Greetings!


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!


Monday, February 29, 2016

Phantom Of The Rue Morgue (1954)

Starring Karl Malden, Claude Dauphin, Patricia Medina, Steve Forrest, Allyn McLerie
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In 19th century Paris, a police inspector arrests a college professor for the brutal slayings of several women, but the professor insists the true culprit had to have been an animal.

One of several adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's Murders In The Rue Morgue, the picture is probably less faithful to Poe's story than most, turning his protagonist Dupin into an accused murderer, and casting Malden as the true villain of the piece in the only horror role the actor ever had, to the best of my knowledge.  The script has some clever touches, bestowing on each of the victims a bracelet of jingling bells, and having a real-life acrobat demonstrate the murderer's elusive escape along the Paris rooftops, but requires some real leaps of faith and logic at key moments.  The most effective character in the film is the giant ape that figures in the climax- although it must have been played by an actor in a gorilla suit, its movements are frightening and realistic, and with the picture lensed in 3-D, was probably justifiably startling to audiences of the time.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1955)

Starring Phyllis Coates, Myron Healey, Arthur Space, John Day, Mike Ragan
Directed by Franklin Adreon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In this movie serial, a wildlife photographer encounters giant claw monsters in the African jungle, and recruits a white hunter to help her protect a native village from the creatures. 

One of the final movie serials of Republic Pictures, and like their other efforts in the decade, this one is built around recycled footage from serials of the past, yet still can be enjoyed as an original effort, thanks largely to its ludicrous plot involving lobsters grown to giant proportions.  The lobster footage isn't integrated too well with the actors, but good use is made of a giant claw reproduction which appears out of nowhere to grip the actors at appropriate moments.  The serial itself is pretty standard fare, with routine cliffhangers and not enough surprises in their resolutions, but is notable for a gender role reversal with Coates battling a lion and crocodile to the death, and saving Healey, the male lead, on several occasions.  Healey, who still gets involved in all the serial's fisticuffs, is probably one of the better actors to grace a chapterplay like this, and was already charming television viewers in many roles throughout the 1950s.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Mysterious Island (1929)

Starring Lionel Barrymore, Jacqueline Gadsdon, Lloyd Hughes, Montagu Love, Harry Gribbon
Directed by Lucien Hubbard
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After successfully constructing a powerful underwater submarine, the brilliant Count Dakkar is betrayed by a friend who wants to use it to attack the nations of the world. 

Although based on Jules Verne's famed tales of Captain Nemo, there's very little content from his novels included in the film, and Barrymore's character is not even called Nemo, going by his original name of Dakkar here.  Filmed near the dawn of sound in the cinema, the picture incorporates both silent sequences and some limited spoken dialogue and sound effects as well as a full musical underscore.  Although it's not a faithful Verne adaptation, it is a terrific film, full of fantastic visuals and impressive special effects that should have been quite eye-popping at the time.  The sequences in which Barrymore and his crew encounter tiny men living under the sea are extremely striking, expertly composited against the submarine miniatures, and intercut with dynamic shots of hundreds of extras in costume to bring the mer-creatures to life.  Although Hubbard should get a lot of credit, some of the impressive sights may be due to the uncredited work of directors Benjamin Christensen and Maurice Tourneur, who according to Wikipedia, worked briefly on the production.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1959)

Starring Don Sullivan, Jeanne Carmen, Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon
Directed by Irvin Berwick
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A small coastal town is shaken by grisly murders credited to a legendary monster, murders the hermit-like lighthouse keeper may know something about.

An impressive independent film which has some shocking moments and a quality creature, the picture benefits from a good cast, including veteran actor Tremayne as the town doctor who also dabbles in scientific studies along with the young lead played by Sullivan, familiar to 1950s sci-fi fans from his roles in The Giant Gila Monster and Teenage Zombies.  Although there isn't a lot of depth to the film, it's well-made and captured my interest from the beginning through the final fade-out.    

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Lost Missile (1958)

Starring Robert Loggia, Ellen Parker, Phillip Pine, Larry Kerr, Marilee Earle
Directed by William Berke
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Two atomic scientists in love have to put their planned wedding on hold when an unidentified missile begins scorching the Earth with million-degree heat.

With this picture primarily assembled from stock footage to convey the plot line of Earth's nations and military preparing for a deadly attack, Berke and his crew do an admirable job of editing that footage together with scenes with the film's actors as well as their special effects sequences.  The combined film meshes well together, although its singular focus on the impending doom, and the sheer volume of the stock footage, makes for a rather stale production until things liven up at the end when Loggia puts everything on the line for the sake of the world.   It's also fairly disappointing that when the origins of "the lost missile" are finally revealed there's no time to spend on exploring where it came from or the motives of those who launched it.  After growing up seeing Loggia in countless character parts, it's interesting to see him here, although short shrift is given to the love story involving him and Parker.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Jungle Captive (1945)

Starring Otto Kruger, Vicky Lane, Amelita Ward, Phil Brown, Jerome Cowan
Directed by Harold Young
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A biochemist kidnaps the body of the Ape Woman in order to prove that the system he's developed can restore the dead to life. 

A followup to both Captive Wild Woman and Jungle Woman, the picture features a completely new cast, notably replacing Acquanetta with Vicky Lane as Paula Dupree, the Ape Woman.  Unfortunately, there's little more to learn about her character as afforded in the screenplay, which makes her effectively brain-dead, and although Lane spends much more of the film in her monster makeup than Acquanetta ever did, she doesn't do much besides grimace and clench her teeth.  The film's most interesting addition is the henchman played by Rondo Hatton, the real-life victim of acromegaly who capitalized on his distorted features in a handful of films like this one.  He's not as well used here as in his other pictures, but still makes a menacing impact.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jungle Woman (1944)

Starring Acquanetta, Evelyn Ankers, J. Carrol Naish, Samuel S. Hinds, Lois Collier
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A prominent psychiatrist admits at an inquest into the death of Paula Dupree that he killed her, and recounts the fantastic story of the woman who was once an ape.

In this sequel to Captive Wild Woman, Acquanetta returns as Paula Dupree, the Ape Woman, and speaks, after being completely silent the first film.  Although her voice is as exotic as her appearance, she isn't given enough dialogue to offer any insight into her character and spends most of the movie outside her monster makeup, making her stiff movements stalking her victims much less effective.  J. Carrol Naish gives a good performance as the benevolent Dr. Fletcher, and the screenplay cleverly inserts him into the background of the climax of the first film to introduce him, but by beginning the movie with Paula's death, the screenwriters rob the story of some needed suspense.  In short, this could have been a much better film, but what was filmed is still somewhat enjoyable and sets up the next sequel.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Captive Wild Woman (1943)

Starring Acquanetta, John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone, Lloyd Corrigan
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A mad scientist kidnaps a circus gorilla for his experiments and succeeds in transforming it into a human woman that savage animals still fear.

We have here one of the few female Universal monsters, the Ape Woman, a statuesque beauty played by Acquanetta who reverts into a half-human beast when her savage instincts take over in a pretty fearsome makeup.  You'll have to leave your disbelief at the door when watching this film, but if you do, it's a fun enough monster movie.  The screenplay seems written around grainy footage of animal tamer Clyde Beatty from an earlier film (1933's The Big Cage, per Wikipedia), and new scenes with Milburn Stone standing in for Beatty don't match up well with that footage, although the animal action, featuring ferocious lions and tigers is superb.  Acquanetta who stays mute throughout the film fares better here than in her later speaking roles, and John Carradine brings the appropriate intensity to the role of the distinguished but evil scientist.  The film is probably most notable for its director, Edward Dmytryk, who according to Wikipedia, later became an Oscar-nominee and was blacklisted during the 1950s.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Phantom Lady (1944)

Starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Aurora, Thomas Gomez
Directed by Robert Siodmak
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a civil engineer is convicted of murdering his wife, his lovely assistant takes it upon herself to track down the woman who could provide his alibi.

A very effective thriller from Siodmak, one of the best directors of film noir in the 1940s, the picture boasts first rate photography from Woody Bredell, skillful editing from Arthur Hilton, and wonderful use of sound, with Raines' footfalls dominating a memorable sequence in which she trails a suspect.  A more famous scene finds Raines visiting a small room where a jazz band plays, with actor Elisha Cook's energetic drumming underscoring his lustful pursuit of the beauty.  Although the script and the performances don't stand out quite as much, it's a unique mystery well-tailored around Raines.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Starring Michael Landon, Yvonne Lime, Whit Bissell, Tony Marshall, Dawn Richard
Directed by Gene Fowler, Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A teenager with a volatile temper reluctantly goes to a psychiatrist for help, not realizing the doctor has plans to regress him into a savage beast.

Better known today as an early starring vehicle for Michael Landon, before his many hit series on television, this was the first in a series of horror films with teenage monsters by producer Herman Cohen, which Wikipedia indicates were very successful.  Each of those films featured young people used as the subject of horrible experiments by twisted adults, and were built on themes of conflict between teenagers and grownups similar to those that permeated films like The Blob and Invasion Of The Saucer Men.  As for this movie, Landon's violent tantrums are a bit over the top, but it's an entertaining feature with a very good creature makeup, dominated by Landon's fearsome fangs.  Bissell is good as the villainous scientist, and would virtually repeat the same role in Cohen's I Was A Teenage Frankenstein.  I also enjoyed the casting of Vladimir Sokoloff as a janitor (from the Carpathian mountains!) who warns werewolves are real in his colorful accent.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

It Conquered The World (1956)

Starring Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef, Sally Fraser, Russ Bender
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A physicist dissatisfied with the state of the world is contacted by an alien intelligence from Venus, whom he agrees to help take over the Earth for the benefit of humanity.

Although often ridiculed for its low budget and less than convincing alien creature, I've always found this picture to be a fun science fiction thriller, buoyed by terrific performances by Beverly Garland and in particular Lee Van Cleef, whose intensity as the determined physicist anchors the film.  Van Cleef, per Wikipedia, went on to to a distinguished career playing a series of villains in notable westerns, culminating in his role in Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.  Corman paces scenes tightly and efficiently and although the Venusian may elect more laughs than genuine horror, it's certainly unique and memorable.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Magician (1926)

Starring Alice Terry, Paul Wegener, Firmin Gemier, Ivan Petrovich, Gladys Hamer
Directed by Rex Ingram
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a terrible accident that injures her spine, a beautiful sculptress falls in love with her doctor after he saves her from being crippled, but a sinister magician also has designs on her.

Ingram's silent horror film hasn't had the reputation of classics like The Phantom Of The Opera or Nosferatu, but is still worth checking out for its dark imagery and hero-heroine-villain triangle which continues to be echoed in horror films up to the current day.  Wegener is well-cast as the villainous magician, as with his close-set eyes and giant face, he has a formidable screen visage, which served him well when playing the titular creature in The Golem.  The film is based on a story by English author W. Somerset Maugham, who per Wikipedia is probably best known for Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Invasion Of The Saucer Men (1957)

Starring Steve Terrell, Gloria Castillo, Frank Gorshin, Raymond Hatton, Lyn Osborn
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After an alien spaceship lands near a small town, a pair of eloping teenagers hit one of the little green men with their car, and the others make trouble for the couple.

A unique sci-fi comedy from American International Pictures that hits upon the same themes of teenagers not being trusted by adults revisited a year later in The Blob, this is a fun picture, highlighted by Paul Blaisdell's iconic designs for the alien creatures.  With round craniums, bulging eyes, and needles protruding from their fingers when they attack, the aliens are both fearsome and comical, well-echoed by Ronald Stein's mirthful musical theme for them.  Actor Frank Gorshin would go on to greater fame playing the Riddler on the 1960s Batman TV series.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Half Human (1958)

Starring John Carradine, Russell Thorson, Robert Karnes, Morris Ankrum, Momoko Kochi
Directed by Kenneth G. Crane & Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An American anthropologist relates to his colleagues the story of a Japanese expedition that encountered an actual Abominable Snowman in the frozen mountains.

We have here an American repackaging of a 1955 Japanese science fiction film directed by Gojira's Ishiro Honda, with Carradine narrating the story and discussing the creature in newly filmed framing sequences with Karnes, Thorson, and Ankrum.  Although the filmmakers completely eliminate the Japanese dialogue, the Toho production is still well on display, with handsome sets for the creature's mountain cave, as well as the village of the men and women who worship the beast.  The creature makeup is also of quality, with convincing masks and realistic fur.  It's regrettable that with the removal of the dialogue, the Japanese actors' complete performances are no longer intact, but cinematographer Tadashi Iimura's strong visuals help drive the story along, making the framing sequences and Carradine's narration largely unnecessary.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gamma People (1956)

Starring Paul Douglas, Eva Bartok, Leslie Phillips, Walter Rilla, Philip Leaver
Directed by John Gilling
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

While traveling in Europe, a newspaper reporter and his cameraman become stranded in a socialist country where they find a notorious scientist is engaged in sinister experiments.

This British import is a very unusual picture, with a wonderful surprise in the casting of the craggy middle-aged Douglas as the reporter instead of a young handsome lead.  While Douglas was an American star of some renown, from movies like Angels In The Outfield and Clash By Night, he would have hardly been the first choice for a film of the type and is a refreshing fit in the part, and although he doesn't get the beautiful Bartok, he carries the film most capably.  Director John Gilling, who's probably better known for Hammer film productions like The Reptile and The Mummy's Shroud, has a brisk entertaining thriller to his credit here, which he also co-wrote.  It's not a deep or penetrating expose of socialism, but it is very enjoyable, aided by an energetic musical score and Phillips' fine support as the photographer who seems to be always on the run.

Monday, February 1, 2016

From The Earth To The Moon (1958)

Starring Joseph Cotten, George Sanders, Debra Paget, Don Dubbins, Henry Daniell
Directed by Byron Haskin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In 19th century America, a brilliant inventor plans to test a powerful new explosive by firing it at the moon, but when persuaded otherwise, he modifies his plans to travel there in a spaceship.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, this is a rather disappointing misfire considering the quality of the source material and the talent in front of and behind the camera.  Although the picture starts out with promise, setting up a worthy conflict between Cotten and Sanders as well as an impressive demonstration of the "Power X" explosive, and introducing us to a well-designed rocketship, once the characters take off on the rocket, the film takes a turn for the worse.  Lackluster special effects, overly technical explanations that are difficult to follow, and the ill-conceived re-use of "electronic tonalities" from Forbidden Planet take over from that point on, robbing the film of the excitement the screenplay had built up.  According to Wikipedia, the film's studio, RKO Radio Pictures, went into bankruptcy and had to sell the film off to Warner Brothers for its release, so perhaps budgetary concerns played some role in the finished product.