Saturday, January 31, 2015

Carnival Of Sinners (1943)

Starring Pierre Fresnay, Josseline Gael, Noel Roquevert, Guillaume de Sax, Palau
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A one-handed painter tells the residents of an Alpine inn the incredible story of how he traded his soul for a talisman that brought him fame and riches.

Tourneur's film offers a very engrossing morality play from France I enjoyed very much, well-acted and stylishly presented with some innovative camera work and animated effects.  Although the concept of a man selling his soul to the devil isn't new and wasn't new on cinema screens in 1943, with The Devil And Daniel Webster having preceded this picture by a few years, the story unfolds in a fresh-seeming presentation.  Palau, as the devil, doesn't make quite the same impact as Walter Huston did in Webster, but the real strength of the film is in the beauty of the screenplay's dialogue and Tourneur's skilled direction.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Body Snatcher (1945)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater, Russell Wade
Directed by Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Scottish doctor resorts to buying corpses from a grave robber in order to train his students, but regrets it once the grave robber begins intruding into his life.

We have here one of the best of producer Val Lewton's horror pictures, which avoided showing frightful scenes on screen, but built suspense and chills through shadow and sound and suggestion.  The monster here is Karloff, not in appearance, but in the psychological war he wages with Daniell's character, and both actors are in good form here, well complemented by Robert De Grasse's dark photography, and fine direction by a young Robert Wise on one of his first solo assignments.  The only down note is the wasting of the talents of Bela Lugosi in a small role, although second-billed and heavily featured in the film's trailer and advertising.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1949)

Starring Gwendoline Watford, Kay Tendeter, Irving Steen, Vernon Charles, Connie Goodwin
Directed by Ivan Barnett
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy man and his ailing sister are warned they are under a family curse that will ensure their deaths before the age of thirty.

Based on one of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous tales of horror, this adaptation is a terrible misfire, not creepy in the least, and paling in comparison to Roger Corman's 1960 adaptation of the same story, House Of Usher.  Watford and Tendeter are miscast, conveying none of the haggardness and frailty in their performances that Poe described in their characters, and to expand Poe's short story, the screenwriters add a ludicrous subplot concerning the Ushers' insane mother and her violent protection of a decapitated head.  I could overlook some of these faults if the film was more suspensefully staged, but director/cinematographer Barnett frames almost all the pivotal scenes in long shots without closeups or editing to create excitement.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bowery At Midnight (1942)

Starring Bela Lugosi, John Archer, Wanda McKay, Tom Neal, Vince Barnett
Directed by Wallace Fox
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A psychology professor leads a double life as a criminal, using a mission for the poor as a front for his activities which include theft and murder.

Here we have one of Bela Lugosi's thrillers for low-budget Monogram Pictures, notable for his dual role, and his morbid burial of his past accomplices in a cemetery in the mission's basement.  Anyone familiar with Lugosi's horror films may let loose a chuckle when he admonishes an associate, "I don't want your cat desecrating my graves."  It's a slight movie without much to recommend it, but entertaining in its own right.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Eyes In The Night (1942)

Starring Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Donna Reed, Horace McNally, Katherine Emery
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When an old friend falls under suspicion of murder, a blind private eye searches for the real culprit, and discovers an intricate plot behind the murder.

Edward Arnold makes a fine protagonist in this neat little thriller, convincingly presenting himself as blind, but with the physical and mental skills to equal any seeing detective.  His bravado in confronting the film's villains never comes off as an act or as over the top, a credit to the actor's skill. The picture's cast includes a fine roster of talented character actors, while also showcasing young ingenue Donna Reed, and a well-trained canine, although comedy veterans Allen Jenkins & Mantan Moreland aren't given much to do.  Director Zinnemann, who delivers a skillfully made picture, would eventually go on to helm much bigger movies.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)

Starring Glen Langan, Cathy Downs, William Hudson, Larry Thor, James Seay
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An army colonel is caught in a plutonium explosion, and miraculously survives, but begins growing in size, eventually turning into a 60-foot giant. 

Not a great movie, and the special effects don't hold up very well, with Langan's immense figure in much brighter contrast than the backgrounds he's inserted in, but I'm still rather fond of this picture, and it's arguably Bert I. Gordon's signature film.  At times it's hard to take seriously, with Langan's bald half-naked figure making an awkward impact on the screen, but the actor does a reasonable job of delivering the character's pain and humiliation, and like many of Gordon's other pictures, there's a fun factor in seeing what effects he's going to deliver, and what's going to happen to his characters in the end.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Raven (1963)

Starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wizard tormented by the death of his wife is lured into a confrontation with his father's rival when her spirit is sighted in his castle.

Despite the subject matter of the grim tale of Edgar Allan Poe, screenwriter Richard Matheson uses that poem as a springboard to launch a comedic adventure featuring memorable roles for Price and horror icons Lorre and Karloff, perhaps inspired by Price & Lorre's lighthearted version of Poe's The Cask Of Amontillado in Corman's Tales Of Terror the previous year.   The film suffers from weak special effects and Corman again pulls the stock footage of a burning castle from his earlier Poe pictures, but it's still a fun picture, particularly in the interplay between Price and Lorre, and affords a young Jack Nicholson one of his early credits.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Starring Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone, Shug Fisher, Bob Thompson
Directed by Ray Kellogg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young mechanic assists a rural sheriff in investigating a series of unexplained wrecks, and discover a gila monster that's grown to gigantic proportions is responsible.

Despite its low budget, and wretched special effects, this movie's a fun charmer, with Sullivan very likable in the lead, and delivering some pleasant songs as well.  The gila monster, a normal sized one photographed by itself, is simply not convincing as a giant beast, not sharing the screen with any of its victims, with only some miniature cars and bridges in the background and some booming sound effects to point out its size.  Nevertheless, I was entertained, and didn't have a problem looking past the film's failings.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cat Girl (1957)

Starring Barbara Shelley, Robert Ayres, Kay Callard, Ernest Milton, Lily Kann
Directed by Alfred Shaughnessy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A psychiatrist tries to cure a young woman of the belief that she's inherited her family curse, and is now doomed to stalk and kill human prey in the form of a leopard.

Part horror film, part psychological drama, this is an early showcase for Barbara Shelley, who went on to similar roles in Hammer Films' horror films of the 1960s, and the picture is pretty good in my opinion, although highly derivative of 1942's Cat People.  Shelley gives a fine performance, but I feel the filmmakers could have taken other opportunities to make her seem more catlike.  Those expecting a monster makeup will be disappointed as her character's spirit enters into a leopard rather than becoming one, but the film still has some good suspense to offer and fine black-and-white photography.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unknown World (1951)

Starring Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis, Jim Bannon, Tom Handley, Dick Cogan
Directed by Terrell O. Morse
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A group of scientists fearing the H-bomb may mean the end of everything plan a journey underground to find a place where humanity could continue to exist.

Jack Rabin and Irving Block, who would go on to develop the special effects for numerous 1950's sci-fi films, also produced this effort earlier in the decade, and though the effects are nothing special, the story is a worthy one with a good screenplay that holds your interest.  Tension between the scientists and their financial backer is effectively staged, and Ernest Gold's music score helps propel the film along through some dreary patches.  Filmed in Carlsbad Caverns, which provided the setting for many movies of this type, its scenery is not as spectacularly presented here as in later efforts, but this picture is still a good low-budget adventure.

The 27th Day (1957)

Starring Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Voskovec, Arnold Moss, Stefan Schnabel
Directed by William Asher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An alien being gives a doomsday weapon to each of five representatives from the Earth, giving them the option of using or not using it within a 27 day period.

Heavy-handed at times, and perhaps unfair in its casting of the Soviet Union's leaders as villains, although their nation is never specifically named, this picture still offers an interesting morality tale quite relevant at the time- if you were given a weapon that dangerous could you trust turning it over to your government for safe-keeping?  The resolution the film comes to is a bit too much of an easy answer, but it's still an entertaining movie, with a fine roster of quality actors in the cast.

Destroy All Planets (1968)

Starring Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig, Michiko Yaegaki, Mari Atsumi
Directed by Kenji Yuasa
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Invading space aliens discover the Earth is protected by the flying turtle monster Gamera, but try to exploit his weaknesses by kidnapping a pair of young children.

This Gamera sequel is probably the weakest of the series I've yet seen, featuring less monster action and trying to make up for it by replaying lengthy battle scenes from the previous films, which should have been shortened considerably.  Although the final confrontation with a giant octopus-like creature isn't half bad, the lead-up to that sequence is a bit yawn-inducing, as there's not much of interest once the movie's focus shifts to the young boys' captivity aboard the drab alien spaceship.  By casting American Carl Craig in the role of one of the boys, the film was clearly aimed at both the Japanese and U.S. markets, an approach that would be repeated in the next sequel, Attack Of The Monsters.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

20 Million Miles To Earth (1957)

Starring William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, John Zaremba, Thomas B. Henry
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A spaceflight on a return trip from Venus crashes in the Italian sea, unleashing a creature from the planet that grows to a tremendous size on Earth.

We have here one of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen's finest films, with his detailed character animation for the Venusian creature, (dubbed the "Ymir" although never called that in the picture), among his very best work in my opinion.  The Italian setting also lends itself quite well to the exciting staging of the spaceship's waterbound crash, the Ymir's battle with an elephant in Rome's zoo, and the creature's final stand atop the famous Colosseum.  Avoiding the mistake other sci-fi filmmakers make in placing an overemphasis on the human characters and their subplots, the filmmakers wisely keep the monster front and center, and their cast largely relegated to the background.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane
Directed by John Huston
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Detective Sam Spade is hired to rescue a woman's sister from a criminal, but soon discovers he's been used as a pawn by a group of ruthless characters after a priceless statuette.

Humphrey Bogart makes quite the impact as Dashiell Hammett's private eye in this version of his famed novel, supported by quality turns from Astor, Lorre, and the unforgettable Sydney Greenstreet.   It's not hard to see how this role showcasing Bogart's toughness, intelligence, and humor launched him on the road to stardom, and marked the start of an equally fine career for his director John Huston, who delivered a stylish and entertaining mystery.  Not to be neglected is the excellent dialogue throughout the film, advancing the story and enriching each character.  Perhaps the film's only detriment, albeit a minor one, is the casting of Astor, who despite delivering an excellent performance, is not the knockout beauty that the screenplay describes her as.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Incredible Petrified World (1957)

Starring John Carradine, Robert Clarke, Phyllis Coates, Allen Windsor, Sheila Noonan
Directed by Jerry Warren
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The maiden voyage of a diving bell ends in tragedy as the chain breaks, stranding its four passengers on the ocean floor, but they're able to make their way into an underground series of caverns.

One of the films of the notorious Jerry Warren, this picture's actually not too bad, despite the director's reputation for making haphazard films, often recutting foreign pictures and adding endless-seeming narration to explain the plots.  This effort's an original adventure as far as I know, although Warren cuts in plenty of stock footage, but held my interest despite its obvious flaws.  Although the film's not a highlight of any of its actors' careers, Coates fares worst, saddled with a witchy character whose fits of anger and jealousy don't seem to make any sense.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Metropolis (1927)

Starring Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos
Directed by Fritz Lang
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The son of the master of an utopian city of the future discovers it's powered through the efforts of the subjugated worker class, who are on the verge of rebellion.

A science-fiction epic assembled by the great Fritz Lang at the height of his powers, this film still looks impressive decades after it's original release, with striking visuals, excellent photography, and a suspenseful and exciting climax.  There's much to admire in this influential masterwork, from the golden robot that's become iconic, to Brigitte Helm's dual performance as the saintly Maria and her manic evil alter ego, to the imagery of Metropolis' machines, which are contrasted to the gates of hell consuming men's souls in a memorable sequence.  Kino Video's recent restoration of the film, per its onscreen credits, adds many scenes cut over the years culled from an existing nearly complete print recently discovered overseas.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Time Machine (1960)

Starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore
Directed by George Pal
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On the eve of the 20th century, an inventor creates a functional time machine, which he uses to travel into the far future to escape the horrors of war in the present.

The classic novel by H.G. Wells becomes a classic film in the hands of fantasy filmmaker George Pal, whose credits include Destination Moon, The War Of The Worlds, and Atlantis: The Lost Continent.  Featuring distinctive art direction and good special effects, highlighted by a wonderful imagining of the time machine of Wells' novel, Pal's film makes an impact and has a wonderfully nostalgic sheen to it, abetted by Russell Garcia's charming music.  The makeup of the Morlocks, the film's fearsome villains is well-done as well, and Taylor makes a believable and worthy voice for Wells' ideas.  It stands up with each viewing, and remains one of my favorite sci-fi adventures.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weird Woman (1944)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Morgan, Elisabeth Risdon
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college professor tries to free his wife of her superstitious beliefs by destroying her protective charms, but afterward, terrible things begin to happen to him.

An adaptation of Fritz Lieber's novel, "Conjure Wife," this installment in the "Inner Sanctum" series of movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr., pales a bit by comparison to the novel's 1962 adaptation Burn, Witch, Burn, but still stands out as one of the better films in the series.  As psychological thrillers go, it's not particularly expert, but Chaney and the cast of familiar Universal contract players make it a fun diverting one, enhanced by stock music from the studio's horror films.