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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!


Friday, December 30, 2016

The Alpha Omega Man (2016)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Laura Laureano, Kat Kennedy
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On a future Earth where a deadly plague has killed most of the population, a scientist who's survived faces nightly attacks from half-dead plague victims he hunts during the day.

I usually only look at classic films of the past in this space, but am making an exception for the work of young filmmaker Joshua Kennedy, a cinephile who enjoys the classics as well, and who has made some terrific films while completing his education at Pace University in New York City.  Here's a look at Josh's latest, a homage to Charlton Heston's The Omega Man (full disclosure, I have a brief cameo as one of the plague victims :)):

Joshua Kennedy's love letter to Charlton Heston and his 1971 picture, The Omega Man, based on Richard Matheson's classic novel, I Am Legend, offers what we've come to expect from Josh, in the recapturing of classic cinema moments while using inventive means of getting around his budgetary limitations.  In this film, the more expensive vehicles available to Heston are replaced by bicycles, a giant stadium is replaced by a university building, stadium lights are replaced by an A/V projector, and yet the scale of Josh's composition seems comparable to the film he reveres due to his skill as a filmmaker, and his retention of Ron Grainer's original score.

Kennedy plays Heston's role as Robert Neville, and there are moments when he sounds exactly like him, using much of the dialogue from the original screenplay, but he brings his own qualities to the role, including some touches of humor absent from the original picture.  His sister Kat gives an admirable performance taking on the mutant cult leader Matthias, played by Anthony Zerbe in the original, and her diction and facial expressiveness could not be better.  The makeup effect used to simulate the dilated eyes of the mutants in the original film is very well done, and I'm not sure how it was accomplished, but full credit must go to whoever created it.

Laura Laureano has a nice rapport with Josh and credibly recaptures Rosalind Cash's memorable turn as the infected but still beautiful Lisa, and Kennedy's troupe of friends, classmates, and collaborators add the proper notes as Kat's mutant followers and the early victims of the plague in the film's flashback sequence.  Dan Day, Jr. was a fine choice for reprising the newscaster who narrates the flashback, delivering the proper vocal inflection for the part.

Scenes where Neville fires a crossbow with machine gun sound effects are not really miscues, as Josh has told me that his having to use the crossbow had much to do with New York's ban on toy guns.  He had to exercise a great deal of patience to find times he could film on deserted New York City streets, but this paid off in some wonderfully memorable shots.

In summary, Kennedy's ode to the original feels as fun for the audience as it must have been for him to recreate one of his favorite movies.  In times when many filmmakers deliver dour works, it's very refreshing that Kennedy is able to capture his zest for filmmaking in his pictures with a reverent eye towards the greats of the past.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Omega Man (1971)

Starring Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash, Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville
Directed by Boris Sagal
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On a future Earth where a deadly plague has killed most of the population, a scientist who's survived faces nightly attacks from half-dead plague victims he hunts during the day.

An adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, the film takes liberties with the text and I've heard Matheson was not fond of it, but it's a very entertaining movie, with Heston perfect as the cynical hero who participates in a war of ideologies with Zerbe as the leader of the zombie-like nightstalkers.  I think it's paced a little better than the previous adaptation of the story, 1964's The Last Man On Earth, with Vincent Price, dispensing with that film's lengthy flashback sequence, incorporating some well-staged bits of action, and introducing Cash into the story much earlier.  Russell Metty's clever use of shadow in his photography and Ron Grainer's eccentric score add to the uniqueness of the film, which is wisely built around Heston and his ever reliable machismo.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Adventures Of Captain Marvel (1941)

Starring Tom Tyler, Frank Coghlan Jr., William Benedict, Louise Currie, Robert Strange
Directed by William Witney & John English
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Young radio broadcaster Billy Batson is given the power to change into the mighty Captain Marvel, and uses it to protect his friends from a masked villain after an ancient and powerful weapon.

One of the all-time great movie serials, this production is tremendously entertaining, with an Agatha Christie-like plot in which the suspects are killed off one by one, and fantastic special effects from Howard and Theodore Lydecker, who combine a convincing dummy with excellent stunt work by David Sharpe to convey the illusion of Captain Marvel leaping into flight.  Although Coghlan is a bit too old to accurately represent the Billy Batson of Captain Marvel's comic book adventures, his youthful voice and natural charm make him a fine protagonist who transforms into the super-powered Tyler with the classic cry of "Shazam!" in a well-executed puff of smoke.  Not much else is adapted from the comics, but the Scorpion, the masked villain bedecked in a silken robe and possessing a delightfully sinister voice is among the finest to oppose any serial's hero.  Although directors Witney and English helmed many worthy serials, to me this is by far their masterwork, with each chapter bringing forth new excitement and suspense.  Be forewarned that fans of today's superheroes may be a bit shocked as Captain Marvel does not show much mercy to the villain's henchmen.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958)

Starring Marshall Thompson, Shawn Smith, Kim Spalding, Ann Doran, Dabbs Greer
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A spaceship leaves Mars on a journey back to Earth, with a man its crew believes responsible for murder, but the real culprit, a lethal alien creature, has snuck aboard their ship.

Said to have inspired the Alien movies, this effective sci-fi chiller has a low budget and weak special effects, but is written, produced, and directed with such skill, it overcomes those trappings.  Screenwriter Jerome Bixby, who was behind Star Trek's memorable "Mirror, Mirror" episode, delivers an excellent plot and intelligent characters, while director Edward L. Cahn skillfully moves those characters around their tiered rocket, building suspense as the creature advances towards them.  Ray Corrigan, who filled many a gorilla suit during his acting career, inhabits the creature suit and brings it to life, and the filmmakers wisely confine our views of the monster, to build terror in our own imagination.  With all the accolades that have been stacked on the Alien pictures, I don't think this film has been given its due.  It may not have the eye-popping special effects or white-knuckle fright scenes those later pictures brought to the table, but it was there first, and remains a thrilling picture today.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Horror Of Dracula (1958)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The determined Dr. Van Helsing tries to protect the victims of Count Dracula while following the evil vampire's trail towards a final confrontation.

Hammer Films' first Dracula opus is a memorable piece of Gothic horror with an excellent star-making performance from Christopher Lee in a minimum of screen time, and a wonderful turn by Peter Cushing playing a role 180 degrees opposed to his cruel Baron Frankenstein in the previous year's The Curse Of Frankenstein.  A landmark vampire film with Lee's feral performance as Dracula, accompanied by blood-smeared lips and pointed fangs, making this a daring departure from previous entries in the genre, Cushing's Van Helsing is also new and different.  His vampire hunter is a clever and noble hero as well as a man of action, sprinting after the Count in the thrilling climax to the film. Hammer's men behind the camera are important contributors as well, with James Bernard providing one of his most memorable scores, Jack Asher photographing the film in rich color, and Bernard Robinson providing memorable scenery, particularly in the atmospheric Castle Dracula.  Jimmy Sangster's script, though it takes liberties (and changes characters) from Bram Stoker's classic novel, delivers escalating thrills, and this may be the best film of director Terence Fisher, excitingly staged and gripping throughout.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Mole People (1956)

Starring John Agar, Cynthia Patrick, Hugh Beaumont, Alan Napier, Nestor Paiva
Directed by Virgil Vogel
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The discovery of a Sumerian artifact leads a group of archaeologists to explore a giant mountain where they descend inside and discover a lost underground civilization.

After a serious introduction by a real college professor about theories about the interior of the Earth, we get a pretty crazy story about an ancient Sumerian race of albinos enslaving hideous mole people and respecting the archaeologists only because they have a "cylinder of fire," namely a common flashlight.  Still, while it's no science fiction classic, the movie is very enjoyable to watch, with the grotesque mole people pulling their victims down through the dirt, and Alan Napier, better known as "Alfred" on TV's Batman, a hoot as the power-hungry high priest who wants to kill Agar, Beaumont, and Paiva.  The mountain scenes are not well-integrated with obvious stock footage, and Agar's romance with shunned slave-girl Patrick isn't all that compelling, but I didn't care, for this is an entertaining romp and cinematic comfort food for fans of 1950s sci-fi.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mystery House (1938)

Starring Dick Purcell, Ann Sheridan, Anne Nagel, William Hopper, Anthony Averill
Directed by Noel Smith
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A company executive dies at a gathering of the company's partners at his hunting lodge, and while they try to hush it up as a suicide, his daughter hires a detective to find out the truth.

One of a series of mystery films to feature the characters of detective Lance O'Leary and his love interest nurse Sarah Keate, with Sheridan appearing as Keate before becoming more of a household name.  It's a good mystery with plenty of suspects to guess from, and some canny misdirection in the script to keep the audience from guessing the culprit too soon.  I had some fun spotting all the familiar faces in the cast, from Purcell who would later play the screen's first Captain America, to Hopper whose dark hair is quite a contrast from his silver-haired role on TV's Perry Mason, Anne Nagel of several Universal horror films, Ben Welden, (wearing a toupee!), often a gangster on the Adventures Of Superman TV series, and Elspeth Dudgeon, the character actress reputed for her role in James Whale's The Old Dark House.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Crawling Hand (1963)

Starring Peter Breck, Kent Taylor, Rod Lauren, Alan Hale Jr., Allison Hayes
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An astronaut is lost on his return to Earth, but his disembodied hand survives his ship's destruction, and somehow takes mental possession of a teenager, driving him to kill.

A low-budget sci-fi thriller, though capably assembled by Strock, is probably best known today for the appearance of Hale, shortly before playing the Skipper on the cult TV series Gilligan's Island.  Strock, who edited the film in addition to directing it, does make the most of his budget, using shadow effectively, and conveying the "space madness" through dark eye makeup on Lauren, although the picture's got some serious audio issues with fluctuating volume.  Lauren's acting isn't strong enough to anchor the film, the shots of the hand are too tight to suggest it's really moving on its own, and the script is a bit too loony to be taken seriously, but it's good fun for those inclined for a cheesy movie experience, which is probably why it ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

Starring Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The brilliant Victor Frankenstein is consumed by an obsession to create a living human being, and lets no laws or moral codes stand in his way.

We have here the film that put Peter Cushing on the map as a horror star, casting his driven Baron Frankenstein as the true "monster" of the movie, despite a memorable performance and makeup for Christopher Lee as his creation.  Adapted only loosely from Mary Shelley's novel by screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and keeping none of the pathos for the monster's plight, it is nevertheless an efficient  thriller with Cushing a marvelous villain beyond redemption, although his behavior in this film pales to that of his character in the sequels to follow.  The picture's importance in launching the Hammer studio's vast library of horror titles cannot be understated, as can the standard the craftsmen on this film set for those to follow.    

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Alias Boston Blackie (1942)

Starring Chester Morris, Adele Mara, Richard Lane, George E. Stone, Lloyd Corrigan
Directed by Lew Landers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Boston Blackie organizes a variety show at the prison he once did time at, unwittingly helping a young convict with revenge on his mind to escape.

One of Morris' long series of Boston Blackie films for Columbia Pictures, and it's a good one, with a nice balance of mystery and humor, and a yuletide setting, making it a perfect film to watch during the holidays.  Although the story of steering a young man from ruining his life was probably a chestnut even back when this film was made, the whodunit portion of the plot kept me guessing, and Morris is engaging as the ex-con who does enough in the movie to warrant a return to prison, but is given a wide berth by the police inspector tailing him.  Larry Parks plays the young convict on the loose but is better known for his impersonation of Al Jolson in a pair of later films.  And a young Lloyd Bridges plays a bus driver!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932)

Starring Boris Karloff, Lewis Stone, Karen Morley, Charles Starrett, Myrna Loy
Directed by Charles Brabin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The discovery of the tomb of Genghis Khan sets off a race between a British archaeologist and the nefarious Dr. Fu Manchu to claim its prizes, but the evil doctor has operatives everywhere.

Boris Karloff's performance is a highlight of this version of one of Sax Rohmer's stories of the famed master criminal, as the actor's mirthful expressions while torturing his victims make for a very memorable characterization.  Among the other cast, Myrna Loy as Fu Manchu's daughter, who has her own designs on Fu's male captives, is certainly striking, while Karen Morley is a bit grating as the archaeologist's daughter who routinely plunges into hysterics.  Although Wikipedia indicates the film was controversial upon its release for depicting the Chinese villains with broad strokes, it seems tame today, except for a few bits of dialogue.  However, the best reason to watch the film is for its absolutely stunning production design and art direction, delivering visuals which feature terrifying golden figures guarding Khan's burial chamber, intricately designed death traps within Fu Manchu's lair, and a destructive device which shoots out bolts of electricity that figures prominently in the climax.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Douglas Fowley
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A producer of stage shows brings back from Africa a giant gorilla and the girl who can control him to star in a new nightclub he's opening.

The creators of King Kong deliver another giant ape tale, and though it's not the grand adventure Kong was, it's a charming film with impressive technical wizardry in its own right.  Willis O'Brien returned to supervise the special effects and employed a young Ray Harryhausen, on the cusp of his own brilliant career, as his first technician.  Together with other animators, they create a living breathing character with his own personality, and although the film borrows several elements from Kong, including star Robert Armstrong, its comes into its own with a fiery climax that shows off the ape's heroism.  The reddish-tinted shot of Joe Young clinging to a tree with a vivid fearful expression at the peril Moore faces atop a burning orphanage is one of my all-time favorites.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Case Of The Howling Dog (1934)

Starring Warren William, Mary Astor, Allen Jenkins, Grant Mitchell, Helen Trenholme
Directed by Alan Crosland
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Perry Mason takes on the case of a wealthy man plagued by a howling dog next door, but soon discovers there's a deeper and more scandalous conflict between the man and his neighbor.

The first Perry Mason film contains less humor than in William's later turns as Erle Stanley Gardner's crime-solving lawyer, but is still a well-staged and interesting picture, and notable for the casting of Astor, whose star later shone more brightly after films like The Maltese Falcon.  William is a fine choice for Mason, for although per Wikipedia at the time of his casting, he was known for playing seamier characters, he projects the nobility of Mason, while still embracing some unethical tricks in the pursuit of justice for his client.  Fans of the comedic stylings of Allen Jenkins will be surprised to see him playing a serious role as the police sergeant suspicious of Mason, and he plays it well enough, but it's easy to see why more light-hearted parts would become his forte.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Vengeance Of She (1968)

Starring John Richardson, Olinka Berova, Edward Judd, Colin Blakely, Jill Melford
Directed by Cliff Owen
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A beautiful young woman is tormented by messages in her dreams, calling her the fabled queen Ayesha, and compelling her to journey to the lost city of Kuma.

A pale sequel to Hammer Films' engaging adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's She, with none of the star power nor fun of the original film.  Billed as Olinka Berova, but per IMDB actually named Olga Schoberova, the leading actress is certainly attractive but not accomplished enough to carry the film, which probably would have been better if Ursula Address could have returned to take her role, but not by much.  With an overemphasis on Berova's befuddlement and satanic mysticism rituals, the picture lacks any exciting scenes or memorable performances.  It's a shame because the cast includes Hammer stalwarts who have been much better in other films, including Andre Morell, who isn't given enough to do, and Noel Willman, who speaks in quiet whispers that are difficult to understand.  This is clearly a lower budgeted production than the original, but Hammer's done more with less before much more successfully.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1961)

Starring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling
Directed by Irwin Allen
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a radiation belt circling the Earth ignites and threatens the planet, Admiral Nelson sends his high-tech submarine on a mission to blow up the belt with a nuclear missile.

One of disaster film specialist Irwin Allen's earliest features, the movie is entertaining with some well-done special effects and big names in the cast, including Pidgeon, Fontaine, and Lorre.  There's a few plot holes in the script, and those expecting the beauty and scope of an underwater picture like Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea will be disappointed.  Nevertheless, the production is well-assembled, with convincing interior sets for the submarine, and a compelling mystery behind the identity of an onboard saboteur, although a subplot casting doubt as to Pidgeon's sanity isn't as believable.  The film paved the way for one of Allen's first forays into television, a series of the same name, with Richard Basehart and David Hedison taking over Pidgeon and Sterling's roles.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Grand Central Murder (1942)

Starring Van Heflin, Patricia Dane, Cecilia Parker, Virginia Grey, Samuel S. Hinds
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The murder of a golddigging Broadway star is investigated by a police inspector, but he's challenged by a private detective hired by one of the suspects who thinks he can solve the case more quickly.

A fun murder mystery with crackling dialogue from MGM, the picture features a talented cast and some intriguing flashback sequences, shot Rashomon-style from different character's perspectives.  Unfortunately, it's not very original, featuring the usual stock characters, like Levene's gruff police inspector and Heflin's smart but antagonistic detective, and a climax that's a little too familiar, although mystery buffs who enjoy these tropes might find this to be cinematic comfort food.  Be forewarned that as the screenplay throws a plethora of suspects and possible motives at us, it sneaks in a number of clues that the most careful viewer may forget about until Heflin ties things up at the end.  I must admit with everything going on, I didn't have time to guess the murderer's identity, so its revelation at film's end was something of a surprise, always a favorable quality in a whodunit of this type.