Forgotten Films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The bizarre sets of the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari make for a skewed viewing experience.

The bizarre sets of the silent film Cabinet of Dr. Caligari make for a skewed viewing experience.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 172nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is hardly an unknown film to this crowd, but it was to me. I know that I saw it, but it must have been in the 70’s and much of that time is lost to my fuzzy memory. And, no, it wasn’t drugs. It’s been a long fun road since then and plenty of memories.

I picked up a nice DVD of the film at least 15 years ago but never got around to watching it. Always too many other, newer things to see. But today, I needed to watch and review something since my move is upcoming and I will be missing some weeks. I had watched a Marvel animated thing called Hulk Vs. which featured the Hulk in fights with Wolverine and Thor. But it was awful and I couldn’t justify writing about it other than to say “don’t bother with it.” Pretty mindless stuff there with passable animation but no real plot.

And, since I have been away from home for a couple of months and my selection of films is limited to DVDs only. (Even though I have some wonderful Blu-Ray films with me, I don’t have a useable Blu-Ray player. I have one, just not a TV to connect it to.)

I looked through the stack of films (about 30 or so) and Caligari called out to me, so here we are.

The film is a short, silent German expressionistic horror film, told primarily in flashbacks. Young Francis (Frederick Feher) is speaking to an old man when a young woman named Jane (Lili Dagover) walks by in a trance. He explains that she is his fiancé and that they have been involved in an odd ordeal.

In the town of Holstenwall, Francis and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowsky) are rivals for Jane’s hand. Alan suggests that they all go to the fair. At the fair, Dr. Caligari (Werner Kraus) is setting up a somnambulist show. When he applies for a permit, he is insulted by the town clerk. The clerk is mysteriously murdered that night. When Alan and Francis visit the show, Francis asks the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), how long he will live. He is told that he will die at dawn.

That night Cesare visits Alan and kills him in his bed. Suddenly the town has two violent unsolved murders. Francis fears that it is Caligari and Cesare, so he brings his suspicions to the police. As they are investigating, an old woman is attacked by a man and he is arrested for the three murders. He confesses to the one attempt but says that he hoped his killing would be lumped with the other two.

There is further investigation and Jane is abducted at night by Cesare and a crowd follows the monster. Jane is rescued Cesare escapes, only to die out on his own.

The police were watching Caligari and it is reported that no one left. But when they investigate the cabinet where Cesare is housed, they find a dummy with a wig. Francis investigates a mad house looking for a patient named Caligari and does not find one, but sees that the head of the institution has that name. He finds a ledger which details a mad 11th century mountebank who tried to use a somnambulist to commit murders. The flashback shows the doctor succumbing to the idea of using the sleep walker as an experiment to see if it would commit crimes that he might not otherwise do. But these are delusions in Francis’ mind and he is the insane one.

The main thing you notice in watching this are the sets and images. The sets have few right angles or perpendicular walls. Even the windows are skewed. The images are wonderful and bizarre. The actors are have heavily mascara’d eyes, almost modern Goths before their time. The camera work is frequently less than full scene and often not in a rectangular format. Shots are done is circles and zoom in and out.

It was wonderfully odd and wild and I really enjoyed seeing it for the second time. I had totally forgotten everything since my last likely experience. If you too have not seen it in quite a while, I recommend watching it again. Being silent, you will have to read the film to enjoy it.

Of course, your mileage may vary. For a film 96 years old, it holds up well for me.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

 

 

Forgotten Films: Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)

Lloyd Nolan's Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he's one of the best things about the film.

Lloyd Nolan’s Mike Shayne differs from the detective featured in the novels, but he’s one of the best things about the film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 171st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome back to Forgotten Films. This week I decided to go a little further back and pick a B movie that many people have not seen. Michael Shayne, Private Detective was the first of the Mike Shayne stories to go onto celluloid and it has both good and bad points.

The first good point is Lloyd Nolan who played Shayne in seven films for Twentieth Century Fox. He makes an interesting Shayne, tough and no nonsense but one who has a whimsical side too.

The film begins at the race track where Phyllis Brighton (Marjorie Weaver) is losing badly. Her father Hiram Brighton (Clarence Kolb) refuses to give her money to place a bet on a 15-1 long shot. She finds a bookie and attempts to pawn off an expensive brooch to cover a $200 bet. Shayne is nearby and spoils her deal by telling the bookie the jewelry is paste. Phyllis does not know Shayne, but Shayne knows her and her father. Imagine her rage when the horse wins unexpectedly and she does not get her $3,000 reward.

Phyllis complains to her father about Shayne and dear old dad decides that Mike is exactly the person he needs to keep his wayward daughter on the straight and narrow. Since times are a little tight (the furniture company is repossessing his office when Brighton calls), Mike takes the job.

The first stop is a local casino where Phyllis is hanging with Harry Grange (George Meeker), the guy who had given her the tip on the horserace. She is playing roulette and not having any luck. She hits Grange up for a loan and as he is giving it to her, Shayne interrupts. There is discussion and Phyllis takes the money anyway.

Shayne goes to talk to the owner Gordon (Douglas Dumbrille), who is arguing with his daughter Marsha (Joan Valerie) about Grange. Shayne convinces Gordon to give Phyllis back the money she lost. There is a conference with Grange, Phyllis, Gordon and Shayne. It ends with Shayne punching out Grange and taking Phyllis to her home.

Here he meets Aunt Olivia (Elizabeth Patterson) who has always wanted to meet a real detective. She loves solving murder mysteries and regales Shayne with the stories of those she loved. Phyllis has been locked in her room, but she has a spare key and promptly returns to the casino and Grange.

Shayne, of course, follows but lets her alone. Instead, he drugs Grange and takes him away in Phyllis’ car, where he applies catsup to the front of his shirt. He then goes back to the casino and picks up Phyllis and is driving her home since she cannot find her car. He also calls his comic foil Chief Painter (Douglas McBride) of the homicide division to put the fear of god in her.

Driving her home, they spot Phyllis’ car and the slumped form of Grange. Phyllis recognizes the catsup and tries to shake Grange awake. That’s when she sees the gunshot to his forehead. They also find Mike’s gun nearby. It’s been fired.

Mike sends Phyllis home and throws the gun away and awaits the arrival of the police. Things get tough when the police (tipped off by Gordon) find out about the altercation between Grange and Mike.

The film swings between comedic spots and a real mystery. Shayne wisecracks through the whole film. Soon there is murder, kidnapping, horse race fixing and other drama to keep the story moving. Aunt Olivia steals the show whenever she is on stage. And Phyllis begins to think that having Shayne around might not be too bad.

As I said, Nolan is a good thing about the film. But he’s also a bad thing. He is not really the Mike Shayne form the novels (though by the time the film came out, only two had been published). The Shayne of the novels was Irish, red headed and married. Nolan’s not any of these. But, that said, I liked him.

Nolan delivers up something that is a combination of the hardboiled Shayne and the comedic Thin Man type. It must have succeeded because Fox did six more films with Nolan and then the series shifted to PRC where Hugh Beaumont (of Leave it to Beaver fame) did five more. Shayne also went on to appear on radio in several series and on TV. Brett Halliday (a pseudonym used by Davis Dresser) wrote at least 50 Mike Shayne novels (and others wrote 27 more as Halliday, bringing the total to 77). Some of my favorites were written by Robert Terrell, who also did some nice hardboiled work under his own name and Robert Kyle.

Overall I like the film. You should check it out. This first one is available on YouTube or in the Michael Shayne Mysteries collection, which has the first four Nolan Shayne offerings.

As always, my taste is in my mouth. You may hate these things. Hope not, but it’s your life.

I will probably miss the next couple of weeks as I am in the process of moving and it looks like it will be happening imminently. If I do miss my movie reviews, check out Todd Mason’s blog and see what some of the other folks who do the Forgotten Films have to offer up.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Film: Quatermass and the Pit (1958)

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

This is the 170th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As I mentioned last week, Quatermass and the Pit was one of the new films I recently picked up. This is the six episode serial that ran on the BBC from December 1958 to January 1959. Each episode was 35 minutes, making the DVD roughly 210 minutes. The 1967 film version, released as Five Million Years to Earth in the United States, ran 97 minutes, less than half the running time of the original production.

As usual, I do have a story about this film. As a freshman at the University of Texas I was attracted to an interesting grad student who studied Anthropology and worked with the monkeys at UT. We hit it off well and were an item for a fairly long time. I kept in touch with her even after she transferred out to University of Georgia and worked with the monkeys there on her way to a doctorate in psychology.

One night we were talking and she was telling me about the worst film she had ever seen in her life. (You see where this is going.) It was Five Million Years to Earth. 

The film features a rocket buried in a Knightsbridge neighborhood. Digging for a new development unearths some unusual skulls and scientists are brought in, including Dr. Matthew Roney (Cec Linder). Roney is pressured to wrap up his investigation fast, but he is not having it. He appeals to his friend Prof. Bernard Quatermass (Andre Morell) who has been working with the British rocketry group. He has just gotten a military co-commander Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) who is a no-nonsense, military, anything-we-can-do-to-win sort of guy. Roney is assisted by a female scientist Barbara Judd (Christine Finn).

Breen and Quatermass go to the worksite to see if the object might be an unexploded bomb. Soon weird things happen and the investigators learn of odd reports from the neighborhood going back 30 years or so. The dig further and discover that the weird things go back centuries.

The rocket is made of an odd material that resists analysis. Roney suggests that the unearthed skulls represent an ape-like man with a developed brain who may be up to five million years old (hence the film title).

Insect-like creatures are found inside the ship and these are suspected of being perhaps Martian in origin. Colonel Breen is having none of this, even though he has been affected by something from the ship. He is convinced it is a leftover German propaganda stunt from WWII. Needless to say, he is proven very wrong.

The film has lots of ins and outs and conflicts between the scientists and the military, which result in multiple deaths of soldiers and civilians. One worker even has symptoms of demonic possession.

At two and a half hours, there is room to expound on a lot of these subjects. In the 97 minute film version, much gets glossed over, hence my former girlfriend’s distaste for the film. She hated the ending, which I enjoyed in both versions. The film is done in color while the BBC show is presented in a stirring black and white. And being 1958, the special effects are less than stellar. The BBC has never been noted for its effects budgets and certainly not in the period four-plus years before Dr. Who.

Now, prior to Dr. Who, screenwriter Nigel Kneale was Britain’s premier science fiction TV writer. Prior to Quatermass and the Pit he had done a version of 1984 and two earlier Quatermass teleplays – The Quatermass Experiment with Reginald Tate in the Quatermass role (also filmed under that title and The Creeping Unknown with Brian Donlevy) and Quatermass II with John Robinson in the title role, since Tate had unfortunately died. Quatermass II was later filmed as Enemy From Space with Brian Donlevy repeating the role. Five Million Years to Earth featured Andrew Keir in the role. Later John Mills would take the role in Quatermass.

The tale gets pretty wacky by the end but I loved it. My former girlfriend Jen hated it. Everyone’s got their own opinion. Go for the longer version. Things are a little clearer in their motivation and explanations. As usual, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Films: American Pop (1981)

American Pop focuses on four generations of Americans striving to make it in the music business.

American Pop focuses on four generations of Americans striving to make it in the music business.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 169th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Recently, I purchased some DVD’s of films I had been wanting for some time. They included Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (reviewed a couple of weeks ago), Quatermass and the Pit (soon to be on the list) and this week’s pick, American Pop.

I first encountered Ralph Bakshi’s work on the Saturday morning Spider-Man cartoon of the late 1960’s. It didn’t really do much for me then, but I watched because … Spider-Man. I had a strong emotional attachment to that nerdy character at the time. Fritz the Cat came out a few years later, but it would be a while before I finally saw that film. X rated animated features were not high on my list at that time.

Then came Wizards. That one resonated! Wow! Rotoscoping genius. I had earlier seen rotoscoping in some of the Fleischers’ work — the Popeyes (particularly the Sinbad one) and Gulliver’s Travels. In Wizards, animation was making a new old leap forward. Then The Lord of the Rings! Yep, Frodo and Gandalf were on the big screen in a way I never expected to see them. Rotoscoping allowed for some realism in the content, but it had its problems too. Unfortunately, Bakshi’s LOTR was not complete and the second half never did arrive in theaters. Several stories emerged as to why it did not, especially since the first film did well at the box office. There was later a Rankin-Bass adaptation of The Return of the King which supposedly completed the film. I own a copy but have never watched it. I am not a fan of Rankin-Bass.

Anyway, American Pop was Bakshi’s next project, and it was near and dear to my heart. It presents a guide to American popular music for the first eight decades of the 20th Century. It tells the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish family who immigrated to the New York City area during the pogroms of the Czarist era. Zalmie Belinski (voiced by Jeffrey Lippa) begins working in the vaudeville halls prior to World War I, passing out chorus lists to patrons so they can sing along with the performers. His mother works in a garment-district sweatshop and is killed in one of the deadly fires that happened during that period.

Zalmie continues in vaudeville, hoping to be a singer. He meets a young stripper, Bella (voiced by Lisa Jane Persky), and soon finds himself with a son on the way and urged by the local mob to marry Bella. He joins a vaudeville tour of the war zone as the back half of a dancing horse act and, in a freak accident, is shot in the throat. He will now never be a singer. Bella, however, has some success.

Zalmie’s mentor, Louie, is working for Mr. Palumbo, the mobster, and Zalmie finds himself working for him too. It is the time of speakeasies and Prohibition and mob wars. Palumbo needs a husband for his daughter and Zalmie’s son, Bennie (Richard Singer), an aspiring jazz pianist, is recruited. When WWII breaks out, Bennie enlists even though he has a child on the way. In a poignant scene, Bennie finds a piano in a bombed out village. He puts his gun down and starts playing. A wounded German soldier is nearby and approaches Bennie. Bennie plays Lili Marleen for the soldier who is obviously reminiscing about better days. When Bennie finishes, the soldier kills him.

Bennie’s son Tommy (Ron Thompson) grows up in the late 50’s and early 60’s, joining the Beat scene. There is a wonderful performance of the first part of Ginsberg’s Howl in one of the clubs. Tommy splits, steals a car, and makes it to Kansas, where he has a one night stand with a waitress. He soon arrives in California during the birth of the Summer of Love, where he meets Frankie Love (Marya Small) and her band, modeled off several Bay Area bands but most notably Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

This is where the film really works for me because this is my music. The Golden age for Rock and Roll is 15. The music you liked at 15 is the stuff that stays with you. For me, 15 was the Summer of Love. The Airplane, the Electric Prunes, the Doors, Hendrix, Cream — they were the magic for me.

Bakshi takes the film up to the punk scene and the re-emergence of Bob Seger. I was not much of a fan of that final stage of the story because the story focuses heavily on drug dealing, but I still liked the music.

Overall, I had fun with this again. I had seen it in 1981 but not since. I loved the music. The animation was OK. As I said, rotoscoping has some drawbacks, but overall it worked. Give it a try. It has some wonderful mixed-media influences, including the use of archival footage that was not animated.

As always (and particularly where music is involved), your mileage can vary significantly from mine. If you hate rock and roll, the last half hour will not be your cup of tea. For me, though, it was oolong.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Films: Wild in the Streets (1968)

1968's cult classic "Wild in the Streets" deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

1968’s cult classic “Wild in the Streets” deserves a look this tempestuous election season.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

Since it is an election year, I thought it might be wise to review a politically charged film from that hotly contested year of 1968. I was not yet old enough to vote when this came out, but I was interested in the political process and watched both parties at their national conventions and the attendant folderol that went with it. I was (then and now) very anti-war and saw it as a major part of the campaigns.

Somewhere that year, the theaters on Ft. Sam Houston (where I was living) managed to show Wild in the Streets, and I somehow got to see it, even with an R rating. Perhaps the clerk thought I was one of the soldiers since I had a burr haircut at the time. Anyway, I saw it and thought it was a hoot.

Flash forward 48 years and I see that TCM was going to broadcast it one night while I was not at home. Mr. DVR came through for me, and I captured the film again. I watched it the other day with my wife and found it interesting, naïve, stupid — and totally relevant to the current political scene.

Max Flatow Jr. (Christopher Jones) is raised in a home with a shrill, dominating mother (Shelly Winters). It does not take much for him to rebel, beginning with manufacturing drugs and explosives in the family basement. He blows up his father’s new car and leaves home. Four years later, he is 22 and a multi-millionaire rock star under the name Max Frost with his band the Troopers – which also includes 15-year-old attorney Billy (Kevin Coughlin) on guitar, former child star Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi) on keyboards, Abraham “the Hook” Salteen (Larry Bishop) on bass and trumpet and anthropologist Stanley X (Richard Pryor) on drums. They are young, rich and bored. They’re also asked to perform at a political rally for Congressman Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), a young candidate urging for voting rights for 18 year olds, which was a hot topic at the time and one I supported. Max does a live gig for the rally but pushes his own agenda, which is for the vote to be extended to 14 year olds.

The reaction is overwhelming, and Fergus finds himself a reluctant ally to the charismatic rocker. Established political advisors are appalled and want Fergus to drop Frost like a hot potato. Among those is Senator Allbright (Ed Begley). With youth demonstrations for the 14 voting age expanding across the country, Frost and Fergus compromise on 15 and Ready. They select that age so Billy can actually vote. Fergus is elected in a landslide.

Just as the election happens, a local congressman, aged 84, dies. To be elected to Congress you must be 25. Coincidentally, Sally Leroy has just turned 25 and finds herself appointed to Congress. Her first act is to introduce a constitutional amendment reducing the age for someone elected to Congress or the presidency to 14. A water supply spiked with LSD reduces the joint session of Congress to hysterical mania and the amendment is approved. (No one bothered getting the states to ratify it, but that’s just a detail.)

Soon, Max Frost is president and legislation is passed making people go into mandatory retirement at age 35, at which time they’ll be sent to camps where they’ll be fed, clothed, and provided LSD on a regular basis.

It progresses from there, but the tale of a charismatic outsider who rouses his troops and maneuvers into the political arena sort of resonated with me. I’m not going to get into a political discussion. I know who I am voting for and I hope you know your own mind also. The upcoming vote will be divisive I am afraid, but I hope some form of sanity manifests itself during the process.

I had fun with the Wild in the Streets. Christopher Jones had a short run in Hollywood, bowing out after the death of Sharon Tate (with whom he had an affair) left him devastated. IMDB only gives 10 acting credits for him and only one after 1970 (Mad Dog Time in 1996). He died in 2014.

It’s not a good film (too absurd and too many plot holes), but it is a better film than American International normally made. Give it a shot. Songs by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill include “Shape of Things to Come,” which made it to #22. It was #1 in San Antonio as I recall from that time. It is heard three times in the film.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama (1988)

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama promises B-movie sex and violence — and it delivers.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 167th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films.

It has been a while since I did a really bad B film. (Fans might remember the enthusiastic review of Zombeavers last August.) The other day, I was reviewing a DVD catalog and this film was available for about $7 and I knew I should see it. When it comes to horror movies, I’ve got a soft spot for so-called Scream Queens, and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama promised plenty. I’ve only ever met one Scream Queen — Jewel Shepard, when she was signing her book If I’m So Famous, How Come Nobody’s Ever Heard of Me? She was a very fun signer and I really enjoyed talking with her. Her book was a hoot and a half, too.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama has, hands down, one of the great sleazy names for a B horror film (not that Zombeavers was any sort of slouch). It really tells you what your audience is going to be. You got college girls, horror, bowling and slimeballs. Well, in truth, you only sort of have slimeballs.

College roommates Keith, Jimmy and Calvin (John Stuart Wildman, Hal Havins and Andras Jones, respectively) are bored one night. Calvin’s playing a video game, Jimmy’s drinking beers and Keith wants one of the beers. Jimmy is not the giving sort, but Keith offers up that he knows where Delta Delta Delta sorority is doing their pledge initiation that night. The sorority, known as Felta Delta, promises to have some salacious happenings. So the boys go over to see what they might.

Pledges Taffy and Lisa (Scream Queens Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauers, respectively) are on the wrong end of a sorority paddle and an aerosol whip cream attack from initiation masters and all-around bitches Frankie, Rhonda, and Babs (Carla Baron, Kathi O’Brecht and Robin Rochelle). Babs has some sadistic ideas for finishing up the initiation, when the boys are discovered inside the Delta house watching Lisa and Taffy shower. Soon, all six are sent off to the mall bowling alley to secure a bowling trophy. Babs’ dad owns the mall and they plan on doing some mean stuff to the group.

Inside the bowling alley, Calvin runs across punk thief Spider (huge Scream Queen Linnea Quigley) ripping off the gaming machines and register. He tries to pick her up, but she’s not having any of it. Eventually, though, she helps the group get into the area with the trophies. They steal a large one that’s 30 years old.

Unfortunately, they accidentally drop the old trophy, and out of it comes an ancient imp (voiced by Dukey Flyswatter). The imp is grateful for his release and offers each of the folks a wish. Jimmy orders lots of gold, but Calvin cautions that things might not be as good as they seem.

Keith wants to have sex with Lisa and Impy makes her amenable to the idea. Suddenly, Babs, Rhonda and Frankie interrupt things and we find out that Calvin was absolutely correct in not trusting the imp. Of the 10 main characters (the nine listed plus a janitor for comedic relief), eight are going to die. I hope I’m not spoiling it for anyone, but this one is nearly 30 years old and has been shown a lot. Just because I never saw does not imply that you did not.

We have knifings, smashed heads by bowling ball, flame thrower, deep fryer, decapitation, zombie-ism, Bride of Frankenstein-itis (for Frankie, of course), being pulled apart and more. The mayhem is handled very effectively. The budget was low but you can tell the movie makers put it all onto the screen.

All in all, this one delivers exactly what it promises: a B movie with sex and violence and some humor. If, like me, you enjoy that sort of thing, this movie is definitely for you. Be warned, though, this is not Akira Kurasawa or Citizen Kane, and if that’s what you want, well, to each their own. As I always say, your mileage may vary. I was glad to finally see this one. Maybe you will be too. If not, there’s always next week.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: Gamera the Invincible (1965/1966)

The poster for the U.S. release of Gammera the Invincible shows off the American actors and the extra "M" added to improve its marketability here.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 166th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

So it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was resting up doing not much of anything when I decided that it was time to review another film. I had watched 2015’s Crimson Peaks from Guillermo del Toro, but somehow that did not seem like what I wanted to write about.

So what to watch?

Last weekend (Memorial Day), I checked out several Half Price Books locations in San Antonio. In one I found a collection of six Gamera films on two DVD’s for the princely sum of $3.00 (less the 20% holiday sale price). Somehow, the package leapt into my shopping basket.

Some mindless kaiju seemed like just the thing to watch today. So Gamera the Invincible hopped into the DVD drive on my computer and I settled in for a quiet event. I never saw any of the Gamera films in the theater and very few of them ever. I remember in our first year of marriage, around 1980, Sandi and I saw one as we were channel surfing. She was fascinated by the spinning turtle that shot flames out of his butt. Made it a little hard to take seriously. Bur since she was not here, I had the film all to myself.

The version I watched was the 1966 World Entertainment Corp. and Harris Associates version which took the original 1965 Daiei production and, much like Toho’s Godzilla, shot some scenes of English language actors and interspliced them with the original to make it more palatable for the English language audiences.

To the film: A Japanese scientific vessel is cruising the Arctic and working with Inuit tribes when four Russian jets stray into American airspace. A confrontation follows, a Russian jet is shot down and a (nuclear?) bomb explodes. The explosion awakens a giant turtle with a severe tusk problem. The Inuits have an ancient drawing referring to the monster as Gamera. General Terry Arnold (Brian Donlevy, far removed from his Professor Quatermass films of a decade before) receives the initial reports of a 150- to 200-foot giant turtle. He soon finds himself assigned to fighting the beast.

Over in Japan, Doctor Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi), who witnessed the birth of Gamera, is working with other scientists to stop the enormous turtle after he has destroyed a lighthouse and saved the life of a young boy Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida). Toshio is fascinated with turtles and was reluctantly releasing his small pet when Gamera showed up.

Toshio forms a connection (at least on his end) with Gamera and, of course, causes likeable trouble trying to get close to the monster and helping him avoid various traps. As with most Japanese films of this ilk, I absolutely hated the kid and wanted him gone fast.

Meanwhile the UN assembles a committee with General Arnold on to solve the problem. It is decided that Arnold and a Russian counterpart will head the group. They decide to implement Plan Z but they need time. The Japanese have to feed Gamera fire and power for 24 hours until the plan can be brought to fruition.

Like last week’s film, the effects are sometimes laughable. Toy ships and planes are quite recognizable in the early shots, and Gamera is, of course, an actor in a rubber suit. But this film has some heart and soul that I thought Master of the World lacked. I mean, a turtle using butt flames as a source of jet propulsion is pretty unique.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. There are five more in the set I bought. I’m sure we will see another one soon.

As for Crimson Peaks, I really enjoyed that film also and will probably address it soon. Keep your powder and whatever jet propulsion method you utilize dry. Your mileage could also vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: Master of the World (1961)

This 1961 cheapie may have you wishing you'd watched 20,000 Leagues instead.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 165th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day than to watch Vincent Price try to stop war across the globe?

Back in 1961, I was still in the Fairbanks, Alaska, area on one of the military bases when I first heard about Master of the World, a film combining two Jules Verne novels into a cinematic masterpiece. I knew a little about Verne and some about Vincent Price and that was about it. The art and craft of moviemaking and cinematic quality were things beyond my comprehension at the time.

Fortunately, I never got to see the film in 1961 — or ever — until this morning. I had taped it a couple of weeks ago from Turner Classic. (How I miss that channel right now when I have no television in my Alpine apartment!)

This one is not one of the good Price movies, not one of the Poe films or the like. It has a Richard Matheson script (that’s the good part). It has Vincent Price, Charles Bronson and Henry (Werewolf of London) Hull! But, boy, does the story suffer!

What we have here is an American International attempt to cash in on 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and 1956’s Around the World in Eighty Days. But, being American International, they wanted to do this big epic story on a shoestring budget. According to Wikipedia, this was AI’s largest budget film to date, but it still came out as a B-film on a double bill with Konga.

Part of the problem may stem from the source material. Matheson worked with two Verne novels Master of the World and Robur the Conqueror. In the annals of great Verne titles, these are not the books you pick. Essentially, you have the peace message of Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues and its sea setting moved into the air, where the marvels are sorely lacking. No lost cities or giant squids up in the clouds. Just another mad captain trying to bring nations to peace by using the force he abhors.

Our story deals with Mr. Prudent (Hull), a Pennsylvania arms manufacturer; his daughter Dorothy (Mary Webster); her fiancé Phillip Evans (David Frankham); and US government agent John Strock (Bronson). Together, they are investigating strange noises, explosions and Biblical pronouncements from a vast mountain known as the Great Eyrie. Since the mountain cannot be scaled, they investigate via balloon, which is mysteriously shot down.

The group awakens aboard the Albatross, a huge flying contraption with many overhead propellers that provide lift and a rear propeller used from propulsion. It is commanded by the impressive Robur (Price) who calls no country home. It is his intention to get every country to give up war or suffer consequences.

They fly through the air with great ease and never appear to land. When they take on water, it is via a giant siphon hose. Phillip attempts to interfere with Robur’s plan and finds himself (and later Bronson) dangling from the ship at the end of a fraying rope.

I really wanted to like this film, but I can’t do it. According to Wikipedia, Price was very proud of his role. But he plays it a little heavy handed for me. Bronson is used as a romantic love interest for the already engaged Dorothy, eliciting some jealous posturing from Phillip. There are also a couple of “humorous” scenes involving cook Topage (Vito Scotti, absolutely abused, wasted and not funny).

But where the film really suffers is in the special effects. Yes, it is 1961. But still, the matte work is quite rough. The miniatures are pretty cheesy and the film uses a fair bit of stock footage. Where Nemo had underwater scenes, all Robur gets are shots of clouds and blue skies in his cockpit view. Very dull stuff.

As I indicated above, it’s really a cheap second cousin to 20,000 Leagues, and you would be better served watching it instead. But, of course, you may have loved this film in 1961 and found it to be hugely influential on your world view and cinematic experience. In that case, I salute you. My mileage varied.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: Fathom (1967)

Raquel Welch provides the advertised feast in Fathom.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 164th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

We are now on a roll! Two Forgotten Film columns in a row! It’s good to be back on track. As I mentioned in last week’s article, I am in the process of moving. I am in one place while the wife, cats and stuff are in another. I am staying in a college dorm room where I have an internet connection but no television service. So I am somewhat restricted in what I can review.

I brought my Blu-Ray player with me, but without a working TV it does me no good. I brought a bunch of films too, but about half are Blu-Ray only so I won’t be watching them any time soon. Still, it’s good thing not everything in my collection is Blu-Ray.

The other day I was out at the grocery store and there was this big bin of previously viewed movies. This week’s title Fathom leapt up into my cart and I parted with $3.99 + tax to take it home. (You can tell I’ve been away from home for a while by my subject choice.) I had seen this movie many years ago but my memories are always a little hazy, so on a pleasant Saturday afternoon I settled in to a nice chair and fired up my computer for a refresher.

Fathom Harvill (Raquel Welch) is a dental hygienist turned skydiver who is training in Spain for a competition against the French. Following a nice jump, she is hijacked by Colonel Campbell and his aide Timothy (Ronald Fraser and Richard Briers, respectively), the men from HADES (Headquarters Allied Defenses, Espionage & Security). They want her to parachute down to a villa and activate a defective listening device they have there. It is a vital mission, as they are trying to locate the Fire Dragon, a remote detonator for nuclear weapons that was lost and may now have been located. Opposing her will be Peter Merriwether (Tony Franciosa, who got top billing over Raquel) and his Chinese girl friend Jo-May (Greta Chi).

When Fathom arrives, she discovers a man’s dead body and the blunt object used to kill him. She picks up said object and finds her picture being taken. Then begins a game of cat and mouse. Merriwether and Jo-May think she is working for Campbell, but she says “no.” They search her and find nothing that ties her to the others, so they take her into town. There she learns from the listening device that a man named Serapkin (Clive Revill) may have killed the dead man she found in the villa. Serapkin is a man of passionate tastes and Raquel is nothing if not passionate, so she finds herself in a tiny green bikini headed off to Serapkin’s yacht, armed with explosive earrings.

Up to this point, the film has been mostly straight forward, but this was the middle 1960’s and camp was somewhat in so Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script becomes more farcical, not unlike some of the television scripts he had provided for ABC’s Batman show, which he had helped develop and for which he wrote many episodes.

The film develops into a campy Maltese Falcon with each side claiming the other is lying. Our heroine, naturally, cannot decide which group to believe. There are false leads and amazing lies and odd scenes, such as Merriwether and crew watching Fathom being chased around a bullring by a bull who is excited by her bright red dress.

At this point, I suppose I should mention the fashions in the film. It is the mid 1960s and it is Europe, and Raquel is an amazing canvas on which to display clothing or the lack thereof. The dresses are boldly colored and short, particularly the red dress and the bright yellow one. The bikinis are not micro but they are not what Annette Funnicello wore in her beach movies either. And the parachuting jumpsuits are amazingly tight in all the correct places.

No one will confuse Ms. Welch with Helen Mirren, Judi Dench or Meryl Streep, but she does play the naïve stranger role pretty well.

The character of Fathom was created by Larry Forrester in his 1967 novel A Girl Called Fathom. This film is based on his unpublished second novel, Fathom Heavensent. The first book appeared with Raquel on the cover, so I would assume people bought this book expecting to read the movie story. I’m sure they were greatly confused later.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It went on perhaps 10 minutes too long (it runs 99 minutes) but that wasn’t a big deal. The early Raquel Welch was stunning, and she knows how to use her body to great effect throughout the film. This could have been a pretty good movie without the camp stuff, but as it is, it’s an okay way to spend a Saturday afternoon away from the wife and cats.

As always, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Films: The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth's animated monster feels flat in some instances, but it still delivers some fun for genre fans.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 161st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I am ashamed to say that I had never seen this film before pulling it up for this week’s Forgotten Film. I love stop motion animation and Willis O’Brien. King Kong is one of my favorite films off all time and anything with O’Brien’s animation in it is something I want to see. I’ve seen most of his science fiction related stuff but I had not seen this one.

According to Wikipedia, however, O’Brien did not do most of the animation. The director wanted him but the producers hired Jack Rabin, best known for his work on The Beast of Hollow Mountain and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Rabin apparently sub-contracted the work to O’Brien for the flat fee of $5,000. O’Brien’s assistant, Pete Peterson, did most of the animation. This was the last film that O’Brien really worked on, other than a very short piece in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Giant Behemoth director Eugène Lourié previously did 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and this film has several similarities. Apparently the original premise for this film had an amorphous blob of radiation as the monster but the distributor wanted a pastiche of the former film, so the script was changed.

On to the film. The film begins with American scientist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) speaking to a British nuclear commission about the possible effects of radiation on the ecology of the ocean. In an astounding coincidence, a small fishing village suffers the loss of an old fisherman who is found near death and says the word “Behemoth” before he dies. Suddenly, fish begin washing up on the beach. And thousands of dead fish mean something is wrong.

Karnes and his British counterpart Professor James Bickford (André Morell) decide to visit the village. They find the fishermen afraid to go out since something is causing the fish to die. Also, one fisherman has suffered unusual burns, similar to those caused by radiation exposure. Soon there are more deaths and a footprint is discovered. Karnes and Bickford take the footprint to a paleontologist who decides that the monster must be a type of Palaeosaurus, an aquatic dinosaur with electric qualities like an eel. The monster is also discovered to be highly radioactive.

Soon, the monster is traced to London where it destroys a ferry with lots of people on it. And begins a run through the city. The monster has the power to emit deadly radiation that kills quite effectively.

Karnes and Bickford have to work with other scientists and the military to destroy the monster without blowing it up and leaving thousands of little highly radioactive bits across town.

Overall, The Giant Behemoth is an enjoyable enough film. It is very obviously a low budget piece; one shot of the monster destroying a car is used three times in the film. The water scenes of the monster are not animated in much detail; the monster’s mouth barely moves. However, the land shots of the monster terrorizing the city are much better. While the movie is derivative of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and takes a while to get going, I still had fun.

The Giant Behemoth is a product of its time — nothing even remotely approaching computer assisted animation was used here — and being in black and white will probably discourage younger fans. If you have not seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, you are better off going back to see King Kong, The Lost World or Mighty Joe Young to see O’Brien flex his animation powers.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.