies. Instead of Voodoo zombies in Haiti, we have Buddhist zombies in Cambodia. Ah, a fresh take on things.

During the first world war a young army officer (Dean Jagger) tries to convince his superiors that an "oriental priest" can turn men into zombies to help with the war effort. The idea was poo-poo'd. A demonstration is in order.

The demonstration goes perhaps too well and the priest is arrested until he promises to divulge his secrets (Could spell the end of the white race!) He refuses and is murdered. A team is sent to Cambodia (apparently after the war, I think I missed that - YES, I was paying attention!) to find the secret of zombieism. Our hero leaves his post to go to Angkor to do some wildcat research, finds the secret, and is summarily fired before anyone will listen to him. Here is where the spoilers start.

In here we have a love triangle. Our hero has fallen in love with the General's daughter and she agreed to marry him, in hopes that it would make his best friend jealous. Works like a charm and and hero/patsy is left holding the bag. Hero is ditched and the lady and best friend become engaged. So, our Hero takes a page out of his friend and lady friend's playbook and decides he must be ruthless to get what he wants, and he wants that mediocre looking General's daughter back. I wonder if the power to turn men into zombies would come in handy?

In short, Jagger turns just about EVERYBODY into zombies and lords over them like a spoiled schoolboy. His love agrees to marry him if her true love is allowed to return to America unharmed. Then she starts with the head games, just like a woman.

"If you truly loved me, you'd release your control of everybody ...", Blah, blah, blah. wimin! Never satisfied! So, like a dork, he releases his control of the entire supporting cast and extras, who are none-too-pleased with him at this point. He's thinking he has won her true love, but instead every minor character comes crashing through the door to kill him. Roll credits.

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. The sets were uninteresting, the acting not good enough, the heroine, meh, and the story muddled and confused. However, at 65 minutes, it was almost short enough. Unlike White Zombie, the flaws swallow this movie whole.

Unlike many bad movies, this one could not have been fixed. The setting, story, and dialog would have to be redone. The only thing I would keep from this production is the name. It is by far the best part. What's the deal with making the hero the villain? There was a perfectly good villain character! He wore black, murdered a priest, and had a great menacing look. Before he could get going, bam, killed by a zombie! Sounds like a last minute rewrite to me.

Some argued that this was not zombieism but just mind control (figurative zombies), but in fact they are one in the same. Zombies, pre-Romero, are mindless servants, not undead ghouls. Here they were also referred to as "robots". There were no hint that anyone thought the zombies were dead, and that might be the missing part. Close enough for me.

I'm giving this forgettable film an AMRU of 2.5 and before anyone complains, allow me to explain. While every part of this movie was sub-standard (at best), it wasn't painful to watch. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but whatever. This is what I rated it. Can't take it back.

Revolt isn't available via Netflix streaming and I'll be damned if I wait for a CD of THIS movie. I watched it off my TreeLine collection, but you can watch it here.

What's next in my Zombie-a-thon? Not sure. I'll ask around the blogosphere. According to IMDB, it's The Ghost Breakers, a Bob Hope comedy. Meh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

White Zombie (1932)

Shortly before I started this Blog, I watched White Zombie. The video quality was poor but it was good. Halloween was supposed to be the end of exclusive horror movies, but something happened. That something was AMC's The Walking Dead.

My 14 year old plays Zombie games and watches zombie movies when he goes over his friends house, I'm sure. We're a little strict. I decided that he should be allowed to see The Walking Dead, and we are enjoying it very much. So, what happened was the inevitable conversation about Zombies, their history in cinema and folklore, and even though he hates the 'crappy old movies' I always watch, he thought it a good idea to see all of the old zombie movies in chronological order. White Zombie comes first.

Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) is a rich plantation owner in Haiti. He invites the hot Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and her fiancee (John Harron) to get married in his lush mansion. His true motives come clear when he starts making a play for the bride to be. Bad form, dude.

He is rebuffed, so he resorts to Plan B: have an evil scientist turn her into a zombie. Now THAT is hot. Evil scientist in question is our very own Bela Lugosi, fresh from his stint as Dracula. He overacts most evilly. I don't want to give anything away, but I'll say this: never trust anyone named 'Murder'.

The sets are lush (freshly rented from Universal), the acting good enough, the heroine hot, and the story nicely creepy. Also, at 69 minutes, wonderfully brief. I understand some five or six minutes were cut from the original, which is interesting because there were a few scenes that dragged. Those scenes must have been painful. I give some films credit for using white space effectively, here it was more like dead air. Still, a good creepy movie. And reasonably "historically" accurate. I've seen it twice now and I doubt I'll see it again, unless I get the opportunity to see a fully restored version on the big screen. Sadly, the Netflix streaming version was no better than the public domain copy. AMRU 3.5.

Now, here is a question I haven't seen addressed on other blogs: why is she a WHITE zombie? Is it because our virginal ingenue is adorned in white for her wedding? Or is it because she's a white chick? I'll try not to read too much into that.

How did the movie fare with my teenager? Not so well. He decided it would be ok if he doesn't see ALL of the zombie movies in order. Still, I'll give him the opportunity, but he may be unavailable. Next up would be the impossible to find (and pronounce) Ouanga, so it'll be White Zombie's sequel, the tragic Revolt of the Zombies. The things I do for this blog...

"Before we are through with this thing we may uncover sins that even the devil would be ashamed of."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Ghoul (1933)

The day before Halloween, I had the opportunity to sit with a beer and a bowl of popcorn and watch an old horror movie. The one I found was Boris Karloff's The Ghoul. Never heard of it before.

Dying Egyptologist Henry Morlant (Boris) spends much of his fortune on "The Eternal Light", an Egyptian relic that is supposed to give the holder life immortality. He orders his caretaker to wrap it into his hand on his deathbed. Professor Henry dies, but his caretaker apparently has sticky fingers, so Boris has to rise without it to seek his vengeance.

Enter into this is an Egyptian who wants to recover the stolen relic, and Boris' bickering niece and nephew (cousins to each other) who inherit his spooky mansion. Also in the mix is an untrustworthy lawyer (is there any other kind?), a vicar, and the niece's spinster friend.

The movie starts exactly as I hoped. Dark and spooky. Sadly, when the bickering cousins appear, the atmosphere is blown away. The niece's friend became comic relief and the horror elements can no longer be taken seriously. According to wikipedia, the movie was capitalizing on two of Karloff's earlier films, The Mummy and The Old Dark House. Also, I learned that the movie is based on a novel but strayed very far from the source material. IMDB says this is the first British talkie. Man, were they behind the times! Oh, and this was the film debut of Ralph Richardson as the vicar.

I liked The Ghoul, but clearly it wasn't a great film. Predictably, I give it an AMRU of 3.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wolf Blood (1925)

In searching for the oldest surviving "werewolf" movie, the best answer turned out to be 1925's Wolf Blood. Dick Bannister (how's that for a post-Victorian porn name) is the field boss of a Canadian logging camp. The leader of a rival camp is resorting to underhanded tactics, even shooting at the workers. Boss Dick calls on the owner to come and check things out.

The owner is the young socialite daughter that inherited the company. She and her much-too-old-for-her Doctor Fiance decide to go visit. Seems the socialite likes the company of the rugged lumberjack type, and Dick becomes rather smitten as well. He hasn't seen a woman in years, after all. For the sake of propriety, they decide to avoid each other's company.

Evil field boss from the rival company decides to dam an important logging river. Our hero pays him a visit. A fight ensues and Dick Hero is out numbered and left for dead in a ravine. The good-but-maybe-not-good-enough doctor finds him in the nick of time. Dick needs a blood transfusion, but the only person available is a horrible half-breed (hate those people, don't you?) who was kicked out of camp by our hero for selling the Devil's Elixir to the men. He refuses to help, but says he can get blood from his she-wolf. Oh, hey! A Wolf, just like in the title! Fancy that. And only half way through the movie.

Dick gets wolf blood, half-breed blabs all around town, men become suspicious, and doctor tells his love that now that he has wolf blood in him, he has become like an animal. Oddly, she don't mind.

Mostly, this is a love triangle with the wolf element added for drama. Barely a werewolf story, but close enough. It wasn't spectacular, but it held my interest. At just over an hour, it was tolerably short. I give it an AMRU of 3.

Go watch it here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Werewolf of London (1935)

Doctor Glendon (Henry Hull) is a dedicated botanist who doesn't go in for that society life stuff that scientists are frequently thrust into. He leads an expedition into Tibet to find the mysterious mariphasa, a plant that blossoms only by moonlight.

The good doctor does find said plant, and brings it back to London. Yea, maybe he was bitten by a half man, half wolf beast, but who cares? This plant is cool!

Night after night he studies the plant all the while dutifully ignoring his young, hot wife (Valerie Hobson). He meets the strange Doctor Yogami (Warner Oland), who claims to have met him in Tibet. He too was searching for the mariphasa plant but came up empty. It seems the blossom of the mariphasa is the only way to keep the victim of a werewolf bite from transforming. Doctor Glendon doesn't care about that, he's got this awesome plant to look at! And he's got this awesome dentist's lamp to look at it with, too! His young hot wife (remember her?) doesn't mind. Her long lost hunky childhood friend is around to keep her, ahem, entertained.

This was the first werewolf movie. Well, the first talkie werewolf movie. A good movie, but it failed when it came out. People thought it too similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which I still haven't seen. Bela Lugosi was considered for Dr. Yogami, who would have been awesome in the role. Though, Warner was pretty good as well. Over the next three years he would play Charlie Chan nine more times then die of pneumonia. I bet he was way better than Sidney Toler. He sucked.

The "werewolf" character took a six year hiatus until reinvented by Creighton Chaney in The Wolf Man. I prefer calling the thing a "wolf man" rather than a werewolf, because historically, a werewolf was a man who made a pact with the devil to gain the ability to transform into a wolf. Not someone cursed to change into a man-wolf hybrid. Whatever. Too many history and folklore classes, I suppose.

Nevertheless, it's a good movie. AMRU 3.5. But it's not the FIRST werewolf movie. According to IMDB, the oldest movie with werewolf as a keyword was Nosferatu, which I've seen, but I don't remember the wolf. I will see a restored copy soon, so I'll keep an eye out.

The oldest surviving "werewolf" movie is called Wolf Blood (1925). You'll hear about it soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Edward Wood, I think, tried to make the same kind of movies I would want to make. Lots of gothic elements and creepy settings. Unfortunately he couldn't, or wouldn't execute them, and I have no theatrical experience whatsoever. He didn't care about things like acting or script, things that are crucial to building atmosphere. Can't do that when your actors are screaming at each other. Add to the fact that he didn't have the budget for props or a proper score, well ...

People are disappearing near a swamp where it's always night. The cops are unable to solve the mystery and the idea of paying a visit to the spooky mansion owned by a crazy scientist never occurs to them. When the kinda hot reporter girlfriend of the worlds worst cop does some "investigations", she decides to visit said spooky mansion alone, at night, and armed only with her high heels and razor sharp wit. Crazy Scientist (Bela Lugosi), of course, captures her. Cop boyfriend decides to go looking for her. Still not suspicious of the spooky mansion owned by the crazy scientist, he plays with the alligators.

Not really a lot to the story. Bela is using radiation trying to turn people into supermen, but usually kills them. The movie is notorious for the rubber octopus Wood allegedly stole from a studio. Actors had to shake it to make it look like it was moving. It didn't.

Octopus aside, this was not a bad effort. It's said to be the only of Wood's films that wasn't a box office disaster. Bad acting, weak story, poor dialog, but not as bad/weak/poor as Plan 9. Not nearly so. It was, however, uninteresting. A sad way to end Bela's career. AMRU 2.5.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

I saw this as a kid. I remember Boris Karloff in a wheelchair. I remember a tarantula. And I remember something about a green, glowing rock. I didn't remember that it was in color. Maybe I watched it on a B&W set.

Hunky Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) visits the remote mansion estate of his girlfriend, the hot Susan Witley (Suzan Farmer). The townspeople refuse to assist him, or even let him rent a bicycle to get there. Nor will they tell him why. So, he walks. The land around the mansion is strangely dead and black.

O'll dad (Boris Karloff) gives him a rather hostile reception, but it wasn't Susan that invited him. It was her mom. Mom is bed-ridden and hides behind curtains. Her instructions: take Susan away from there.

Susan doesn't want to go while her mom is sick, dad acts strange, and the butler bursts into flames. Maybe the answer is in the greenhouse! I'll spoil no more.

Much of the logic of this story is best ignored. That said, it stays fairly true to it's roots of gothic roots. Spooky mansion, deep in the country, suspicious townspeople, and references to satanism. Boris was clearly on the back nine of his career and life. Less than four years later, he'd be gone. Still, he doesn't disappoint. Nick Adams was well cast in his role, and he would be outlived by Boris by a year. Drugs are bad, hmmm ok?

I will quibble about the title. Die, Monster, Die? Sounds like Russ Meyer's version of a Godzilla film. Online sources call Susan Stephen's fiance', but I don't recall that ever being established. At first they just seemed like college friends.

Good movie. It had atmosphere, good suspense, and interesting story line. AMRU 3.5.

This the first Karloff movie I've done? Seriously?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

D.O.A. (1950)

I know it's October and should be doing horror, but I watched this back on the first or second of the month and was really interested in seeing noir. Here until Halloween I'll be doing horror, and if I don't quicken my pace, I'll be blogging about them through Thanksgiving.

Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) has been murdered, and he wants to know why. He takes a vacation to San Francisco to think over his relationship with his girlfriend and bumps into some strange folks. During the night, someone slips him poison in a drink and later he learns he is going to die.

From there he goes on a frantic journey to find out who did this, and why. A man calls the office desperate to speak with him and him alone, but he is on vacation. When Frank learns of his fate, he tries to call back only to find out the mystery caller has died. Everyone he meets sends him in a different direction and he isn't sure he can trust any of them. The story is told in flash back to the police.

I'll tell no more of the story. It kept me guessing to the end and did not disappoint. But despite what they say, luminous toxin is made up. AMRU 3.5. Wow, I didn't have too much to say about this one!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

How sexy horror is done right. Well, mostly. Ingrid Pitt is a vampire that somehow gets entreated into the home of rich people with hot daughters. She gains the trust of said daughter, then proceeds to get it on, Vampire style. Mostly that means bite her and make everybody wonder what is making their precious daughter so sick. Peter Cushing plays dad #1.

I'm sure I've seen others, but since blogging this is the first Hammer film. Lush but cheesy sets and costumes, clumsy dialog, sexy sub-plot. I watch worse. Controversial when it came out because of the lesbian subtext (she bites girls on their boob!), it is barley soft core by today's standards.

Here are a few things I want to make fun of: Ingrid Pitt (Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla), while hot, was way older than the 19 years her gravestone had her out. Vampirism takes a bit out of you, I suppose. The title presumes that two vampires are in love. Actually one vampire is trying to seduce the daughters, but their real motive is blood. Am I being picky? Am I? Yes, Fred, you are being picky.

I enjoyed it, but have to say if fell flat in the horror department. It read more like a costume drama with bad dialog. Still, I give it an AMRU 3.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

I tried to play something of a trick on my wife. She loves historical, romantic costume dramas like North and South and whatnot, and her absolute favorite is the 1995 BBC version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Yes, she has the 40 DVD set with the 4,007 hours of commentary and outtakes, and she's read the book eleventy-eleven times, backwards even . So, I reasoned, I should order the 1940 version from Netflix.

Well, she saw it coming and pushed it down the queue. Eventually it came in and I made her watch it using brutal force.

What the '95 version crammed 500 pages of witty dialog and formal societal behavior into 300 minutes, the 1940 edition crammed it into 118. With that kind of compression, you are bound to have lost scenes, changed plots, and missing characters (Where are you, Tom Bombadil?) My wife braced herself. My take is: not bad.

Now, all I can compare this to is the '95 version as I'd rather take a bullet than read Austen, but I have to say, and my wife agrees, they did not cut the story. It's all there. The major characters, the most important dialog, plot points, everything. Of course when you do compress a story like that, there are some silly side effects. Events that happen months apart take place the same day.

Story synopsis time! Mister and Missus Bennet have five silly daughters. As the Bennet's have no male heirs, their humble home will go to the next male in the family, Mister Bennet's cousin, the revolting Mister Collins. Oldest and prettiest daughter Jane catches the eye of fabulously wealthy Mister Bingley. Bingley's friend, the fabulously MORE wealthy Mister Darcy, is grumpy and dismissive. Protagonist second daughter Elizabeth is not amused by him, and they proceed to jab at each other in a very Sam and Diane season one sort of way. Bingley ditches Jane, who is heartbroken, and it turns out Darcy is to blame. Lizzy considers the horizontal mambo with Darcy's arch nemesis Wickham, who runs off with youngest and silliest daughter Lydia, and, well Darcy shows his honor, Elizabeth shows her appreciation, and Jane and Bingley get it on again, and everybody is happy, even Mister Collins who beds down Lizzie's best friend.

Ummm, Spoiler alert!

What was my wife's take? Add hoops to the skirts and it's Gone With the Wind. Very close to the truth, it turns out. The dresses were borrowed from Gone With the Wind and everything was styled as late Victorian rather than late Elizabethan. But it don't stop there! Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were actually considered for the lead roles!

She thought it was ... ok, I guess. High praise indeed, as Sir Laurence can no way compare to the absolutely hunky Colin Firth. Here's a few other things I noticed. 20 year old Lizzy Bennet was played by 35 year old Greer Garson. Big sis Jane was played by 29 year old Maureen O'Sullivan.

This was a fairly big movie in it's day, but it could have been bigger. Had it been filmed in Technic(ly)color, it would have been easier to watch. I'm glad I watched it, and my wife felt the same. AMRU 3.

By the way, the 2005 version, despite Keira Knightley's hotness, totally blew.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

Crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap.

How do I really feel about this turd? AMRU 1.5.

What Netflix called "classic horror" was in reality mystery/horror themed porn. An IMDB reviewer commented "not so much a film as an endurance event." I couldn't agree more. Through most of the first half I had to force myself to continue watching in hopes it would get better. During the second half, I felt I needed to see this thing through to the end.

A dancer at the sickest strip joint on the planet is brutally murdered. A young female reporter hires famed detective Abraham Gentry to solve the case in exchange for exclusive rights to the story. More strippers (or Go[re] Go[re] dancers ... get it? Do ya?) die and eventually the mystery is solved. So, how does this movie fail? Let me count the ways.

Audio and video quality: F. Indoor shots are almost acceptable. Outdoor shots look like they were done by an amateur with a cheap hand held camera. The quality was reminiscent of the outdoor shots in Sesame Street episodes from my youth. All around the audio quality was bad. Low budget.

Sets and locations: D-. Looked like they had no resources and weren't really trying.

Script, story, and dialog: F+. Stretches of dialog would have earned a D, but overall bad.

Special effects: F. Not for a moment could you think the bloody head being bashed in and mutilated was an actual body part. A melon with a wig and lots of fake blood.

Editing: F. Long, boring focuses on the murders and the (ugh) strippers.

Comedy: D. Not funny.

Horror: F. Not the least bit scary, and we never get to know any victim to even care if they die.

Mystery: F. Didn't care who did it.

Porn: D. While most of the nekkid women in the movie weren't as enchanting as the wall behind them, one or two were.

There are a couple interesting things about the movie: Frank Kress, who played detective Gentry, was the only person in the movie that might have actually been an actor, yet this is his only movie credit. He did absolutely NOTHING prior or after. Another was the appearance of Henny Youngman. Shame, shame.

Some movies are charming or unintentionally amusing because of the makers ineptitude, others strive for the "so bad it's good" quality. I can be very forgiving of these. Gore Gore Girls was just bad. Director Herschell Gordon Lewis is something of a cult icon to some for his low budget, campy horror movies, but with apologies to him and his fans, The Gore Gore Girls sucked. There is a way to do low budget Sexy Horror, but this isn't it. I wonder if there is a Hammer film in my future.

Monday, September 20, 2010

King of the Rocket Men (1949)

Because of disk problems with Seven Samurai, my hundred and first post is my one hundredth movie. Because this one is a serial, I actually had a choice of what would be my 100th. I started watching episodes of Rocket Men first, but saw another movie before I finished. I chose this to be my 100th because it didn't totally suck. Boy, can't you wait for my next post!

Jeff King (Tristram Coffin) is a scientist and member of "Science Associates". Top scientists are being killed off by the mysterious "Doctor Vulcan" (no, he doesn't use a death grip). One scientist thought killed was saved by King and hides in a cave doing research. Where they got the tons of scientific equipment to stock this cave, and where do you rent a cave with proper electrical and plumbing facilities, I won't ask. He finishes working on a Rocket Suit, so King (King of the Rocket Men? Get it?) uses it to do battle with the Evil Doctor Vulcan!

So, basically, King flies around, narrowly escaping death, gets into two fist fights per 13 minute episode, and slowly gets closer to the baddies. And his suit is a real hoot. It has three dials. One reads ON and OFF, another UP and DOWN, and the third SLOW and FAST. To take off, he runs and jumps superman style, then turns ON, UP, FAST. To land he turns the dial to DOWN. SLOW is never used.

This and serials like it delighted kids back in the day when they would walk to the cinema (alone) every week. They would see another cliffhanger episode before the feature. Today, this is boy-repellent. All three of my sons would run from the room in disgust when I would play one. And it didn't help that favorites like Star Wars and Indiana Jones were based on serials just like this one. And the dude looked strangely similar to iron man. No sir-ee bob. They'd have nothing to do with it.

But I liked it. Maybe I would have liked it better had Netflix put them into the correct order. I saw episodes 1 to 3, then 7 to 9, followed by 4 to 6, then finally 10 to 12. Sad thing is that I caught on after watching episode 9. I decided not to start from the beginning.

Glenda Thomas, cub reporter, was played by Mae Clarke, described as an all time great sci-fi hottie, and for this role no less. Sorry, no. Maybe back when she was dating the good doctor Frankenstein, but not when pushing 40. Her role was get-in-the-way girl. Not a love interest. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spider Baby (1968)

or, The Maddest Story Ever Told.

Written, shot, and edited one afternoon back in 1964, this movie sat on the shelf for four years while everyone associated with it filed for bankruptcy. It was finally released in 1968. Spider Baby is significant for me because three actors I've noted in my blog-life come together for one of their last films. Lon Chaney Jr only had four movies released after it, Mantan Moreland had five (one uncredited) and hottie Carol Ohmart had but one. Of course those numbers go up if we use the 1964 filming date, but hey, I'm manufacturing a theme here, people!

This is the story of the Merrye family. They live is a large rural home, have a faithful family chauffeur, and are apparently fairly wealthy. The bad news is that they are sick, degenerate, murderous, inbred cannibals. Think The Addams Family, only more so.

A messenger (Moreland) arrives to deliver a letter from a lawyer. The lawyer, his secretary, and two distant cousins will be arriving with the intent on claiming the family fortune. Mr. Messenger is promptly hacked to death.

The Merrye family consists of two hot sisters, Elizabeth and Virginia, and brother Ralphie, who is in advanced stages of Merrye Syndrome, a degenerative disease causing them to regress mentally, socially, and physically. Chaney Jr is their caretaker.

The unusually short, cigar chomping lawyer with a hitler mustache arrives with his pleasant-enough looking secretary, along with Emily and Peter (husband and wife? Brother and sister?), who are distant relatives with a claim on the estate. They insist on staying the night. Does anyone here see that as a bad idea?

At the moment I can think of one example (Temple of Doom), but I know that the "disgusting dinner" scene has been done several times. Here it was not done well, methinks. Roasted cat, garden fungus, and weeds. Maybe if the video was clearer it would have had a bigger impact.

Apparently the key for the Merrye sisters to act as menacing as possible is for them to act as outrageous as possible. And, quite frankly, as bad as possible. Even Ohmart isn't buying the script. Not until she finds creepy Ralphie spying her goody-goody yum-yums that she realizes she's in trouble.

The sub-title was a reference to The Greatest Story Ever Told, which would have been cool had they been able to release it in a timely manner. Renamed and re released several times, it has been given names like Cannibal Orgy and The Liver Eaters. Yum. A couple of the characters mention liking horror movies and express their fondness for The Wolf Man, which, of course starred Lonnie.

It's hard for a comedy/horror to strike a good balance. Slightly too much humor destroys the horror. Spider Baby was creepy. Was it funny? Kinda. Spider Baby did some things right. Unfortunately, it did a lot wrong as well. Parts of the script absolutely sucked. There is a remake in the works. I'm curious if they can right the wrongs, or if they will simply screw it all up.

AMRU 3.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Frederic March is Wally Cook, a newspaper man who needs to redeem his reputation after promoting a man claiming to be a sultan who turns out to be a lowly janitor (why, that uppity ...). He takes on the story of a poor, hot Vermont woman (Carole Lombard) dying of radium poisoning.

Here's the deal, though. It turns out that she isn't REALLY dying. Seems o'll Doc Enoch screwed up the diagnosis. Apparently the only thing worse than a slow painful death is living a long life in Vermont, so Hazel Flagg (that's the character name) decides to play along in hopes of getting an all expense paid trip to New York.

Hazel becomes the toast of the town while Wally slowly falls in love with her. Will her secret come out? Will Wally's reputation be totally ruined? Will their love triumph? Well, this is a screwball comedy, so you figure it out.

I've mentioned before that I long believed The Wizard of Oz was the first color movie, but two years before Oz we have here a Technicolor film. Margaret Hamilton plays a Vermont drug store patron, so it wasn't even HER first color movie. Technicolor meaning, of course, technically color.

Here's something weird. In the 1974 animated feature Journey Back to Oz, Hamilton lends her voice as ... Aunt Em? I suppose the witch was dead. Liza Minnelli (Judy Garland's daughter, people) plays Dorothy. For the youngsters in the audience, back in the day, Liza was ... well ... ok looking.

Fun, entertaining, predictable. AMRU 3.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Gloria Swanson was a 50 year old washed up silent film star trying to make her comeback. She plays Norma Desmond, a 50 year old washed up silent film star trying to make her comeback. One thing Gloria has over poor Norma is that her comeback film is good. Very good, in fact.

William Holden plays Joe Gillis, a hack writer down to his last straw. While escaping the men who would reposes his car, he hides in what he believes to be an abandoned mansion on the famous boulevard. The mansion is in fact occupied by the above mentioned Prima Donna and her faithfully loopy butler.

Norma wrote an enormous and ridiculous script that would be her 'return' to cinema but it needs the touches of a hack writer to clean it up. Joe needs cash and has no appointments on his social calendar. Slowly, Joe falls under the thumb of the melodramatic Norma. Every time he attempts to assert himself, she pulls him back in.

In the final analysis, everybody is a phoney. Everybody is trying to get something from somebody else. Except the hot Nancy Olson.

Here are a couple cool things: It is reveled that butler Max Von Mayerling is really Norma Desmond's first director. He is played by real life director Enrich von Stroheim. There is a scene (which I missed most of because my library DVD was, well, from the library) where he runs the projector for a screening of an old Norma Desmond film, which is in fact Queen Kelly, an old Gloria Swanson film that was directed by Stroheim! 1950 and Hollywood had turning it's critical eye onto itself!

Also, there is a scene where Joe, Norma, and a few friends play cards, which I missed most of because ... you know. Anyhow, the other card players were washed up has-been silent film stars Buster Keaton (a favorite of mine from my youth) and Anna Q. Nilsson.

There are a lot of other things to explore with this film (like, what's Jack Webb doing in the movie, and what's up with the dead monkey?) but I'll leave them to other people. I really enjoyed the movie. AMRU 4.

"She was the greatest of them all. You wouldn't know, you're too young. In one week she received 17,000 fan letters. Men bribed her hairdresser to get a lock of her hair. There was a maharajah who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings. Later he strangled himself with it!"

Friday, August 27, 2010

I'm No Angel (1933)

Fat and 40 Mae West stars again as a sex pot that nobody can get enough of. Cary Grant is back as the man who falls for her. This time West is Tira, a circus worker with a problem. That problem is that her lug of an ex-boyfriend accidentally knocks off the poor sap she was trying to dig for gold. Turns out, actually, he was only MOSTLY dead, but still she needs to spend some serious cash on a good jew lawyer. She comes up with the idea of putting her head into the mouth of a lion. What horny depression dude wouldn't want to see a pudgy peroxide blond do that?

Grant falls for West, ex-beau gets in the way, romance on the rocks, court case, happy ending. There ya go, I'm no Angel in a nutshell.

Here are my observations after seeing two Mae West films: everyone who has ever done an over-the-top Mae West impression was just about dead on. While she wasn't a bad looking chick, her sex appeal shtick was just that: a gag. In both films there were secondary characters that were better looking. Also, her famous lines are hard to take seriously now because they are ubiquitous. It's hard to remember that they were fresh in their day.

In the end, it wasn't quite as enjoyable as She Done Him Wrong, but still fun. AMRU 3.0.

"Beulah, peel me a grape."
"It's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men."
"When I'm good I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

She Done Him Wrong (1933)

Mae West is Lady Lou, night club singer, 40 year old sex pot (ok, 39), and all around hoochie mamma. She has taken up with corrupt a politician (Noah Berry Sr.) who is able to lavish her with the lifestyle she desires. She has a violent boyfriend in jail that she promised to be faithful to and comes on to anyone who interests her.

Entering the scene is Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), who runs the salvation army style mission next door and would like to save the soul of everybody, Lady Lou included.

She Done Him Wrong is the film version of West's popular and bawdy stage play "Diamond Lil." Despite spending a lot of effort trying to tone it down, the film was still met with a fair amount of outrage. References to prostitution and loose morals are throughout.

My first impression was that this was a vehicle for one-liners. The movie is chuck full of them. West's famous "come up and see me sometime" makes it's first appearance, although not exactly in that format. Lady Lou, when told she is a great woman, says she's the best woman who ever walked the streets. It's loaded with this stuff.

Another interesting aspect is how the 1930's viewed 1890, when the film is set. The exasperated look on a street worker with a broom as he passes a horse. Quaint and old fashioned. Great fodder for depression era audiences.

A great virtue is how tight the story is. 64 minutes via Netflix online. West sing a couple songs that do not further the story. Cut them and the movie might be under 50 minutes. As it is, it's the shortest movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture. Definitely re-viewable, and I may do so. Right now, it's earns an AMRU of 3.5.

"Why don't you come up some time and see me."
"When women go wrong, men go right after them."
"There was a time when I didn't know where my next husband would come from."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Key Largo (1948)

Unlike most famous movies I hadn't seen, I was quite surprised to learn that I knew nothing of the plot. I knew the gay 1980's song, and that's about it. A story on NPR mentioned the film and a song sung by Claire Trevor and they said something about the setting. It was the last of four movies in the set loaned to me by a coworker and I finally finished the set.

Bogie is a drifter, a tough man who sticks his neck out for no one. Bacall is the young hottie. Lionel Barrymore is her father. Or father-in-law. Edward G. Robinson is the gangster trying to get back into the country. Who's going to stop him? Who? Nobody, that's who!

Gangsters, drifters, cripples, and hotties are all shut into a hotel when a hurricane passes. Is Bogart tough enough to stand up to the cruel Edward G? Will hottie Bacall fall for him? Are we seriously asking these questions?

What was interesting about the movie was Claire Trevor as Robinson's ex-hoochie mamma. She's a total lush at this point and a bit of an embarrassment. Her song was memorable, not for the singing itself, but for how it plays into the plot. Typical Bogart stuff, typical Bacall stuff. Enjoyable. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dark Passage (1947)

Bogie and Bacall are back in the third of their four movies together. Today, Bogie is an escaped convict and Bacall is the rich young hottie that decides to help him out. She just knows he was framed.

For much of the beginning, we don't see Bogart's face. Most of it was filmed in POV mode and in other scenes he is in the shadows, which is all the better what with him on the lam and all. Agnes Moorehead plays Bacall's shrill friend.

Now that Bogie is on the outside, he wants to know who really killed his no good wife. A friendly cabbie introduces him to a plastic surgeon allowing Bogie to obscure his face with bandages for a while longer.

Every time the story progresses, something happens to put Bogie back into jeopardy, to the point I was surprised at the ending. Instead of a new obstacle or twist, the credits roll. Not a terribly realistic movie (so, Bogie looks that way AFTER surgery?) but that's easy enough to ignore. It was loaded with atmosphere and drama.

I liked it. Not a great movie, but good. And fun. I would consider seeing it again. AMRU 3.5.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Ernest Hemingway didn't think his book could be translated into a movie. He was right. Director Howard Hawks instead made a movie with his book's title and similar characters. I don't hold that against him. I never read the book and very little Hemingway in general.

Bogart is Captain Morgan. Not THAT Captain Morgan, just A captain Morgan. Steve Morgan. Or Henry Morgan. Whatever, it doesn't matter. He takes rich people and his drunkard friend (Walter Brennan) out for fishing trips. To complicate this heaven on Earth, Nazis, the resistance, and a hot chick enter his life. Basically, Casablanca with a slightly different setting.

Morgan doesn't want to get involved with the resistance, but he is short on cash. He acts tough guy, woos the chick (Lauren Becall), and makes them Nazis pay. Typical of what we expect from the man.

Not much more to say, really. Enjoyable. Not as good as Casablanca, but still good. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Alive! (1974)

Back in the summer of 1974 I was seven. Advertised was a horror film called "It's Alive!", about an evil, deformed newborn baby. The trailers terrified me. Last weekend, I watched it.

Funny thing about Netflix. I find I'm not watching movies that fit my blog criteria. The old BBC version of the Hitch Hikers Guide, episodes of BS, and various newer movies and documentaries. Good stuff, but not my Blog's scope. It's Alive is only somewhat close.

Old ugly couple have an evil baby that kills the entire delivery room (except mom), then escapes. Mom wants her baby back, dad wants it killed. In fact, HE wants to be the one to kill it. Incompetent police are investigating.

Random lady is killed, milkman is killed, a cop or two bites it. Monster baby goes back to Mom and Dad's house and dad pops a cap in it. Now it's real angry.

Skip to storm tunnels. Dad finds baby and falls in love with it. Police surround him and threaten to shoot. He tosses the baby, or it jumps, and the cops kill it. I don't know. I was so damn bored with this piece of trash I didn't really care.

There was a sequel, there was a remake. I won't be watching either. The trailer was way scarier than the movie. This is the closest I can get to the trailer I remember. Unfunny, not scary, boring, unappealing. It's Alive sucked. I could say I'm glad I watched it in a cathartic sense, but I won't. AMRU 2. I'm being generous.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Swimmer (1968)

It's funny. I sometimes browse IMDB, progressing from one thought to another. Eventually I was reading about Joan Rivers. I discovered that she appeared in a 1968 film, The Swimmer. I was curious.

One thing is new since the last movie I watched for this blog. I subscribed to Netflix. The clincher was they now support the Wii. I'll be damned if I sit in front of my computer and watch a feature length film. It seems that The Swimmer is available for streaming, so I watched it. In front of my computer.

Burt Lancaster is Ned Merrill. He shows up at someones splended country home in a bathing suit and jumps into the pool. The homeowners are very happy to see him and offer him a drink. They talk and it is clear that Neddy is a very popular dude. He's been out of touch with the social scene for a while and it's not clear why. Talk turns, as it frequently does, to swimming pools. He gets the idea that he will swim home. He will jog from house to house and swim their pool until he gets home. Every boys dream.

With every house he visits we learn a little more about his situation and character. Slowly, the reception to the interloper in the pool gets chillier and chillier, and drinks become harder to come by. I will say no more, lest I spoil.

It was the forth of fifth house that I get to see Joan Rivers. I remember the Joan from the 80's back when she was convinced she was bigger than Carson. I also know the Joan from today, the bizzaro alien creature with the dessicated face. What did Joan from the 1960's look like? She was about 33 during filming. I'll have you know she appeared like a regular member of the species. Not a babe by a long shot, but, well, depending on the situation and alcohol consumption, not out of the question.

Who was a babe was Janet Landgard, who played hot baby-sitter Julie Ann Hooper. She was a teen when the movie was filmed and looked great in a two-piece. Her movie career dried up something quick.

When the movie was done, I was thinking totally a 3.0. But as time passes, I actually have considered seeing it again. It's rather haunting how the progression was handled. The odd looks people give Ned when he says some things, the details that come out. All of it builds rather well. AMRU 3.5.

Doing the math, Joan turns 77 next week. I'm guessing Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was filmed two years ago.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Unknown World (1951)

A band of scientists, convinced the world faces certain nuclear annihilation, decides the only logical thing would be to stick their heads in the sand. Literally.

Financed by the playboy son of a newspaper tycoon, they construct an art deco vehicle to tunnel to the earth's core searching for a subterranean Eden. What wondrous things will they find on the way?

The movie would have been a little better had they found some wondrous things along the way. In fact, all they find are boulders, poisonous gas, and plenty of reasons to bicker. No mole people, no hot Amazonians, just stiff science types walking around carlsbad caverns in black and white. They start by dispelling the silly old wives tale that the earth is made up of magma and a solid core. Actually, it's made up of caverns and passageways for great adventure to happen. Or boring subplots, whichever is cheaper to film.

Do our intrepid travellers find an underground Eden where humanity can restart, and not bring their weapons? Do they all perish trying? Will you be awake at the end of the movie? Won't say, but if you have any sense, you won't try to find out. Quite skippable. Slow pace, little real action, poor video quality. AMRU 2.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Monster on the Campus (1958)

I requested Tarantula, but what I got was a three disk set of five classic Universal sci-fi and horror. Clearly the dog of the bunch was Monster on the Campus.

Dashing professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) convinces the university to purchase a coelacanth, which he alternatingly pronounces Sea-locanth and Sil-ocanth. Unbeknown to our dear professor, this freak of evolution was preserved using gamma radiation! The same stuff David Banner would experiment with years later! When a frat dog drinks the blood of this fish (ew!) he reverts back to an earlier evolutionary stage. For a while. Then he's fine.

Our good doctor decides to carry the fish by putting his hand into it's mouth, thus cutting himself. Then when he tries to move the box filled with foul fish water (irradiated prehistoric fish blood water), he puts his injured hand RIGHT INTO THE SCUM! Good going, captain cross-contamination! Maybe wash the hand? No, you've go to go straight to a formal event. No time to shower.

When he starts feeling ill (I'm starting to feel ill myself), a hot assistant drives him home. Then a strange metamorphosis overtakes him! He becomes a violent idiot wearing a rubber mask! Well, he wakes up and the assistant is dead and he has no memory.

I could tell you about the second time he stupidly contaminates himself and causes another death, but we can take it as read, can't we? This is a Universal picture directed by Jack Arnold, so we might think it's a well made thriller. We would be wrong. It's title may lead us to believe it's chuck full of campy goodness, but no such luck. The only students that have speaking rolls are Troy Donahue as a vacant frat boy and his bland girlfriend. This movie is a stinker.

Testimony to this movie's staying power is that it took me twenty minutes into it to realize that I had seen it already only a couple years ago. It was on my public domain horror set. I remembered little except the Doctor Jekyll meets Professor Darwin subject matter.

Sub par acting for Universal, sub par script, stupid storyline, god-awful special effects. I've seen worse, but I expected so much more. AMRU 2.5.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Universal executives got together one day. What scares people, they asked. We've done aliens, giant bugs, monsters from the deep, and even a dude shrinking from radiation. What can we do now?

"I know!" a young board member said. "Rocks!" They all agreed that rocks were, indeed, very frightening.

I know what would have been more frightening. Anything OTHER than rocks. Despite the title, they're not even Rock Monsters. They are just rock crystals that grow very fast and kill people when they come in contact with them. They move by growing very tall, then falling over, breaking into tiny pieces, then growing again. Please.

To be fair, the script, acting, and overall production quality was up to Universal standards. It failed principally because the monster premise was lame. And it should be noted, it was an almost complete copy of Tarantula. Allow me to explain:

Scientist is working in lab in the desert/comet falls to earth in the desert
Giant spider escapes because of fire/comet fragment starts to grow when exposed to water
Local country doctor/geologist slowly suspects the menace but nobody believes him at first
Communication is hampered because giant spider/rocks have severed power and telephone lines
A first attempt to kill the spider/stop the rocks using dynamite fails
The small town is ordered to evacuate because the giant spider/giant rock is headed their way
Country doctor/geologist saves the day by dropping napalm on the spider/blowing up a dam

I wonder how I would have viewed the two movies had I seen them in reverse order. Either way, Tarantula was a better film. Monolith Monsters was, however, a very watchable movie and I still give it an AMRU of 3. The rocks kill by sucking the silicon out of the body, making them hard as a rock. Kinda interesting, but nothing compared to being eaten by a giant spider.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Scott Carey and wife are relaxing on his brother's boat. When Scott sends his wife below deck to fetch refreshments, a mysterious white cloud passes over him. Strange, but he thinks nothing of it. Six months later Scott starts to notice that his clothes don't fit anymore. Slowly he comes to the realization that he is slowly shrinking.

We watch as he comes to terms with his life and is confronted with more and more physical obsticles. His outlook becomes sour, except for a brief time when he was banging a hot midget.

Look where Sci-Fi brings us. We've explored space, the distant reaches of our planet, deep underground, and now the comonplace becomes fraught with danger. That reminds me, I've got to add Fantastic Voyage to my list.

Another well made Universal film. I never saw it as a kid and I'm glad I did. I remember that Tommy Chong quote from It Came from Hollywood. Look it up. AMRU 3.5.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Phantom Planet (1961)

When I picked Triffids at the library, I saw The Phantom Planet. Wow, I thought. That looks bad. So, I got it. IMDB tends to agree. It's rated 2.7.

When I requested Tarantula, I got a five disk set of classic Universal movies. I wanted to watch all of them first, but the set disappeared one night and I ended up watching Triffids and this ahead of schedule. It has reappeared but I've only managed to see three of the five and I owe four bucks so far. And tomorrow I go camping. Anyhoooooo ...

A rocket ship with a crew of two is "on patrol" around the moon when it crashes on a mystery asteroid that appears out of nowhere. Moonbase whatever sends out a second rocket to investigate, when it too crashes into this so called "phantom planet". So they send another rocket out, this time piloted by hotshot Frank Chapman (Dean Fredericks). No way he will crash.

So, Captain Frank crashes into this asteroid, only he doesn't die like the rest. He goes for a space walk and finds it peopled by tiny little extras in hospital shirts. He's delirious from the crash and whatnot, so he falls over and his helmet opens. This causes him to shrink to extra size by a process called "contrived explanation". The tiny people take him prisoner.

He is convicted and sentenced to being a free citizen of Rheton and encouraged to choose a hottie as a bride. This does not sit well with Captain Frank! He acts all passive-aggressive for a while, but eventually he befriends the six people in the movie (minus extras) and helps in their war with the Solarites.

This movie had a few things going for it. The sets were fairly good looking, and the acting and script weren't THAT bad. But I am certain this 82 minute movie could have been edited down to about 60 and been a much better film. This is the slowest pace action film I have EVER seen! But what makes a great sci-fi movie, what makes it stick with us, is it's ability to touch a nerve. To tap into the hopes and fears of a generation without dealing with them directly. Phantom Planet had none of this. It was simply a space adventure film. It was directed by a band leader and actor, and it shows.

Had this movie come out in 1938, I think it would have been a hit. But it came out in the sixties, so it was forgotten. Still, I'm glad I watched it, even if I dozed for a moment or two. AMRU 3. I liked it a bit better than most IMDB voters.

By the way, the Solarite prisoner was played by Richard Kiel in a costume.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day of the Triffids (1962)

"And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills ..."

Oh, they spit poison AND kill. I get it now. Actually, o'll Janette didn't do all that much fighting. She just screamed while her alcoholic, passive-aggressive husband did all the heavy lifting. Ninth of eleven movies referenced in Science Fiction/Double Feature. Seven down, four to go.

Impressive meteor shower captivates the world. Only, two things. First, everyone one who watched it wakes up blind the following day. Secondly, plants spring up and start eating people. Oddly, it's the blindness they are most disturbed about.

A sailor with bandages on his eyes survives with sight, but wakes to a society that is all but shut down. No transportation, no communication, people panicking in the streets. He finds a sighted orphan girl (who I had to check to make sure wasn't the "hot" Janette) and brings her on his quest to find out what is going on.

A side story is of Janette and her angry husband, alone on a lighthouse doing some sort of research. They are too busy bickering to watch the light show, so they remain sighted. But some spores take root on their island paradise and Janette screams a lot. I understand that the movie was too short, so the whole lighthouse segment was added later. Janette Scott and husband Kieron Moore were "by special arrangement."

Poor video quality, slow pace, silly looking monsters, and little suspense. This movie could have been done better, but what can you expect from a bunch of Brits. Still, I'm glad I watched it. AMRU 3. One scary thought was of the people in an airplane. Everybody is blind and nobody at the tower to talk them down. Good thing only one airplane was in the air.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Mole People (1956)

The next film is called The Mole People, but it's not really about them. It's about some archaeologists doing field research in the remote village of "Asia". When they learn of ancient artifacts found high up on a mountain plateau, they climb to the top and find the ruins of a long lost Sumerian civilization.

When one in their group falls into a deep hole, they repel down to take a look. After a predictable cave in, they find themselves trapped and at the mercy of ... ancient Sumerians. There are mole people, but they play a much smaller role than what the title would imply. They are simple mushroom farmers fully content with their lot in life. Fully.

The ancient Sumerians mistake the archaeologists for prophets of Ishtar because they they harness the secret power of the "flashlight". They would have been heralded as gods had they also known the power of the "cigarette lighter".

So, our fearless heroes remain a house guests of the ancients while spending time searching for an exit and pondering what to do with this hot slave girl they gave him. I had a few hints. Alfred the Butler becomes suspicious and plots to steal flashy.

A few things struck me about this movie. First, the dramatic underground fight scenes would have been much more dramatic if I could actually see them. I don't thing the blame lies with my copy. The overall quality was very good. Another was that the movie would have benefited from a slightly faster pace.

On the plus side, it was cool to see Hugh Beaumont as one of the archaeologists. He would later star in The Curse of the Beaver Child (1957). Also interesting is that two actors from Tarantula return. John Agar is once again our star, and Nestor Paiva is his sidekick. Now, I'm no technical climbing expert, but the technique displayed did look about right. And while all B movies that deal with science or history get beaten up for all of the stuff they get wrong, I felt Mole People failed less than I expected. Say what you will about low expectations, but I was quite impressed.

It held my interest and I'm glad I watched it. Well acted, well written, and excepting the sometimes painfully slow pace, well made. One additional thing to quibble about: the final scene was absolutely stupid. AMRU 3.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tarantula (1955)

"I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills" Thing is, Leo himself didn't know (the) tarantula took to the hills until the very end. Eighth of eleven movies referenced in Science Fiction/Double Feature. Six down, five to go. And one is waiting for me at the library.

John Agar is Dr. Matt Hastings, country doctor. He becomes curious what professor Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) is doing in his research laboratory twenty miles from town in the middle of the dessert when his colleague is found dead with an advanced case of Acromegaly, a ridiculous sounding made up disease ... oh, it's real? Well, how about that.

Anyhow, Deemer goes back to his lab of oversized rabbits, guinea pigs, and spiders, when another unmentioned colleague with advanced stages of acromegaly attacks and injects him with the "nutrient". During the scuffle, the lab is damaged in a fire and the spider cage is broken open, allowing (the) tarantula to take to the proverbial hills. Hastings, country doctor and amateur sleuth, gets the opportunity to investigate when hot young lab assistant (named Steve) arrives for her first scientifical job. Dr. Hastings, country doctor, amateur sleuth, and babe hound, likes very much.

Universal knew how to make a B movie back in the day. Solid script and acting, and the special effects were great for the day. In contrast to Killers from Space, made the year earlier, the oversized animals in Tarantula look real. In Killers, it they looked ridiculous. Peter Graves, may he rest in peace, and may he never be judged by that piece of crap movie. Tarantula totally delivered. It had atmosphere, suspense, and a good story. I'm not saying I'm surprised it didn't get nominated for any awards. It is what it is, and it totally delivered. My boys weren't watching but I think they would all have liked it. Director Jack Arnold was the master. AMRU 3.5.

Oh, and body count for the tarantula is six. Look for a quick scene near the end with a young Clint Eastwood.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Detour (1945)

My buddy Leo recommended Detour as a good noir film and a great example of making a good movie on a very low budget. Roger Ebert said of this movie ".. shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer...", yet goes on to call it "an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir." Yes, this low budget, poorly made piece of trash is a film classic. Go figure.

Al (Tom Neal) is a grumpy night club musician engaged to marry singer Sue (Claudia Drake), when she tells him instead she is going to go make it big in Hollywood. He stays behind to be all grumpy. When he gets a ten dollar tip, he decides he will sell his stuff and hitchhike across country to be with her.

Out of cash and losing hope, he is picked up by Charles Haskell, who befriends him. His luck turns bad and his trip takes, ahem, a detour.

I won't spoil anything, but the story takes a number of twists and turns. Neal narrates the story in flashback and what Ebert said about ham-handed is dead on. The acting was bad, the script was weak, and the lack of budget was plainly visible on the screen. This is a perfect example of making a bad movie that turns out to be a fairly good movie. And, I don't mean that like how Plan 9 became a "good" movie. Plan 9 is good because how bad it is. Detour is good despite how bad it is.

As far as what I said about the low budget being plainly visible, most of the movie was in either a hotel room or in the director's personal car in front of a rear projection screen. Most of the other shots were done in empty rooms or public places. One scene is done in almost complete fog, another is at a "night club" where we see the singer, a microphone, an the silhouette of three horns players behind her. That's it. I think film development might have been the biggest expense.

Let's talk about Tom Neal. His angry and violent behavior led him to be essentially blackballed in Hollywood. His roles became smaller and smaller. When he killed his third wife, his career was over. He served six years. He died of heart failure at age 58. His son, Tom Neal Jr, has one acting credit, the forgettable 1992 remake of Detour.

I liked the movie, even though the film quality was rather bad. It falls very close to being a story about everything going wrong for someone, but it does say something about what happens when bad decisions are combined with bad luck. My kids were only momentarily interested, but it held mine. AMRU 3.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Veterans returning from World War II faced difficulties adjusting back to normal life. Huh. All this time I thought only 'nam vets had that problem.

This story documents three returning vets, a crippled young sailor unsure how his handicap will be received by his family and girlfriend, an older flier who seems to not have many skills apart from bombing, and an older Sargent who barely recognizes his own kids. The three meet when they share a transport plane home.

Homer Parrish is a sailor who's hands were burned off in a fire during WWII while doing a training exercise. He was played by Harold Russell, who's hands were burned off in a fire during WWII while doing a training exercise. Funny how life imitates art ... or is the other way around? Despite not being able to act, Russell won two awards for the same role.

Homer has two hooks for hands and gets very upset when everyone looks at him funny. Cathy O'Donnell, his equal as an actor, plays girlfriend Wilma. Hoagy Carmichael plays his uncle Butch. Homer copes by getting blind, stinking drunk.

Dana Andrews is officer war hero Fred Derry. He was a big shot in the war but now learns he has no marketable skills on the outside. To make matters worse, the hoochie mama wife of his (Virginia Mayo, who went on to marry Cody Jarrett) doesn't see the point in being married to a war hero if she can't parade him around town every night of the week. Ah, trouble in paradise. Derry copes by getting blind, stinking drunk and making passes at girls much to young for him.

Fredric March is Sargent Al Stephenson, banker. He returns to the bank to learn that his new job is to deny loans to servicemen. He has two children, the forgettable Rob and the hot Peggy (Teresa Wright). His wife is played by Myrna Loy, who earned the nickname The Perfect Wife because of this role. In real life Myrna was married and divorced four times and never had children. Myrna had top billing because she was considered the greatest female actor of all time. Al copes by getting blind, stinking drunk.

This movie reminds me a little of Cavalcade (1933) in that the subject matter touched a nerve with the audience. But unlike Cavalcade, The Best Years of Our Lives stands up to the test of time. The acting was better, the script was better, the subject matter was better, it was all around better storytelling. Seldom in old movies do you see an unflinching treatment with something like a disabled veteran. Russell's handicap was in no way glossed over.

Also touched on is the controversy of using atomic weapons and conspiracy theories about the war. They had the luxury to touch on these topics as the movie was over two hours 45 in length. For scheduling reasons I had to watch it in two separate segments a day apart, but the movie never dragged. In addition to Best Picture, it also won the academy award for best actor, supporting actor, director, editing, music, and writing. It was also nominated for best sound. I give it an AMRU of 3.5.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

I picked up this movie for two reasons. One was because it was made by Akira Kurosawa, the second because it was recommended by my good buddy Leo. His recommendation alone wasn't the key. He's been hit or miss so far. It was because he claimed this was a primary influence for Star Wars. Being a Star Wars geek from way back, I had to take a look.

Two inept peasants are trying desperately to profit on an ongoing war. They narrowly escape death, but are still broke. Then they discover two things. Gold hidden inside sticks, and a Samurai who they don't trust. The three come to a tenuous alliance to help get the gold out of the war zone and to split it. What the two peasants don't know, is that the Samurai is also smuggling out the Princess of the conquered nation.

What follows is a comic adventure. Toshiro Mifume plays the domineering Samurai. Perhaps you remember him as the drunk from Seven Samurai. The peasants constantly bicker and never truly understand what's going on around them. Samurai Makabe doesn't trust them beyond trusting their greed.

Fun, interesting, and watchable for my sons, but not the Tour de Force that Seven Samurai was. My Star Wars crazy boys couldn't see Star Wars in the story (one guessed the Samurai was supposed to be Han Solo), but the truth is that the only influence was that the story was told through the eyes of the two lowest characters. All other similarities are purely coincidental.

AMRU 3.5.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972)

An impulse pickup at the library. In this made for TV movie, Vincent Price sits, mostly, alone on stage and recites a somewhat abridged version of four Edgar Allan Poe stories: The Sphinx, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Pit and the Pendulum.

Not much to say, we know the stories. Price sits and reads and shows off his acting chops. Quite impressive, actually. But at the same time, kinda boring. My boys weren't going to watch this one with me.

On the flip side of the disk is The Tomb of Ligeia. I chose to watch Evening because it was shorter. I returned the disk, Ligeia unwatched. I think I've seen enough Price costume dramas for a while. AMRU 3.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Sinbad is one awesome sailor! At the brink of exhaustion, he navigates his ship to the island of Colossa, where the crew relax for some R&R. Unfortunately, there's this grumpy cyclops who pays them a less than friendly greeting. While bravely running away from the giant, scary monster, they rescue a mysterious wizard who seems totally trustworthy!

They all return to Bagdad where they enjoy themselves in the green zone and plan Sinbad's wedding to Princess Parisa. It seems that Mr. Wizard dropped his lantern-thingie during the rescue and wants Sinbad to raise an army to return to Colossa and defeat the evil cyclops. Sinbad and his kin politely tell him to go pound sand.

Next morning, the hot Princess Parisa wakes up fully refreshed and about three inches tall. Mr. Wizard says the only cure needs the shell from a Roc, which can only be found on the island of Colossa. Hmmm ...

In addition to the roc and cyclops there is a dragon, a skeleton, and other stop-motion fun. Sinbad was obligatory after watching Jason a couple weeks earlier, and it didn't disappoint. I think Jason was a bit better, but I am glad I watched it. My boys are too. AMRU 3.

One note about the hot princess. She was played by the hot Kathryn Grant, who became better known as Kathryn Crosby after marrying some old duff named Bing. She was thirty years his junior and called him a male chauvinist pig after he died. She has since remarried and has had more work done to her face than a strip club bar stool.