Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

I also cover vintage television at my sister site, CLASSICS ON THE TUBE , so please feel free to check that out as well.

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

Starring Kieron Moore, Hazel Court, Ian Hunter, Kenneth J. Warren, Gerald C. Lawson
Directed by Sidney J. Furie

A medical student kicked out of his studies in Vienna for experimenting on living patients returns home to a British village, where he continues his efforts in secret caves within a coal mine.

This isn't a great film, with a story that largely takes the main themes from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel, and applies them to a more modern setting.  Interestingly enough, per IMDB, it was written by Nathan Juran (credited here as Jerry Juran), who's better known for directing films like Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman and The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.  I've found Moore to be a fairly solid lead in his other pictures, but he doesn't compare here to the better known cinematic Dr. Frankensteins.  Nevertheless, I still found a good deal to enjoy here- Moore is surrounded by a capable supporting cast, with Court delightful as the nurse he romances, and Hunter, Warren, and Lawson standing out in fine character parts.  Cinematographer Stephen Dade captures some very picturesque scenery, including rustic homes and green fields descending down into rocky shoals.  The makeup on Moore's monster at the climax is also of quality.  The picture just lacks originality, and seems best characterized as an attempt to attract the audiences of previous Frankenstein pictures.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Lost World (1925)

Starring Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Lloyd Hughes, Alma Bennett
Directed by Harry O. Hoyt

The irascible Professor Challenger leads an expedition to an African plateau hoping to prove his claim that living dinosaurs still exist there.

An early cinematic showcase for the stop-motion effects of Willis O'Brien, who would later supervise the effects for the classics King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, this film is a treasure as well, with O'Brien bringing an allosaurus, a triceratops, a pterodactyl, a brontosaurus, and more to vivid life in footage that had to have amazed audiences of the time.  Most of the animation still holds up remarkably well, although the film is dated in other areas, especially in the inclusion of an actor in blackface speaking in fractured English.  Otherwise, the cast is fairly entertaining, with Beery ideally cast as Challenger, Hughes very earnest as the young reporter Edward Malone, and Stone a welcome sight years before his memorable run at MGM.  Also notable for being an adaptation of a work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, it's not a close adaptation, but remains an important piece of cinema history.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mysterious Island (1961)

Starring Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Herbert Lom
Directed by Cy Endfield

During the Civil War, Union soldiers escape a Confederate prison via a hot air balloon, and crash land on an unknown island where they encounter plants and creatures that have grown into giants.

One of my favorite films, the picture combines a strong story (based on Jules Verne's classic novel), with wonderful special effects by stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen.  The excellent cast, despite their characters' different backgrounds and heritages, display a real camaraderie that's infectious to the audience, cinematographer Willkie Cooper lenses colorful landscapes, and the great Bernard Herrmann accentuates the action with an adventurous music score that highlights the perils and fantastic creatures encountered by our heroes.  Verne's novel was a followup to his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and both stories featured his dynamic character Captain Nemo.  Fans of Disney's 1954 adaptation of Leagues will be pleased with the similar design of Nemo's equipment and submarine in this film, making it seem like a cinematic sequel, although with Lom playing Nemo this time around.  It's a wonderful production, visually and sonically as appealing as Verne's prose was to his audience's imagination.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Son Of Hercules In The Land Of Darkness (1964)

Starring Dan Vadis, Spela Rozin, Carla Calo, Ken Clark, Maria Fiore
Directed by Alvaro Mancori

The mighty Argoles rescues a beautiful princess and is promised her hand in marriage, but warriors from a warlike kingdom burn her village and take her prisoner, with Argoles in quick pursuit.

According to IMDB, this was originally released as Hercules The Invincible and did star Vadis as Hercules, but the DVD I watched this on featured a public domain print of the repackaged version for television, under a series called The Sons Of Hercules which split a series of sword and sandal films in two halves so they could be presented in an hour time block.   I found the first half far more interesting than the second, with Argoles/Hercules taking on a savage lion, a dragon in a creature costume that looked pretty decent, and a trained bear, who apparently just wanted to give the hero a hug.  The second half was less fresh, relying on more intrigue and backstabbing in the warlike kingdom, leading to the inevitable conclusion where the kingdom is destroyed by our hero, which had been used multiple times before this film was released.  Nonetheless, it was a pleasant enough adventure, with well-done special effects and costumes, and Vadis looked good in the lead.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Walking Dead (1936)

Starring Boris Karloff, Ricardo Cortez, Edmund Gwenn, Marguerite Churchill, Warren Hull
Directed by Michael Curtiz

A gang of racketeers frame an innocent man for their murder of a judge, but after the man is executed, a scientist is able to bring him back to life.

One of Warner Brothers' few early ventures into horror, the picture is masterfully directed by Curtiz, and perfectly framed around another memorable performance by Karloff.  Believable as a decent man wrongfully convicted and looking for work after his prison sentence, Karloff's John Ellman is noble and a gentleman, a fine reflection of Karloff's craft and his own personality.  His performance changes but is just as expert after his resurrection, to a man silent and almost zombie-like, with one eye tearful and another simmering with hatred when he recognizes the men who did him in.  Standing somewhat off kilter as he walks like a somnambulist, the role shows off his talents, and it's a shame Warners weren't able to showcase him in more features like this while he was under contract.  He's supported by Gwenn as the well-meaning scientist who nevertheless is ready to take terrible risks to secure Karloff's knowledge of the afterworld, and Cortez, wonderfully slimy as the attorney behind Ellman's framing.  Curtiz and his crew also enhance the story and its themes with a number of atmospheric touches, from expressionistic lighting in the prison, to a violent thunderstorm during a showdown in a gangster's apartment, to the haunting image of Karloff wandering among the graves of a cemetery.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Witchmaker (1969)

Starring Anthony Eisley, Thordis Brandt, Alvy Moore, John Lodge, Shelby Grant
Directed by William O. Brown

Ritual slayings of young women in a backwoods swamp brings a paranormal research team to investigate, and they discover a satan worshipper with real demonic powers is behind it all.

A low budget but well acted supernatural horror film, which concentrates less on special effects and more on the characterizations of its cast, the picture features an unusual role for familiar television comedian Alvy Moore as the serious leader of the expedition, and he impresses.  At times it's a bit exploitative with Brandt falling out of her clothes on more than one occasion, although there wasn't any frontal nudity on display.  Eisley, playing the lead as a reporter accompanying the team who doesn't quite believe in the supernatural, is solid, but I was more intrigued by Moore, and Lodge as the film's villain, a barbaric killer who tries to add Brandt to his coven of witches and warlocks.  At times the script stretches credibility, in one example claiming that if you wear garlic around your neck, witches can't see you.  However, for a low budget film, it's well-assembled with some disturbing imagery and creepy moments, and I left it with a favorable impression.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Zombies Of The Stratosphere (1952)

Starring Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, Wilson Wood, Lane Bradford, Stanley Waxman
Directed by Fred C. Brannon

Martians come to Earth in an attempt to use an H-bomb to blow the planet out of its orbit, but are opposed by government agent Larry Martin, who uses his flying suit to thwart their schemes.

The third of the "Rocket Man" movie serials from Republic Pictures, the production is arguably better than the previous year's Radar Men From The Moon, but not by much, with many "cheater" cliffhanger resolutions, and a bland hero in Holdren, who isn't able to project much of a personality in his screen time.  It's still fun though, with well-executed stunts and good special effects by the Lydecker brothers, plus the recycling yet again of the familiar robot from Mysterious Doctor Satan and other past serials for the Martians to employ.  I love that robot.  Of historical note is the presence of Leonard Nimoy in the credits, playing a Martian years before being cast as the alien Mr. Spock on Star Trek.