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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, June 30, 2013

The Astro-Zombies (1968)

Starring Wendell Corey, John Carradine, Tom Pace, Joan Patrick, Tura Satana
Directed by Ted V. Mikels
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A government project to create synthetic men to be sent into space is compromised when one of the project's doctors uses a criminal brain in one of the "astro-zombies."

Despite the presence of capable actors Wendell Corey and John Carradine, this is a Z-grade effort with weird touches of humor, including the opening and closing credits playing over unrelated footage of wind-up toy robots.  The screenplay awkwardly mixes three different sets of characters, each of whom have scenes having nothing to do with the plot, causing the film's focus and direction to meander all over the place.  It's not unwatchable, but not by much.

Friday, June 28, 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When an alien monolith is discovered underground on the moon, it transmits a message to Jupiter, prompting Earth to launch a spacecraft to travel there to investigate.

Widely praised and hailed as one of Kubrick's best, this film has earned its reputation with breathtaking special effects that are still impressive today, but it's not my particular cup of tea.  Although there's no denying its artistry, it's very slow moving, and really could use a music score, although classical music selections memorably underscore several special effects sequences.  It's also difficult to grasp the purpose of the monolith or what the film's ending means, which according to Wikipedia is much more clearly explained in Arthur C. Clarke's novel, on which the film is based.  I won't deny that it's an important picture, and a pivotal one, but it's just not a favorite of mine.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Planet Of The Apes (1968)

Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the distant future, a team of astronauts crash land on an alien world where apes are the dominant species, and humans are treated as dumb animals.

A landmark film in many respects, this well-known science fiction picture ushered in numerous sequels and a television series, and recent remakes have pushed the concept forward in new directions with more elaborate makeups and cutting-edge special effects.  But the impact of the original is still potent, with John Chambers' ape makeup designs holding up well, and the notion of an ape society that closely mirrors our own at the forefront.  With that emphasis on ideas, and its famous twist ending, the film almost plays like a big-budget episode of The Twilight Zone, and non-coincidentally Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling collaborated on the screenplay.  Heston's entertaining performance, though it seems a trifle barbaric today, is without doubt a key part of the film's long staying power.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Terror-Creatures From The Grave (1965)

Starring Barbara Steele, Walter Brandi, Marilyn Mitchell, Alfred Rice, Richard Garrett
Directed by Ralph Zucker
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A lawyer visits a scientist's villa to assist him in drawing up a will, only to discover he's been dead a year, and his associates are now dying under mysterious circumstances.

We have here another foray into Italian gothic horror for actress Barbara Steele, that ranks among her best films, although her part is really a supporting role.  A strong mystery story and memorable music score make this film a winner, although it's unfortunate that the filmmakers didn't choose to go all out in depicting the creatures of the title in the film's harrowing climax.  Perhaps in explanation of this, IMDB indicates that the actual director of the film, Massimo Pupillo, took his name off the film, affording the directing credit to Zucker, the film's producer.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Power (1968)

Starring George Hamilton, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Carlson, Yvonne De Carlo, Earl Holliman
Directed by Byron Haskin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When it's discovered a scientific committee has among its members an individual with incredible mental abilities, a member of the committee is murdered, and the young scientist suspected goes on the run to prove his innocence.

Producer George Pal, famed for science fiction films like Destination Moon and The War Of The Worlds, does not fare as well with this picture, despite a talented cast and intriguing premise.  In my estimation, the problem seems to be that the screenplay becomes a little muddled after a fine opening to the film, and it takes a while to make sense of what's going on, especially with the villain's motives never really being explained.  Still, Pal's flair for sci-fi adventure shines through, despite the movie's shortcomings.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Five Million Years To Earth (1967)

Starring James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover, Duncan Lamont
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When an underground excavation in London unearths a large metal object, authorities conclude it's an old German bomb, but rocket scientist Professor Quatermass believes it's an ancient spaceship.

The third adaptation produced by Hammer Films of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass television serials, this one was filmed a decade after the first and features more advanced special effects, although they still show their age.  The emphasis however is still on Kneale's ideas, including the possibility that ancient aliens became the basis for the concept of the devil in early civilizations.  The film's first half does a superb job of unveiling those ideas in a number of suspenseful sequences, but loses a bit of energy in its second half, perhaps due to the difficulty of condensing the lengthy serial story down to two hours.  Nonetheless, it's still an entertaining sci-fi adventure.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Shuttered Room (1967)

Starring Gig Young, Carol Lynley, Oliver Reed, Flora Robson, Judith Arthy
Directed by David Greene
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman returns with her husband to her childhood home on the isle of Dunwich, but the island residents warn her it is a house of evil.

Based on a story by August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft, this is a disturbing tale of horror, but the shocking secret of the house is at times less disturbing then the reckless youths of the island, who also threaten the young couple.  Although this affords a showy role for Oliver Reed as the gang's ringleader, it's too similar to parts he's played before, and I feel the filmmakers would have been better off focusing more on the mystery behind the creature in "the shuttered room."  The film's avant-garde music score, featuring a combination of jazz and discordant rhythms is as interesting risk, although I'm not sure it makes the picture any better.  Still, the cast puts in good work here, there's some striking photography, and the story is a classic, even if the film isn't.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Countdown (1967)

Starring James Caan, Joanna Moore, Robert Duvall, Barbara Baxley, Charles Aidman
Directed by Robert Altman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

As NASA ramps up efforts to land a man on the moon before the Russians can, they change their choice for the astronaut, giving him only three weeks to train for the mission.

A realistic imagining of the behind-the-scenes preparations for the first lunar mission, this film has a timely resonance, released only a year before Neil Armstrong actually set foot on the moon.  Drama is mined from the original astronaut being passed over, the impact of the new astronaut's mission on his wife, and a concerned doctor trying to talk him out of the mission, well-conveyed by a fine cast including Caan, Moore, Duvall, and Aidman.  However, the film doesn't really become exciting until the rocket takes off, culminating in a climactic sequence on the moon highlighted by a fantastic lunar set.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Berserk (1967)

Starring Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson
Directed by Jim O'Connolly
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A series of murders at a traveling circus cast suspicion on the ruthless circus owner, who's been trying to find a way to revive the outfit's sagging box office.

One of a number of horror films fashioned as star vehicles for Crawford in the 1960s, this one wisely balances the sinister goings-on with genuinely entertaining circus performances, including an elephant act, acrobats, and even an assortment of trained poodles, making the climactic high wire act seem even more realistic and suspenseful.  However, Crawford's a bit too old to be presented as she is as a convincing object of desire for the male leads, and when the killer is finally revealed, there's a great deal of gaping plot holes that are never filled in.  Nonetheless, it's still an enjoyable picture.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Night Fright (1967)

Starring John Agar, Carol Gilley, Ralph Baker, Jr., Dorothy Davis, Bill Thurman
Directed by James A. Sullivan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a top-secret rocket crashes inside a rural county, the local sheriff discovers a murdering unnatural creature is on the loose.

A low-budget independent production, featuring Agar, playing the sheriff, as the only real "name" actor in the cast, this film doesn't have much to offer besides its creature, which looks to be a fairly unique makeup, but one we never really get a good look at due to too poorly lit night scenes.  The cast isn't bad, but the plot line, focusing too much attention on some rebellious teenagers, isn't anything we haven't seen before.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mars Needs Women (1967)

Starring Tommy Kirk, Yvonne Craig, Warren Hammack, Anthony Houston, Larry Tanner
Directed by Larry Buchanan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A shortage of females on the planet Mars leads the Martians to launch a mission to abduct five Earth women and bring them back to Mars for research.

Although writer/director Larry Buchanan has been probably justifiably maligned for his body of work, this is one of his better efforts, even if the special effects are practically non-existent.  The hook here is the love story between lead Martian Kirk and an attractive lady scientist played by Craig, who imbues her with the same perky friendliness she would bring to her role as Batgirl on the Batman TV series.  More than in any of Buchanan's films, at least of those I've seen, her performance draws us into caring about these characters, making us forget the low budget trappings.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Journey To The Center Of Time (1967)

Starring Scott Brady, Anthony Eisley, Gigi Perreau, Abraham Sofaer, Austin Green
Directed by David L. Hewitt
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A team of scientists trying to find a way to look into the future accidentally open a rift that transports them and their lab five thousand years forward in time.

More ambitious than its budget, this film can't deliver the goods as far as realistically depicting a future Earth, or one of the ancient past, and we get very sparsely decorated sets instead.  The journeys to those sets aren't any better, as the bulk of the movie is largely confined to technical discussions among the actors, and some very limited special effects, and it doesn't help that the story is far too similar to other efforts of the era, like The Time Travelers and The Terrornauts.  The film does boast a pretty good cast- it's just too bad the filmmakers couldn't build a better movie around them.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gallery Of Horror (1967)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Rochelle Hudson, Roger Gentry, Ron Doyle
Directed by David L. Hewitt
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Five tales of the supernatural are presented, each involving a different monster preying on the innocent.

Although this film attempts to emulate American International Pictures' Edgar Allan Poe series with swirling colored smoke under the opening credit and footage that appears to be lifted from those films, there's no camouflaging its low budget and second tier, if not third tier, actors.  Though stars Lon Chaney, Jr. and John Carradine are assets to the production, each appears in only one tale, (although Carradine narrates the host segments), depending on the less distinguished actors to carry the film, which they just can't do successfully.  Still, this movie is fun in its own way, offering low budget tales of horror which aren't bad really, just not very effectively presented.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It! (1967)

Starring Roddy McDowall, Jill Haworth, Paul Maxwell, Aubrey Richards, Ernest Clark
Directed by Herbert J. Leder
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A mentally unbalanced museum employee discovers that one of the museum's statues may be the legendary Golem, and seeks a way to bring it back to life.

I'm very fond of this movie, an exciting mixture of sci-fi and horror with Roddy McDowall excellent in the leading role.  It had to have been a difficult part to play, as in some scenes he's perfectly rational, and in others completely whacko, but still manages to evoke audience sympathy at times.  The staging of the statue's rebirth scenes is very well-done, and the lighting, photography, and editing cleverly enhance its presence as a foreboding figure.  Where the film's a bit weaker is in its screenplay, which borrows a bit too much from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho to explain McDowall's strange unbalanced behavior.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Starring Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Alfie Bass, Jessie Robins, Sharon Tate
Directed by Roman Polanski
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A professor and his assistant hunt vampires in a remote district, but their efforts continually backfire.

Meant to be something of a comedy, Roman Polanski's film, which also features the director as the professor's youthful assistant, doesn't really have enough humor to qualify, although there are some inspired moments.  The impression one really takes away from this film is Polanski's emphasis on realism, with drab color and grungy-looking sets, and none of the Hollywood polish one expects in films of this type.  The exception is Sharon Tate, whose crimson hair and luminous beauty shines through in her brief scenes, making her real-life murder even more tragic.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hillbillys In A Haunted House (1967)

Starring Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, Don Bowman, John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr.
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Two country singers and their manager are stranded at a haunted house and must spend the night there, not realizing it's the headquarters for a spy ring.

Any plot here is pretty much incidental, as this is a showcase for a number of country acts to sing, in this follow-up to the similarly themed Las Vegas Hillbillys, which also starred Husky, according to IMDB.  Although the songs are pleasant and I enjoyed listening to them, they're not very imaginatively staged, and have little to do with the film's story.  The film's most notable for its inclusion as the villains, aging horror stars Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney, Jr., and John Carradine, none of which are given anything interesting to do, although it's good to see them together on screen one last time- according to IMDB, this was one of Rathbone's last films.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Deadly Bees (1967)

Starring Suzanna Leigh, Frank Finlay, Guy Doleman, Catherine Finn, John Harvey
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An overworked pop singer is ordered by her doctor to convalesce on a secluded island, where she discovers someone has found a way to get killer bees to attack people.

This film could have benefitted from a much stronger mystery story and more red herrings, with only two suspects who could possibly be behind the killer bees, and it becomes clear fairly early in the film who the villain is.  Nevertheless, Leigh is a lovely leading lady who gives a good performance, and Francis effectively stages the bee attack scenes, creating some genuine suspense and terror, tapping into our natural fears of being stung.  I enjoyed it on that level, although as a horror film, it falls short of being effectively terrifying or especially memorable.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Terrornauts (1967)

Starring Simon Oates, Zena Marshall, Charles Hawtrey, Patricia Hayes, Stanley Meadows
Directed by Montgomery Tully
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Scientists listening for signals from outer space detect one and transmit back, resulting in their being transported to an asteroid by an alien spacecraft.

Although the premise of this film, based on a novel by Murray Leinster, makes for an interesting sci-fi adventure, this is compromised somewhat by extremely low-tech special effects, and yet I still had a good time watching this.  It's regrettable that outdoor landscapes for an archaeological site on Earth and an alien world look a bit too similar, and a rescue sequence involving hostile aliens is a bit too brief.  However, the cast of colorful characters, a pretty good music score, and some mystery as the scientists try to figure out alien contraptions all add up to an entertaining movie.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

They Came From Beyond Space (1967)

Starring Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin, Bernard Kay, Michael Gough
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a team of scientists investigate a group of meteorites that landed on Earth, their bodies are taken over by alien minds that direct them to construct a secret installation.

Based on a novel by Joseph Millard called "The Gods Hate Kansas," the setting is updated for this film to Cornwall, England making that title obsolete.  The plot is very reminiscent of the British television serial Quatermass 2, which was also made into a film with the same title, both of which are better than this movie.  There are some effective scenes in which the aliens take control of their human bodies and a plague spreads from one victim to another, effectively directed by Francis.  I also liked Hutton in the lead role, but the film is rather flatly photographed and unfortunately has a low-budget look and feel the filmmakers can't overcome.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

Starring Andre Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Elizabeth Sellars, Maggie Kimberly
Directed by John Gilling
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After the body of an Egyptian prince and the mummy of the slave who protected him are reunited, the mummy is brought back to life to murder those that entered the prince's tomb.

Probably the second best of the series of "Mummy" pictures produced by Hammer Films, (with 1959's The Mummy being the best), this film follows the same formula as most of this type with the mummy hunting down the archaeologists who desecrated the tomb one by one, but benefits from a strong cast and good direction by Gilling, who also wrote the screenplay.  A standout character is an Egyptian fortune teller (played by Catherine Lacey) who cackles in delight when informing the mummy's victims they are going to die, but her ability to actually watch the other characters wherever they are in her crystal ball seems a bit far fetched.  Although again we have a mummy played by a stuntman who doesn't provide much depth to their role, all in all, it's an entertaining film, not the most suspenseful of Gilling's, but fun nonetheless.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Starring Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters, Robert Morris, Duncan Lamont
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Victor Frankenstein begins a new wave of experiments focused on transplanting a soul from a dead body to another, transforming a crippled scarred girl into a lovely but deadly woman.

This entry in Hammer Films' Frankenstein series features actress Susan Denberg as Frankenstein's latest monster, whom Wikipedia indicates had been a Playboy model, but stays fully clothed on camera.  The reverse effect of creating a beautiful monster instead of a grotesque one is an interesting one, but the screenplay doesn't follow through on the possibilities, fashioning a somewhat by-the-numbers revenge plot.  Nevertheless, it's diverting and well-photographed, and the filmmakers should be given credit for trying something different, albeit not successfully so.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Phantom Of Soho (1964)

Starring Dieter Borsche, Barbara Rutting, Hans Sohnker, Peter Vogel, Helga Sommerfeld
Directed by Franz Gottlieb

A Scotland Yard inspector tries to discover the identity of a killer who stabs several people to death in London's Soho district.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

One of several German adaptations filmed in the 1960s of the works of novelist Edgar Wallace, this is an intriguing mystery with some good suspense and touches of humor.  In one of the filmmakers' best visual ideas, the murders are all filmed from the killer's point of view showing a flash of their ghostly hands and the gleaming knife, but leaving us to guess at their identity and why they seem so fearsome to the victims.  As the screenplay drops hints here and there as the film progresses, it takes us on a twisting journey which I found very involving.  There's some unnecessary brief nudity in scenes within a seedy nightclub, but otherwise I found little at fault in this film.