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Feb 15 14 8:23 PM
My friend Dennis was a fan of the first two Riddick movies Pitch Black (2000) and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) so we watched the latest installment which is simply titled Riddick (2013). I saw the first film but missed the second (not having cared much about the first) so I have no idea how this fits into the chronology or mythology of the series.
Some mean old aliens have left Riddick stranded on a desolate and unfriendly planet full of dangerous predators. As a survivor Riddick adapts to the ways of this new world and blends into the scenery. That’s when a group of bounty hunters show up looking for him. Their plan: To take his head back in this cool, lit-up plexi-glass box purpose built for transporting the decapitated noggins of fugitives from justice.
Just to spice things up further, another group of bounty hunters arrives, government issue this time, and the two disparate bands must, er, well, band together because Riddick is just too much Riddick (a name that reminds me of pesticide) for them to handle.
Riddick is the lone hero, tough, capable, and a man of few words. This character type, which goes back to at least William S. Hart, was crystallized in the first Clint Eastwood Leone Western but also bears a more than passing resemblance to some a parallel development in characters from Japanese samurai films (the first Dollar movie being a remake of Yojimbo) including Lone Wolf. It’s been the basic action hero model for decades now epitomized by Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. I like that sort of character.
The bounty hunters also follow a tradition within the genre being a polyglot of types. There’s the nearly unstoppable big guy with some sort of super-duper weapon of ridiculously impressive firing power. There’s a tech guy. There’s a hard-as-nails female who, optionally, can be a lesbian. Various races are represented to keep the demographic broad. And, of course, the leader is, like the hero, a survivor, but one without scruples or any real love for those he ruthlessly leads/uses. I like these sort of groupings. In fact, I expect it as part of the genre conventions.
Because of the environment’s desolation and the limited options for food and water, this adventure may remind some a bit of Sands of the Kalahari (1965) or The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). I loved those two films and like desert-type survival adventures.
Unfortunately, these seeming pluses become minuses. Riddick just isn’t clever enough to overcome the formula familiarity of these genre tropes. Not a whole lot new is going on here despite a sort of interesting sub-plot in which Riddick adopts an injured alien dog/hyena creature, nurses it back to health, and wins its everlasting loyalty. There’s a plot element involving some other alien creatures that are limited in their mobility until something happens to increase their range. In short, the movie is tired.
I’m curious as to what propels this series commercially. The first film was made on a modest, sensible budget but didn’t make money. The second went a tick north of $100 million but lost money. This third one almost broke even. So I guess the DVD sales and other ancillary rights, like a couple of video games, must be where the money’s at. Mr. Diesel sure seemed happy the week the film earned a first place in DVD sales, posting a rather un-Riddick-like video of Diesel doing a lame, uncoordinated little jig on camera. He’s no Fred Astaire. Pretty embarrassing. Elsewhere, he says that there’s interest in a 4th installment. At this point, unless Dennis wants to watch it I won’t be holding my breath for its release.
Feb 21 14 6:48 PM
Dennis bought the DVD Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953). I’ve had a PD widescreen, stereo version of this for awhile but the picture image was soft. It was a make-do copy at best. This 20th Century-Fox release promised a sparkling picture, anamorphic widescreen, and stereo sound. Plenty of good reasons to give this a screening.
The picture stars Gilbert Roland (The Sea Hawk, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, The Big Circus) as a paterfamilias Greek sponge fisherman Mike Petrakis. Robert Wagner (The Pink Panther, It Takes a Thief, Austin Powers) is the son who is eager to start making dives on his own, especially at the fabled and dangerous 12-mile reef where the finest sponges and most incredible underwater scenery awaits.
In fact, the scenery is so mesmerizing that Jay Novello (The Lost World, Atlantis the Lost Continent), another experienced old hand, made the dive and will never return. He found himself hypnotized by the beauty around him, almost driven mad, forgetting where he was or how deep, nearly swept into a chasm before he regained his sanity.
Specializing in conch shells is the Rhys clan led by Richard Boone (Rio Conchos, The War Lord, The Last Dinosaur) as Thomas Rhys. His crew includes Harry Carey, Jr. (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula) and Peter Graves (Beginning of the End, It Conquered the World, Mission: Impossible). A Petrakis-Rhys rivalry springs up when the former dare to invade territory claimed by the latter.
Although Boone is a fair man, Peter Graves is a vengeful troublemaker, stealing the Petrakis’ sponges and causing their boat to be set aflame. Further problems arise when Wagner becomes a rival for the affections of Graves’ intended Terry Moore (Mighty Joe Young, The Great Rupert, Shack Out on 101, Batman).
The film premiered on NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies in November of 1962. After it’s network run it went into syndication and was in frequent rotation on my local TV station Channel 8. I watched it many times in this 16mm, pan and scan incarnation, never thinking a whole lot of it.
This time, though, watching this new DVD, I’ve never enjoyed the movie more. Many of these early CinemaScope films went out of their way to capture memorable, interesting images. This one is no exception, mostly shot on location and featuring some really beautiful cinematography by Edward Cronjager (Seven Keys to Baldpate, Cimarron, The Monkey’s Paw, Heaven Can Wait), especially underwater.
The story is simple, basically a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Based on such a dramatically sound concept A.I. Bezzerides’s (They Drive By Night, On Dangerous Ground, Kiss Me Deadly) screenplay can’t go far wrong. I mean, it’s not Shakespeare but… aw, you get it. It’s basic, solid storytelling, more involving today than it was for me in the 1960s. And, as always, at this distance in time, the cast is much better than when the film was first released.
Others actors include Angela Clarke (House of Wax, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, The Outer Limits, The Ghost of Flight 401) as Mama Petrakis, J. Carroll Naish (The Monster Maker, House of Frankenstein, The Beast with Five Fingers, Dracula vs. Frankenstein) as “Soc(crates)“ Houlis, and Jacques Aubuchon (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Green Hornet, Land of the Giants, Project UFO) as a Greek small businessman. The film‘s opening narration is performed by some unknown named Rock Hudson. The acting is good, a plum role for Roland, and its great fun to watch these people in their prime.
One last thing has to be mentioned. Better than anything in this movie, and largely responsible for its effectiveness, is Bernard Herrmann’s score. Darryl Zanuck himself, a sharp study of story materials and finished films, attributed the majority of the dramatic impact of the movie to Herrmann’s score.
There would be some similar orchestrations and style in Herrmann’s score for the Charles Schneer/Ray Harryhausen film Mysterious Island (1961) but the range of thematic material and treatment is more varied here. His deep bass lines and rolling harps make the world beneath the sea mysterious and awe inspiring. Much as I like Paul Smith’s score, I have to wonder what extra dimension Herrmann could have provided for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
Herrmann had already done a number of scores for 20th Century-Fox but this was his first for a CinemaScope movie in stereophonic sound. Through the rest of the 1950s, when he wasn’t scoring a Hitchock film or on another project, he’d provide music for another half-dozen 20th Century-Fox pictures culminating in another masterpiece Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).
Feb 27 14 2:29 AM
Here's one with an unusual Monster Kid connection.
I don’t know why exactly but I wanted to see the musical Half a Sixpence (1967). Actually, I do know why I wanted to see it -- because I’d skimmed through some of Finian’s Rainbow (1968), in which Tommy Steele plays a leprechaun, and got to thinking about the failed attempt to make him a star in the United States. My friend Dennis had the DVD so we gave it a spin.
I’d originally seen Half a Sixpence in it’s original release during the waning years of the big budget Roadshow musicals that were popular for a short while in the early 1960s and only sporadically thereafter. I probably watched it again when it first went to network TV but I hadn’t run across it since then in decades.
I can wrap up the plot pretty easily. Steele falls in love with Julia Foster when they are kids. He goes away to work for a draper and they keep in touch by letter writing. Steele’s life improves when Foster shows up in town, the first time they’ve seen each other since childhood, and secondly, when he inherits his grandfather’s fortune. But he learns that wealth does not necessarily bring happiness.
The story is based on H.G. Wells’s novel Kipps (1905), translated to the stage and then the screen by Beverley Cross (music & lyrics by David Heneker), the screenwriter who collaborated with Charles Schneer and Ray Harryhausen on three of their films (Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, Clash of the Titans) and this one film independently with Schneer. Cross also penned two of my favorite 1960s historical adventure films The Long Ships (1964) and Genghis Khan (1965).
And, yes, you read correctly, Charles Schneer produced this musical film. In between productions with Ray Harryhausen, Schneer produced a variety of other pictures, though his last three were with the stop-motion animation genius. I have no idea how he became involved in this project.
And a handsome project it is with its period setting, big sets, costumes, and numerous extras filling the screen, Produced for $3.3 million, I’d be willing to bet that, adjusted for inflation, this was one of Schneer’s most expensive film. (I did a little research and this is probably his 2nd most expensive film, right behind Clash of the Titans.)
Unfortunately, the movie was a box office fizzle despite the source musical having been a solid hit in England and on Broadway. In fact, both the play and Steele were nominated for Tony awards. Despite his fame in England, starting as a 1950s pop star, Steele was not a known star in the U.S. None of the other cast members were well known here, either, with the exception perhaps of Cyril Ritchard who had played Captain Hook in Mary Martin’s TV versions of Peter Pan (1955, 1960).
The 1960s were also a decade of social change. The Civil Rights Movement, the Kennedy assassination, the rise of youth culture, and the Vietnam War changed the way people viewed the world. The tired, pat happy endings and traditional entertainment fare became old hat to a public who’d had its eyes open to harsh reality. Musicals were but one casualty of the time period.
Perhaps if it had been a better musical it might have succeeded. Funny Girl (1967) and Finian’s Rainbow (1968) made money but were the only winners among about a dozen other big budget musical misfires of this time period. Half a Sixpence doesn’t have the quality of songwriting in those films, the star power, nor very exciting or intriguing dance/production numbers one expects from these films.
In particular, the energetic Steele seems quite capable of dancing but the steps given him and other cast members are simplistic and repetitive. One dance number pretty much looks like another. Director George Sidney was an old hand at the musical form having shot Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Pal Joey (1957), and Bye Bye Birdie (1963) among others. In this, his last film, something was missing.
The movie is also overlong at nearly 150 minutes. Two hours would have made it much more palatable.
Filmgoers may have felt they were having Tommy Steele shoved down their throats. Disney’s The Happiest Millionaire was out in November, 1967, Sixpence in the U.S. in May, 1968, and Finian’s Rainbow in October, 1968. He’d failed to click with American audiences and returned to England where he continues to thrive on tour and stage in musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Scrooge: The Musical, and Doctor Dolittle.
Mar 10 14 2:11 AM
Movie night at Dennis’ featured the Blu-ray of Gravity. Wow! This is a real rollercoaster ride of a film in the best sense of that description. Killer action scenes (literally) are punctuated with short quiet stretches that allow a breath to be taken.
If you’ve somehow missed out on the film’s plot, Sandra Bullock is part of a team on a shuttle mission in orbit around the Earth. The destruction of a satellite sends a meteor shower of debris hurtling at the shuttle, severing Bullock’s lifeline and propelling her into space.
In case you’ve forgotten Space 101, once an object, like a human, is thrust into space, it keeps going in that direction forever and doesn’t stop until it hits something. More than that I shan’t say for fear of spoiling the film.
Bullock’s performance is very good, very real. She has a convincing character arc and it’s good to see such a strong woman’s role. George Clooney is a perfect match, a character who delivers and elicits important information, and is solid as the only other living face in the movie.
When I say “living face” I mean it. Watching the special features reveals that this movie is about 95% CGI. Bullock’s and Clooney’s faces are composited into CGI spacesuits throughout most of the film. About the only exception to this is when Bullock wriggles out of the suit and free floats through a space station (which is a CGI set). There’s only like one real set in the movie. It’s amazing.
Being almost entirely a Virtual film, the camera can do whatever it wants. Consequently, we get long, continuous takes. The opening, which I didn’t time, is several minutes long with the camera constantly moving. I wonder if it eclipses the single take record held by Robert Altman’s The Player?
A lot of credit must go to the screenplay which deftly sets up the situation, makes technology and science that could be a story stumbling block understandable, and cleverly provides painless exposition.
I’ve got to think that this was astounding in 3-D so now I must find a way to see it stereoscopically.
Mar 11 14 2:41 AM
This past Saturday was a real Old School Monster Kid meeting. Present were Count Gamula, Arch Stanton, Kezilla, our host FXRH, and myself. This constituted pretty much the original Monster Kid group back when we met at Arch Stanton’s house. With a menu of mostly vintage movie fun this meeting was a blast from the past.
The other guys were very accommodating since I had to work the next morning and with daylight savings time kicking in I’d lose an hour that night. We didn’t waste anytime getting the show on the road and got in two movies plus a side subject before 11:30 p.m.
First up was the 3-D Man in the Dark (1953). This was Columbia’s rushed pic designed to cash in on the success of Bwana Devil (1952) and beat Warner’s House of Wax to the box office as the first major studio 3-D film. You can read an excellent in-depth account here: http://greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com/2014/01/columbia-finds-quickest-route-to-3d.html (Scroll down past the drawing of Julie Bishop,)
Edmond O’Brien plays a crook who loses his memory after undergoing experimental brain surgery to remove his criminal instincts (a borderline sci-fi element). Trouble is, his old gang and moll don’t know that and, when they spring him, they don’t believe him. See, he went on the lamb with $130,000 and stashed it before the coppers clapped him in cuffs. Now, they want the dough. See? (It helps to imagine this paragraph being read to you by Edward G. Robinson or Humphrey Bogart.)
O’Brien’s gang features Ted de Corsia (veteran tough guy who could play hardboiled good or bad guys like in Kubrick‘s The Killing), Horace McMahon (who spent five years on the TV show Naked City but might be better known to Monster Kids for Abbott and Costello Go To Mars), and Nick Dennis (Ralph Meeker‘s fast talking mechanic in Kiss Me Deadly). His girl is Audrey Totter (who’s actually pretty moral for a “bad girl”). She passed away in December of last year. See her Final Farewell, which includes a couple of good anecdotes, here: http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/topic/52902/Audrey-Totter
The real draw here is the 3-D. The film has a mix of the good and the bad.
Some of the good includes an early shot where a cop (?) stands with his elbow crooked into the camera, projecting out of the screen. In the old days, in a theater, that elbow must have protruded about a third of the way into the auditorium. He’s like that for several seconds (which in a movie is like minutes) so we get a good look at the effect. Another good effect occurs when they enter O’Brien’s old apartment and a bird (or was it a bat?) flies from one corner of the room right into the camera. What makes it work is that the creature doesn’t just zoom at us, instead giving us plenty of time to adjust our eyes so we can see it leave the screen and nearly collide with our face.
The bad is stuff like O’Brien throwing a quick punch. Stuff being thrown at us quickly doesn’t work very well because it doesn’t give us a chance to adjust our vision. The operation has a POV shot as we see the doctors’ faces peering down at (unseen) O’Brien as they stick various medical insstruments into his (unseen) brain. Only one of the instruments used can actually be seen in a manner that allows the illusion that it is about to touch us. There are also shots with rear screen projection which always looks flat.
Overall, though, the 3-D is well done. Guns are aimed and fired at us and there are a few visually compelling locations that have many layers and details that highlight the sense of depth. The print is excellent and if you’ve got a 3-D set-up you’ll want this.
There is one moment that is unintentionally hilarious. At one point O’Brien enters a boardwalk ride called The Whip. Small passsenger compartments move along a flat elliptical path and swing out when they enter the curves. O’Brien is chased by the police who seat themselves in all the cars behind him, firing their guns all over the place. Miraculously, no one is hit. It IS a dream sequence so we could cut it a little slack.
This is a remake of The Man Who Lived Twice (1936) with Ralph Bellamy in the role assumed by Edmond O’Brien. Although there is no horror content in this movie, just that flimsy sci-fi hint, Monster Kids may want to know that this was part of the second wave of Shock Theater films released to TV.
Our second feature was The Cat and the Canary (1939) with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The 1922 play was first turned into the classic 1927 silent film directed by Paul Leni. Since then it's been made thrice more with that title -- in 1939, 1961 (for Swedish TV), 1979 -- and once as The Cat Creeps (1930), believed to be a lost film. Like the Spanish Dracula, there was a Spanish language version of this with Lupita Tovar. Maybe it will surface one day. No matter, by any name, many Old Dark House movies use a very similar plot.
The plot? A group of heirs to an estate gather in a creepy old mansion to hear the reading of the will. A codicil spells out a Plan B -- if the winning heir should die or go mad the next named heir will inherit. Pretty soon the lights are suddenly going out, secret panels are sliding open, and monstrous looking hands are emerging. Not to mention the obligatory mad man who has just escaped from the nearby sanitorium. Sound familiar?
Paulette Godard is the winning heir. Bob Hope is a radio personality. George Zucco reads the will and Gale Sondergaard the exotic, mysterious housekeeper who has waited ten years for this moment. John Beal (The Vampire, The Legend of Lizzie Borden), Douglass Montgomery (Waterloo Bridge, The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Elizabeth Patterson (Secret of the Blue Room, I Married a Witch), and Nydia Westman (The Remarkable Andrew, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken) round out the other hopefuls.
The success of this film led to a follow-up, The Ghost Breakers (1940), which I think is the superior picture. This film is well done but the elements are extremely familiar now. While Hope has a few comic lines, his coward/hero persona is embryonic here, and the humorous aspect isn’t that pronounced. This Universal Vault release has a great picture.
FXRH recently acquired the Blu-Ray of The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956). I’ve seen the Gene Simmons of dinosaurs many, many times and this is without doubt the be(a)st he’s ever looked. We watched the climactic moments of the film, basically all of the stop-motion footage.
I was about to turn into a pumpkin so I skedaddled at midnight. The other fellas hung around to watch You’re Next (2011). No idea what they thought of this.
Mar 22 14 7:27 PM
Dennis picked up the Blu-ray of Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) so we gave it a spin.
First, as we always do, we talked for a couple of hours, catching up on the events of the week, and discussing other sundry topics. As background, we put on a disc of classic horror movie trailers. It contained about 60 trailers of the stuff we on the board like. Many of our favorite actors were represented like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Herbert Lom, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. Sadly, no Bela. Amicus and AIP, Britain and the Continent, schlock and classics, and films stretching from the 1930s to the 1970s were represented periodically interrupting our discussion. A lot of fun.
Then we got to the main feature, which I hadn’t seen in quite some time. SPOILERS BELOW.
Old news to Hammerheads but this was the fourth film in the studios’ Frankenstein cycle, preceded by Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), and Evil of Frankenstein (1964). It would be followed by Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). Each starred Peter Cushing as the good (?) Dr. Frankenstein. For completists, there was also Horror of Frankenstein (1970) which starred Ralph Bates as the doctor and is not considered part of the story continuity of the Cushing films.
“Continuity” in the series is used loosely. At the start of FCW, we see that Cushing has suffered some malady rendering his hands useless for his work. At the end of EOF he apparently dies in a fire but there are no references in this film to that calamity nor is it directly stated that his hands are burned that I recall. And how did only his hands get burned? Incidentally, they’re good as new in the next film.
Regardless, his experiments carry on with the help of Thorley Walters, an elder physician prone to drinking, and strapping young lad Robert Morris whose father died by the blade of the local guillotine.
Cushing’s current experiment, in which he is frozen for one hour and then brought back to life, revolves around capturing a person’s soul and “storing” it until another suitable host body can be found. Now, if only a situation would arise in which to apply this practice.
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t long before that occurs. Morris is falsely accused of murdering the local tavern owner and receives the same fate as his father on the guillotine. Cushing retrieves his “soul” and implants it in the body of beauteous Susan Denberg, the tavern owner’s crippled and deformed daughter, transformed through plastic surgery and who knows what else by Cushing.
Trouble is that Morris’ vengeful mind regularly possesses the girl and carries out a deadly vendetta against the tavern owner’s real murderers.
Part of the Hammer appeal is in the production design and this film carries on that tradition under the hand of Bernard Robinson and Don Mingaye. It seems a bit scaled down, though, from other Hammer productions, the sets small and compact yet full of small detail. The color is also good, especially in some of the lab scenes.
Terence Fisher directs from a rather contrived and not entirely thought out John Elder (Anthony Hinds) script. For instance, besides the issue with Cushing’s hands:
Why would there be a guillotine out at a lonely crossroads? Are there no children in the village who might harm themselves?
And why does everyone taking the coach have to meet it at this same crossroad? Wouldn’t the coach pick up and let off riders in the town?
Why does Denberg’s hair turn blonde from brunette? It’s brushed off with a throwaway line, “See, it did turn blonde.”
Seemingly the day after the tavern owner’s death there’s a new owner operating there. How did the property rights pass over so quickly?
In the climax, Cushing is being chased by the local authorities. He finds Denberg and witnesses her death. At the end he just walks off. To where? Back to town to be jailed?
As in EOF, Cushing isn’t really a bad guy any more than Colin Clive was in the original Frankenstein. Can he help it if others (a hypnotist in EOF) or an unexpected side effect of his experiment goes wrong? At the end he does run after Denberg to try and stop her killing again.
Denberg, by the way, is a knockout. And I think a much better actress than she’s usually given credit. Let me cry false advertising here, too, not that it’s unusual for the genre. We see almost nothing of the image promised in advertising with her in the tiny, white top-and-bottom “bandages.” Stills also show her on the operating table and posing with Cushing next to it. Were there scenes cut for puritanical reasons? If not, they sure missed the boat here.
The Blu-ray looked very good but I have to call this Hammer a bit of a bent nail.
Apr 5 14 4:02 AM
The last Monster Kid meeting of March was a humdinger. If only they could all be like this one.
Cast of Characters: A reduced crew of yours truly, FXRH, Arch Stanton, and Kezilla. Sadly (for us), Count Gamula (the dog) was at Monsterpalooza emailing us pictures of himself with the lovely Nosferina. Not sure where our other members were. Hope they had as much fun as The Count.
We all got there early and the show was on the road!
We started the night off with The Night the World Exploded (1957), one of those Columbia MOD releases. This paralyzing low-budget film produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Fred Sears couldn’t even afford William Hopper as the lead. He was off limning Paul Drake on Perry Mason and was, fortunately for him, able to turn it down. Instead, they got William Leslie, a get-me-a-William-Hopper type actor, bland as White-Out on a sheet of white paper, or makes Hopper look at least like Jeff Chandler.
Rounding out the leads are Kathryn Grant -- warming up for her signature role in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad -- as Hopper’s, er, I mean, Leslie’s love interest, and Tristram Coffin as the other member of their team. Grant and Leslie, as two Columbia contract players, would both appear in the intentional comedy Operation Mad Ball (1957).
Why are they teamed up? A promising set-up, courtesy of writers Jack Natteford and Luci Ward, has the trio of seismologists attempting to predict upcoming earthquakes. In scenes reminiscent of Earthquake (1974) or Dante’s Peak (1997) (yeah, I know they came later, but I saw them first), the team believes a big one is due. But when they take it to the higher authorities the prediction is shot down pending further proof.
And proof they get when a big one topples all sorts of stock footage cobbled together from different sources and tasks film technicians with dropping a bunch of balsa wood and Styrofoam ceiling beams and rocks onto sets and actors.
Seems the Earth isn’t taking to humankind’s unkind abuse of the land. Earthquakes are popping up all over and something is creating bulges that are tilting the Earth’s axis. In case the audience doesn’t get it there are wall maps where big circles are drawn with the word “tilted” in the center. That something turns out to be Element 112.
Arch Stanton pointed out that this may be the first Science Fiction eco-catastrophe film and you’d have to be as dense as a nugget of Element 112 to miss the heavy-handed message that’s blatantly stated in the film.
Speaking of Element 112, this is where the film becomes embarrassingly similar to another, and much better, 1950s Science Fiction thriller, Universal’s The Monolith Monsters, released the same year.
In our subject film, Element 112, in the form of a small, black rock, is found in water. When it dries out it grows in size, becomes hot, and explodes. By film’s end the only way to stop a disaster (if not the movie) is to blow dams around the world and drown every particle of Element 112 in H2O.
In The Monolith Monsters it works just the opposite. When the black crystals get wet they grow, then shatter. By film’s end the only way to stop the advancing Monolith Monsters is to blow the dam and flood the salt flats with water (salt not being on the crystal’s diet).
Strange thing is, Uni’s film was out in December while Columbia’s was out in June. A weird coincidence that occurs periodically in Hollywood.
Anywho, I thought this fairly dull and brought it for us to riff through, which we did. Sorry if that offends anyone but the film is a dud and ripe for that treatment in so many ways. It‘s shot on a budget not much bigger than Plan 9 From Outer Space. There is a scene in an airplane that looks like the rest of the aircraft behind the cockpit in the Ed Wood movie, if you can picture that. Almost all the fx shots are stock footage. Scenes taking place in Carlsbad Caverns look absolutely nothing like the National Park tourist site.
Despite being co-written by a woman, the dialogue is ridiculously misogynistic and will either infuriate women or kill them with laughter. One little speech by Leslie berates women for always wanting to be in on the excitement with men but flaking out when the chips are down. Grant takes it all in stride. Writers Natteford and Ward shared careers in writing those one-hour “B” westerns where men-were-men and women just accepted them at that.
The funniest scene in the movie, one that had us literally crying with laughter, occurs when a local police chief calls in. CUT TO: Police Chief on phone in his office, casually sitting back in a chair in front of a huge (and I mean HUGE) window. Outside can be seen a gigantic volcano seemingly only a couple of hundred of feet from him. His behavior and tone is of the “Hey, doc, you think I should be worried?” variety.
Oh, and despite the title, there’s only one scene at night where anything explodes.
You’d think our next feature might be the one that appeared with this film on a double-bill, The Giant Claw (1957). Smart, logical thinking, but you would be wrong.
That is going to take another entry, though. It’s late and there were more movies on the menu, if anyone cares.
Apr 20 14 10:56 PM
Here's Part 2 of that Monster Kid Meeting. Wish I could say, "You asked for it," but you didn't, so this may not be of much interest.
So, if we didn’t watch The Giant Claw (1957) after The Night the World Exploded (1957), what did we watch?
Other logical second features could have included The Day the Sky Exploded (1958), The Day the Earth Moved (1974), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), or The Day the Earth Froze (1959).
No, it wasn’t any of these. It was The Neanderthal Man (1953). Low-budget Producers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen are best-known for this and The Man from Planet X (1951). Individually, Pollexfen went on to do The Indestructible Man (1956) and Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) as well as the lesser known Monstrosity (1963), while Wisberg can claim Hercules in New York (1969).
E.A. Dupont, a German director who’d seen his best days during the silent era, was in the midst of a directorial comeback after a long spell as a Hollywood talent agent and publicist. This film, penned by the producers, could have been enough to end it.
Poor Robert Shayne's name is misspelled “Shane” in the credits (the movie Shane had come out a couple of months earlier), especially sad when one considers the only gratification of starring in this film would be seeing your name at the top of the cast credits. He was concurrently starring in The Adventures of Superman, where they got his name right, and he was being seen by millions of kids every week. But he suffers even worse deeper into the film (more on that). As Prof. Groves his experiments include injecting animals and people with a serum that turns them into prehistoric creatures. He's already tried it with his housekeeper (Tandra Quinn), a rather buxom female who can't speak and has no memory of being the doctor's guinea pig. And he's been very successful at turning his housecat into a Sabre-Tooth Tiger. We get the Neanderthal Man of the title when he starts shooting up the juice himself.
That Sabre-Tooth Tiger is really only a regular, every day tiger, except when it's a fake, stuffed prop animal with huge fangs. These veritable tusks aren't visible on the real tiger and you've got to wonder if they're retractable or something.
Leading lady Joyce Terry was at one time married to Paul Frees. Neither one was able to make a go of it in front of the camera, their voices far more inflected than their faces. Someone in the group mentioned that she'd been a radio actress. This would explain her strange acting style that consists of looking up and past her co-stars, almost as if she's playing to the boom mike. If you close your eyes and just listen to her voice you'd swear she must be acting up a storm. But open them and instead watch her one-note facial emoting. There's a scene where she receives a call and we got to accuse her of phoning in her performance.
Speaking of telephones, there's a curious publicity shot of Tandra Quinn on the same wall phone being strangled by the Neanderthal Man. The scene never happens but the question raised is what would a non-speaking person be doing on the phone? Oh, those crazy publicists, always trying to fool us with titillating stills of non-existent scenes.
Shayne is further disgraced in a scene during which his hair is tousled. It's almost as bad as Larry Fine's or Emil Sitka's hair standing on end with static electricity in a Three Stooges short. Shayne's scene goes on and on and on as he very seriously and in angry emotion delivers his highly dramatic lines about the importance of his research and how nothing can stand in the way of his experiments. But your eyes are riveted to that hair and his speech is likely unheard. At least we didn't hear it as we were laughing ourselves sick.
Bottom line, the producers should have gotten Edgar G. Ulmer to direct this one for them, too, since he'd done such a great job on The Man from Planet X. I'm sure he could have done something with it -- added some smoke machines, shot with less light, something -- that would have improved the film. Director Dupont went on to a couple of other movies and the TV show Big Town, writing quite a few of them. A somewhat ignominious ending. Might as well mention that other cast members include Robert Easton and Frank Gerstle (who appears later in Monstrosity).
At this point Kezilla had to depart and make the long trek back to the Dallas area.
Our third film was Psychic Killer (1975), a picture that promised a lot more than it delivered. A great Monster Kid sort of cast included Jim Hutton (as the Psychic Killer), Julie Adams (Creature from the Black Lagoon), Paul Burke (Adventures of Superman, Daddy's Gone A-Hunting), Whit Bissell (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Land of the Giants), Nehemiah Persoff (The Power, The Six Million Dollar Man), Neville Brand (Killdozer, Eaten Alive), Aldo Ray (The Power, Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie), and Rod Cameron (The Electronic Monster, Project UFO).
Hutton was falsely accused of murder and imprisoned. When he's proven innocent and released he uses astral projection to kill those he believes got him convicted (and for other reason you probably won't care about so long as enough people get killed). In contrast to his usual likable, laid back, Jimmy Stewart sort of persona, Hutton produces a rather creepy vibe at times.
The screenplay is by three actors, Greydon Clarke, Mikel Angel, and Ray Danton. Clarke worked with Al Adamson and a little more of Adamson's influence might have made this a bit more enjoyable. Angel also had exploitation film credits. By far, Ray Danton was the best known of the three having made a name for himself in a couple of movies as gangster Legs Diamond and then appearing frequently as a guest star on tons of popular TV shows, usually as a smooth bad guy. Danton also directed this. Clarke was an associate producer.
All in all it's a forgettable but enjoyable film, made more palatable by the presence of so many fun actors.
Arch Stanton now bid us goodnight as he was too pooped to continue.
Our last feature was a 3-D presentation of Gravity. I'd already seen it (see my take on it above) but had wanted to experience the 3-D aspect. It was great seeing it that way but the movie is good enough on its own not to need it. Actually, FXRH and I ended up talking through a good part of it and beyond until near dawn.
Jun 21 15 8:40 PM
The North Texas Monster Kids met Saturday night for a meeting celebrating the birthdays of me and FXRH (Sam Calvin). Present, besides the birthday boys, was the core contingent of Arch Stanton (Curt Hardaway), Kezilla (Keith Wilson), and Count Gamula (Kerry Gammill).
Our appetizer was a documentary on producer Robert Lippert. Most of what's in the documentary has been discussed in varying degrees of detail here on the board but is scattered in several threads. There is a book on him for inquiring minds.
The main course was the new Bob Furmanek project 3-D Rarities. In case you don't know about it, Bob assembled 22 3-D short subjects which he restored and saved from near oblivion. It's an outstanding presentation. I will say that a couple of our Monster Kids aren't really that big into 3-D and found some of the shorts tedious. No matter, we watched everything on the disc. At a later date I'll have to watch again and listen to the commentary tracks.
The custom at these birthday meetings is for the birthday celebrant to pick one of the night's offerings. 3-D Rarities was Sam's pick. Since I wanted to see it that meant I really got two picks for the night!
I was armed with a variety of films for the other guys to choose from: Dario Argento's Dracula (they'd seen it a previous meeting), Hangar 18, Phantom of the Red House (Mexi-horror), Francis in the Haunted House, Haunted Gold (the John Wayne Old Dark House Western http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/topic/59675/HAUNTED-GOLD-1932), Goddess (Bollywood horror), and the non-Monster Kid-ish The Killers. Curt and Kerry went for the last named film and Sam opted in, too.
The Killers (1964) is the Don Siegel film directed for TV. In fact, this is commonly acknowledged to be the first made-for-TV movie. I don't know why because The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957), with Van Johnson and Claude Rains, predates it. The Killers features violence that would be considered tame today but at that time, especially for TV, it was not customary to show a guy getting 8 or 9 slugs pumped into him, women being terrorized and slapped around, or depictions of blood. The opening scene is fairly intense for TV fodder and a couple of other scenes tore the home screen envelope so the film was eventually released theatrically.
The story purports to be based on Ernest Hemingway's The Killers, which had previously been made into a movie in 1946. Hemingway's tale involves a boxer who is being hunted down by two hit men. They first show up a diner where their manner and comments create an uneasy, disquieting effect. The "hero," Nick Adams, who figured in more Hemingway stories, runs off to tell the boxer but the pugilist doesn't run, acts as if there's little that can be done. His lassitude puzzles Nick, and the reader, and when he returns to the diner he meets with more ambiguity. Just because this is a good place to mention it, I wrote and directed a 16mm short film version of the story that I transposed to a Western setting.
Anyway, the Siegel film, with screen credit going to Gene L. Coon of later Star Trek fame, retains only a little of the source material. The milieu is changed to the world of auto racing and the two hit men (Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager) are looking for Johnny North (John Cassavetes), an auto racer. An armed truck robbery is inserted, masterminded by the man who will eventually put out the hit on Johnny (Ronald Reagan), and there's a girl (Angie Dickinson).
Marvin and Gulager retain the cool, controlled but ominous tone of the Hemingway hit men. Though Cassavetes is warned of their imminent arrival (by Burt Mustin) like his short story counterpart he just seems to accept his fate. This acceptance, and the size of the payment, tips off Marvin that there are bigger fish to fry. He and Gulager set off to find out what was behind this hit and hope there's a jackpot at the end.
The opening scene that introduces the two is a tense one. Dressed in suits, with dark sunglasses, they look like businessmen. They enter a home for the blind where Gulager idly examines a small floral spray, casually pouring the water on the desk of receptionist Mrs. Watson (Virginia Christine, Mrs. Olson, the Folger's Coffee woman). Throughout the film Gulager fills his character with quirky mannerisms and behavior. When Mrs. Watson doesn't answer questions directly enough, Marvin jerks her chair back, and when she tries to call out for help, he violently pushes her back onto the ground behind the desk. Upstairs, alerted to their presence, Cassavettes has to shout at his blind class to clear the room, and while they fearfully flee the room, Marvin and Gulager barge in with silenced weapons and dispatch him. Quite a start.
I wish it had kept up in this manner. There follows a similar but lesser scene with Claude Akins but the flashback structure, which explains Cassavetes background, how he became involved with Dickinson, and where Reagan fits in, tends to disrupt the tension. It also keeps Marvin and Gulager off screen for long stretches at a time.
It's still an interesting film and one that points to Siegel's future as a director. This was Reagan's last movie role, his only villain, and he reportedly hated it, especially after his political ambitions rose to the forefront. Norman Fell gets some screen time and one of my favorite sixties TV bad guys, Robert Phillips, has a small role. The score is by John Williams but the opening music over the Universal logo is from Henry Mancini's score for Touch of Evil. P.S.- The Bates Motel shows up at one point, painted a bright yellow!
I also wondered if there were any other remakes where you could flip the last two digits of the year around. Y'know, 1946/1964? See how that works? Anybody know of any others like this?
All through the evening a Monster Kid would slip out of the room and return with some of the birthday cake Curt had baked. Keith and I abstained for dietary reasons so can't say what it tasted like. In the past, however, Curt has produced some excellent confections so no reason to believe the case was otherwise here.
Jun 22 15 11:10 AM
Jun 22 15 8:07 PM
Thanks for the b-day wishes, reddog, and thanks for reading. It's hard to know who does.
I rarely get to these meetings anymore, largely because they're on Saturday nights and I work the next day.
I still meet regularly with my friend Dennis on Friday nights. We watch an eclectic mix of movies not always directly Monster Kid related. In the last few months we've viewed Hombre (1967-Western), Barquero (1970-Western), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014-Spy/Action), The Heat (2013-Comedy), Topkapi (1964-Caper), Woman of Straw (1964-Thriller), Into the Woods (2014-Musical/Fantasy), The Monuments Men (2014-Historical/WWII), The Train (1964-Action/WWII), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014-Comedy), Identity Thief (2013-Comedy), Marriage Italian Style (1964-Comedy/Drama), A Man for All Seasons (1966-Historical/Drama), Edge of Tomorrow (2014-Sci-fi), Lucy (2014-Sci-fi), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014-Sci-fi), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014-Sci-fi), Valhalla Rising (2009-Historical Adventure), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954-Crime), Escape (2012-Historical Adventure), Thale (2012-Horror), Bang! Bang! You're Dead! (1966-Comedy/Adventure) and so many more.
One Friday night we went to Sam's house to watch Kiss Me Kate (1953) in 3-D.
Aug 18 15 2:53 AM
Aug 24 15 4:51 AM
This weekend I had two movie nights.
The first one was with my friend Dennis. We saw MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION. This is the second time I've been to a theater where you have to pick your theater seat. And the seats are high tech loungers allowing you to support your feet and really lay back. I'm sure Edison could never have foreseen these developments.
The movie itself was fun. I've tended not to care much for this series but this one seemed better than the others. Simon Pegg's humor was dialed back to the proper level and there were several set pieces that were done well. The opening sequence, in which Tom Cruise hangs from the door of an ascending airplane was pretty cool. It's clearly him and looks totally real. There's a good motorcycle chase where it appears to really be Cruise riding the bike. The only fail for this film is when a car goes end over end over end and is clearly CGI. Rebecca Ferguson was extremely good, an actress capable of suggesting all sorts of emotions with very subtle acting. Sean Harris made for a creepy villain. All in all, I may never watch this again but I enjoyed myself.
The second movie night was with my daughter and her boyfriend. We watched SUNSET BLVD. This is a favorite of mine so I was pleased that it went over well with the two of them. She thought William Holden was a conniving, manipulating creep but liked the movie. So did he. Since she was so impressed it was the perfect opportunity for getting her to read my booklet essay on the film from the Counterpoint CD release of the original score. Catching her with her interest at a peak was good timing.
Don't know what we'll watch next week. It's a lot harder than one might think to pick films for such a tiny, select audience. I want them to enjoy the films and there are thousands of worthy movies to choose from. But it's a dilemma I relish.
Sep 25 15 10:38 AM
Movie nights with my friend Dennis have been interrupted by both of us having other commitments come up on Friday night so it's been hit and miss. We have managed to squeeze in a couple of movies.
One was the James Mason movie THEY MET IN THE DARK (1943). First, I'm a big James Mason fan. Second, I'm a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. No, Hitchcock didn't direct this -- that credit goes to Karel Lamac -- but there are so many characteristics of the early British Hitchcock movies in this one that I couldn't help but get the same feeling.
The film starts with Mason being drummed out of the service after it appears that he's divulged delicate military information to a woman. He makes it his mission to clear his name. Along the way he meets an assortment of odd characters including the person he meets in the dark, Joyce Howard, who also has an interest in clearing her name. Tom Walls plays a nightclub impresario and Karel Stepanek a sinister associate. Edward Rigby is amusing as Mason's stalwart friend always ready to help.
I'm not familiar with the work of Lamac but based on this offering I'd like to see more. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
Another night we watched a Blu-ray of HORNET'S NEST (1970).This WWII Rock Hudson film has always stuck in my mind as rather ridiculous. The set-up, Hudson training a bunch of kids and teenagers to take on the Nazis after he loses his special missions force, is certainly ripe with humorous potential. One funny line lodged in my memory is when Hudson instructs his charges to "Load up with live ammo."
This time around, though, I didn't find the film funny. It's actually not a bad actioner of the time period. Hudson gives it his all and turns in a quite credible performance, once again proving he was a better actor than many thought. It looks like he did a lot of the stunt work, too. Sylva Koscina is a German nurse reluctantly allied with Hudson and the boys. It reminded me a bit of her role in THE BATTLE OF NERETVA. Sergio Fantoni snags the blonde-haired Nazi commander part, the one smarter than his peers or superiors. A key to the film's success is young Mark Colleano. Aside from an over wrought moment near the end of the film, more the fault of the dialogue than him, his is a finely modulated performance that makes the concept credible. In short, he's believeable.
And the film delivers the action one would expect of a WWII film from this time period under the direction of Phil Karlson and Franco Cirino. Lots of nice location shooting and plenty of non-CGI'd military hardware on display. It also sports an Ennio Morricone score. Some of it seems a bit too lighthearted for a serious war picture -- there's a whistling theme for the boys -- but there is one theme in particular that's always been a favorite. This one (even though it includes the whistling):
Apr 17 17 12:13 AM
I still have weekly (mostly) movie nights with my friend Dennis. We've watched a lot of movies in the past two years. This week we watched RISEN (2016). Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman Centurion charged by Pilate (Peter Firth) with putting an end to the whole Yeshua brouhaha before Caesar arrives for a visit, first by accelerating Yeshua's death on the cross with the spear in the side, and then making sure that the tomb is sealed and guarded so that none of His followers can retrieve the body. As we know from the Bible and countless other stories, movies, and TV shows, the tomb is found opened and the body missing.
Clavius is then tasked with finding the corpse, or providing one, so they can quell the spreading rumors that Christ rose from the dead on the third day as He promised. Part of Clavius' investigation is to find Mary Magdalene and the remaining 11 apostles.
This fairly low key film benefits from locations in Spain which feature some actual sets representing ancient fortresses and cities with some CGI enhancement to give it just enough scope and dimension to feel like a mini-epic. Production is top notch and guided by director Kevin Reynolds, he of the infamous WATERWORLD and ROBIN HOOD, PRINCE OF THIEVES. The cast is made up of solid professionals, most of them probably not as recognizable as their actual film credits. Besides Fiennes, who would have made a much better Messala than Toby Kebbell in the recent BEN-HUR (2016) remake, and Firth there is also Tom Felton who appeared in the Harry Potter films and THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
The film is part of a slate of films produced by Affirm Films, a division within Sony that apparently is responsible for low-budget Christian films. I don't know how their other films have done but this one, despite having a modest budget for this type of film of only $20 million, fell short of a $50 million break even point with a box office take of only $46 million. Given that this is a film that might appeal to non-Christians/non-believers as well as the faithful it's kind of a shame that it didn't do better. I thought the film was well done and superior to the similar THE INQUIRY (1987) with Keith Carradine as a Roman investigator sent to verify the truth of the Resurrection. Like THE INQUIRY, RISEN has a neutral sort of feel to it, not preachy, despite sticking to traditional Christian beliefs.
Apr 26 17 12:50 AM
This past Friday's offering was the Audie Murphy Western THE GUNS OF FORT PETTICOAT (1957) on a Blu-ray from Germany. Murphy plays a Union soldier who returns to the South to warn his old friends of an impending Indian attack. The men are all gone due to the war and only the wives and other women (and maybe some questionable males) remain. He has to rally them at an old church and repel the enraged invaders.
First, we often complain about how a Blu-ray can sometimes point up problems with the original cinematography or film processing. In this movie it was interesting to see the variations in quality regarding the opticals. The main titles looked grainy, the titles themselves sharp, as one would expect. The dissolves were quite variable. Some dissolves included ALL of the footage before and after the dissolve with the attendant fuzziness and color changes. But some of the dissolves lasted only as long as the dissolve itself so that the footage leading up to the optical was sharp and clear. As soon as the dissolve ended the picture clarity improved. I believe that at some point the studios realized that it was cheaper, and looked better, to just pay for the optical that was needed and no more. Then, in other parts of the film, the same second generation optical look was seen in shots for which there was no apparent reason, no need for an optical. These were the most puzzling shots. Otherwise, the film looked great, razor sharp with bright, vivid color (photographed by Ray Rennahan).
The movie itself is an okay, perhaps better-than-usual, time filler. It's improbable that Murphy could train these women in shooting a rifle so that it made any difference.
Audie Murphy and the Guns of Fort Petticoat.
And there are many familiar character tropes/clichés -- the saloon girl who wants to have her own child (Peggy Maley), the snobby older woman with a servant, the religious woman (Jeanette Nolan), the tough old bird (who keeps saying she's as good as three men) (Hope Emerson), the girl (Jeff Donnell) taken in by her cowardly boyfriend (Sean McClory), and the girl who likes Murphy (Kathryn Grant just before taking on 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD).
To provide another type of menace is Nestor Paiva, James Griffith, and Ray Teal as three ne'er-do-wells taking advantage of the fear and confusion to line their own pockets and looking for other diversions.
From left to right: Nestor Paiva, James Griffith, Ray Teal.
John Dierkes also puts in an appearance as a shopkeeper initially against Murphy but who soon changes his tune after Murphy helps defend the town against an Indian attack.
Director George Marshall keeps things moving and I always like seeing the Old Tucson location where many of the building were practical sets that could be shot inside and out without resorting to a Hollywood soundstage. It would be a couple of years before a real soundstage was built at Old Tucson so the church interior was a Hollywood set. However, a great deal of the film is shot outdoors. The film score is a mélange of cues by Irving Gertz, Hugo Friedhofer, David Raksin, Max Steiner, George Duning, Arthur Morton, and several others but it all sounds rather ordinary.
George Marshall directing Kathryn Grant.
May 7 17 2:56 PM
May 9 17 1:14 AM
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