Sunday, February 23, 2014

Terror Island (1920)

Starring Harry Houdini, Jack Brammall, Lila Lee, Wilton Taylor, Eugene Pallette
Directed by James Cruze
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman recruits the inventor of a new submarine to help her rescue her father from bloodthirsty natives on a tropical island, but treasure sunk nearby also attracts her greedy relatives.

Real-life escape artist Harry Houdini stars in another film effort, which is hard to judge completely as a number of reels have been lost per the onscreen notes from the Kino Video release I viewed.  However,  the major structure of the film remains intact and I found it to be an engaging adventure, enlivened by Houdini's noble onscreen persona and some energetic underwater sequences.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Frankenstein (1931)

Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff, Edward Van Sloan
Directed by James Whale
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A brilliant scientist succeeds in bringing life to a human body he's assembled from dead tissue, but he's soon horrified when he realizes it's an uncontrollable monster he's created.

Universal Pictures presents another of the great classic horror films, anchored by the twin triumphs of Boris Karloff's terrific performance as the monster, and Jack Pierce's frightening makeup for the actor.  Karloff is truly mesmerizing, providing childlike wonder, mortal terror, and seething anger when called upon, and it's not hard to imagine audiences of the time screaming when the monster's attacks turn brutal.  Although it's not a close adaptation of Mary Shelley's famed novel, the film is true to her themes of the dangers of man playing god, and the terrible consequences this can have, and director Whale stages a memorable birth scene for the creature, raised to the terrific height of a staggering tower to be bathed in the electrical output of a powerful storm.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

Starring John Loder, Eleanor Parker, Bruce Lester, Lester Matthews, Forrester Harvey
Directed by Ben Stoloff
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A doctor on a walking trip visits an English village where he learns the deaths of men working in an old tin mine have been blamed on a legendary headless ghost.

A fun wartime programmer from Warner Brothers, this is a modest B-movie, but a well-assembled one with swirling fog, eerie music, and a top-flight cast.  Actor Matt Willis, who played Bela Lugosi's werewolf assistant in The Return Of The Vampire around the same time, is memorable as a mentally retarded man who becomes a prime suspect in the killings, and Parker is good as the brave young beauty who comes to his defense.  Although some elements of the mystery are a bit transparent, Stoloff still leads the proceedings efficiently towards an exciting climax.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Alphaville (1965)

Starring Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff, Laszlo Szabo, Howard Vernon
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A secret agent is sent on a mission to the city of Alphaville, home to a powerful supercomputer that completely dominates the people and is waging war with its enemies.

Possessing the look and tone of a hard-boiled 1940s film noir, complete with black-and-white photography, voice-over narration, and a grizzled cynical lead in Eddie Constantine, Godard's film uses that setting as a springboard to launch into a poetic exploration of man and existence, not easily decipherable upon first viewing.  It's a marvelous film to look at and is filled with unusual edgy scenes including at a hotel where "seductresses" take guests to their rooms and offer personal service, and at a swimming pool where independent thinkers are executed and finished off by elegant swimmers toting knives.  I can't say this type of moviemaking is my particular cup of tea, but I can respect it as an art film, although not one I truly understand yet.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The World, The Flesh And The Devil (1959)

Starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, Mel Ferrer
Directed by Ranald MacDougall
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A nuclear attack leaves New York City abandoned except for three survivors, an African-American mineworker, and a Caucasian man and woman, and each have their own ideas about the future.

An interesting character study which nicely showcases Belafonte's talents as both an actor and musician, the film is similar to Roger Corman's Last Woman On Earth, but possesses a much larger budget, affording the actors the opportunity to wander through a seemingly vast uninhabited cross-section of New York, really capturing the scale of their plight and the depth of their loneliness.  Stevens is also very strong, and although the subject of bigotry is certainly addressed, it's refreshing to see how the filmmakers largely ignore it to show its idiocy and how it likely caused the end of the world.  Although you're rooting for Belafonte and Stevens to get together, it seems clear the prejudices of the time wouldn't allow this to happen on screen, unfortunately resulting in a somewhat ambiguous ending, but this is a worthwhile picture and an important one, at least in my opinion.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Robert Lowery, Ramsay Ames, Barton MacLane
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Kharis the ancient mummy still lives, and a high priest is sent to America to reclaim him and the body of the princess Ananka, only he discovers the princess' soul now resides in a young woman.

A lesser entry in Universal's Mummy series, following the events of The Mummy's Tomb, this effort suffers a bit from weaker atmosphere, evidenced by Chaney's Mummy lumbering in stark daylight from the uninspired hideout of an abandoned railroad yard.  The film is bolstered by quality turns from John Carradine as the high priest and Ramsay Ames as the reincarnation of Kharis' lost love, a plot point from the original Mummy film not previously used in the sequels.  Unfortunately this doesn't result in any worthwhile scenes of pathos involving Chaney and Ames, but does lead the film to a somewhat unusual climax.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ghost Patrol (1936)

Starring Tim McCoy, Claudia Dell, Walter Miller, Wheeler Oakman, Jimmy Burtis
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A cowboy working for the Department of Justice tries to track down a gang robbing mail planes who are able to knock them out of the sky with a strange invention.

Western star McCoy and his ten-gallon hat seem a little out of place in this modern-day story with technology including airplanes, short wave radios, and the electricity-sapping device of a brilliant scientist.  Nevertheless, the film's a charming bit of diverting fun, economically directed by Newfield on what must have been a tight budget.  Despite the title, there's not a ghost to be found anywhere, nor a patrol really either.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray
Directed by Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A spaceship lands in Washington, D.C. bearing an alien visitor with a message for humanity, but one he insists he must personally deliver to representatives of every nation on Earth.

A powerful sci-fi classic you'd have to think was especially relevant during the atomic scares of the 1950s, but still strikes similar chords today, this picture is certainly among the best work of all those involved from cast to crew.  A terrific screenplay makes its points without hammering the viewer over the head, composer Bernard Herrmann perfectly captures the paranoia at the heart of the film with an eerie and suspenseful music score,  and Rennie makes the alien Klaatu believable in a simple and direct performance.  Few films are as thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Starring Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon
Directed by Sidney Hayers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college professor discovers his wife has been practicing witchcraft, and forces her to give it up, and burn all her protective charms, but then bad things start happening to him.

This supernatural thriller is terrifically suspenseful and entertaining, well-scripted by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, from a novel by Fritz Leiber, which had been adapted before as Weird Woman, an entry in the 1940s "Inner Sanctum" film series.  Although time and time again, I've found the original always surpasses the remake, this film is an exception, with Blair giving a solid performance as the woman who turns to witchcraft to protect her husband, sharp black-and-white photography from Reginald Wyer, and a humdinger of a climax, cleverly staged by director Hayers.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Master Mystery (1919)

Starring Harry Houdini, Marguerite Marsh, Ruth Stonehouse, Edna Britton, William Pike
Directed by Harry Grossman & Burton L. King
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In this movie serial, a young inventor employed by a patent company battles against the schemes of the evil vice president of the company, which require him to escape from multiple death traps.

Famed real-life escape artist Harry Houdini stars in an intriguing serial from the early days of silent cinema, which has been preserved on DVD by the Kino label, but is sadly incomplete, with a number of chapters lost to the ravages of time.  What remains though offers us the opportunity to see Houdini in his prime, performing escapes from a variety of forms of bondage, and it gives the viewer a certain thrill to know that our hero is escaping due to his own wits and talent, and not through the movie trickery employed in standard cliffhangers.  Unlike most of the serials I've seen, this one is densely plotted with a great deal of romantic melodrama, bringing on the action only near each chapter's conclusion, which made some chapters seem to drag a bit.  Nevertheless, it's still an entertaining saga, and a treasure for those wanting to see history's most famous magician in the flesh.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Monster And The Girl (1941)

Starring Ellen Drew, Robert Paige, Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, Onslow Stevens
Directed by Stuart Heisler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After his sister is blackmailed by gangsters into a life of debauchery, her brother confronts them only to be framed by the criminals for murder, but after he's executed, a scientist has plans for his brain.

A pretty bizarre potboiler from Paramount Pictures, this picture is part crime drama, part horror film, and yet once the man's brain is transplanted into a giant gorilla, Heisler's staging of the ape scenes make it somehow credible, hard to believe as that sounds.  Draping the beast in shadow, focusing on the creature's eyes, and allowing him no ape-like mannerisms, the director and his crew succeed in suspending our disbelief in the fantastic premise, and build eerie suspense by leaving the ape's attacks unscored on the soundtrack.  It's not a great film, but still a memorable B-movie, and boasts an impressive cast, including Oscar-winner Lukas*, and old pros like Calleia, George Zucco, and even Cliff Edwards, better known per IMDB for voicing Jiminy Cricket in Disney's Pinocchio.

*Lukas won his Oscar for Watch On The Rhine (1943), per IMDB

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tarantula (1955)

Starring John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist experimenting with a radioactive nutrient unwittingly lets a tarantula he's treated escape from his lab, and it grows into a huge menace that threatens the community nearby.

One of the best monster movies of its kind, director Jack Arnold's follow-up to It Came From Outer Space and Creature From The Black Lagoon is an involving sci-fi thriller with special effects that still look seamless, great makeup effects for the unfortunate human beings that have been injected with the nutrient, and a stalwart performance by familiar '50s leading man John Agar.  Although the picture's somewhat derivative of Them!, which set the gold standard for "giant bug" movies when released the previous year, it holds up on its own terms, and is a personal favorite of mine among Arnold's and Agar's credits.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dead Of Night (1945)

Starring Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, & Robert Hamer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An architect hired to fix up a farmhouse is disturbed to find the house and the people in it are exactly as in his recurring nightmares, and each have their own horror story to tell.

Britain's Ealing Studios presents one of the earliest horror anthologies and it's a good one, with some fine chilling moments.  It's most famous sequence is that of a ventriloquist played by Redgrave whose dummy seems to rebel against him, and Redgrave is excellent, but there's also quality horror mined from a man who sees a strange room in the mirror behind him, and a hospital patient who experiences a premonition of his death.  Not all of the vignettes are as strong, but the framing story is as gripping as the best of them, as the architect tries to recall the horrific ending of his dream before it is too late.