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: Watership Down (1978)

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 162nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week’s film is forgotten by me and I think many others. Back in 1972 while I was in college it was hard to find someone who had not heard of Watership Down, the novel, which was a cause célèbre at the time.

A first novel, the story of a group of intrepid rabbits was welcome in the literary world and another fantasy reached the mainstream, though most would not acknowledge that it was “fantasy.” Surely it must be an allegory or fable or something more palatable.

I believe I read the book in 1973 or whenever the paperback came out. Hardbacks were too expensive for my college budget. But I read the paperback even though I had more than I could read with the English classes and the rest. I really enjoyed the tale and was excited when I heard about the film version to come.

It took a while for the animated version to appear (1978) and I saw it then and, again, enjoyed the story. The other day, Turner Classic Films offered it as part of the rotation and my fingers clicked the Record function on the DVR.

So today I decided to watch it. I had such fond impressions left from my last viewing in 1978 that I don’t know quite what I was expecting. I got an interesting Heroic Rabbit Exodus story.

The tale follows a group of rabbits led by Hazel (voiced by John Hurt) and his brother Fiver (voiced by Richard Briers). Fiver has had a vision of impending doom for the warren where the two reside. They bring their warning to the Chief Rabbit (Ralph Richardson) who is not impressed. Hazel convinces several rabbits, including Bigwig a former leader, to leave with them and they are soon challenged by the Owsla (the rabbit equivalent of an army or militia). A group of eight rabbits manage to escape. Fiver’s vision soon comes true and the warren is destroyed by men for a building project.

The group is soon cut down to seven as the only female doe Violet is killed by a hawk. Their trip to some place that only Fiver knows is peppered with dangerous situations including a loose dog, a cat and some rats. Eventually they meet the very odd rabbit Cowslip (Denholm Elliott) who offers the group a place in his warren. But something is not good about it and Fiver tries to leave. Bigwig challenges him and in following Fiver finds himself in a snare. This intense scene was the subject utilized in the movie poster, which I feel was a bad move.

Bigwig is saved, though not without incident and the group leaves the warren which was a man-made rabbit factory where rabbits lived an easy life with food and protection until they are plucked away and never seen again.

They eventually arrive at Watership Down, Fiver’s mystical place of “milk and honey” where they run into a totalitarian warren overseen by General Woundwort (Harry Andrews) who does not to let a group of females leave and join the new less restrictive warren.

At the time of release, most animated films were aimed totally at children. This film with its brutal looking poster and intense sequences must have been somewhat problematic. There was some comic relief supplied by the seagull Kehaar (Zero Mostel).

Also, the opening and closing sequences are very stylized and contain a sort of creation myth for the rabbits involving Frith, the sun god, and El-ahrairah, the prince of all rabbits. The rest of the film presents fairly realistic representations of the rabbits.

For myself, I was somewhat disappointed this time through. The film was very episodic and seemed a little jerky. And it was not an epic fantasy type film. In several areas I found it a little dull and wished for something to happen. Probably that’s just curmudgeonly me reacting to the animation changes of the last 30 years. I’m glad I saw it again, but I would not recommend it for younger viewers.

Of course, your mileage will certainly vary. Bear in mind that my taste is in my mouth and you may love this film. If so, spread the word.

My postings may be spotty over the next month or so. I am taking on a new day job and it will require relocation, so I may not have time to view and report. I will try, but I am being realistic. I am about to have an incredibly intense five weeks. The same will apply to my Forgotten Book posts on Thursday.

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

 

Forgotten Films: Cloverfield (2008)

J.J. Adams claims Cloverfield was his attempt to make an American Godzilla movie.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 159th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week the second Cloverfield movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, opened. I went on Saturday and enjoyed the film quite a bit. The two people I went with had not seen the original film and asked me probing questions about it. So immediately after returning home, I dug out my DVD of the 2008 film to reacquaint myself with it.

Cloverfield is an American monster movie. It is told in the found-footage format used so wonderfully (or awfully, depending on your viewpoint) in The Blair Witch Project. The film follows a major storyline and one minor one. The first scene delves into the minor story where Rob and Beth (Michael Stahl-David and Odette Yustman, respectively) are 30-ish lovers, having just had their first sexual experience with each other in Beth’s father’s place, overlooking Central Park in New York City. They are rapt in the throes of love and Rob is showing Beth the joys of Coney Island and documenting it on his camera.

Cut to a farewell party about a month later. Rob is being assigned as a VP in Japan by his company and is hanging out with his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas). They’re being documented by Rob’s best friend Hud (T. J. Miller), who is totally clueless in how to tape testimonials at a party. Hud is doing this because he wants to get close to Lily’s friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan).

Rob and Beth have a fight. Apparently Rob has not talked to or emailed Beth since their hot date and she is upset, showing up to the party with another guy, Travis (Ben Feldman). Beth and Travis leave.

A short while later, there is a loud explosion, and lights across the city begin to go out. This causes the group to try to go to the roof and see what is happening. They cannot tell much, but it is obvious something is going down.

Everyone gets down to street level, and Jason, Rob, Hud, Lily and Marlena try to get to the Brooklyn Bridge to get out of Manhattan. As they watch, something crashes in the street in front of them – the head of the Statue of Liberty. Fire and chaos surround them. Suddenly, Rob’s phone rings. It’s Beth. Her building has collapsed on her and she cannot move. They are right at the Brooklyn Bridge and Beth is located near Columbus Circle, a spot apparently not close to where they are.

Jason is separated from the group when the monster attacks and destroys the bridge. The shaky found footage works really well for this. Jason is killed in this attack. The group turns around to find Beth. They encounter nasty troubles in the subway and in Beth’s collapsed building, all while trying to avoid the monster and the army.

There are some problems with the film, not the least of which is, when facing the Apocalypse, I would have dropped the camera and worried more about saving myself rather than documenting the trials of some spoiled New Yorkers. And, to some people, the found footage and shaky camera work may induce nausea and headaches. I am not one of those folks.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the film. I preferred to see it as Cthulhu Eats Manhattan, while others called it an American Godzilla film. The monster is never clearly seen with the shaky camera and smoke pervading the frames. In watching some of the DVD extras, J.J. Abrams wanted to make a Godzilla for America. I like my interpretation better: the idea of some powerful, uncaring creature arriving with no notice, no apparent motivations and no compunctions about killing. At the end of the film, we know about as much as we did when it started. The creature has been given the code name Cloverfield, for reason we are not given. We do not know the final disposition of the battle or the creature. Which I think is totally right. Hopefully you will also.

If you have not seen it, check out Cloverfield. If you have, I recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane also. But, as I have said, my taste is my own and your mileage may vary. Hopefully not. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

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

 

 

Forgotten Film: The Enchanted Cottage (1945)

Many contemporary fantasies fall flat. This one doesn't.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 157th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It is rare that I get excited about contemporary fantasies, either on film or in published form. It’s not that I don’t like them. I really do but, as a general rule, they don’t ring true. There are some major exceptions – Portrait of Jenny and The Bishop’s Wife excel in both forms primarily due to the amazing stories crafted by Robert Nathan.

I want to direct your attention to one of my favorite contemporary films, The Enchanted Cottage. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Based on the play by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, the 1945 version is the second filmed adaptation following a silent version from 1924, which starred Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy.

In the 1945 version, we have an amazing cast including Dorothy McGuire as Laura Pennington, Robert Young as Oliver Bradford, Herbert Marshall as the blind pianist John Hillgrove, Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Minnett and Spring Byington as Oliver’s mother, Violet Price.

In a quaint New England coastal town, Mrs. Minnett has a cottage for lease. The cottage has a reputation of being an enchanted place for honeymooners. Intent on leasing it are Oliver Bradford, an Army pilot, and his fiancée Beatrice (Hillary Brooke). Mrs. Minnett has engaged a local young unmarried woman, Laura Pennington, to be the maid for the young couple. The wedding is set for Monday, December 8, 1941. But before they can be married, Oliver is called up by the military and departs for the war, promising to return and marry Beatrice.

He does return but not as the man he was before. He has been shot down and suffered some severe damage. His right arm is virtually useless and he has had nerve damage to his face. He is no longer the dashing young man he was before the war. He returns to the cottage to escape from his mother and his fiancé who have not dealt well with the changes. When he refuses to respond to them, they leave and Oliver is left alone in the house with the exception of Laura, the maid.

Laura is homely and socially inept. She wears bad clothing that does not fit well and an awful hairstyle. Her makeup does not work. At a soldier’s canteen dance, every woman other woman is asked to dance except her. Love starved GI’s who have not seen a woman in months would rather sit a dance out than to be with her.

Laura encounters Oliver about to kill himself and stops him. He asks her if she knows what it is like to be shunned based on looks, and when he looks at her, he knows that she does. He is embarrassed for asking the question. After stopping the suicide, she gradually draws him out with the help of John Hillgrove, a friend of Oliver’s brother. Since Hillgrove does not see him, Oliver relaxes around him.

Eventually Oliver faces a crisis. His mother demands that he leave the cottage and come stay with her or she will come move in with him. Violet, as played by Spring Byington, is a clueless character who cares only for her own convenience. In a fit of panic, Oliver asks Laura to marry him. Laura has loved him for ages and wants to do this, but Oliver suddenly recants, thinking that this might be nothing more than a marriage of convenience to avoid his mother rather than one of love.

The pair marry anyway and Oliver’s doubts do not disappear. The couple spend their wedding night in the cottage and Oliver balks at it all, feeling he has deceived her. Suddenly there is a feeling in the cottage of something changing. Oliver’s injuries and imperfections are gone; Laura is suddenly beautiful. The cottage is working its magic. The couple has never been happier.

The film is sweet and rings true. It could easily be a maudlin mess but director John Cromwell, working with a script from DeWitt Bodeen with tweaks from Herman J. Mankiewicz, pull it off. The film was nominated for one Oscar for Best Original Score from the amazing Roy Webb. The score is wonderful and Webb apparently gave a performance of the suite at the Hollywood Bowl the year after the film’s release.

Apparently, when the film was released, the critics considered it too manipulative of their emotions and savaged it while they late embraced The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946 for its honest portrayal of the war’s effects on veterans returning home damaged to their families.

The TBYOOL is a great film. But I’ll take The Enchanted Cottage. IMDB indicates that a new version is due in 2016. Somehow I don’t think lightning will strike twice to make such a wonderful film. I hope they prove me wrong. Check it out when you get the chance.

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

 

Forgotten Film: Time After Time (1979)

Time After Time pits H.G. Wells against Jack the Ripper in 1979 San Francisco.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 150th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

For me, this week we really do have a Forgotten Film. I recorded Time After Time the other day knowing I had seen it somewhere along the way, though not in the theater when it was released. It was released in late August 1979 when my work schedule was pretty hectic and I was dating the amazing Sandi. Two months later, Montgomery Ward moved me from San Antonio to Laredo, Texas, which was like going to the third or fourth level of Hell.

Anyway, I knew the basic premise. Jack the Ripper steals H. G. Wells’ real time machine and goes to 1979 San Francisco. Wells follows and tries to stop him. Sounds like a film I would really love. But I didn’t remember hardly anything about it before I screened it yesterday.

As I watched the film, I did not recall anything specific about it. I really think that I must have never seen it, but I knew enough about it to think I did.

I gave you the basics. Dr. John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner) is a London doctor in 1893 with some truly nasty habits which include slicing up prostitutes in Whitechapel and sending notes signed “Jack the Ripper.” He is a friend of H. G. Wells, visiting regularly for dinner and chess. As the film opens, Stevenson commits one of the murders on his way to Wells’ (played by Malcolm McDowell) for dinner.

Wells has something to show his friends on this particular evening – a working time machine. His is reluctant to test it yet, but he shows his guests the basic operations. A truly bad move on his part. The demonstration is interrupted when police arrive at the house looking for the murderer. Clues have led them to the area and while there, they discover Stevenson’s medical bag contains some bloody ephemera and souvenirs from the murder. The house is immediately searched but Stevenson cannot be found.

When the police leave, Wells suddenly has a revelation and going into his basement, he finds the time machine is missing. As he is watching, the machine returns empty, using a recall method that Wells had installed. He peers into the cab of the machine and finds it has been set for 1979. He hurriedly borrows money from his housekeeper and uses the machine to travel to the future.

Wells has imagined a utopian future where logic and reason have removed war and crime from the human condition. Not taking the Earth’s rotation into account, Wells arrives in San Francisco instead of London as he expected. His Victorian clothes and manners add a humorous effect to the film.

He realizes he has no easy way to find Stevenson, so he goes to a jeweler to sell some of the jewelry but fails in this attempt since the jeweler wants some form of identification. He eventually ends up at a pawn shop where such trivialities are not a matter of concern.

Realizing that Stevenson will have to convert his British currency and coins to American dollars he goes from bank to bank to try and find a clue. At the Chartered Bank of London, he meets the Foreign Currency Exchange Officer Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen), who has handled a transaction for Stevenson the day before and has recommended the Hyatt Regency to him.

Wells tracks Stevenson there. A fight ensues and Stevenson flees. With wells in pursuit, the two ran for an interminable period before Stevenson is hit by a car. He is tracked to the hospital where Wells is told that Stevenson is dead.

Amy has flirted with Wells and aggressively pursued him while he was at the bank. So when he returns to the area, she picks him up and takes him to lunch. They tour the city and end up as lovers. Soon it becomes apparent that Stevenson is not dead and, when he exchanges money again, he figures out that Amy was the one who set Wells on his trail.

I’ll save the rest for you to see for yourself. It’s kind of fun. McDowell and Steenburgen worked very well together, and they obviously enjoyed their time together, as they were married the next year and stayed together for ten years.

Much of the film’s charm comes from the reactions of a highly educated and fairly liberal Victorian writer to the world of 1979. McDowell plays Wells almost a naïf in his reactions to the knowledge of two (!!!) WORLD WARS as well as other wars. And the ease with which someone in the U.S. could procure a firearm. And the idea of Women’s Liberation.

All in all, I enjoyed the film, seeing it for the first time since I no longer recall the early viewing. And I loved the soundtrack from one of my favorite composers, Miklos Rozsa. It was reminiscent of some of my favorites of his work, like El Cid and Ben Hur.

According to Slashfilm.com, Time After Time has been picked up by Kevin Williamson of Scream fame and ABC has picked up the series. No idea when this will be happening, but the article was from September 2015. Of course, I had no idea of this when I selected the film for viewing. It had been a part of a science fiction marathon on TCM on New Years’ Day.

It appears to be readily available for reasonable prices if you want to find it. If you have not seen it, give it a look. If you saw it more than 30 years ago and remember nothing about it, also give it a try. And, as always, remember my taste is in my mouth and 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: Coherence (2013)

Coherence offers some interesting twists, but its characters are yuppie scum.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 132nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week I back with a new review of a Forgotten Film, after a wild week of trivia contests and the like. If you check yesterday’s post here on the blog you’ll find my long report on the event. My team conquered the world and became the first National Trivia League champion, defeating more than 200 teams from 91 different cities around the country.

Anyway, this Labor Day weekend I was invited to a friend’s home with some other friends to watch some science fiction and fantasy films. We saw five films during the day and Coherence indicates that this film came out in 2013. I missed it totally at that time, not even hearing the name or anything about it. IMDB shows that it only took in $68,000 in its domestic release.

The film deals with a single evening in the life of eight people, four couples, some of whom know each other, though no one really appears to know everyone. Four men, four women of various ages. There is a comet passing close to Earth overhead. One of the guest, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) has a brother (not shown) who is an astronomer or some sort of scientist.

Weird things start to happen. Cell phone screens break for Em (Emily Foxler) and Hugh. There are tensions among the group. Mike (Nicholas Brendon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is an actor from the old Roswell TV series (not really) but he can’t find work. Em’s old boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) shows up with Laurie (Lauren Maher), whom none of the ladies like.

Things start slowly (really slowly, enough that I made some comment about My Dinner With Kahoutek in relation to the film) and then the lights go out. Candles get lit, women scream, glowsticks are found, and hysteria starts to raise its ugly head. Hugh looks outside and sees that there is a house up about two blocks that has lights on. He wants to call his brother and let him know what is going on. Hugh and Amir (Alex Manugian) go to check things out. They are gone for a while.

When they return, Hugh has a cut on his head and Amir has a locked box. Hugh claims not to have seen anything at the house and Amir says Hugh told him to take the box though Hugh denies this. Once the cut is treated, the box is open. Inside are photos of all eight dinner guests, including one of Amir that could only have been taken that evening. There are numbers written on the back of the photos in handwriting that Em recognizes as her own. Hugh then reveals that he saw something at the other house. He saw the eight of them inside.

Hugh’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) remembers that Hugh’s brother left a book when he visited the other day and she has it in their car outside. It’s an odd physics book and they open it at random and start talking about coherence and decoherence in a quantum physics sort of way. There are discussions of Shroedinger’s cat and the quandary it posed.

From here the film takes a very dark turn. Mike is concerned that the other him must be drinking and he is not a nice person when he is drinking. He wants to make a pre-emptive strike to prevent the other him from murdering him. That’s about as sane as it gets the rest of the way. A group visits the other house, which is of course a doppelganger of the house they are in. They see two sets of themselves, each carrying different color glowsticks.

Overall, this was an interesting film. Unfortunately, the first act is where we might get to know and like each of the eight guests. They are all annoying yuppy puppies and I had no sympathy for any of them. I kept hoping they would all die, several of them sooner than others, but I wanted them all dead. You might like them better.

The whole first third of the film just drug, hence the Dinner with Kahoutek reference. There is a wonderful Philip K. Dick paranoia through the last third of the film as it becomes apparent that the dinner guests are not always the same ones that started the evening earlier. People don’t remember significant things or identifying objects and numbers.

Overall, I think I’m glad I saw it. It ended up being much better than the final film of the evening, Under the Skin, which I found hopelessly muddled and making no sense whatsoever. But I am quite sure I will never watch this one again. And, as always, you may get better mileage than I did. I hope so.

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