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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!


Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bat Whispers (1930)

Starring Chester Morris, Chance Ward, Una Merkel, Richard Tucker, Wilson Benge
Directed by Roland West
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After renting the house of a prestigious banker, a lady and her housemaid are frightened by the appearance of "The Bat," a masked villain after a sum of money hidden in the house. 

According to Wikipedia, this film is reputed for being filmed in an early widescreen format and also as a possible inspiration for the creator of the comic book hero Batman.  I found it to be an interesting and well-filmed mystery, although it has probably a few too many characters to keep track of.  The camerawork in particular should be singled out, which is very dynamic for an early sound film, panning up buildings and through windows and following a police car as it darts in and out of traffic during a high speed chase.  Based on a story and stageplay by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and previously filmed by director West in the 1920s as a silent film, the spoken dialogue this time around benefits the comic moments in the screenplay, and gives Morris a fine showcase.  However, there's just a bit too many characters and too much going on to follow for my taste.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Mad Ghoul (1943)

Starring David Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, George Zucco, Robert Armstrong, Turhan Bey
Directed by James Hogan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A chemistry professor recreates an ancient poison gas that turns men into zombies, and uses it on his assistant, so he can pursue the young man's beautiful fiancee.

One of my favorites of the horror pictures Universal Pictures put out in the 1940s, this one features George Zucco in fine sinister form as the villain, well-supported by a cast of Universal's contract players, along with King Kong's Robert Armstrong, entertaining as a wisecracking reporter.  Although star David Bruce turns in a fairly non-descript performance as the monster of the film, the zombie makeup on him by Universal's Jack Pierce is nicely understated but effective.  But despite being third-billed, this is clearly Zucco's film, and he's a pleasure to watch as his evil character cleverly uses his silver tongue to advance his agenda.

Doomsday Machine (1972)

Starring Bobby Van, Ruta Lee, Mala Powers, James Craig, Grant Williams
Directed by Harry Hope & Lee Sholem
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After U.S. authorities discover China is in possession of a doomsday weapon, they add women to the crew of a space flight to Venus, so that the human race won't die with the planet Earth.

This film offers a very good sci-fi premise, and it's unfortunate the movie's limited budget and production values can't do it justice.  The special effects are barely serviceable, and although the screenplay and the actors held my interest, this story would have likely been better off in more capable hands.  The movie's not without some fun, as when Williams' character transforms into a loony villain, and it's interesting to see future TV stars Mike Farrell and Casey Kasem pop up in small supporting roles.  However, any positives are completely overwhelmed by a horrible ending, which according to IMDB was filmed years after the rest of the film in order to finish it after production was stalled, but they can't have spent much money.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Eat Your Skin (1964)

Starring William Joyce, Heather Hewitt, Betty Hyatt Linton, Dan Stapleton, Walter Coy
Directed by Del Tenney
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A publisher coaxes his star novelist into traveling with him to a tropical island for inspiration, but when they get there, voodoo sacrifices and zombies make it a hazardous vacation.

An efficient thriller from independent producer Del Tenney, who also made The Horror Of Party Beach and The Curse Of The Living Corpse, this doesn't have the depth or shock value of some other voodoo/zombie pictures, but it's fun and doesn't overstay its welcome.  IMDB says the original title was simply Zombies, but it wasn't released until 1971, and then renamed I Eat Your Skin, probably to capitalize on the popularity of 1968's Night Of The Living Dead- there's no actual skin-eating in this movie as there was in that film.  The zombie makeups are distinctive if not groundbreaking, with decaying skin and crusted-over eyes, the voodoo rituals are well-staged, and Tenney's script mixes in enough humor and romance to keep things moving at a nice pace.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

War Between The Planets (1966)

Starring Jack Stuart, Amber Collins, Enzo Fiermonte, Alina Zalewska, Freddy Unger
Directed by Anthony Dawson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Repeated natural disasters on Earth lead authorities to look into outer space to find a cause, and send Commander Rod Jackson, who discovers a giant asteroid is to blame.

This is another sci-fi effort from Italian director Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson), and he makes good use of costumes, settings, and special effects from his previous films, such as Assignment: Outer Space and The Wild Wild Planet.  Focusing as much on the strain on Commander Jackson's crew, and the women he's involved with as the actual mission to save the Earth, there's no time to explore the origins or intelligence behind the rogue asteroid, and once they land on the asteroid, what they find seems all too similar to Margheriti's Battle Of The Worlds.  So this was a bit too much of a retread for me, with not enough original ideas to sustain my interest.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Isle Of The Snake People (1971)

Starring Boris Karloff, Julissa, Carlos East, Rafael Bertrand, Yolanda Montes
Directed by Juan Ibanez
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A captain of police tries to establish law and order on an island where the people practice voodoo rites, but in return his men are assaulted and killed, and a powerful curse is placed upon him.

Here's another of the Mexican horror films actor Boris Karloff filmed scenes for before his death, none of which have been critically praised, and this one may well be the worst of the lot.  With an overemphasis on depicting the voodoo rituals at length, including an interminably long opening scene that doesn't make much sense until midway through the movie, there's not much entertainment to be had here.  There are some intriguing scenes with Karloff as a scientist trying to harness the power of the mind, and coming up with a scientific explanation for the zombies on the island, but these aren't followed through on, and what we end up with isn't worth watching.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blood Thirst (1971)

Starring Robert Winston, Katherine Henryk, Yvonne Nielson, Vic Diaz, Vic Silayan
Directed by Newt Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a murderous creature strikes in the Phillippines, leaving behind young female victims drained of blood, the local police are stymied, and call in a famed American detective for help.

This is a fun little chiller, which according to Wikipedia, was shot in 1965 but not released until years later.  It boasts excellent black and white photography and an interesting cast of characters, led by Winston's wisecracking detective.  Although obviously shot on a tight budget with nothing too elaborate as far as sets or locations, and the creature makeup being fairly limited, the film still entertains.  It almost plays like a James Bond movie, with Winston walking into dangerous traps, and romancing a woman who at first despises him.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Captain Nemo And The Underwater City (1969)

Starring Robert Ryan, Chuck Connors, Nanette Newman, Luciana Paluzzi, John Turner
Directed by James Hill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A group of passengers cast overboard during a storm are rescued by the famed Captain Nemo and taken to the incredible underwater city he's created, but he warns them they can never leave.

Wonderful sets and special effects highlight this sci-fi adventure, based on Jules Verne's classic character Captain Nemo, who was featured in his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and The Mysterious Island.  Not based on either novel, this film has an original story, imagining an underwater city as Nemo's greatest triumph and haven from the inhumanity of man, jeopardized by the desperate people he's brought there who view it as a prison.  Although star Robert Ryan is not the first performer I'd think of as Nemo, he's very true to the character, and is joined by a fine supporting cast, although a pair of greedy brothers seem to be patterned a bit too closely after comedians Laurel and Hardy.  I enjoyed this film and it's a fitting companion piece to the previous Nemo film adaptations, Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Ray Harryhausen's Mysterious Island.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Haunted House Of Horror (1969)

Starring Frankie Avalon, Jill Haworth, Dennis Price, Mark Wynter, George Sewell
Directed by Michael Armstrong
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A group of partying teenagers decide to visit a haunted house for some fun, but one of them ends up murdered, and the rest suspect the killer could be one of them.

Despite the title, this is more of a murder mystery than a supernatural thriller, and there's few attempts by the filmmakers to make the haunted house spooky or terrifying, although they should be given credit for sustaining suspense as to the murderer's identity until the film's climax.  Once we reach it, there's an effective confrontation shot between the two final suspects in which the murder weapon appears between the two, but it's not clear who's holding it, before the big reveal.  The young British cast is good, although Avalon seems an odd fit with the rest of them, but is likely in the movie with an eye towards making a profit at the U.S. box office.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Moon Zero Two (1969)

Starring James Olson, Catherine Schell, Warren Mitchell, Adrienne Corri, Ori Levy
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A space pilot is hired by an unscrupulous millionaire to crash an asteroid loaded with gemstones onto the moon.

An offbeat departure from British studio Hammer Films' usual output, this is an entertaining sci-fi adventure with a good story and a nice lead performance by James Olson.  Promoted as a "space western," it features western staples like shootouts and a barfight, but doesn't quite emphasize these scenes enough to capture the flavor of an Old West adventure.  The special effects are serviceable, not particularly well-done, but come off well enough to enhance the story where they need to.  Where the film is most interesting in its depiction of a moon city and the barren lifeless surface outside it, and the burgeoning romance between Olson and Schell, who's quite fetching, even in a bulky spacesuit.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Scream And Scream Again (1970)

Starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Judy Huxtable, Alfred Marks
Directed by Gordon Hessler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

While London police search for a killer who drinks the blood of his victims like a vampire, a mysterious operative uses murder to climb the ranks of a military government.

Despite some effective shocks, including a hospital patient waking up to discover his limbs are missing, and the presence of horror stars Price, Lee, and Cushing, this film's marred by a convoluted screenplay that fails to adequately explain a number of plot points.  Genre fans will also be disappointed that the three stars have no scenes together, save for a brief exchange between Lee and Price at film's end.  Director Hessler does stage some effective sequences, particularly a police chase of the "vampire" killer, but it's not enough to overcome the film's problems.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Starring Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The ruthless Baron Frankenstein blackmails a young couple into assisting him with his latest round of experiments, this time focused on transplanting an insane man's brain into another body.

Peter Cushing reprises his role as Victor Frankenstein for the fifth entry in the series from Britain's Hammer Films, and his character is certainly depraved this time around, lopping off a living man's head, and raping the young woman he's blackmailing.  Frankenstein's monster for this outing is a subordinate character, a sensitive scientist reborn in another body, well played by Freddie Jones.  It's hard to say whether all of this adds up to a good film, but Cushing is always watchable, and Hammer's production values give him an admirable showcase.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Mighty Gorga (1969)

Starring Anthony Eisley, Megan Timothy, Scott Brady, Kent Taylor, Gary Kent
Directed by David L. Hewitt
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A struggling circus owner desperate for a new star attraction travels to Africa in search of a legendary giant gorilla.

Borrowing more than a little from King Kong, this low budget effort can't hope to duplicate the classic film's production values, and can only offer unconvincing jungle sets and laughable special effects.  The mighty Gorga himself is an actor in a gorilla suit with such an expressionless mask, the beast seems to be in a perpetual daze, adding unintentional comedy to the proceedings.  Nevertheless I enjoyed this film- there are good actors in the cast, and the contrast between their serious performances and the inept creature effects make this a good bit of fun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Marooned (1969)

Starring Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman
Directed by John Sturges
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a team of astronauts start wearing down after five months in space, they're ordered to return to Earth, but the engines on their ship fail, prompting desperate preparations for a rescue mission.

This film has a lot going for it, featuring an all-star cast, impressive special effects, and direction by the well-regarded Sturges.  It's an entertaining enough thriller but one deeply concerned with creating a fictional but authentic-seeming version of the actual U.S. space program, and the nonstop NASA jargon gets to be a bit tiresome.  For me, it's another example of the heightened realism sci-fi films were moving towards at the end of the 1960s, which I feel is somewhat unfortunate.  But for better or worse, the real-life journeys into space during that period ended up curtailing the imagination that went into these films, and the end result was the loss of the sense of fun prevalent in the productions of the preceding decades.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Daughter Of The Mind (1969)

Starring Don Murray, Ray Milland, Gene Tierney, Barbara Dana, Edward Asner
Directed by Walter Grauman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A famous scientist is plagued by visions of his deceased daughter, and turns to a parapsychologist for help, who discovers that what he's experiencing is not all in his mind.

A terrific thriller made for television, this film is well-written and directed, and features a convincing performance by Milland as the scientist who turns from logic and reason to faith to accept what is happening to him. He's supported by a great cast, featuring Hollywood veterans like Tierney, Virginia Christine, Don Murray, and John Carradine (in a small but pivotal role), as well as Ed Asner, (before the Mary Tyler Moore show), excellent as a dogged intelligence agent trying to prove the visions are fake.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (1969)

Starring Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark, Lynn Loring, Loni von Friedl
Directed by Robert Parrish
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After discovering a new planet hidden behind the sun, a European space agency seeks funding to send a manned spaceship there to investigate.

In this sci-fi drama from producer Gerry Anderson, better known for his TV series featuring marionettes, like Thunderbirds and Fireball XL-5, the marionettes are left behind, and a capable cast of actors and fine special effects are put to good use.  However, when the screenplay's major plot twist takes place in the film's second half, the filmmakers don't go quite far enough with it, and the story is marred by a somewhat confusing climax and ending.  Also disappointingly there are a number of plot threads that are never resolved or acted on, including a brewing romance between an astronaut and the space agency's beautiful security director.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Valley Of Gwangi (1969)

Starring James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith, Freda Jackson
Directed by Jim O'Connolly
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The cast of a touring Wild West show discover a hidden valley where living prehistoric creatures still exist, and try to capture one for them to exhibit.

Aided by the always high quality effects work of master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, this is an entertaining romp mixing the seemingly impossible combination of cowboys and dinosaurs.  I've heard this was a project first developed by Harryhausen's mentor and King Kong animator Willis O'Brien, and in tribute, the film is staged as something of a King Kong remake, with the captive dinosaur escaping and endangering the movie's female lead, culminating in a climax where the beast eventually meets its fate.  The film is of course not on the same level as the classic King Kong, and is not as well-written or exciting as some of Harryhausen's other films, but still remains a diverting adventure.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blood Of Dracula's Castle (1969)

Starring John Carradine, Paula Raymond, Alexander D'Arcy, Robert Dix, Gene O'Shane
Directed by Al Adamson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A photographer and his fiancée visit a castle he's inherited, and meet the charming couple who live there, but find out too late that they're the legendary Count Dracula and his bride.

This isn't a good movie by any stretch, but it's not half bad, and to its credit, at times has the feel of a classic 1940s monster movie.  D'Arcy, Raymond, and Carradine bring forth enough class to overcome the inexperience of the other actors and the film's low production values, but too much time is spent on Dix's character, who is identified as a werewolf, but inexplicably never turns into one.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spirits Of The Dead (1968)

Starring Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Jane Fonda, Terence Stamp, James Robertson Justice
Directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Famed directors Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini adapt tales of Edgar Allan Poe in this anthology featuring some of Europe's biggest stars.

This film certainly sounds intriguing, promising fresh takes on the works of Poe by acclaimed European directors with Bardot and Fonda among the cast, but if you're expecting gripping tales of horror, they're not to be found here.  The stories selected are among Poe's lesser known works, and the emphasis here is on the directors' visual style and presentation rather than building terror and suspense.  Although each tale has some horrific elements in it, they almost seem like afterthoughts, particularly in Fellini's vignette, which updates the setting to the present day to present a satire of film and celebrity akin to the director's 8 1/2.  Film scholars may find a wealth of artistry to dissect and analyze, but as a horror film I found it to be profoundly lacking.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Latitude Zero (1969)

Starring Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Akira Takarada, Masumi Okada, Richard Jaeckel
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When their diving bell crashes to the ocean floor, three men are rescued by the captain of a futuristic submarine, who takes them to a secret undersea civilization.

This is a really fun sci-fi effort from Japan's Toho Studios, and Ishiro Honda, director of Gojira, although the principal cast including Cotten, Romero, Jaeckel, and Patricia Medina are all American actors.  The premise is intriguing, there's some nifty effects work, as well as a good score by Akira Ifukube.  Some of the costumes are a bit ludicrous, the creatures of the film are clearly men in monster suits, and Romero's villainy is at times a little over the top, but I had a grand time watching this.  Don't take it too seriously, and you will too.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Oblong Box (1969)

Starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson
Directed by Gordon Hessler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy landowner keeps his brother, maddened after his face is mutilated by African natives, locked in his room, but the man schemes with others to fake his death and escape.

Vincent Price's return to the world of Edgar Allan Poe, after making several Poe films for producer Roger Corman earlier in the decade, is quite different from those earlier films, with Price essentially playing a supporting character, and the angst and sense of dread all but gone from this adaptation.  The focus here is more centered on murder and revenge, with the new freedoms of 1969 allowing for flashes of gore and nudity.  Consequently, it doesn't really feel like an Edgar Allan Poe film until the ironic twist at the climax, but it's still a quality effort nevertheless, with good performances from Price and his fellow actors.