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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!


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Twonky (1953)

Starring Hans Conried, Billy Lynn, Gloria Blondell, Ed Max, Janet Warren
Directed by Arch Oboler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

While his wife is away on a trip, a college professor finds his life taken over by their new television set, which has incredible abilities not to be found in any other set.

Arch Oboler is probably better known today for his acclaimed radio plays than his films, although most of both took place in the world of science fiction, as this does.  The concept of the film is a winning satire, contrasting how television dominates people's lives by creating a set for the film which never broadcasts a single program, but is soon controlling Conried by deciding what he should read, what he should listen to, and following him around on actual walking legs.  Before long, it also is incapacitating anyone trying to remove it from Conried's house by turning them into mindless zombies.  As clever as that approach is, unfortunately the screenplay spends too much time on Lynn's character, a mediocre football coach who speaks silly nonsense, including a never explained comparison of the female gender to french fried potatoes.  The end result is a film with promise that squanders it by trying to be amusing and failing.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tobor The Great (1954)

Starring Charles Drake, Karin Booth, Billy Chapin, Taylor Holmes, Steven Geray
Directed by Lee Sholem
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist creates a robot to replace the men being subjected to dangers preparing for spaceflight, but its powerful abilities attract the attention of a foreign spy ring.

A real charmer, this production may have been the first "boy and his robot" picture and is a lot of fun. Although the premise is a fine starting-off point, the rest is pure fantasy, as "Tobor," (robot spelled backwards), not only has the ability to react to human emotions, but can be controlled by thought and a tiny device containing micro-circuitry, in reality decades from the film's 1950s setting.  However, it's not too difficult to leave realism behind in embracing the story, enlivened by a wonderful cast of characters, including Holmes' kindly scientist and Chapin as his earnest grandson.  Although there's no ground-breaking effects work, Tobor comes to life convincingly, and the robot would later return in a television pilot, Here Comes Tobor.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Have Rocket -- Will Travel (1959)

Starring The Three Stooges, Jerome Cowan, Anna Lisa, Bob Colbert, Don Lamond
Directed by David Lowell Rich
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Three Stooges, while working as maintenance men on an interstellar rocket project, accidentally launch themselves into outer space, and land on the planet Venus.

I'm not a fan of The Three Stooges, and have only seen snippets of their classic shorts, so can't really judge if this film, made fairly late in their career compares favorably to their best output, although from what I've read it doesn't.  Fans of the Stooges and those enamored with their comic hijinks and abusive behavior towards each other should find plenty of the same in this picture, along with enough silly sci-fi to complement the trio's act, including a giant spider, a talking unicorn, and sinister duplicates of the Stooges themselves.  In many ways it's a giant mess of a movie, but it has a certain charm, and the filmmakers do a pretty competent job of spreading out the trio's act over the feature's running time without it becoming tiresome.

Friday, March 18, 2016

I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957)

Starring Whit Bissell, Phyllis Coates, Robert Burton, Gary Conway, George Lynn
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist and descendant of the original Frankenstein visits America where he too tries to create life from a stitched-together corpse, but this time assembled from the bodies of young people.

In writer/producer Herman Cohen's immediate followup to I Was A Teenage Werewolf, Whit Bissell again plays the villain, and this time the leading man, as the film's monster is more of a supporting character this time around.  Although his character is supposed to be from England, Bissell has no trace of an accent, making one wonder if he was cast as a last minute addition after the success of the previous picture.  Conway doesn't make the same impact as the monster that Michael Landon did in the previous film, but he's serviceable in a grotesque makeup, and Bissell's professionalism and stern conviction in his role is a welcome second helping of what succeeded in Teenage Werewolf.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spook Busters (1946)

Starring Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Douglass Dumbrille, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell
Directed by William Beaudine
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Bowery Boys start their own pest extermination company, and their first job is a haunted house, which unbeknownst to the boys is the secret lair of a mad scientist.

Although the environment for this Bowery Boys picture is a supposedly haunted house, there's not a ghost in evidence, just a spooky old estate on the grounds of a cemetery.  Nevertheless, there's still secret passages, lights that mysteriously turn on and off, and a savage gorilla in the basement, providing several "old dark house" elements for Gorcey, Hall, and the rest to play off of.  The guest cast is somewhat unusual for a Bowery Boys picture with some quality character actors including Dumbrille as the mad scientist and Charles Middleton and Richard Alexander of the Flash Gordon serials playing his henchmen.  Fans of the series will not be disappointed, and those new to the Bowery Boys will find some entertainment value on a low budget.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sh! The Octopus (1937)

Starring Hugh Herbert, Allen Jenkins, Marcia Ralston, John Eldredge, George Rosener
Directed by William McGann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of bumbling detectives try to solve a mysterious murder at a lighthouse, which may be the work of "The Octopus," a criminal boss with real tentacles.  

Warner Brothers presents a very silly mystery-comedy, with several actors practicing their comedy shtick, most notably Herbert with an avalanche of puns and Jenkins playing his usual dimwitted persona.  Just when you think you can start to take the mystery plot seriously, some silly sight gag is unleashed on the audience, as when the long tentacles of an octopus grab one of the characters or Herbert disassembles a ladder trying to climb down it.  It's not a great comedy, but it is entertaining, and the team of Herbert and Jenkins are amusing enough.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Riders To The Stars (1954)

Starring William Lundigan, Herbert Marshall, Richard Carlson, Martha Hyer, Dawn Addams
Directed by Richard Carlson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A government agency invites 12 renowned scientists and leads them through rigorous tests to find candidates to pilot a rocket designed to catch a meteor.  

Although it has a solid science fiction premise, personable actors, and many realistic scenes, the film suffers from some weak special effects and an overabundance of stock footage.  Nevertheless it's still fun, and is notable for providing veteran actor Carlson with his directorial debut.  Produced by Ivan Tors, it plays like a feature length episode of his television series, Science Fiction Theatre, with a good deal of attention paid to scientific details, including a well-edited centrifuge sequence.  The picture's screenplay is by Curt Siodmak, better known for his 1940s horror films for Universal Pictures.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mystery Street (1950)

Starring Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett, Elsa Lanchester, Marshall Thompson
Directed by John Sturges
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Cape Cod detective turns to a Harvard professor for help in determining how a skeleton discovered on the beach got there.

Almost a mystery in reverse, the film begins by showing us the identity of the murder victim and where and how she meets her fate, and then introduces us to Lieutenant Morales, who must deduce what we've just seen with only her skeleton as evidence.  Although Montalban was one of MGM's stars by this time, it's refreshing to see him headline the picture with nary a reference to his ethnicity, and he does a nice job in his role, convincingly portraying a dedicated cop on his first murder case.  The picture is also stylistically interesting, commencing with scenes drenched in shadow, a nice device symbolizing how much Morales has to uncover.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Revenge Of The Zombies (1943)

Starring John Carradine, Gale Storm, Robert Lowery, Bob Steele, Mantan Moreland
Directed by Steve Sekely
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After his sister's unexpected death, her brother takes a detective to her husband's home in the swamps, where bodies seem to disappear and zombies are walking the grounds.

Despite the title and the presence of Moreland, this is not a sequel to 1941's King Of The Zombies, which was also produced by studio Monogram Pictures, but has a similar plot, and Moreland again provides the comic relief, although he's not quite as amusing as he was in the previous film.  Although Moreland is probably not regarded favorably by many due to playing stereotypes throughout his career, he certainly had a talent for delivering rapid-fire one-liners, and has plenty of them here.  As a zombie picture, the film doesn't quite deliver the goods, with the walking dead having an exaggerated robot-like gait, but it's fun in its own way with a silly call for the zombies uttered by several characters, and Carradine appropriately grim and obsessed as the film's mad scientist.