Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Flash Gordon (1936)

"And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear ..."

Actually, no. His tighties were dark blue or black. Definitely not silver. Second movie referenced in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature. Ten down, one to go. And that one, Doctor X, will take a while. Netflix and my local library have never heard of it. it may be quite a while before I find out if he does indeed build a creature.

I was thrilled to see Flash appear streaming. Thirteen bite sized episodes just right for occasional viewing. I tried to entice my boys into watching. Here is one of the early influences of Sci Fi. No dice. Color, animated cheese: good. Black and white, live action cheese: bad.

And cheese it was. Olympic champion Buster Crabbe is Flash, big man on campus. When his professor dad discovers that the late model planet driven by Ming is on a crash course for Earth, he offers a bold course of action: die. Eccentric Dr. Zarkov has a different idea. Fly to this mysterious planet in his home made space ship fueled by unseasoned pine, then try to convince it to turn around. Because boy wonder Flash and hot co-ed Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) are around, he invites them to tag along. Flash proves invaluable for getting into one pointless fight after another between bouts of staring blankly into the camera, and Dale shows her worth by screaming a lot then passing out.

Along the way they meet Emperor Ming (Charles Middleton), his daughter Princess Aura, some fat guy with wings, shark people, a monkey with a horn, and a dumpy old man claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne. As you would expect from a serial, Flash gets in and out of trouble with each episode ending in a cliffhanger. Each new episode begins by recapping several minutes from the last episode and adding details that make their impossible escape possible.

While the sets, costumes, and props did look cheesy, they were extensive. This was a fairly high budget production for the day. I learned that Buster dyed his hair blond to match the character, and Jean Rogers dyed her hair blond to match Jean Harlow. The production was rushed to production to beat out Buck Rogers, which also starred Buster in the title role. Ming was modeled primarily after Dr. Fu Manchu. Priscilla Lawson (Aura) apparently lost her leg, either in a car accident the year after this came out or several years later during the war. She had several minor and uncredited roles from '37 to '41, so if she had one leg, they must have filmed around it.

Here's another interesting thing. 13 episodes were filmed in six weeks and the cast worked 14 hour days. Now there is 245 minutes of footage. Even cutting out the many opening and closing scenes, this is a significant footage, and Buster was in almost every foot of it. Running around and fighting, no less. He must have been exhausted! At least Jean was well rested.

Want to poke holes in the story? Sure, that's fun! Apparently the power that keeps the floating city aloft is provided by slaves shoveling radium pellets into a furnace. If the flow is interrupted even briefly, the city may fall back to Mongo. Seriously? You can build a floating city but a pellet hopper is totally out of the question? See, now wasn't that fun? There's much more where that came from!

Worried they won't make it? Rest assured that Flash and the Gang are back for two more serials before being recreated as a 50's TV show. But because series 2 requires me to wait for DVDs, I won't be seeing it. As a fun diversion, it was totally worth watching. AMRU 3. Jean Rogers was hot.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Woman on Earth (1960)

How best to frame a love triangle? Simple. Kill everyone else on the planet. Rich playboy Harold and his latest trophy wife Evelyn are on vacation in Puerto Rico and along for the ride is straight-laced lawyer Martin. Seems wifey regrets choosing wealth and leisure over love.

Anyhow, they go scuba diving and when they come up, there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere. It seems that somehow there was a temporary interruption of the Earth's atmosphere. Perfectly plausible. Happens all the time. Nighty night, kiddies! Anyhow, the air returns and they soon discover they are the only living animals on the planet. Now, what to do with this hot blond ...

There is a power struggle. Someone wins and someone loses. Not too bad, considering the epically low budget. But let's take another look at the movie poster, shall we? Now, THAT is a movie I want to see! Unfortunately, that movie doesn't exist. Evelyn was ok, I suppose, but come on. Not even close.

I had some misgivings going into this one. First, it was made by my arch-nemesis Roger Corman. Second, it was shot at the same time as Creature from the Haunted Sea, which was truly awful. Don't wait for me to do that one. It was a 1.5 and I won't watch it again. Think To Have and Have Not meets Gilligan's Island meets STUPID. Anyways, I was quite surprised to find this quite watchable.

At first I thought it was a rip-off of The Last Man on Earth, but that came out four years later. The movies had nothing in common except the low budget, the prevalence of death, the very small cast, and the climactic final scene in a church. Come to think of it, they had a lot in common. But, no. Neither story inspired the other.

And back onto the topic of low budgets, the actor playing Martin was credited as Edward Wain but was really writer Robert Towne. He wasn't finished with the script yet so Corman made him an actor and changed his name. How's that for saving on air fare? Towne went on to write movies like Chinatown and Days of Thunder.

Wooden acting, not a real captivating story, cheaply done, and forgettable. Still, very watchable. AMRU 2.5.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

A wealthy collector is dead and the cops conclude suicide. But was it murder? If so, we have a host of suspects. Luckily, Philo Vance (William Powell) is on the case.

Archer Coe (Robert Barrat) is found dead in his study. The doors are locked and everything points to suicide. Philo Vance doesn't think so. Coe wasn't the kind of man to take his own life. He abused his workers, bullied his business partners, and was an all around douche-bag. Not one to put a gun to his own head. Philo goes about snooping around.

Well, there are lots of suspects, lots of side stories, and even a little humor. In fact, think The Thin Man, minus the missus. And much of the humor. Between 1929 and 1947 there were sixteen Philo Vance mysteries made, five of the first six with Powell in the title role. This was his last. Only two other actors made more than one (two each).

Throughout the movie I couldn't help but think this was Thin Man light. He even had a dog. But don't be fooled. No Myrna Loy and a weaker story. Mary Astor is no replacement. Still, not bad. Especially after watching a Charlie Chan movie. Those aren't mysteries as much as "guess the bad guy" games. I liked it and give it an AMRU 3. It's the only one available on Netflix and I'm not going too far out of my way to find more.

So, who is Philo Vance? He's a character in several S. S. Van Dine mystery novels. He is referred on Wikipedia as "stylish, even foppish dandy, a New York bon vivant possessing a highly intellectual bent." Writer Raymond Chandler referred to him as "the most asinine character in detective fiction." High praise indeed. Luckily, William Powell played him a little more, ahem, strait.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

I had a problem. I knew I would have to do this movie, and that meant I had to watch it.

A couple years ago I started The Beast of Yucca Flats from my Treeline collection and I had to turn it off. I like bad films. I can tolerate many flaws. And I've stuck out movies with no redeeming value (Gore Gore Girls, Killers from Space). But I couldn't finish The Beast.

With Netflix came my solution: watch the MST3k version! My boys and I popped some corn and watched.

Not much to the story. The movie opens with a woman in a towel being strangled to death. It has no baring on the movie and should be completely disregarded. Russian scientist (Tor Johnson) steals secrets and sells them to our agents. When the deal goes down, KGB arrives for a gunfight. Tor drives off into a nuclear test site and is exposed to radiation. Transforming him into the beast. From there, he goes around attacking people vacationing at the nuke test site while a couple cops hunt him down.

Not much of a story, fine. I can deal with that. Here are the issues. The movie was shot silent and all dialog was added in during post production. That mostly worked for Enter the Dragon. But with The Beast, they didn't even have the actors mouth the lines. They covered their mouths or looked away from the camera when they spoke. They could have put an entirely different script together and not have to reshoot. The effect is not having any connection to the actors, and thus, the action.

Add to this an inane narrator. Throughout the move, some numbskull read the worst narration I've ever heard. Nonsensical at best. Oh, that was Coleman Francis, the writer and director? What an idiot. He sucked at everything.

There is a litany of other problems, but it suffers from one primary sin: it's boring. Boring beyond belief. Boring, boring, dull, irrepressibly drab and awful. This movie could not have been saved. Although, I ask this one question: you have Tor Johnson as the beast, but why cast him as the scientist? They could have cast someone with similar features as Tor, then after the blast see him rise as The Beast. That would have been so easy.

IMDB ranks it as 21st worst. I don't believe I've seen any others on the bottom 100, but this ranks number one with me. Thank you MST3k for keeping me from gouging my eyes out. Your version was quite entertaining. AMRU 1.

"Flag on the moon. How did it get there?"

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Amazing Mr. X (1948)

Yea, that's right. I follow my own blog. I noticed that some blogs I follow will occasionally show an old entry as if it was new. I wondered if that happened when you edit an old post, which I do from time to time. I wanted to make sure I wasn't causing unintentional action.

Rich widow Christine thinks she hears her dead husband calling her from the beach. She goes to investigate when she meets up with the Amazing Mr. X! Alexis, that is. I don't think they ever called him Mr. X anywhere in the film. It seems that Alexis knows much that is hidden. Christine is intrigued. She goes to visit Alexis for a reading. Seems he's a spiritualist.

Martin, Christine's fulling living boyfriend, is skeptical of this charlatan, and enlists the help of Janet, Christine's hottie little sister. Unfortunately, Janet isn't even as smart as Christine and also falls for Alexis' shtick. The cops tell Martin that Alexis is wanted in several states under a variety of names for swindling distraught widows.

Carole Landis was set to play the lead but decided to off herself instead. The older and less attractive Lynn Bari was cast instead. Sis Janet was played by Cathy O'Donnell, who overcame her bad acting handicap through sheer force of hotness and managed a fairly respectable career. Her film career ranged from The Best Years of our Lives to Ben-Hur. Not bad for talentless eye candy. Christine's frustrated boyfriend is played by old friend Richard Carlson, whom you may remember from Flat Top, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space.

But today I want to focus on the career of Turhan Bey, Mister X himself. Throughout the 1940's he made himself a career playing mystical, magical, mysterious characters from the East. Then, like so many pretty faces in Hollywood, he turned 30 and was shown the proverbial door. He made a minor comeback doing TV in the 90's. His last role was as an angel in The Skateboard Kid II. He turned 89 last Wednesday.

I would categorize this movie as Thriller. IMDB uses Film-Noir and Horror, both of which I disagree with. It was on my Treeline horror collection, but I don't think it fits. I suppose I'll classify it as a mystery. Slow pace, uneven acting, low budget, and bad film quality, it turns out that it wasn't too bad. Fairly OK, in fact. Somewhat forgettable, but I'm still glad I saw it. AMRU 3.