Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Missile To The Moon (1959)

Starring Richard Travis, Cathy Downs, K.T. Stevens, Tommy Cook, Nina Bara
Directed by Richard Cunha
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On the verge of losing control of his planned spaceflight to the moon, a scientist takes off with two escaped convicts as his crew, and on landing, they find the moon inhabited by gorgeous women.

The last of Richard Cunha's four low-budget science fiction thrillers he directed in the late 1950s, this one is also something of a remake of 1953's Cat-Women Of The Moon, and has the same kitschy charm, although there's plenty of sexism on display.  Each of the moon women is costumed in outfits meant to attract the male gaze, which they try not to let us forget, overemphasizing their chests to an almost incredible degree.  That doesn't mean the picture isn't fun, with clunky rock monsters and giant spiders on noticeable wires menacing the Earth astronauts and entertaining us.  The film also adds the new story element of a power struggle between the moon's aging queen and her upstart lieutenant, which doesn't have any depth to it, but adds some witchy conflict where its sorely needed.  Alert viewers should notice stock footage from several other science fiction adventures, and Cunha clearly made this on a shoestring, but it's a shame his series of entertaining cult favorites had to end here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Meet Boston Blackie (1941)

Starring Chester Morris, Rochelle Hudson, Richard Lane, Charles Wagenheim, Constance Worth
Directed by Robert Florey
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Former safecracker Boston Blackie finds the police on his trail when he returns home to New York, which is complicated when he's suspected in a pair of murders tied to an espionage ring.

The first "Boston Blackie" film in Columbia's long series starring Chester Morris as the ex-con trying to help others while keeping the police at bay, this is a more dynamically filmed adventure than I expected, perhaps due to the presence of innovative director Florey at the helm.  There's some clever exchanges in the screenplay, an exciting car chase, and Hudson is very cute as the young lady who's driven into trouble by Morris, but falls for him anyway.  It's fun to spot some of the familiar character actors who have very brief cameos in the film, including Byron Foulger and Nestor Paiva, and although the espionage plot is not a terribly unique or interesting one, the picture held my interest, and I found it very entertaining.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Invisible Ray (1936)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton, Violet Kemble Cooper
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An obsessed scientist discovers a powerful new element in Africa which makes his touch poisonous, and when it is taken from him and his wife falls for another man, he plots a deadly revenge. 

The third pairing of Karloff and Lugosi features Karloff in the showier part (which apparently originally was supposed to have gone to Lugosi), but the Hungarian actor gives a fine performance as the distinguished scientist Doctor Benet, although it's far from an ideal showcase.  Karloff is more memorable as Janos Rukh, whose weary movements and penetrating stare create a believable character whose brilliance has been overshadowed by those have scoffed at his theories.  The film rather closely parallels Universal's earlier effort, The Invisible Man, casting Karloff as another killer maddened by his greatest discovery, and like that film, features some breathtaking special effects.  Depictions of planets moving through a starfield captured by Rukh's astral projector are of greater quality than similar scenes from productions made decades later, and the visuals depicting a character's demise at film's end are utterly unforgettable.  Franz Waxman, who created one of horror's best film scores for Bride Of Frankenstein, also contributes effective cues for this movie's soundtrack, including both menacing themes for Karloff's attacks, as well as some lovely music for Frances Drake's leading lady.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

Starring Gene Evans, Andre Morell, John Turner, Leigh Madison, Jack MacGowran
Directed by Douglas Hickox & Eugene Lourie
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The discovery of countless dead fish and a gruesome murder near a British port is investigated by atomic scientists, who discover a giant radioactive sea monster is to blame.

This British piece of sci-fi, very similar in form to Lourie's earlier picture, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which showcased the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, is probably of most interest for effects work by Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien.  However, the creature in this film doesn't actually show up in animated form until about an hour into the picture, with earlier shots of the monster apparently accomplished via a puppet that is not animated.  Nevertheless, it's a more than effective film, with stalwart leads in Evans and Morell, inventive sound effects, and plenty of satisfying monster action.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Boy And The Pirates (1960)

Starring Charles Herbert, Susan Gordon, Murvyn Vye, Paul Guilfoyle, Joseph Turkel
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young boy, enamored with the historical exploits of famous pirates, encounters a genie in a bottle that transports him back in time onto the ship of the legendary Blackbeard. 

Bert I. Gordon, the producer/director and creator of special effects for 1950s sci-fi classics like The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack Of The Puppet People, tries his hand at a fantasy film with this time travel adventure starring Charles Herbert, the young actor from movies like The Fly and 13 Ghosts.  It's charming, but probably among the least of Gordon's films in my opinion, with a meandering story and some less than satisfying visuals.  The pirates, led by Vye's Blackbeard, are colorful, but their attacks on other vessels aren't very dynamic or exciting, and the bulk of the film focuses on weak humor in Herbert's exposure of the pirates to modern technology like safety matches and bubble gum.  Those faults aside, I still enjoyed the film, but it's a pale imitator of other fantasy classics.  The director's daughter Susan appears as a young victim of the pirates that Herbert rescues.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return Of Doctor X (1939)

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Wayne Morris, Dennis Morgan, John Litel
Directed by Vincent Sherman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a newspaper reporter loses his job after mistakenly reporting a famous starlet dead, he recruits a doctor to help him discover the truth, and are led to a blood specialist and his sinister assistant.  

Humphrey Bogart's only horror film, which I've heard was a "punishment" levied on the actor by his studio's bosses, need not be looked at a low point in the dramatic actor's career, as I feel it's a gripping and enjoyable movie.  The cast is well worth watching, with Bogart joined by Wayne Morris in an entertaining performance as the glib reporter, a young Dennis Morgan as the noble but inquisitive doctor, and John Litel, who is underrated as the mysterious Dr. Flegg.  Huntz Hall, better known for his dimwitted persona in the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys movies, even shows up as an office boy at the newspaper.  Although Bogart's character is key to the story, the actor is essentially playing a supporting role here, but strikes the right eerie notes, with a creepy vocal delivery and a menacing walk.  Although Warner Brothers didn't venture into the horror genre often, they clearly looked at rival studio Universal for a template for their film, with a screenplay that calls upon elements of both Frankenstein and Dracula, and a Bride Of Frankenstein-like white streak through Bogart's hair.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Murder Ahoy (1964)

Starring Margaret Rutherford, Lionel Jeffries, Charles Tingwell, William Mervyn, Joan Benham
Directed by George Pollock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After Miss Marple's family lineage allows her to join the trust of a historic maritime vessel, she's intrigued by the mysterious death of one of the trust's members, and decides to investigate the ship. 

The last of Margaret Rutherford's appearances as Miss Marple in MGM's adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels, this one actually isn't an adaptation at all, but features an original screenplay by David Pursall & Jack Seddon.  It's a charming mystery with Miss Rutherford in fine form as the inquisitive and clever sleuth, with plenty of comedy along with the sinister goings on.  At times I felt it was a little too intricately plotted, with a number of different criminal enterprises transpiring aboard ship that weren't quite clear to me by film's end, but it was good fun well presented, with a talented cast of British thespians.  Hammer Films fans might be interested to know that familiar actors Miles Malleson and Francis Matthews are in the cast.