Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Tingler (1959)

A pathologist (Vincent Price) is doing research on fear. He notices that the spines of executed criminals are split open leading him to believe that terror, not the electric chair, is what kills them. When the deaf mute wife of a theater owner dies unexpectedly, he x-rays the body and discovers the culprit: The Tingler! He cages the creature for further research and determines that a) everyone has one of these in their bodies and b) you can keep them from killing you by screaming.

The Castle-gimmick was that some of the theater seats were wired to give the occupant a shock at appropriate times during the film. Presumably the appropriate time was when the tingler escaped into the theater (the one in the movie), they cut the house lights, and Price tells everyone to scream or else the tingler will get them. That might have worked.

Here's something cool. The movie is in black and white except for one of the scare scenes, where the blood is red. The effect worked but it kinda makes you wonder why they didn't film the whole thing in color. Also, the actors playing the young couple actually got married (kinda cool) then divorced (not so cool). The actors playing the older couple (the theater owners) both died eight years later in May of 1967 (totally uncool). The creature itself was modelled after a Velvet Worm. Wikipedia doesn't say if this species moves through the use of visible wires. Another interesting part is when the Price character wanted to feel fear (you see, he's super macho-brave and is never afraid), so he takes a hit of acid. The first time an acid trip was featured in a movie.

Typical William Castle. In a TCM Biography his daughter said of the film, the biggest obstacle for the actors was to not burst out laughing at the silly prop and absurd dialog. Typical Vincent Price rising above the source material. There was a background story about Price's philandering wife, or her sister dating his assistant (see above comment regarding a "young couple"), but it doesn't play much into the film except maybe to give Price an opportunity for biting dialog. A fair effort all-in-all. A well made, cheesy, B horror movie. AMRU 3.5.
"The tingler exists in every human being, we now know. Look at that tingler, Dave. It's an ugly and dangerous thing-ugly because it's the creation of man's fear; dangerous because... because a frightened man is dangerous."

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

Man on bicycle looks at breasts. Roll credits.

Russ Meyer has long fascinated me. Undoubtedly the biggest name in the 60's "nudie cutie" genre, his movies are legendary and annoyingly hard to come by. Netflix? Never heard of him. Amazon Prime has nothing for free. And forget about your local library. YouTube to the rescue, believe it or not. That can't be legal.

Anyhow Mr. Teas (actual name!) sells dentist stuff door to door and along the way is greeted by unusually well endowed women showing unusual amounts of cleavage. The dental hygienist, his office secretary, the counter woman at the diner, some chick at the beach. And he concludes there must be something wrong with him because, and here's the sick part, he LIKES it! He even starts fantasizing about the women! Clearly he needs serious therapy.

A few odd things about this movie. First, there is no actual dialog. The movie is done in voice over narration (frequently a bit of trivia about a non-fleshy element on screen) with an insipid soundtrack. Secondly, with one exception, nobody appears to notice or care that Mr. Teas is snooping on the ladies. Also, there is no inference of sex. Well, except once and that turns into a comedic moment. There are just breasts for our man to look at. And the on-screen talent is quite impressive.

Surprisingly, this, Meyer's first, is a well photographed movie. The ladies are well lit, the editing crisp, good pacing, and the overall craft well done. Citizen Kane this is not, but take it for what it is: Cheesecake pornography. Remove the fleshy elements and you don't just have less of a film, you basically don't have a film. That said, AMRU 3.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Showgirls are in a musical that is shut down before it even opens. Behind in the rent, they have to steal their neighbor's milk for breakfast. The depression is hard. When they learn that an old employer is putting on a new show, they fall over themselves trying to get the role. And they are hired! With one problem: no money. Details.

When the songwriter boyfriend of one of the girls provides the funds, they are all suspicious how he came up with the bread (spoiler alert: he's a secret millionaire!)

Anyhow, the executor of dreamy's fortune disapproves of this budding romance, they try to nip it in the ... well, bud. The ladies don't take too kindly to the implication, so the game is afoot!

Somewhat witty musical romantic comedy with a little bite, replete with ridiculous Busby Berkeley signature numbers. Ginger Rogers had a fairly small role, but does get to sing "We're In the Money" including a verse sung in pig latin. The almost eerie closeup gives evidence that depression toothpaste was not as effective as the modern counterpart.

Much of the movie revolves around Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Aline MacMahon's characters as they try to pull a fast one on the men. Having initially seen Blondell only in later films (Desk Set and The Cincinnati Kid), it's surprising to see her as a young hottie. Nine year old Billy Barty was absolutely creepy dressed as a baby. Gold Diggers is an excellent example of pre-code Hollywood. It wasn't afraid to discuss real issues with women wearing over sized lingerie. And one of the musical numbers gives us a little more.

Not a fan of musicals, I haven't made a secret of that. And the over-the-top production numbers aren't exactly my cup of tea either. However, the fast pace, interesting story, and other elements, made it definitely worth watching. AMRU 3.5.

So, what exactly did they mean by "Pettin' in the Park" anyhow?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shiver of the Vampires (1971)

 A newlywed couple stop at a spooky castle to visit the bride's eccentric cousins. Only, they are dead. Well, kinda. Either it's gossip from the villagers, or they are vampires (shuush ... they're vampires!) Anyhow, there are lots of story and character details that are quite boring, and nobody wants me to go into any serious detail anyhow. Let's hit the highlights.

There's a meh-looking travelling vampire chick that killed the foppish cousins (who in life were vampire hunters!) and now has control over them. There's the two servants which I was never sure were vampires or not. They walk around with stupid looks on their faces and say little. There's a woman who was in love with both cousins who gets killed Austin Powers fembot style. And much of the story consists of bride disappearing, husband witnessing a strange and disturbing ceremony, then finds wifey asleep in bed. He seems to need a lot of clues before he catches on.

Anyhow, what made this movie tolerable is that whenever it would slow and tedious, someone would take their blouse off and interest would perk back up. I'm sure the original French version was cut down. It took seven years for it to reach the Americas and as some of the scenes contained unexplained characters or made no sense whatsoever. I'm not so sure the directors cut would have been worth a longer run time. It was over 90 minutes as it was.

The French title was Le Frisson des Vampires which google tells me means something like the Thrill of the vampires, which makes more sense than Shiver, but I just don't feel like being the title-nazi today. Having a title that made sense wouldn't seem to fit here anyhow. Note that there's a fair amount of nudity here, if you are into such things (I am into such things). Director Jean Rollin made a living making such stuff and is revered in some circles.

The surrealist style gives it an art house appeal as well as providing a plausible excuse why the characters behave in a completely unrealistic manner. But that, and the language barrier, does make it hard to relate with the characters. Jean Rollin fans need not offense if I don't care for his style, but I don't care for his style. This was fairly early in his career and will keep an open mind if another crawls across my screen at some point.

File this sucker under soft-core surrealist horror. Story, dialog, acting, all terrible. Some of the visual elements were at least interesting, what with vampire chick climbing out of a clock. And it also had one bona fide startle moment. However, remove the nudity and you remove almost all appeal. AMRU 2.5.




Friday, November 29, 2013

House of Dracula (1945)

Dracula (John Carradine) needs help. He hates the life of the undead superhero, so he seeks out the good Doctor Edelmann. Surely he can solve the problem. Drac gets all mysterious what with him needing to only come only at night. Under the microscope, Dr. Edelmann discovers that Drac's blood contains a large number of midi-chlorians ...

Also seeking free help is Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr), hating his proto-wolverine existence. Doc concludes Chaney's head ... that is, Talbot's head ... isn't soft enough. Meanwhile, Drac starts making moves on Doc's lovely-ish assistant, wolfie jumps a cliff trying to end his life, and they then stumble upon Frankenstein's Monster sitting in the muck. And it's about then that I realized that this series has finally run it's course.

The problem of crowding the film with monsters is two-fold. First, you lose focus on a central story. Are we following Drac's plight or Wolfie's? Secondly, screen time for each is drastically cut. Frank's Monster is barely in it and Drac makes an earlier than expected exit. Maybe it would have worked better if you made the monsters the direct protagonists rather than spiral the story around the doctor and his assistants. Still, make the climax a duel between wolfie and Drac, and lose the Monster instead of using him as a Deus ex machina of sorts. Better movies don't have you re-writing them in your head while watching.

Code standards has that monsters must die at the end of the film. As such, there has to be a vaguely plausible explanation why the actors were getting work again. We completely forgo this in Wolfie and Drac's case. Lionel Atwill, at death's door, makes one last appearance. As a cop, once again. And no Universal Horror can be considered complete without a hunchback assistant. Here is the only unexpected twist the film offers: the hunchback is a hot chick. Seriously. And the mad scientist character is ... well, I'll hold off on that.

Here we rest the original run of the Universal Horror series. Typical in acting and production quality of the series. My biggest mistake was grouping the movies by central character. I should have watched them in sequence instead. If I watch them again, that's what I will do. So, how come they never invited the Mummy to the party? I'll finish them off next October. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Son of Dracula (1943)

The mysterious Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr) is invited to visit the plantation Dark Oaks in the American south. Debutante Katherine Caldwell met him in Budapest and discovered they both share an interest in the morbid. Kat likey the count, but Kat's best Bo Frank no likey him.

Turns out Alucard is actually some relative of the notorious Count Dracula (perhaps his son ...) and has come to America because he has sucked the life out of everyone back home. Looks like it's up to Doctor Harry, doing his best van/von Helsing impersonation, to set things straight.

Well, Count and Kat marry causing Frank to go slightly insane. When he is arrested (for her murder, no less) she visits him in jail to let him in on the plan. I'm not letting you in on the plan. You gotta watch.

By 1943 the original run of Universal horror movies was coming to a close. Creighton, late to the party, was becoming Universal's man for the job. And in the role of "Dracula" he looked the part. That of a brutal European count, that is. He looked nothing like Bela, but because he wasn't playing the same character, that didn't matter. Creighton played all the Universal monsters at one point, as was arguably the worst.

Anyhow, here finally we see the drac to bat transformation only hinted at earlier (Daughter never even bothered to transform). Looks a little cartoonie, but that can't be helped.

A refreshing change of scenery (swamps and plantations), an interesting love triangle, a satisfying ending, and some twists along the way made this a welcome addition to the collection. It even survives Chaney's terrible acting. That man reads dialog like he's playing whack-a-mole. AMRU 3.5.

So, what do you think? Should I bother watching the 1974 Ringo Starr vehicle?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

 Dracula is dead, thank goodness. Unfortunately, Von Helsing is held in connection to his murder. No, wait ... Von Helsing? Seriously people? Had to tinker with the name, didn't you! Anyhow, Von enlists the help of his good friend Dr. Garth (party on!) to get him out of this fix. But lucky for Von, Drac's body goes missing. Apparently someone needed it for a campfire.

That someone was the Contessa Marya Zeleska, better known as Dracula's Daughter (and, FYI, also a vampire). Seems she wants to rid herself of the family curse, which is to be an undead superhero. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. So, she enlists the help of Dr. Garth.

Well, Garth's solution, without knowing the problem, is to presented herself with her desire and challenge her willpower to resist. That thing she desires? Scantily clad hot chicks. Well, whatdoyaknow ... Before anyone starts huffing for a Vampire Lovers type scene, remember, this isn't even pre-code.

Certainly a different feel for a Universal Horror, almost reminiscent of the later Val Lewton films. And it's for that very reason I like it. The Contessa is kinda hot in a very Devil Girl from Mars sort of way. And the lesbian subtext definitely caught my attention. And if you think I'm reading too much into it, watch the documentary The Celluloid Closet (or read the book - both are on Amazon). This wasn't incidental contact.

The atmosphere was a departure from the gothic tradition, there was a weird love triangle (maybe love rectangle) thing going on, and the acting was solid enough. Complain if you will at the admittedly poor attempt at comedy, but Dracula's Daughter won me over. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

DrĂ¡cula (1931)

Drac is Back, and this time he's ... Hispanac?

After filming of the Bela Legosi classic concluded for the day, another team would arrive to make a Spanish language version of the same movie. Same sets, same script, same actors marks, everything. Just different actors and crew. This is an interesting solution to a problem the studios faced. Back in the halcyon days of silent cinema, they could rewrite a dozen or so title cards and ship their movie around the world. Now, with the dubbing process years away from "perfection", they realized that the great technological innovation called sound made their films much harder to export. Their solution was to shoot it twice.

Same script and same sets, but here's the thing. Different director, cameraman, and editor. They looked at the direction notes and said "we can do better than that", and did. And at almost 30 minutes longer, contained a whole lot more of the story (longer here, is better). One cannot help but to compare the two films, and Tod Browning's piece doesn't always place second, but as a whole, this is a much better film.

The most noticeable difference between the two is the titular character. While Bela might not have been the great actor Karloff and Price were, his rendition of Dracula is iconic for a reason. And Carlos Villarias, who played the Spanish speaking Dracula was terrible Terrible TerRibLe TeRRIBLE TERRIBLE! Having your monster be something of a disappointment is a serious obstacle to overcome, but at least audiences didn't yet have Bela to compare it to.

While I am huge fan of Dwight Frye's rendition of Renfield, Pablo Rubio was almost as good. I still take Frye's performance, but Rubio was no weak point. From there the acting gets better. When Helen Chandler's Mina was under the influence of Dracula, she indicated this by widening her eyes and acting a little strange. Lupita Tovar's Eva's demeanor, however, changed from virginal to something more aggressive in a sheer top. A much more pronounced transformation.

Oh, and like I marvelled that Carla Laemmle who had a brief speaking role turned 104, Tovar turned 103 last summer. But I leave you with a question: is Dracula a dead man who rose from the grave or is he a living man who unnaturally extended his life by drinking blood. Most versions imply the former but this version appears to assert the latter. I'd have to watch them again paying attention to that point. AMRU 3.5.
"Buenos dias, Senor Renfield."

Monday, November 18, 2013

The House is Black (1963)

The House is Black is a short documentary about life inside an Iranian leper colony. Made by 28 year old poet Forugh Farrokhzad, it takes an unflinching look at these forgotten people. But instead on focusing on despair, which would be very easy to do, she looks at the humanity. The victims life is hard but there is still joy.

This short film is important because it is viewed as an important precursor of the Iranian new wave of cinema. This kind of thing might not be what inspires most readers of blogs like mine, but I watched The Story of Film: an Odyssey earlier this year and it brought my attention to such ideas. It's still on Netflix and I urge everyone to watch it. And don't whine about his accent. You get used to it!

Forugh would never make another film. She died five years later in a car accident. She was 32. Watch it on YouTube. It's a very good use of 21 minutes of your life. AMRU 4.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Horror of Dracula (1958)

Amateur vampire sleuths Harker (Nobody) and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) look to end the reign of the evil count.

You know the basic premise. Here, we mix up the characters (Harker is betrothed to Lucy and Mina is married to Arthur) change the details (Transylvania? Never heard of it), lose Renfield, and film it in color. Now Drac has fangs and there is blood to spurt. No ta-tas like in later Hammer films, but it's a start.

Despite the campy feel, I liked this complete reinterpretation of the story. So many of these films are unofficial remakes anyhow, it's nice when it's done well. Fairly well, anyhow. And because it was such a departure from the classic story, you tend to throw the book comparison conversation out the window from the get-go. Christopher Lee makes for a better than average count, starting off as the dashing and mysterious type before showing himself to be the fiend he is.

Hmmm ... what more to say .... The title was changed from simply Dracula in America for the best reason I've seen so far: Bela's classic was still bouncing around theaters and they wanted to avoid confusion. I accept that. Arthur is played by Michael Gough, whom dedicated readers may remember from Horrors of the Black Museum but actually from Batman. Gosh, that's about it. AMRU 3.5.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Sir Karoll has been killed and the locals conclude it's the work of a vampire. The police inspector (Lionel Atwill) isn't so sure. But local professor (Lionel Barrymore) is convinced by the initial diagnosis. Together, they investigate. Wait, didn't I just see this one? It even stars Atwill! Ok, so the set-up is very similar to The Vampire Bat, but it diverges soon enough. Promise.

Also in the mix is the Barron and executor of the estate, the victim's daughter and inheritor, and her best-bo who stands to become rich. Also there is Bela Lugosi wearing his Dracula garb with his proto-Morticia daughter. Might want to check out his creepy castle while they are at it.

So, what exactly is the Vampire's mark? Maybe it's the fang marks on the victim's neck. Or maybe it's the unexplained mark on Bela's right temple (there's an unfilmed back story). Either way, it doesn't appear to play into the story. I like to pretend Mark was Count Mora's first name. Lots of standard gothic horror elements, the level of acting you'd expect from this crew. No soundtrack, which is a drag.

At times you'd think Tod Browning was trying to re-do Dracula. The vampire passing through the giant spider web thing was done again here. As were the creepy-crawlies dancing around Mora's castle. Irena and Fedor are Mina and Jonathan, Zelin is Van Helsing, only thing missing is Renfield.

Browning would direct only two more movies, his reputation apparently tarnished by the unsavory Freaks. I think he wasn't all that great of a director, at least in the sound age. Interesting fact: his uncle was old-timey baseball great Pete Browning.

For the most part this plays out like a standard gothic horror, but Browning does play a bit. In actuality it's a remake of the now-lost Lon Chaney movie London After Midnight. The principle difference, I understand, is the Vampire angle. There are apparently lost or deleted scenes which explain some of the story, but i think it works well enough at the shorter length. Browning could never match his Dracula success (although The Unknown was by far his best work), Mark of the Vampire was in many ways a better technical effort. It works as intended. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Vampire Bat (1933)

A small European village in an indeterminate time period has a problem. Locals think the town is cursed by vampires! I mean, look at all the bats! The police chief (Melvyn Douglas) thinks there's a bad man at work. Much to his surprise, the scientist boss (Lionel Atwill) of his hottie girlfriend (Fay Wray) lends scientific credence to the locals wild superstitions.

Hey, look! A vampire movie! Back to my theme, and just in time. I requested a collection from the library containing the rest of the Universal Dracula collection back in September, and may get it before Christmas. Can't wait to put this franchise to bed.

It appears that I've seen this before. I remember the tragic simpleton whom the locals first suspect. This well may have been Dwight Frye's best performance, and remember how much I liked him in Dracula. He was completely believable in the role. Atwill and Wray were teamed up again (they did three together) because of their previous success. Strange pairing actors like that when the characters are never a couple, but that's what they did.

What's interesting? Not a whole lot. Eastern European town fears the supernatural, modern thinkers try to convince them otherwise, typical investigation, typical climax, roll credits. Not entirely to formula, but close. A fun B-horror for Halloween.

TCM typically has the better copies and the poor quality of The Vampire Bat implies that this is the best out there. It was very viewable, and apparently complete, but the soundtrack was a long, annoying hiss. Not sure if a pristine copy would have made this more memorable. Interesting, short, no major flaws. AMRU 3.


"No, no, no, no! Bats no do! They soft, like cat. They not bite Herman!"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Ghost Ship (1943)

A young officer gets a job on a merchant ship as third officer. But this is a cursed ship. One might call it a "Ghost Ship". Others would just call it a bore.

Not much with the story. Is the captain coo-coo, or is the new office overreacting? No supernatural element, no mystery, no suspense. What we have is a well constructed movie with a poorly constructed story. It came on the same DVD as The Leopard Man, and being just over 60 minutes, I had to watch it before returnage. Plus it's a Val Lewton movie and I previously acknowledged that I will watch them all. This is the poorest effort so far.

One of the crewmen is mute and he observes the action and partially narrates with an disembodied voice. That is a device that could work. Unfortunately, it didn't. Additionally, it may have raised our expectations way beyond what the narrative could deliver. Our first impression is we are in for a story of supernatural mystery, of otherworldly adventure. Not even close. Plus, it was hard to sympathize with the third mate nor fear the captain. The dialog, while never completely failing, is weak at best. This Caine Mutiny on the Bounty lacks both thrill and drama. Without an angle, without great dialog, without any kind of hook, the only thing it had going for itself was the nice sets and photography, and it was short. Not enough to live off of. AMRU 2.5.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Leopard Man (1943)

The boyfriend-publicist of a backwater New Mexico entertainer comes up with a great stunt. He rents a tame panther for her to appear with to get attention and to disrupt the act of her castanet clapping rival. This works great for about two seconds before the panther escapes. Later, a poor girl is brutally murdered by the animal. Boyfriend-publicist can't help but think he must be somehow to blame.

Well, more girls are brutally murdered and boyfriend-publicist thinks they weren't done by his stunt-gone-wrong. He figures some sicko must be out there trying to make him look bad. What a dirty trick. Well ... watch the movie.

Beautifully photographed, solid acting, good script, and overall, a well put together film. I have become a fan of Val Lewton, and I suppose director Jacques Tourneur as well (he also did the excellent Night of the Demon). This is the third and last the two did together and I've loved them all. Lewton died young (my age) and only produced fourteen films, and I've seen eight of them (including the next one). Yet another will be on my DVR soon, and I expect to see them all.

Many films, even modern big budget movies, will have some rough patch. A spell of terrible acting or gawd-awful dialog. A draggy part or a scene that just didn't work. Not so with Lewton films. They lack huge budgets, special effects, or even great dialog, but they work front to back. Here I particularly liked the minor characters. They get little screen time but seem fully fleshed out. The craft of film making, at least B-Movie film making, at it's finest. The first death scene is completely non-graphic but wonderfully effective.

Billed as horror, but this is not. It has the feel of horror but lacks the elements (must have both, says me). Thriller, who-done-it, sure, but not horror. Still, great atmosphere and a wonderful film. At 66 minutes, it left me wanting more. AMRU 4. So, someone might be killing women pretending to be a panther. Then, why is it called "The Leopard Man"?
"This is a bad town for blonds"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Carnival of Souls (1962)

A car full of young boys challenge a car of girls to a race. It ends with the girl's car falling off a bridge. Several hours later rescuers are still searching for the car when they are surprised to find one of the occupants alive and unhurt. Seemingly unaffected by the incident, she leaves for her first job as a church organist.

Along the way she sees an abandoned carnival and is strangely drawn to it. She is frightened by the ghoulish face of a man that others cannot see. She comes to realize that the traumatic incident appears to have transformed her. She feels disconnected from other people. Strange things happen to her. I will say no more.

This must be the lowest of the low budget movies I've reviewed. And among the best. The acting ranges from serviceable to revolting. The dialog is forgettable. Some of the scenes, the opening car chase in particular, are terrible. Clearly 17k didn't go very far back in the early 60's.

The movie appears to have been done as a lark. Writer/Director/Producer/Principle Ghoul Herk Harvey was a maker of educational shorts (who can forget the classic "Why Study Home Economics?") when he saw the abandoned Saltair grounds and thought it would make a great setting. Three weeks later the movie was in the can. It is Harvey's only feature film. A financial flop, it also may have stunted the career of the lead actress Candace Hilligoss (her agent dropped her after seeing it).

So why do I love it so much? The story line is very original, the scenes (particularly the ones without dialog) are very well done, and it's absolutely creepy. It demands to be remade, and I don't mean that steaming pile of crap from 1998. Take the original story, film it in black and white, set it at the same time period, but rewrite much of the dialog. Get some good actors, do a good opening scene, but leave much of the framework in place (I'd lose the doctor character). Oh, the things I'd do had I money to piss away.

We have a flawed gem that works despite of, and sometimes because of it's flaws. What better way to express feeling disconnected from people than to act like a piece of wood? So I leave you with a question. Zombie movie? Ghost movie? Both? Neither? I have my opinion. See the film. AMRU 4. The TCM copy looked better than the PD version.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Valley of the Dragons (1961)

A Frenchmen and an American are in Iran dueling over a woman, when along comes an intense wind storm. When it's over our duelees find their friends have been blown away and they aren't sure where they are. They put their quarrel aside for the moment to find out what happened.

Long story short, they discover that they've been swept away by a comet to a land inhabited by close-up shots of normal sized animals. All perfectly sound, scientifically speaking.

Well, our American and Frenchmen are separated and end up living with competing tribes, each earning the affection of a hot young cave girl. When Frenchman's hot blond cave girl is captured by the American's tribe, our hero realizes his former adversary is still alive and goes with her to reunite them. When a volcano erupts trapping some of the American's tribe in a cave blocked by close-up shots of normal sized animals, the grateful Frenchman rallies his tribe to the rescue. He invents gunpowder to kill the Gorn. Hope he doesn't get tinnitus. Body count: 2.

So, what have we learned here? We've learned that people from different nations can live in peace so long as they have equal numbers of hot cave girls. Also, modern humans can gain status in primitive tribes using their superior intelligence, even though they lack all the skills required to survive in a primitive world.

What a plucky little film! Fun, imaginative, well-paced, short, brain-dead, all the things I look for in B horror and sci-fi movies. Don't confuse it for an important or influential piece of cinema, but do take a look. If for nothing else than the gratuitous swimming scene. AMRU 3.5.
"Go Sox!"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

or "Gritos en la noche" - Screams in the Night. I always like the original title better.

Pretty women go missing. Because they are of questionable virtue, the coppers don't care. When a young-ish and ambitious detective is assigned to the case, he takes it seriously. Oh, and he is newly engaged to a hot, young ballerina. That plays into this.

It appears the Awful Doctor is doing nothing more than trying to save his poor daughter. Seems she was terribly scarred and in order to save her, he must make her beautiful again. It's a medical fact. So, what does the doctor order? Dead chicks from which he must harvest their skin. Apparently he never heard of that Olay crap.

Anyhow, he doesn't do the killing himself. That would be terribly risky. Instead he sends his blind mute simpleton assistant, Morpho. He simply stands in front tapping his cane so Morpho knows where to walk. Orloff saved Morpho years earlier from prison by making him temporarily dead. Being the prison doctor at the time made that fairly simple.

Let's talk about dubbed movies. Does it seem sometimes the people voicing the English dialog have no regard for the movie they are working on? The goofy intonation occasionally took me completely out of the picture. I wonder if the original sounded like that, or if the American voice-over actors were trying to get as many movies in as possible before lunch.

Creepy setting, nice sets, good story, and very much appreciated, totally gratuitous nudity. Morpho's makeup was both cheesy and creepy. Clearly they made a false face and applied it making it appear like it was stitched on. It both worked and didn't at the same time. I'll call it a success, considering the genre. AMRU 3. If the dubbing was done well, it might have scored a half point higher.

Seems I got a false start on my October horror-fest. The theme this year is Dracula and Dracula-esque movies, but I don't seem to be able to get my filthy hands on them. But fear not. TCM to the rescue. In the meantime, I am plopping off what I can find.
"Morpho only pawn in game of life."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dracula (1931)

Rich guy moves to town and starts biting all the chicks. Boyfriends get jealous, nail stake through his heart. Body count two. Three if you count the Count.

I was a Dracula fan back in the day. Werewolves were cool too, but Dracula resonated with me. I saw this film for the first time as an adult, maybe eight years ago. The UHF channels back in the day never showed the big movies. It was always Crab People and Rodan stuff. When I saw it I was more than a little underwhelmed. This was my reaction again. No soundtrack to speak of (they thought it would confuse the audience), clumsy editing, overdone dramatic pauses, mediocre acting, and more liberties with the original story than anything short of Forrest Gump.

In a scene, the camera focuses on the casket, moves to a window showing the full moon, the comes back to see Bela straightening up. Oh, he must have come out of the casket. Really people? Maybe Todd Browning wasn't really all that good. Freaks, for all it's shock value, was a clumsy mess.

Ok, enough with the disappointment, here's what I found interesting. Lon Chaney was slated for the title role but died. Oh, what could have been! There was a Spanish language version filmed on the same set at night. I must get a hold of a subtitled copy.

Dracula never displays fangs nor are bite marks ever seen. He never says "Good Evening!" or "I vont to bite your neck", but that should come as no surprise. Bela would appear as Dracula one more time in an Abbot and Costello movie. Bette Davis was considered for Mina but was not considered pretty enough. They were right. The movie is based on a stage play, not the book. That play starred Bela in the lead role. They did not film where Dracula attacks Renfield, because that would be so totally gay. Totally. The movie that made 48 year old Lugosi a star came out on Valentines day, two years after the massacreCarla Laemmele, niece of studio head Carl and cousin of producer Carl Jr, appeared briefly in the movie. She turns 104 next month.

This is an unbelievably iconic film. It is so strange to realize how ... pedestrian much of it is. The classic lines still resonate: "Children of the night ...", and the creepy, gothic atmosphere frequently worked, but it could have been so much better. It came out just before Frankenstein and set the standard, then was quickly surpassed.

Before I finish, lets say a word about Dwight Frye, who played Renfield. His comic but creepy portrayal was the highlight of the film. Every version since would be a tribute to him and a somewhat failed attempt to out over-the-top his performance. He also played Fritz in Frankenstein. And Karl in Bride Of. And maybe in a crowd scene in Son Of. He was in a pile of movies before dropping dead at age 44. I used to be 44. Nothing sadder than a Christian Scientist with a heart condition.

Required viewing for classic horror fans. For all it's faults, still creepy and iconic. And delightfully short. AMRU 3.
"Rats. Rats. Rats! Thousands! Millions of them! All red blood! All these will I give you if you will obey me."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You Only Live Twice (1967)

A mysterious rocket eats an American space capsule and the US suspects the Ruskies. It was apparently launched from the Sea of Japan. Always willing to help out, the Brits have their best man on the case. Then he's killed. Roll credits.

Hoo. hoo, look who knows so much! Turns out he's only MOSTLY dead. Actually, just faking so that nobody will suspect him. Or, apparently, recognize him when he walks around without disguise. But what's the point of being a world famous secret agent if nobody knows who you are.

Anyhow, a Russian rocket is also eaten and they, damn commies, blame the sweet old US of A. Bond needs to solve this riddle before the US puts up yet another rocket. I suppose in the 60's it seemed like we were sending men into space every day.

Well, anyhow, the spoiler is that KAOS ... I mean SPECTRE is using their unbelievably advanced science to start a war. Lots of money in global devastation. Bond talks to people who are then killed, is frequently rescued at unbelievably convenient times by a hot chick, climbs a volcano to find it's a secret hide-out, flies around in an ultralight and fires missiles at people, and gets a truly awesome amount of Asian tail. In a nutshell, preposterous but follow-able story, great ninja action, hot chicks.

Connery didn't do the next Bond film (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), but did do Diamonds are Forever. Because rumors were circulating about him leaving the franchise, the studio played into them saying Bond gets married, dies, and becomes Japanese. He does all these things here, lucky him.

AMRU 3.5. I'll go with best Bond so far. I totally want to take a Japanese bath ...
"Oh, the things I do for England"

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Follow Me, Boys! (1966)

Over the hill travelling musician (Fred MacMurray) feels he needs to give up his vagabond life and set roots. When the band makes a quick stop in a small town, he makes the impulsive decision to stay. In order to impress the hot bank employee (Vera Miles) he steals her idea to form a Boy Scout troop to keep the youth from mischief. In doing so, he becomes the town's first scoutmaster.

What follows are various heartwarming stories about his trials and tribulations with the boys and in love. I woke refreshed two hours later.

I've been a scout leader for many years, and this is the first on a short list of feel-good Scout movies. It was high time I watched it. I encouraged my three sons (no smart cracks, people!) to watch it, as they too have logged many hours in the scout community. They opted to skip this one. Good move.

It was a little awkward watching the pushing 60 MacMurray woo the much younger Miles (still living). As the story moved forward in years, they didn't need to age his character much. The elderly town millionaire-with-a-heart-of-gold was played by Lillian Gish, fifteen years Fred's senior. She would outlive him by two.

Many of the vignettes seemed unnecessary. I thought we were still in 1932 when the troop has an amusing run-in with the US military on training maneuvers. With Scoutmaster Lem captured as a member of the enemy team, the boys are left to their own devices. Here is a good place to shorten the movie. I was crying anachronism what with all the high tech army gear, but apparently this segment was set in the 40's.

Side stories include Scoutmaster Lem's wooing of the Miles character, the troubled son of the town drunk (Kurt Russell), the land grab, the mountain climbing controversy, all culminating with a parade.

High Disney production, mildly amusing melodrama, too long (two hours thirteen). As a scout leader, I need to have seen it. So, therefore, AMRU 3, and mission accomplished. Not too painful, but it should have been shorter and 60's Disney family dramady isn't exactly in my wheelhouse. Nice to see Lillian Gish in a soundie.
"Young man, you are a popinjay."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Quasimodo is ugly, Esmeralda is hot, the archdeacon's brother is evil, Quasi is told to kidnap the gypsy, gets punished, gypsy chick shows him kindness, class struggle, Sanctuary, Sanctuary, nobody ever asks for whom the bell tolls. Roll credits.

The term "Silent Epic" doesn't totally stir in me what it might, but I'm a complete Lon Chaney junkie, and this was the first film he had a major influence in creating. He suggested the story and had a hand in casting. His makeup was state of the art and the scale grand. Still, bit of a snooze-fest.

Wow, am I done? There must be more to say. Little disappointed that there wasn't more Chaney in it. He reveled in the unrequited love theme and it's in there, but not highlighted. The archdeacon was a good guy in the movie because the studios didn't want a clerical villain. Apparently he was evil in the book. Don't really know. Victor Hugo wasn't on my summer reading list.

So, that's it. AMRU 3. Not bad. Would be nice if a quality copy was found. The surviving copy is real rough and has about fifteen minutes missing. It was the first Hollywood version and it would take 79 years and Disney to do a sequel. Bad idea. And knowing people who experienced Gypsies when living in Europe, Hollywood totally white-washed their reputation. I wonder how the 1939 version is ...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Donovan's Brain (1953)

A dorky doctor (Lew Ayres) and his homely wife (Nancy Davis), along with his alcoholic friend, do experiments on monkey brains for the betterment of man. When a plane crashes nearby, Doc is pressed into triage duty. The lone survivor is brought to his home where despite their great efforts, he is declared dead. Dead, but not Brain Dead.

Stealing and experimenting on human brains is quite illegal so they'll need to cover their tracks carefully. But before they begin, there's no harm in allowing a reporter take pictures in his laboratory.

Doc hooks up a speaker to his equipment so that he can monitor the brain's health from the comfort of the living room. Inventing a telepathy device is the next logical step. Good thing this brain isn't that of an evil millionaire who would use his evil brain powers to take over peoples minds to do his evil brain bidding! Yea, that would be terrible.

Secretly, I found myself enjoying this movie. Because of the amazing story? The eerie atmosphere? State of the art special effects? Uhhh no. Ayres transformation from dorky doc to ruthless millionaire was rather good. Not exactly Academy recognition level, but it does rise above the rest of the film.

One of my reasons for watching this movie was because it stared Nancy Davis, aka Nancy Reagan. To look at her now, you would be quite surprised to learn that in her youth she was quite unattractive. In fact, when other characters called her attractive, it stretched credibility. Even for an evil brain movie.

Well, anyhow, typical 50's B-movie science fiction stuff follows and it's not all bad. This here is the second of three movies based directly on the 1942 Curt Siodmak novel, not including several other works that draw on it's influence (including a Star Trek episode). So maybe Donovan's brain isn't dead. Not dead, but brain dead? You decide. AMRU 3.
"I'm a doctor, not an electrician!"

Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Three hot gold diggers (Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable) set themselves up in a fancy Manhattan apartment intent on catching a rich man to becoming their trophy wives. Hilarity ensues.

They scam their way into an apartment, try to snare rich men, end up falling in love. Do they find true love? Will they learn valuable lessons in the process? Who cares. Marilyn was hot.

After the low quality schlock I've been seeing lately, I was longing for some high quality schlock. Total Hollywood bauble production value. This fits the bill. Big names, clever dialog, great sets. Kinda throw-away story, but fun. AMRU 3.5, now lets get on with the Grable.

Heard of her. My son (WWII obsessed) knew her name. Didn't know anything about her. Here, she was getting a little long in the tooth (mid-thirties) but still appealing. She showed off her legs once or twice, for what that's worth. She was, however, the most forgettable of the three ladies. Lauren, playing the older, wizened leader of the group, was the central character. It's her game we revolve around. It's her who woos big star William Powell. Being the best actress of the group (by more than a length) this makes sense. Young starlet Monroe, however, totally charmed. Nobody played hot, stupid, and blond like her.

So, what we have here is Hollywood doing well what Hollywood does well. If this kind of movie appeals to you, then this movie will appeal to you. It does to me, in certain doses.
"We'd better put a check on that one. Nobody's mother lives in Atlantic City on Saturday."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Child Bride (1938)

The marriage of under aged girls in the Ozarks is a terrible problem. Who will spread the word regarding this awful practice? I know, an exploitation film will!

Eleven year old girl (Shirley Mills) is eyed by an evil bootlegger. Righteous school-marm campaigns for legal reform. Nudie swim, tar and feather, confrontation, crisis averted, roll credits.

Like so many early exploitation films, they tantalize audiences with what they pretend to condemn. Here, it's young Jennie in the buff. And the famous skinny dip scene was both significantly long and, as the MST3K folks said, disturbing. In fact, because of those comments in particular, I was hesitant to watch this thing. But I am curious about the old "pre-code" films (not one, I know), and Amazon Prime had it available, so what the hell. But like MST3k, I too should have skipped it.

From an acting/story/dialog standpoint, it was more than a little sub-par. Take into considering the poor audio and video quality of the public domain copy, not the best viewing experience. Following the story line or even telling some of the actors apart proved to be a chore. But the sets looked authentic enough, which is to say they even totally failed at totally failing at absolutely everything.

But if you feel weird ogling the 11 year old Jennie, rest assured that at the time of filming actress Shirley Mills was the ripe old age of twelve. Not entertaining, not historically significant, not even titillating. The best thing I can say was that it wasn't painful. AMRU 2.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) needs to build a bridge in short order and uses prisoners of war as labor, officers included. New recruit British Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) is all for building the bridge, good for morale, you know - pip pip!, but takes exception to the part about him doing some heavy lifting. The two strong headed leaders play a war of brinkmanship. This amuses American Major Shears (William Holden), who decides to high-tail it.

Nicholson obsesses on building the bridge his way, Saito is so pressed for time and has to concede, and Shears, rescued by the British, is voluntold to embark on an operation to destroy the same bridge. A fun time is had by all.

Bridge on the River Kwai is a wonderful character study. The three main characters (plus others) are fundamentally different in their perspective. Duty and self interest collide with obsession. Watching them interact was great. Some of the best acting I've seen yet. Sure, it's long. Sure, not much in the hot babe department. Watch it anyways. Now let's talk about the bridge.

The movie is based on a true story. Some details were changed to make it a fictitious story. The Japanese Colonel wasn't all mean, the bridge wasn't built in three months, and the whole ending part didn't happen at all. In fact, historians took exception to a great many things. Please don't get hung up on such matters and think of it as a great movie BASED on a true story. Like Lord of the Rings. AMRU 4.
"I know how you feel, but there's always the unexpected, isn't there"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Foxy Brown (1974)

Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) is a whole lotta woman. Her boyfriend is a cop who infiltrated the ghetto mob and they are out for revenge. To protect himself, he undergoes plastic surgery. Unfortunately, her ne'er-do-well brother, on the run from the same mob, recognizes him and trades his life for some debt forgiveness. Exit boyfriend. This don't go over well with o'll Foxy. She's a whole lotta woman. Foxy goes undercover in the mob's prostitution ring and, well, things play out mostly as you can expect.

What a terrible film! I occasionally hit the exploitation scene and I don't know why. The stories are formulaic, the acting is terrible, even the fight sequences are badly filmed. The only saving grace is the nudity, and Foxy Brown has fairly little. But the movie does redeem itself somewhat. The climax is clever and satisfying. I also liked the element of the boss man being a woman, with a boy-toy who clearly sees his relationship with her as part of the job. Does that save the film as a whole? I'm not so sure.

The titular character has become a pop culture icon. Is she not the archetype for Beyonce's Foxxy Cleopatra character in Goldmember? She is not the passive heroine so common in this kind of film. Foxy goes right after the bad guys and does not flinch. She takes her share of punishment and dishes out a whole lot more. In truth I can see why people become fascinated by these movies, but don't mistake them for fine filmmaking. It stands squarely in the guilty pleasure zone. That said, for me it's more guilt than pleasure. AMRU 2.5.
"That's my sister, baby, and she's a whole lotta woman."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Outlaw (1943)

Sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) learns that the infamous Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) is in town. Rather than being concerned, he's elated because the Doc is his bestus buddy ever. They have a grand reunion and Doc mentions that someone stole his favorite horse. Turns out that both horse and thief are also in town, and the man holding the reins is none other than Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel).

Well, Doc takes a liking to the kid and takes his side in a dispute with Pat. This puts Doc and Pat's friendship on the rocks and things get worse when the Kid kills a man (in self defense, of course). The drama thickens when the kid then takes a liking to Doc's best girl Rio (Jane Russell).

First off, ewww. Jane was barley twenty and Huston was pushing 60 when the film was made. Jane earned the part because director Howard Hughes needed a rack on display in the background during boring scenes. The mamarous cinematography was so blatant that censors held up the film's release for two years. When it finally came out it was a big tit. I mean hit. That's what I meant.

Now, a history lesson. Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid. There is speculation about that event that plays out here. What doesn't compute is the presents of Doc Holliday. Doc was contemporaneous to Pat and the Kid, but in real life their story lines do not cross.

The principle subtext in this story is the love triangle between Doc, the Kid, and Rio. That's the triangle the audience is supposed to get. Further, it has been rumored that Hughes had a thing for both Russel and Buetel. The deeper subtext, however, is the love triangle between Doc, the Kid, and Pat. Pat totally played like a spurned lover. There are a couple "what the hell is going on here" moments. Now prepare yourself for an even more bizarre love triangle: Doc, Kid, and the horse. Seriously. They both has more interest in the horse than Rio. It even had a three letter name like everyone else: Red.

But let's move back to Jane's funbags, shall we? In many scenes they were so conspicuously featured it was laughable. Riding away from those terrible injuns, the men ride mostly upright while Rio is bent way over with the camera pointed down the barrel of her guns. There is a scene where Doc and the Kid sit and chat, while Rio walks back and forth, her head out of the shot, and her jugs slide from corner to corner.

The Outlaw is a fairly terrible film. The acting was bizarre when not outright bad. The story was almost inconsequential. Here is a very unconventional western that could have been made in any setting. The famous cowboys angle might have made it an easier sale to 1940's audiences, but that was never the main selling point. Having said that, it did hold my interest. While I am open to the idea of seeing it again, I feel compelled to restrict my rating to 3.
"Cattle don't graze after sheep."

Monday, June 3, 2013

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

Astronauts land 20 Million Miles (from) Earth on a distant, primitive planet called Sicily. Two men are pulled from the rocket by Mario and Luigi who exclaim "What a spicey meat-a-ball!" while a small-a boy sells a cylinder of space goo to a professor so he can buy a cow-boy hat from-a the Texas ...

Ok, enough with the terrible, over-the-top accent. I've never been to the Sicily so I don't-a know if they talk-a that way there, but I'll say it got fairly irritating here. Now, back to our show.

When the professor's hot daughter returns from a day of treating an injured American astronauts she is greeted by a little green lizard friend wandering about (hint: it hatched from the goo). Prof and daughter cage the beastie but come morning it's grown three times it's size. Before they can bring it to the University, it escapes and starts menacing the countryside.

Captain Hero Astronaut Man (William Hopper) wants it captured alive, but the local authorities no like-a the plan very much. As the monster continues to grow, they become desperate.

Not a bad flick. Very King Kong-esque, although not nearly as good. What may have been better was old pal's Harryhausen's work. The nuance in the movement of our Venus creature was quite remarkable. Also remarkable to note that there was a lot of his footage. It was shot in Italy because Ray wanted to visit but couldn't afford the trip himself.

Typical B-movie acting, typical story trajectory. Excellent special effects, for the day. AMRU 3. And, yes. Joan Taylor was just as hot.
"Why is it always, always so costly for Man to move from the present to the future?"

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Riders to the Stars (1954)

Proto-NASA has a problem. Every time they send a satellite into space, it comes down in a crumpled heap. Solar rays turn the metal into a brittle mess, sorda like how it will eventually destroy our moon. What to do, what to do.

But wait a minute! Asteroids travel around the sun for millions of years without being destroyed. What if we could capture one and examine it for it's secrets! Yea, that sounds like a plausible idea!

So, what they do is compile a list of recruits and subject them to physical and emotional tests until they are down to three: the lovelorn Dr Lockwood (Richard Carlson, also the director), hunky Dr Stanton (William Lundigan), and grumpy Dr Gordon (Robert Karnes). Not wanting to put all their eggheads into one basket, they send them up in separate rockets at the same time. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Oddly the 40+ Lockwood was recently dumped by his early 20's hot model girlfriend Miss Manners (Dawn Addams). Early on he visits her at her work and she is sporting cleavage totally out of place for a 50's film. See if you can count the times Carlson throws a lit cigarette to the floor.

What makes this movie interesting is that it is mostly about the process of selecting the astronauts, similar in style to The Right Stuff (1983). It was an amusing mix of real science and concocted hogwash peppered with scenes like that of a punch card sorter and trucks tearing through the desert destroying native plant life.

Interesting film and a nice take on the sci-fi genre, but it lacks the hook to make it truly memorable. No monsters or threat of world disaster. Just astronauts, asteroids, rockets, and a couple hot chicks. Still, very much worth watching. AMRU 3. Terrible theme song.

No good quotes so instead I leave you with this terrifying image:


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)


A scientist and a reporter (Joseph Tomelty and Hugh McDermott) are travelling through the Scottish moors in search of an asteroid. The come upon a closed inn and convince the innkeeper to rent them a room for the night. There they meet the Innkeeper and his wife, the dowdy barmaid (Adrienne Corri), the hot fashion model (Hazel Court), and an evil escaped murderer (Peter Reynolds).

But it seems our murderer has a heart of gold. Sure, he was convicted of murdering his wife, but he didn't mean to do it. And he truly loves the dowdy barmaid, yes he does. And just what is the hot fashion model doing all alone in a remote inn during the off season? Is she running away from something? Or is she looking for something? Something only a much older asteroid-hunting reporter can give her?

Oh, yea, and a bitch in a flying saucer lands saying something about taking over the earth.

Devil Girl from Mars is based on a play, and I have a theory about that. While not wanting to do a shred of research, I have concluded that this stage play did not feature a flying saucer nor a devil girl. Instead said play was used as a framework to inject sci-fi elements into in hopes of earning a quick buck, er ... pound. The characters seem to be dealing with their own issues while said devil girl just pops in every now and again to piss everybody off. The two parts of the story are glaringly different.

So what exactly is on our dominatrix's mind? Well, it seems that Mars had a battle of the sexes where they used actual weapons to kill each other. Now that the fairer sex has prevailed, they realize that the planet is seriously lacking in the man-talent come time to get a little action. So, they do what anyone would. Hop into the trusty cruise mobile and head to the neighboring town. Of course, this terrorizes the men. What could be worse than being the love slave of a hot chick with a ray gun.

What a wonderfully terrible film! This film had everything. Scratch that. It had many things. It had something. What it had was ... well, instead of continuing on, I'll refer you to another blog that does a much better job at this than I do:

http://www.millionmonkeytheater.com/DevilGirlMars.html

And I'll leave you with these words of warning: Beware the Sexually Aggressive Woman! AMRU 3.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Things to Come (1936)


It's Christmastime in Everytown, USA (London) and the world is on the brink of war. Unnamed foreigners with funny accents are threatening whatever values we hold dear. Despite this, rich guy John Cabal (Raymond Massey) is concerned. He somehow feels that world war is some kind of harbinger of disaster. His friends humor him.

Lucky for everyone, global war lasts only 26 years and society enters a golden age of feudalism that SCA geeks are so fond of. They even have their very own plague. Then our village is visited by a fancy man in an aero-plane who wears clean clothes (Raymond Massey). This spiffy owner of a hot wings franchise hails from a society of scientists and engineers and preaches peace. Rather than follow his inspirational words, Boss man (Ralph Richardson) locks him in the basement and tries to use his aero-plane to kill the people who infected them with the plague (not an altogether unreasonable idea).

The mechanic repairs an aero-plane and instead of bombing the evil Nazis (or whoever), he flies to the closest franchise of Wings Over the World and warn them so that they can bomb our war-ravaged Everytown. Bomb them with love. And sleeping gas that kills only one person. Guess who.

Now with all forms of war eliminated, Everytown is rebuilt into a marvelous shining city. A grand metropolis ... no, scratch that. It's a shining city. That's what I said.

But things aren't perfect in this future utopia. People grow tired of this peace and progress, and long of the days of pestilence and war. Ah, memories. Anyhow, the new big boss (Raymond Massey) decides what he needs to do is to send a rocket around the moon. Did I say rocket? Well, we all know that rockets are so primitive and barbaric. Instead they load a young couple into a giant bullet and fires them around the moon. Just think, it's 2036 and already they have the technology to shoot projectiles around the moon!

What a tedious disappointment. Images of the horrors of war are beaten over our heads while Massey preaches endlessly in all three parts of the film. It scores points because it is the second oldest feature film to show people travelling into space in a rocket (albeit fired from a gun), it's real close with it's prediction of World War II, and also some aspects of future life. Also, Richardson was great as the despotic warlord. However, this grand spectacle presents it's philosophy with all the subtly of a cannon ball.

You see, H.G. Wells hated Fritz Lang's Metropolis, what with it's dystopian view of the future, so he decided to tell the opposite story. The hands must do what the head tells them, and who invited the heart in the first place?

Well made, visually appealing, somewhat prophetic, kinda boring, and clumsy as all hell. AMRU 2.5.
"If we don't end war, war will end us."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

A flying saucer buzzes a scientist and his hot young wife on the way to work, and delivers a critical message. That message was that space aliens want to take over the Earth, but are tired of the whole "lay waste to society" business, so wouldn't it be much better if you give up before we start? Tragically, Dr. Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) doesn't understand the message.

Well, Dr. Marvin's day job involves sending up rockets all day long even though some mysterious force keeps shooting them down. He should ask the saucer people if they've seen anything suspicious.

Meanwhile, back at the top secret military base, a saucer lands thinking it was expected. The soldiers do the predictable and shoot at the space men, which angers our benevolent overlords. They proceed to destroy the base. Except for Dr. Marvin and his hot wife (Joan Taylor), who for some reason are deep underground. They are flown to Washington DC to explain their silly Flying Saucer theory. I guess no videotape survived.

Earth resists, saucers appear invulnerable, secret weapon developed, climax, conclusion, roll credits. 100% pure 50's Sci-Fi fun! But lets discuss the man of the week: Ray Harryhausen.

I watched EvtFS two days before I learned of his death, so when NPR said "Today we remember a pioneer in stop motion animation" I didn't think to myself "I wonder who that could be?" All of the extras on the DVD except maybe the one about the blacklisted and uncredited screenwriter gave extensive praise to Ray. Not only were the saucers his work, but when they would destroy the library of congress or the Washington monument, he was there too. Apparently he was cheaper than a four foot model and a small explosive charge.

Harryhausen apparently called this the least favorite of his films, and I am guessing he was referring to the buildings. Stop motion works for alien creatures and space ships, but the capitol dome blowing up looked more than a little cheesy. Only a guess. I'll see if my library has his book.

A quick word about the leads: Marlowe was the douche-bag boyfriend five years prior in The Day the Earth Stood Still, but now he gets to be the Hero-Scientist. Hottie Taylor also starred in my next Harryhausen movie: 20 Million Miles to Earth. I presume she'll be just as hot. Well written, well acted, excellent pacing, this is a winner in the genre. And when compared to the extremely similar Invisible Invaders made three years later, the latter is revealed as even more of a stinker. AMRU 4.

I'm going with two quotes. One from the movie, one from our pinko-commie screenwriter. See if you can't figure out which is which.
"When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don't meet him with tea and cookies!"
"The action by the guild [restoring some of his writing credits] comes about 40 years too late to help my Hollywood career. I sure am angry at the way I was treated by all the major studios. They blacklisted me, and I couldn't get any work in this damn town."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

My goal with starting this blog was to explore my interest in film. I've learned a lot about what I like and don't. Along the way, however, I have become familiar with the names attached to the films I've loved since childhood. One of those names is Ray Harryhausen.

To date I've only blogged on two of his films, but as fate would have it, I had just finished Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and all of the DVD extras the day before learning of his death. I don't wish to expound about "our loss". He lived a full, and by all accounts, fulfilling life. And he gave to us so much, not only in his works, but with the works of those he inspired. Essentially pick a name in the realm of science fiction or fantasy, and you will find they were a fan of Harryhausen. His playful artistry made us believe in the impossible.

While the craft of stop motion is all too evident when viewed onscreen, it accomplished more than to add to the charm. You cannot watch his sequences (otherwise impossible with the technology of the day) without realizing that a human hand was at work. Shoot, move, repeat, thirty frames a second. The labor involved is unheard of in today's CGI world, and he hearkens back to the world of Fritz Lang. On a side note, the DVD I had for Metropolis had an extra explaining how the special effects had to be produced inside the camera itself, and the labor involved. It was truly amazing. Ray Harryhausen produced two to three minutes of footage a day of shooting. With this level of respect for the art and craft involved, I tend to find CGI boring.

I will leave you with a quote from George Lucas about hearing of his death:
"Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars"
Maybe, just maybe, you could add a great many other movies to that list.