Sunday, March 31, 2013

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

A strange fossil is found in the Amazon that dates to the Devonian age. It appears to be a human arm with webbed fingers. Wishing to find more fossils, they theorize that the sediment that contained them washed downstream, into the Black Lagoon!

Once a living specimen is discovered, good scientist David (Richard Carlson) wants to return better prepared to study this creature, but naughty scientist Mark (Richard Denning) wants to capture it and make a fortune! After David is finally proven to be unequivocally correct, they discover their path out of the lagoon has been barricaded by a Devonian aquatic ape with a penchant for hot chicks.

Here is Universal's last "classic" monster. Back in the 70's they licensed rubber figures of their five rock stars and I had the collection. Recently I found three of them (Drac and Frank are missing, of course). I still have one of the movies left to cover, and that's planned for October. But let's cover the science with today's movie.

There is no Devonian Age. There is, however, a Devonian PERIOD which is before the dinosaurs (420 to 358ish million years ago) nowhere near the 150 myo mentioned in the movie. Also, if Gill Man is supposed to be a distant relative of humans, then the split would have been between 8 and 12 myo. Picking nits? Perhaps, but changing the numbers to reflect actual science would not have impacted the story at all. Get it right, people!

The two men in the rubber costume (one for the land and one when swimming) weren't credited. Seems the marketing department thought that if there was no credit for the monster, people would assume it was real. But someone so stupid would likely not have been able to find their way to the theater in the first place.

Well acted, well made, and lasting cultural impact. Not a great film, but good. Ingmar Bergman thought it good enough to watch every year on his birthday. I'm undecided whether I will watch it again. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rocketship X-M (1950)

In mans conquest of space, Rocketship X-M (Expedition Moon) sets sail for a three hour tour. A THREE HOUR TOUR! The skipper of this tub is Col. Floyd Graham (Lloyd Bridges). His first mate is navigator Harry Chamberlain (Hugh O'Brian). Along for the ride is the ship's inventor, Professor Karl Eckstrom (John Emery), oh, and we'll say young hottie Lisa Van Horn is Mary Ann and Major Corrington is, I donno, lets go with Mister Howell.

Anyhow, things go amazingly well, except communications go out, they run into that asteroid belt between the Earth and the Moon (you know the one), then the engines shut down for no apparent reason. So, lacking any kind of pocket calculator, they reformulate the fuel mixture longhand and somehow fly wildly off course and end up ... well, not at the moon. Looks like Col. Graham picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Hollywood's first entry in the sub-genre of 50's Rocket and Saucer films, it was rushed to production to beat out George Pal's Destination Moon. In fact, there was so much advanced press for Pal's production, X-M promotional material was labeled "This is not 'Destination Moon'". History remembers the latter as the better film (color is nice), but X-M wasn't so bad. It had a moral (nukes are bad, mmkay), was fairly well acted, and for the time was somewhat reasonable. Judge it not for it's technical gaffs, but for setting the benchmark for what was to come.

Interesting and entertaining, it won't wow your socks off. Nor does it compare visually even to Angry Red Planet. But then again, it's light years ahead of the craptacular Killers from Space. I am glad I saw it and there is little reason to see it again. AMRU 3.
"Poor fear-crazed despairing wretches. Pity them. Pity them!"

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The War of the Worlds (1953)

An meteor hits the earth and noted scientist Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is called in to take a look. Soon he is teamed up with young hottie librarian Sylvia (Ann Robinson) and notice odd things about the impact. For instance, the creator should have been much larger. Also, when alien war machines come up, that was real odd, too ... Jeesh.

Well, the military is called in and we soon learn that our war machines, so effective against those nasty nazis, are useless against the Martians. As more Martian-bearing meteoroids land over the globe, it becomes a matter of time when the human race becomes extinct.

I saw this once in my youth and never again until last week. In the genre I would have expected it to be high up, but IMDB, the definitive movie ranking system, puts it 187th, behind such powerhouses like Dragon Ball Z and the animated Transformers movie. Such disrespect.

Anyhow, here are a few interesting factoids: Barry and Robinson also appeared together in the 05 version, which I've never seen. The ships from the book walked on three legs, and in this movie they were to walk on three electric beams, but the sparks they used for the special effect became a fire hazard.

At the climax Sylvia and Clayton are separated and each seek out their comfort. For Sylvia, it's the church to pray. For Clayton, it's Sylvia. Classic film, tops in the sub-genre of 50's rocket and saucer movies, and very well made. Weak ending and you can totally see the wires, but AMRU 4 anyhow. What did they have against Venus?
"Guns, tanks, bombs - they're like toys against them!"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Barbarella (1968)

In the distant future, the scientist Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea) invents a terrible weapon. His last whereabouts was Tau Ceti and the President of Earth sends Barbarella (Jane Fonda) to retrieve him. What follows are her absurd adventures. There really is no point describing the story any further. It's just foolishness. So, what shall we talk about?

How about the bit part by mime Marcel Marceau. For the youngsters in the audience, it's important that you understand two things. One is that there once was an art form called mime, and two, that people actually thought that was a good thing. One could argue that, at least as far as modern pop culture is concerned, Marcel Marceau was the king of mime. Here he was, playing a regular role, no makeup or nothing. Yea, I know. Only I find that interesting. I've come to terms with that realization.

Something else I found out. This movie was released several times, and rated PG. I watched it back in my college days and this version differs in one specific way. While Barbarella on Netflix had fairly little nudity, the video store VHS copy from the 80's had none. Vive la difference.

Barbarella is an absurdist, Flash Gordon-inspired space comedy peppered with cheesy dialog, dated music, and campy inuendo. And, after the 9 minute mark Jane puts her clothes on and it becomes much less interesting. But we did get to see Fonda's boobies back when that was a good thing, so I give it an AMRU of 3.
"What's that screaming? A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming..."