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:

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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Invisible Invaders (1959)

Aliens from the moon decide to invade Earth. Humanity never saw them because they, their cities, and machines, are invisible. They demand that all humans immediately surrender. They issue this ultimatum to peacenik scientist Adam Penner (Philip Tonge) by way of dead scientist college Karol Noymann (John Carradine). Did I forget to mention they can raise the dead? Oh, yea. They can do that.

Anyhow, the completely unreasonable people of Earth don't buy Penner's story, so our invisible moon-men give us one final warning at a hockey game. Failing that, they give another final warning at a football game. Then they invade.

By invade, I mean they raise lots of corpses from the grave to sabotage power plants and whatnot. To save all Earth, the military whisks Dr. Penner, his hot daughter (Jean Byron), and her douchie man-friend (Robert Hutton) to an impenetrable underground laboratory. And by the military, I mean one guy. Major Bruce Jay (John Agar).

What I love about 50's sci-fi is the "What If" factor. For instance, what if you wanted to make an alien invasion movie, but didn't have the budget for space ships or alien costumes? I know, make them invisible! So, this movie actually follows the tried and true formula of alien graverobbers invented by the trailblazing film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Gosh, what a lineage!

Also similar to Plan 9 is the use of an overbearing narrator. Obviously this story is way to complex for us to understand by watching the action and listening to the dialog. We need the major plot points dictated at us. While there are a great many similarities between the movies, Invisible Invaders is a vastly less imcompetent effort. The dialog was not horrible, the acting above amature theatre level, and the sets, while sparse, didn't shout CHEAP.

Also, to be somewhat fair, you do get a glimpse of a space ship and an alien, although that does beg the question Why? But don't stop there. If the alien war machines are invisible, why raise the dead in the first place? Why not just shoot everything from the air? Then they could have saved all that money spent on cheap, crappy zombie makeup.

Not painful to watch, vaguely interesting, but unoriginal and culturally insignificant. AMRU 2.

What was Carradine thinking even appearing in this low budget stinker? He was in, by his own admission, a lot of crap. There are no interesting quotes from the film so I leave you with one of John's. A bit of advice he should have given his son:
"Never do anything you wouldn't want to be caught dead doing."