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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, January 30, 2016

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly
Directed by Fred McLeod Wilcox
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the distant future, a spaceship commander travels to an alien planet to check up on a human colony, and finds them all dead save for the enigmatic Dr. Morbius and his beautiful daughter. 

One of the best science fiction films of all time, in my opinion, with Oscar-nominated and dazzling special effects that are still impressive, the picture, per Wikipedia was based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, and it's not difficult to see how it influenced a good deal of science fiction to come, most notably Star Trek and Star Wars.   The opening credits indicate Disney animator Joshua Meador was borrowed by MGM for the production, and it's clearly his work during a show-stopping battle between the spaceship's crew and the film's until-then invisible monster, but the rest of the effects, from painted mattes to the monster's formidable footprints, to the memorable design of Robby The Robot, are just as expert.  Passing on an orchestral music score, the filmmakers utilize "electronic tonalities" by Louis & Bebe Barron to create an eerie mood to accompany to the alien landscape, and although it's not my cup of tea, it certainly is as striking as the rest of the film.  Although the film is not often cited for its acting, Pidgeon, Nielsen, and Francis are perfect in roles which may well have become science fiction archetypes.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fingers At The Window (1942)

Starring Lew Ayres, Laraine Day, Basil Rathbone, Walter Kingsford, Miles Mander
Directed by Charles Lederer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An out-of-work actor comes to the rescue of a lady stalked by a man with an ax, the latest would-be victim in a series of murders by different killers, and he tries to determine how they're connected.  

MGM delivers a fun and entertaining thriller with many talented thespians in the cast, highlighted by Ayres' charming and selfless hero, Day's slightly daffy leading lady, and Rathbone's sinister villain. Although the subject matter is rather grisly and disturbing, with ax murders and the exploitation of the mentally ill central to the screenplay, the film does not come of as such with plenty of light hearted moments balancing out the grim ones.  This is a fun and diverting picture.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Diary Of A Madman (1963)

Starring Vincent Price, Nancy Kovack, Chris Warfield, Elaine Devry, Ian Wolfe
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A French magistrate doesn't believe a condemned man who claims a spirit took over his body and made him commit murder, but after the man's death, the judge is possessed by the evil Horla. 

In my opinion, this picture offers one of Vincent Price's more under-appreciated roles, and is a fun horror movie to boot, based on the stories of Guy de Maupassant, and scripted and produced by the prolific Robert E. Kent.  Price has to play not only the tormented judge, as well as a mindless killer, but also a third persona oblivious to his crimes, all within the same character, and he pulls it off well.  Price's scenes with Kovack's beautiful but gold-digging model are charming, as he excels with the romantic dialogue written by Kent, proving Price was more than just a horror actor.  The invisible Horla voiced by Joseph Ruskin, although we never really see him, is an effective spectre, flinging open the doors to Price's study and challenging the magistrate in a battle of mental trickery.  Veteran director LeBorg pulls all the elements together to assemble an entertaining contest of man versus an evil he cannot control.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Curse Of The Undead (1959)

Starring Eric Fleming, Michael Pate, Kathleen Crowley, John Hoyt, Bruce Gordon
Directed by Edward Dein
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the Old West, a preacher tries to protect his girlfriend and her ranch from a gunslinger whom he discovers is a genuine vampire. 

I wouldn't place this film among the great vampire movies, but the Western setting does make it unusual and different, and the picture has some great shadow-filled photography from Ellis Carter and eerie music from Irving Gertz that elevates the film above other efforts.  Pate plays the vampire with nobility and an almost-friendly demeanor which makes it difficult to view him as a creature of evil, and his backstory which credits his vampirism to committing suicide in his past life comes off as a bit weak.  I still enjoyed the movie, and it was welcome to see Universal returning to the roots of its horror films, just not with enough success this time.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Circus Of Horrors (1960)

Starring Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Donald Pleasence, Jane Hylton
Directed by Sidney Hayers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A brilliant plastic surgeon runs afoul of the law and goes into hiding, where he acquires a circus and uses his talents to blackmail scarred criminals into becoming his performers.

Diffring excels as a nefarious and immoral villain in this British shocker which features a number of lovely ladies in the cast who become his accomplices and his victims.  The screenplay leaves several key questions unanswered- how did someone with no experience build a successful circus?  How were all the killings ruled accidents by the police?  Why did his accomplices stay with him for ten years when he apparently provided them nothing in return?  Nonetheless, I didn't have a problem dismissing those quibbles, as Hayers has crafted a visually appealing and gripping chiller, augmented by genuine circus footage credited to the company of Billy Mays.    

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Brain Eaters (1958)

Starring Edwin Nelson, Alan Frost, Jack Hill, Joanna Lee, Jody Fair
Directed by Bruno VeSota
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A crusading senator takes charge of the investigation into a giant structure that's appeared outside a small American town, and discovers something is taking over the townspeople's brains.

A very interesting independent feature directed by actor Bruno VeSota, the film still stands up today as a compelling science fiction thriller, although it's story may not be entirely original.  According to Wikipedia, author Robert A. Heinlein sued the production for being too similar to his novel "The Puppet Masters."  The picture has a very eerie and unsettling tone, with stark black & white photography, a foreboding score that sounds like a mixture of different classical symphonies, weird sound effects for the "breathing" of the title creatures, and clever use of shadow and fog.  It's a winner, and is notable for a pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy in the cast.   

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954)

Starring Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bernard Gorcey, Lloyd Corrigan, John Dehner
Directed by Edward Bernds
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Bowery Boys visit the Gravesends, who own a vacant lot the boys want to ask permission for the local kids to use, but find out too late they're mad scientists who have designs on the boys' brains.

Although the exploits of the Bowery Boys were likely aimed at children, there were likely a number of kids in the audience who grew up with them into adulthood, after first watching their adventures in earlier film series as the Dead End Kids, The Little Tough Guys, and the East Side Kids.  So even though the plots of their films didn't become any more complex, there was likely an appreciative audience that kept coming back for more of their adventures, and this film should have been more familiar comfort food for them, with Gorcey's "Slip" Mahoney again "mangling the English language" as one character remarks, and Huntz Hall's "Sach" continuing to show his smarts, or rather lack of them.  I enjoyed it, and the boys tap into the same success Abbott & Costello did when they met their own monsters in this film, playing off a pair of mad scientists, a vampire, a savage gorilla, a man-eating plant, and a werewolf-like butler.  It's not as polished or good-looking as Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein but they probably had only a fraction of that budget, and for the kids in the audience, I'm sure it was good enough.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Body Disappears (1941)

Starring Jeffrey Lynn, Jane Wyman, Edward Everett Horton, Willie Best, Marguerite Chapman
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A chemistry professor tries to test his formula for restoring the dead to life on a body he thinks is dead, only it isn't, and he succeeds instead in turning the man invisible.

I really enjoyed this amusing comedy from Warner Brothers with Horton portraying his typical eccentric and argumentative personality, and playing off the other cast members as well as in any of his films that I've seen.  He certainly was a talent, and was well-utilized throughout his long career in a wide range of films.  Although the special effects are not of the seamless quality designed by John P. Fulton in Universal's Invisible Man films during the same era, they're serviceable enough, and are efficiently employed in a number of effective sight gags.  Modern audiences are sure to find Willie Best's presence here playing a tired stereotype distasteful, as I did, but he does work well together with Horton, and scenes with him clinging to the backseat of a car being driven wildly by an invisible driver add to the madcap energy of the picture.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Atomic Kid (1954)

Starring Mickey Rooney, Robert Strauss, Elaine Davis, Bill Goodwin, Whit Bissell
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young man is caught in an atomic blast, but somehow survives, and while the authorities try to cure him of his radiation, his best friend tries to exploit him financially.

A fun, light comedy from Rooney's production company, the film doesn't contain any laugh-out-loud moments, but it's so good natured and amiable, it left a smile on my face.  In contrast to later films in which Rooney tried to re-invent himself in more dramatic fare, this is as comforting as his Andy Hardy movies and MGM musicals, and his character is charming and easy to root for.  Rooney's real-life wife at the time plays the beautiful nurse he falls for, Strauss provides fine support, and Martinson deftly keeps things moving behind the camera with the same capable touch he provided in Batman and a plethora of television series.  Blake Edwards, later to find fame with his Pink Panther movies and TV series like Peter Gunn, provides the story.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Starring Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis, Francoise Rosay, Bernard Braden
Directed by Val Guest
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a race car driver survives a near fatal crash, he tries to recover with his wife on a honeymoon in France, but is haunted by a compulsion to strangle her.

A quality production from Britain's Hammer Films, the picture is well-written, well-acted, and directed with distinction by Guest, but as a psychological thriller it is somewhat lacking, without any real surprises in store.  It did hold my interest, and the cast is very good, with Dauphin and Cilento putting in worthy performances.  Ronald Lewis, probably better known for his roles in Mr. Sardonicus and Scream Of Fear, also acquits himself well.  Hammer would make more twisting thrillers in the years to come, so perhaps they realized its shortcomings, but the film remains a well-polished production. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dark Intruder (1965)

Starring Leslie Nielsen, Mark Richman, Judi Meredith, Gilbert Green, Charles Bolender
Directed by Harvey Hart
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A supernatural investigator works unofficially with the police to look into a series of murders by a gruesome figure who leaves behind an ancient Sumerian artifact with each killing.

Although released in theaters, Wikipedia indicates that this film was actually a pilot for a television series which was never made, which presumably would have featured Nielsen solving supernatural crimes each week.  It's a shame, because the pilot shows great promise with strong production values, creepy photography, and an appropriately unsettling music score by Lalo Schifrin.  Running just under an hour, it's unfortunate that it wasn't expanded into a longer feature, as it could have been even better with more time to wind us through the story's twists and turns.  What remains though is still quite entertaining, with an engaging screenplay by Barre Lyndon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Mystery Of Marie Roget (1942)

Starring Patric Knowles, Maria Montez, Maria Ouspenskaya, John Litel, Edward Norris
Directed by Phil Rosen
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Dupin, a forensic scientist for the French police during the late 19th century, tries to determine what's happened to entertainer Marie Roget, whose disappearance may be hiding a different crime.

Based on a composition by Edgar Allan Poe, one might have expected a darker film, but this is light and frothy entertainment, although there's murder in the offing.  I've heard Poe's Dupin was an inspiration for Conan Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes, and Knowles' character is certainly a master of deduction like Sherlock, although without any of his personality.  The film is structured around Dupin being always one step ahead of the prefect of police played with appropriate bluster by Lloyd Corrigan, and as such the screenplay doesn't give us much time to get to know the characters, although there's a feast of fine actors in the cast.  Still, it's an amusing and entertaining film.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Phantom Speaks (1945)

Starring Richard Arlen, Stanley Ridges, Lynne Roberts, Tom Powers, Charlotte Wynters
Directed by John English
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An expert in "psychic science" is able to communicate with a condemned killer after his execution, but the dead man's spirit takes over his body with revenge on his mind.

Better known for its serials and westerns, this was one of Republic Pictures' rare horror films, and it's not half bad, with a well-written script by John K. Butler, which I've heard was perhaps based at least partly on the 1940 film Black Friday, in which Ridges played a very similar role.  Ridges and Powers are both excellent, selling us on their supernatural relationship through their voices and mannerisms without aid from any special effects.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't follow through on its best idea, (outside the central characters), that the insane may be innocents possessed by the will of the dead, and ends with a rather vague and unsatisfying conclusion.

Friday, January 8, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

Starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre, Robert J. Wilke
Directed by Richard Fleischer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An esteemed professor and his assistant become captives aboard the Nautilus, a revolutionary submarine commanded by Captain Nemo, obsessed with ridding the world of devices of war.

Disney's first live action adventure film is still a marvel decades later, with fantastic art direction and photography and memorable performances from all the principals, particularly Mason as the brooding Nemo, and Douglas shining as the uncouth fun-loving harpooner Ned Land.  Yet despite their screen presence, the Nautilus seems the true star of the film, wonderfully realized from the pages of Jules Verne's novel, and more captivating here than in any other adaptation.  I've heard this was a labor of love for Walt Disney, and it shows, in a film deftly balancing grim themes with sights of wonder and amusing moments that will make you smile.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mysterious Island (1951)

Starring Richard Crane, Marshall Reed, Karen Randle, Ralph Hodges, Gene Roth
Directed by Spencer Bennet
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

During the Civil War, a Northern captain and his friends escape the South by hijacking a hot air balloon, only to crash on a strange island where they face hostile natives and bloodthirsty pirates.

One of several adaptations of Jules Verne's novel continuing the adventures of Captain Nemo, this movie serial features a major departure from the text in the character of an alien invader from the planet Mercury, taking the place of some of the more fantastic elements of Verne's story.  Nevertheless, many sequences and characters from the book are preserved, although much of the adventure is replaced by standard fistfights and shootouts.  Still, fans of serials should be entertained, as I was, with Roth as always a fine villain, and Crane a noble hero.