Monday, January 31, 2011

Curse of the Demon (1957)

Dana Andrews said prunes ... oh, nevermind.

Shortly after Columbia released Night of the Demon in the UK, they released it as "Curse of the Demon" in the US. But could they leave well enough alone? Noooooo. They had to edit it. Somewhere along the way I got the impression that the American version was hacked up, shortened, edited for content, and tinkered with. I have no clue where I got that impression. But it was wrong.

We Americans are funny with Christianity. Some in the fold see threats everywhere, especially in Hollywood. I suppose I put one and one together and presumed that the edited version purified matters for our tender eyes and ears. The day after I watched Night I watched Curse. I noticed a couple scenes were shortened, conversations abbreviated, and one scene missing. But the film, for the most part, was intact.

The twelve deleted minutes were simply an attempt to tighten up a few scenes. I saw no hint of editing for content. If given my druthers, I would absolutely choose the original. The movie did not need shortening, but the harm was minimal.

Oh, and the reason for the name change? Studio execs didn't want to confuse it with Night of the Iguana. Not sure if they meant the story that was published nine years earlier or the movie that was released seven years later. Had this been the full version, I'd have given it a higher rating, but it isn't, so AMRU 3.

"You could learn a lot from children. They believe in things in the dark, although we tell them it's not so. Maybe we've been fooling them."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Night of the Demon (1957)

"Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills."

Tenth movie referenced in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature. Eight down, three to go. Has it really been nine months since my last?

On my first attempt to decipher that line I concluded that runes rimes with prunes and skill rimes with thrill from the following stanza and that's it. But on closer inspection ... well, let's say this may be the cleverest line of the song.

Dana is Doctor John Holden, no-nonsense American scientist. He flies to England to take part in a paranormal phychology conference that is investigating satanic cult leader, Julian Karswell. Dr. Holden doesn't believe in such nonsense and intends on exposing Karswell as a fraud.

Holden learns that his colleague Professor Harrington is dead, but he has a hot young niece (Peggy Cummins), which is just as good. Maybe better, nudge nudge, wink wink. Anyhoo, The Amazing Karswell tries to convince Holden to stop the investigation and that he has real power (which seem to be competing agendas), but Sensible Holden won't have any of it.

Well, Holden does some poking around, Karswell does a little hokus pokus, and it seems our hero has three days to live. Karswell slips a paper with ancient runes on it to the good doctor and that will cause a demon to appear and go munch munch. How ever will he ever escape?

I was prepared to be annoyed with the movie. I've had a relative tell me once that all religions other than Christianity were devil worship and I saw this movie moving the same direction. Ancient, pre-christian gods became Christian demons. But it spent no time worrying about such matters. Instead it spun a great tale. The story, the acting, the script, everything was done well. No draggy parts, no weak ending, no fatal flaws. Except maybe for the demon. The original idea was to not show it and leave it's reality up to the audience. Then they decided that maybe being eaten by a giant muppet would be better. So it goes.

Still, it's an excellent film. AMRU 4.5.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Flat Top (1952)

Sterling Hayden is Commander Dan Collier. While on deck of an aircraft carrier (or a "Flat Top" in Navy lingo) he reminisces about the good 'oll days back in the war. Specifically, about one group of hotshot aviators and how they needed to learn the lesson that only a hard-ass commander can teach.

A hot shot pilot is grounded for being a hot shot, they go on missions and are successful, they go on other missions and are shot up, some die, but in the end ... you know, I don't really know. They all learn the true meaning of Christmas and we win the war. U S A! U S A!

I chose this Navy propaganda film for the most dubious of reasons. I hadn't reviewed a movie released in 1952 yet. I checked around and found that the top rated movie that year was Singin' in the Rain. Meh. High Noon! That would be cool, but not available streaming. I kept going down the list and this is what I found. Sad, because I had Kansas City Confidential in my queue and I was looking for a reason to do another Film Noir.

Anyhow, Flat Top was consistently paced, fairly well acted, and probably resonated with audiences of the day. My teenage son, in love with all things military, ate it up. I found it boring. AMRU 2.5.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)

Middle aged privates Philbrick and Penn are ordered to investigate a cave opened up by an nuclear test explosion and discover space aliens and their diabolic plot in this Abbot and Costello comedy. The parts of Abbot and Costello are played by Frankie Ray and Robert Ball. Never heard of them? Well, that's because they suck.

I watched this movie as a challenge. They are calling it Project Terrible. Some of us movie bloggers are challenging each other to watch some of the worst movies available. This is my punishment.

Philbrick and Penn are commanded by the clueless Colonel Rank (groan) and joined by a stupid Sargent who speaks only in beatnik lingo. An exercise in restraint, this is not. Combining the goal of being funny in every single inch of footage with a lousy script and bad acting is a recipe for disaster. Penn does bad impressions of James Cagney and Peter Lorre that wouldn't make his school chums laugh while they rehash Stooge bits and even channel Scooby Do. If you are going to steal other people's bits, do them well at least. This movie was so bad I was surprised Roger Corman wasn't at the helm. But, apparently screenwriter Jonathan Haze was a longtime bud of the schlockmister.

Anyhow the two aliens are seven foot tall babes. Well, 6'2" attractive women. Ok, 5'9" ok looking chicks in high heels, but next to our shrimpy heroes they seem like hot amazons. Their henchmen are "vegimen", non-thinking plant based creatures. Yea, that's right. Ripped off from The Thing from Another World.

At this point I'd like to apologize to the Native Americans in the audience. Your people were the victim of European imperialism and you and your culture paid a dear price that can never be reconciled. In addition, after your subjugation, your culture and values were mocked and insulted in the popular media. Please don't watch this movie. It will not make you happy.

Having said that, I'm giving this movie the elevated rating of AMRU 2. Why so incredibly high? Yes, the acting was bad. The comedy was unfunny and unoriginal. The zero restraint made any scene with comic potential fall flat. But, it had some good points. The technical aspects were well done. The pace was good, the shots were well blocked, and the video quality was fine.

Plus one more thing. My three boys laughed their asses off.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stagecoach (1939)

A bunch of people are sharing a stagecoach ride from Tonto, Arizona (not kidding) to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Each has their own back story. The principle problem is that Geronimo is on the warpath, which means he is active in his attacks on the heathen invaders (that'd be us whities). The Calvary has offered an escort for part of the way.

Along the way, they meet up with escaped murderer, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Seems Ringo busted out to git the man who shot his paw. And his brother. The man that shot them both. As luck would have it, that man is in Lordsburg. That place is totally hopping.

Ringo hitches a ride, principally because the Sheriff was riding shotgun (youngsters take note: that's what that means!) and will take Ringo into custody once they reach their destination. So, the outlaw joins the group of the wife looking for her soldier husband, the drunken doctor, the banker, the gambler, the hot chick of ill repute, the liquor salesman, the eskimo, the indian chief, the space pilot, the ... ok, I fibbed about a couple of those.

Anyhow, at every stop their prospects look worse and worse. The Calvary can't protect them, evidence of injun attacks is everywhere, and lady-looking-for-husband is getting sick. Whatever shall become of them?

This here is a character study. Most of the people don't know each other and they all have their own secret. As the story progresses and the challenges become more intense, their character is revealed.

Excellent movie. Chuck full of western stereytypes and character actors, this granddaddy of the the modern western is the movie that made John Wayne a star. Before Chuck Norris was Chuck Norris, there was John Wayne. Wayne never gave nobody a karate chop, but at least he could act. Sure, Chuck was a great martial artist, but his acting was absolutely craptacular. Back in the day, nobody was tougher than the Duke. Nobody. AMRU 4.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Many Edges to the Netflix Sword

Last spring I subscribed to Netflix. My intent was to replace library late fees and Redbox with a budgetable expense. Also, it would open me up to previously unavailable movies. This was a partial success. While I'm happy with my choice (even after they jacked the monthly rate), it fell short in a couple ways.

First, this did not stop my wife from grabbing from Redbox. Redbox rents you a move for a buck then charges you seven or eight. How? Simple. We can never, ever, ever, return a move on time. Ever ever ever. Can't happen. So, we get socked with most of a months Netflix charge for one move.

Second thing is the non-movie choices we found. Over the past nine months, we've watched many movies and TV shows I'm not blogging about. Soap, The Return of the Pink Panther, documentaries, all sorts of stuff. It's been great.

The third thing is Wii access. The decision to subscribe stemmed from their support for the Nintendo Wii. I won't watch too many movies at my computer. Now, rather than grabbing a library DVD and sequestering myself into my bedroom, I have to fight the boys (and wife) for control of the Wii. This has been a problem. I can't always wait until they go to bed because I get up way earlier than they do.

All in all, a good move on my part. You may notice, however, that I reviewed four fewer movies in twelve months than I did in ten months back in '09. But then again, I got to see episodes of The Greatest American Hero and The State. That's cool too!

Now, I need to say that I'm a little bit disappointed by the Netflix collection. The DVD collection, while extensive, is by no means complete. No Six Million Dollar Man? Tron? Very little by Russ Meyer? A lot of stuff available on the Internet Archives aren't available for streaming. Netflix says they want to be known as a internet streaming company more than as a DVD delivery service. If so, they have some work to do.

I've made a decision on how to solve one problem. I will invest in an internet device for my bedroom. I am waffling between the Roku HD and XD. I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

A Farewell to Arms is the movie version of Ernest Hemingway's great anti-war love story. The movie, concentrating more on the love portion of the story, deals with serious life issues and tackles the horrors of world war. Soon, Hollywood would find this adult treatment of serious topics to be unacceptable and concentrate on screwball comedies using racial stereotypes.

I very much liked this movie. It was serious, entertaining, artistic, and gripping. It made me want to read the book. I give it an AMRU of 4.0. But that won't do. Total spoilers to follow.

The dashing elderly Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou) has his eyes on the verginal 30-something ingenue Nurse Catherine (Helen Hayes, whom you may remember as the old lady in Herbie Rides Again). He enlists the help of a lowly ambulance driver, American Lieutenant Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper, sooper dooper) who then proceeds to totally cockblock his good friend and scores her using Rinaldi's booze. What a douche.

Well, Henry has to leave as all good players must, and Catherine must pretend that she doesn't really care, but inside good Catherine a baby grows. What? On the first time? Hollywood wouldn't admit to that possibility again for another 30 years. Anyhow, what's good for the gander is good for the other gander. Letters from Catherine are being held up by the lovelorn Rinaldi and incoming letters from Henry are returned to sender. See how he likes THOSE apples!

Well, it seems, Henry truly is in love with Catherine, and Catherine the same with Henry, but this damn war just keeps getting in the way. What's a lovelorn Lieutenant in the foreign legion to do? I know, desert! That'll solve EVERYONE'S problems!

Well, Rinaldi would never had f'd with the young(ish) lovers if had he known a baby was involved, so it's up to him to bail is foolish friend out. Well, they find each other in Amsterdam and live Happily Ever After. No, seriously. They do. Rent the film and find out.

End Sarcasm.

I loved this movie, and it's a crime that movies like it would not be allowed for decades after. Great acting, great story, great script.