Monday, January 30, 2017

The Birds (1963)

Starring Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy socialite trails a man who plays a trick on her to the seaside community of Bodega Bay, where she finds herself at the center of inexplicable attacks by the birds on the residents. 

One of Alfred Hitchcock's most visually impressive and unnerving films, the picture still makes me feel tense every time I watch it, and even after several decades since its release, continues to have the power to shock.  A key component to the uneasiness the film engenders is its lack of a music score, and although I think music could have heightened tension in certain scenes, the complete absence of music, other than a few ambient sources, makes the viewer uncomfortable- a fact which Hitchcock and his composer Bernard Herrmann (who still serves as a sound consultant) expertly used to manipulate the audience.  Much has been written about the stories of Hitchcock's cruelty to Hedren on set, and the effect this had on a scene where she's mercilessly attacked late in the film, which is difficult to watch in that light.  However I still think it's a key sequence in the film, building on the escalating shocks laid down in Evan Hunter's screenplay, but it's not surprising the actress only made one more film for Hitchcock.  Hunter, who's better known as a crime novelist under his Ed McBain pseudonym, adapts the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, but should be credited for fleshing it out into a very gripping tale, with Robert Burks' roving camera capturing many key moments from the characters' perspectives.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)

Starring Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, John Welsh
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Victor Frankenstein escapes his planned execution and resettles in the village of Carlsbruck, where he continues his experiments, obtaining human limbs from his work at a hospital for the poor.

Peter Cushing returns as Victor Frankenstein in Hammer's first followup to the successful The Curse Of Frankenstein, and improves on his original experiment by stitching together a handsome man (Michael Gwynn) to reanimate with the brain of his willing crippled assistant.  It's a tremendous idea by screenwriter Jimmy Sangster to take things in a new direction by introducing a "monster" who can pass for normal, and when tragedy strikes, we feel empathy for him, thanks to Gwynn's quality performance.  The other cast, anchored by Cushing's solid reprisal of Frankenstein, are fine as well, including Matthews as a respected doctor who gives up his career to become the Baron's pupil.  Though production designer Bernard Robinson and cinematographer Jack Asher return from the first film, it looks very different, capturing the grungier setting of the hospital and its unclean patients.  Leonard Salzedo's music isn't the equal of James Bernard's score for the initial film, but is very effective during Gwynn's attacks and is used perfectly during the opening credits as the tolling bell for the Baron's execution is slowly accompanied by escalating notes of menace.  Director Terence Fisher guides all these elements through a satisfying sequel, which clearly would not be the last.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Voyage To The Planet Of Teenage Cave Women (2012)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, April Michelle Gomez, Xavier Aguilar, Michael Moralez, Leslie Ann Leal
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A trio of astronauts blast off to a pair of planets hurtling on a collision course towards the Earth, where they encounter a race of beautiful cave women and the evil creatures that stalk them at night.

Joshua Kennedy pays homage to the foreign science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s in this enjoyable romp, scripted by Kennedy and Rock Baker with many a knowing nod to those foreign fantasy epics. Just as Roger Corman repackaged the Russian film Planeta Burg as Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet after adding new scenes to it, Kennedy approximates that approach by filming wrap arounds with American characters and then completely redubbing the rest of the movie (often comically out of sync) to represent the imported content.  He also cleverly inserts scenes with Basil Rathbone from Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet as additional stock footage.

Filmed during Kennedy's late teen years in his home state of Texas, the young filmmaker found a pretty terrific rocky landscape to approximate the alien world his astronauts visit, and populates it with the young beauties in his cast, staging perilous scenes and heightening the menace with terrific score cuts from the films of composer Herman Stein.  Although the special effects are elementary, they recall the same techniques used in those films of long ago, including a giant mock-up of a ravenous alien spider that tackles its victims, and an immense projection of a real-life lobster.  Fans of the movies that influenced this production should be tickled by how these alien beasts recall those that appeared on theater screens decades ago.

Kennedy and Baker's screenplay reflects a vast knowledge of the genre, incorporating romances for the astronauts, a savage catfight among two cave women, dated sexist comments that help age the film to the proper period, and launching the film with a scientific explanation by an esteemed scholar (played by Ralph Haskins), approximating Dr. Frank Baxter's prologue in the 1956 thriller The Mole People.

As in his past films, Kennedy recruits his friends and classmates to play the supporting characters, with Aguilar a hoot as a fellow astronaut with eyes for one of the young ladies, and Moralez perfectly deadpan as the mission's doctor.  Gomez is cute as the cave women's queen who doesn't hide her attraction to Kennedy's character very well, and Viviana Rodriguez impresses as a noble soldier to the queen.  Several others in black clothes and dark glasses effectively play the villainous Bavans, who in another knowing reference, when robbed of their shades, have their eyes bulge into ping pong balls, like those worn by the hostile aliens in 1954's Killers From Space.

Yes, it's a student film made for fun starring high-schoolers, but that doesn't mean it's not entertaining, or lacks the power it most definitely holds as a homage to the genre, and an affectionate kind-spirited tribute. Kennedy's talent in the editing room shines through again, and the photography by his sister Kat (billed as "In SuperColorScope"), duplicates the tinted sequences of movies like The Angry Red Planet, another visual treat for fans.  While Kennedy has made several films since, none has quite had the epic scope of this one, but hopefully another sci-fi saga is in his future.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Face Of The Screaming Werewolf (1964)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Yerye Beirute, George Mitchell, Fred Hoffman, Rosa Arenas
Directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares & Rafael Portillo
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist discovers two mummies in an Aztec pyramid, one of which when restored to life transforms into a werewolf.

Jerry Warren, the infamous director who made a series of horror movies incorporating footage from foreign films and padding them with lengthy exposition sequences is behind this travesty, which combines scenes from the Mexican thrillers The Aztec Mummy and House Of Terror.  Neither of those films were tremendously exciting pictures to begin with, though House Of Terror did have the hook of Lon Chaney Jr. once again playing a werewolf.  His transformation sequence is the best part of this movie, copying the time-lapse photography used in Universal's Wolf Man films, and rather effectively so.  But Chaney never speaks and neither do any other characters in his segments, making the plot hard to follow, and Warren's setup of his mummification and entombment along with the Aztec mummy is never explained.  The final product is a disjointed film that jumps between scenes, and is awkwardly unified by Warren, making it a real chore to sit through.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Ida Lupino, Alan Marshal, George Zucco
Directed by Alfred Werker
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Professor Moriarty, the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, concocts a scheme to occupy Holmes' mind while he prepares a master crime that will cement his villainous reputation.

Rathbone and Bruce's second pairing as Holmes and Watson is one of their best films together, and looks great, with terrific production values, lush cinematography, and a tremendous villain portrayed by George Zucco, who's criminally robbed of higher billing in the credits.  It's a shame that this was the last of their films produced by 20th Century Fox, and in the characters' proper setting of Victorian London.  Although they made several enjoyable adventures for Universal Pictures' B-unit, they never again had the budget they have in this picture, which recaptures the look and feel of fog-drenched London exquisitely.  It's a shame that Rathbone and Zucco don't have more dialogue together in the picture because their interplay is wonderful, and Zucco's sinister voice is so well-suited to the character.  Composer Cyril Mockridge's funeral dirge which accompanies Moriarty before being revealed as a key plot point, adds the proper notes of menace to the mystery.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

House Of The Damned (1963)

Starring Ron Foster, Merry Anders, Richard Crane, Erika Peters, Dal McKennon
Directed by Maury Dexter
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An architect and his wife are hired to survey a creepy abandoned house on the outskirts of a small town, and stay there for the weekend, but soon discover that they're not alone in the house.

Writer Harry Spalding and producer/director Maury Dexter each made some memorable low-budget chillers for 20th Century Fox, and this is one of my favorites, in which the two collaborate to create an atmospheric film with a surprise in store for the audience, which some may guess and some may not.  Regardless of whether you do or not, the actors create likable characters, there's excellent photography from John Nickolaus Jr. employing shadow and tight closeups to sustain the mystery, and Henry Vars' score contributes to the suspenseful mood.  Keep an eye open for Richard Kiel, who turns in one of his most effective appearances before menacing James Bond.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Black Room (1935)

Starring Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Robert Allen, Thurston Hall, Katherine DeMille
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The cruel and debauched baron of a European village defies the legend that his twin brother will kill him by inviting the kindly brother back to rule with him, but with sinister plans in mind.

The movie showcases a truly excellent performance by Karloff (or performances, I should say) as the twin brothers, one nefarious, one good and decent.  It's not hard to guess that the evil brother will use their likeness to impersonate the good one, adding an additional layer to Karloff's acting triumph here.  Director Roy William Neill stages their scenes together very convincingly, with the usual dual composite shots as well as closeups with stand-ins for Karloff in the background, but Karloff makes the illusion work by bringing depth to each characterization.  Although the film is centered around Karloff, Neill and his crew bring life to the story by creating a populous and bustling village, inhabited by hundreds of extras.  The music used is also very good, with dark themes for the villainous Baron, and highlighted by a tender melody ("Beautiful Music") that underscores Marsh's loveliness and builds her up as an object of desire, as well as an energetic movement for the film's climactic chase sequence.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Them! (1954)

Starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens
Directed by Gordon Douglas
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Authorities in New Mexico discover atomic fallout has enlarged a colony of ants to gigantic size, and set out on a race to destroy them before they can migrate and multiply.

In my opinion, this was the best of the giant bug movies of the 1950s, and it holds up remarkably well, due to its excellent special effects and the serious performances of the distinguished cast, particularly Whitmore and Gwenn.  Although the ants are giant mocked-up puppets which are not animated and did not have a wide range of movement, they look very fearsome as manipulated by their handlers and photographed by Sid Hickox, with eerie and deafening sound effects.  But even before the ants appear, we're treated to a mysterious and suspenseful opening of the film which ranks among the best in any science fiction picture, as a young girl in shock wanders aimlessly through a desert and policemen follow her trail to a series of violent and gruesome murders.  There's also plenty of famous names in the cast to spot, from Gunsmoke's James Arness and Davy Crockett's Fess Parker to a very young Leonard Nimoy, and familiar character actors like William Schallert, Onslow Stevens, and Richard Deacon.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Crime By Night (1944)

Starring Jane Wyman, Jerome Cowan, Faye Emerson, Charles Lang, Eleanor Parker
Directed by William Clemens
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A private detective and his helpful secretary try to clear their client of the murder of his ex-father-in-law, and discover a wealth of other suspects during their investigation.

Although the characters have different names, this mystery is very similar to the previous year's Find The Blackmailer, which also starred Cowan as a detective and Emerson as a beautiful suspect, although Jane Wyman fills the role of the secretary that Marjorie Hoshelle played in the earlier film.  The first half of the film is well-scripted and compelling, introducing us to well-defined characters, including the less than honest sheriff running for re-election, the daughter of the victim who has secrets to hide, her boyfriend with a nasty disposition who sings at the local hotel, and the agent who represents the singer but used to manage Cowan's client.   The latter half however seems to wrap things up a little too quickly, making the murderer's identity all too clear before Cowan springs his trap.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the film and Cowan and Wyman have good chemistry.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Curse Of The Insect Woman (2011)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Andrea Negrete, Alex Villarreal, Joshua Palacios, Marco Adriel Munoz
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After attending a class reunion, young people find themselves being stalked and murdered by a legendary half-human creature.

Young filmmaker Joshua Kennedy delivers another of his tribute films to classics of the past, this time focusing on the horror films of Universal Pictures and Hammer Films, if I'm not mistaken.  Lensed in black and white like his debut picture, Attack Of The Octopus People, the movie makes good use of swirling fog, dark shadows, and an effective creature costume to build its chills.

We know this is a bunch of teenagers performing in their homes and school, but they're earnest and believable, and those returning from Kennedy's original picture are more accomplished actors than they were the first time around, particularly Negrete and Palacios.  Kennedy stars, but as one of a more cohesive ensemble this time around, including his father Gus as a saddened and vengeful parent, and the memorably mustached Jairus Esparza as the local sheriff.  A special role is saved for Kennedy's sister Kat, who delights as the aged Madame Ouspenskaya, named in tribute to The Wolf Man's wise gypsy, offering the customary grim warnings that are heeded too late.  Josh's dialogue for his characters must have been fun to deliver with many a memorable line well spoken by his cast.

Kennedy's technical effects are a bit more seamless than in his first movie, with even a car crash involving footage of a matchbox size toy coming off well.  I'm not familiar with the music sources used on the soundtrack but they capably underscore the action, and add to the creepy atmosphere.  Although still a teenager when this was filmed, Josh's editing and integration of close ups with medium and long shots display more skill than I've seen from some adult filmmakers.

For an amateur production with no budget to speak of, this is an entertaining film which should stand the test of time for any with an appreciation for classic horror, especially those films that aimed to bring fun to the audience along with their frights.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rocketship X-M (1950)

Starring Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr., Hugh O'Brian
Directed by Kurt Neumann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The first manned rocketship launches on a voyage to the moon, and its crew encounters several hazards and miscalculations that carry them far off course.

Although less famous than the other "moon" film that came out the same year, Destination Moon, and possessing lesser special effects and costumes, I've always been fond of this movie, which has some memorable visuals, a good music score, and a well-composed screenplay, despite containing a few pieces of sexist dialogue.  Neumann, who later directed the definitely more famous The Fly, keeps things suspenseful and interesting throughout, but the picture really takes off when the rocketship finally lands, as a combination of matte paintings and rocky scenery are beautifully captured by photographer Karl Struss and given mysterious accompaniment by Ferde Grofe's score.  John Emery probably gives his best performance, at least the best I've seen from him, and Morris Ankrum appears in his first of many science fiction movies of the 1950s.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

When Were You Born? (1938)

Starring Margaret Lindsay, Anna May Wong, Lola Lane, Anthony Averill, Charles Wilson
Directed by William McGann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After an astrologer accurately predicts a wealthy art importer's death, the police bring her in for questioning, and discover her reasoning based on the date someone was born is uncannily accurate.

Although it's hard to imagine any astrologer would ever be as accurate as Wong's character is in this film, the screenplay offers an enjoyable mystery with more than enough suspects, Wong offers a very likable performance, and the filmmakers largely dispense with any Chinese stereotypes.  Nevertheless, Leonard Mudie, who is not Oriental in the least, plays another Chinese character, making Wong's scenes with him seem a little awkward.  What I found most intriguing however was the presence of Manly Hall, who provided the film's plot, and introduces us to the symbols of the horoscope and their meanings at the start of the picture.  Previously I had only known Hall for his presence in the trailer for the 1940 film Black Friday, in which he hypnotizes Bela Lugosi in an apparent publicity stunt.  According to Wikipedia, Hall was a reputed author with expertise in philosophy and the occult, and this movie marks his only foray into Hollywood moviemaking.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Devil's Hand (1961)

Starring Linda Christian, Robert Alda, Ariadna Welter, Neil Hamilton, Gere Craft
Directed by William J. Hole, Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After being haunted in his dreams by images of a beautiful woman, a man finally tracks her down and agrees to join an evil cult in order to possess her.

I really enjoy this film- it doesn't have a large enough budget to show the supernatural powers the cult and Hamilton, as its leader, possesses, on the level of a movie like Night Of The Demon, but Hamilton and Christian in their performances really sell us on the influence of the cult.  Meredith Nicholson provides some excellent photography, and jazz musician Allyn Ferguson collaborated with Michael Terr on adding unique scoring to the cult's rituals.  It's fun seeing Hamilton, five years before becoming known for the noble Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series, giving life to such an evil character.  Intriguingly, the love triangle at the center of the film involves Christian and Welter, who per IMDB, were real-life sisters, although they don't have any meaningful scenes together.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite Spy (1942)

Starring Kay Kyser, Ellen Drew, Jane Wyman, Robert Armstrong, Helen Westley
Directed by Tay Garnett
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On the day of his wedding, bandleader Kay Kyser discovers he has been called up to service in the Army, but he's actually wanted by the government as an espionage agent.

An atypical film for Kyser and his band, who are only featured in a couple of songs, while the bulk of the picture finds him evading enemy spies and trying to hide his covert activities from Drew as his new wife.  Kyser is underrated as a comedian, but it just seems odd to shift so much of the film's focus away from the band and their music, which was probably the selling point for the movie to begin with.  The spy story seems more grim than funny, covering ground we've seen executed far better in other pictures.  However, it is fun to spot all the character actors in the cast, including future Oscar-winner Wyman, King Kong's Robert Armstrong, My Three Sons' William Demarest, and James Whale's favorite screamer, Una O'Connor.

The Alligator People (1959)

Starring Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr., George Macready, Frieda Inescort
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In probing a young woman's mind, psychiatrists discover that she's suppressing memories of the horrifying experience her husband went through after a risky operation in the Louisiana swamp.

This is a fun science fiction picture, but not a great one, with some interesting creature makeups from Ben Nye and Dick Smith, and one of Lon Chaney Jr.'s craziest performances as a drunken hired hand with a hatred of alligators.  The screenplay by Orville H. Hampton is smartly structured around Beverly Garland's character, and the actress gives a good performance, although her character's unconcerned stumbling over ravenous alligators is rather hard to believe.  Still, veteran director Del Ruth has helmed a good looking and suspenseful film, accompanied by an effective music score from Irving Gertz with some very eerie themes.  The main problem with the film is its climax, which involves the reveal of a creature makeup that looks great in closeup but is not very convincing in medium shots and a rather lacklusterly filmed finale.  Despite those shortcomings, I'm fond of the picture, and wish 20th Century Fox, with the production values at their disposal, had made more like it in the 1950s.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Thirteenth Chair (1937)

Starring Dame May Whitty, Madge Evans, Lewis Stone, Elissa Landi, Thomas Beck
Directed by George B. Seitz
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a man is murdered, a police inspector reluctantly agrees to a plan by one of his friends to expose the murderer by inviting the suspects to a seance.

The third filmed version of a stage play by Bayard Veiller, this production brings together a cast featuring several of MGM's contract players, as well as Dame May Whitty, probably best known from her role in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes.  Whitty gives a good performance, and it's interesting to see Henry Daniell in one of his earlier roles, but overall it's not that compelling a mystery, save for a unique twist in the hiding of the murder weapon.  In an interesting side note, Holmes Herbert plays the same role he played in the 1929 filming of the play.  For more on the 1929 version, see Dan Day Jr.'s informative post here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

Starring Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Edward Van Sloan, Gilbert Emery
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After driving a stake through the heart of Count Dracula, Professor Von Helsing is arrested for his murder, while a woman corrupted by Dracula can't resist the urge to seek new victims of her own.

The first sequel to the classic 1931 Dracula, which ushered in a wave of horror films and made a star of Bela Lugosi, is a rather small scale effort and would likely have benefitted from the return of Lugosi, but that was not to be.  After the impact of Bride Of Frankenstein, which featured the original Frankenstein's star, Boris Karloff, in another memorable performance, it's curious that the Universal studio didn't elect to bring Lugosi back for a more grandiose followup, but that doesn't mean this is a bad film, just a lost opportunity.  Holden should be praised for her performance which convincingly brings across the anguish of a victim of the Count now compelled to victimize others, pleading with Kruger's psychologist to save her from herself.  The crisp photography by George Robinson makes the film lovely to look at, and lends atmosphere to sequences in which the police enter Carfax Abbey and Kruger hypnotizes one of Holden's victims.  It's a good picture, but lacks the scope and scale a full-fledged sequel with Lugosi could have been.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Brainiac (1962)

Starring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, David Silva, German Robles, Luis Aragon
Directed by Chano Urueta
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the 17th century, a baron with supernatural powers is condemned to death, but makes good on his promise to return 300 years later to murder his sentencers' descendants.

Urueta and his cast and crew deliver one of the wackiest Mexican horror films around, primarily due to the bizarre looking monster Salazar transforms into, a sharp nosed disheveled creature with a pulsating head, fangs, and a forked tongue used to extract its victims' brains.  There's not much to the plot besides that, and there's several elements in the screenplay that don't make sense, although there's some amusing scenes where Salazar digs into the brains he's stolen as if eating a dish of ice cream.  Fans of Mexican horror should enjoy the loony goings-on, and a dark music score by Gustavo Cesar Carrion effectively establishes the macabre tone.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Invisible Boy (1957)

Starring Richard Eyer, Philip Abbott, Diane Brewster, Harold J. Stone, Robert H. Harris
Directed by Herman Hoffman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The creator of a supercomputer for the government has difficulty educating his 10 year old son, so instructs the computer to teach him, not realizing the machine has an evil scheme in mind.

This odd concoction of a movie seems part comedy, part drama, part science fiction, part fantasy, and part satire, and would probably have been better off not trying to merge all those elements, although the film has good special effects and a nice assemblage of character actors in the cast.  It's notable for being a follow-up (of sorts) to Forbidden Planet, returning that film's Robby The Robot back in time from its future setting to the current day although with only a hastily worded explanation.  A bizarre part of the story has Eyer's remarkable reconstruction of Robby and then becoming invisible not being ever seriously questioned by his parents.  Whatever the aim there was, you can certainly say the film's not boring, although the deadly serious last half hour of the film seems a weird contrast to what had come before.  Eyer would play a much more likable character in the following year's The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Attack Of The Octopus People (2010)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Andrea Negrete, Joshua Palacios, Alex Villarreal, Kat Kennedy
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young man returns home from military service to take a job at a seafood manufacturer, and discovers a conspiracy there to take over humanity by creatures from the deep.

Joshua Kennedy's debut feature is an ode to classic sci-fi films of the 1950s and beyond, filmed during his teenage years, with a cast populated by his family and friends, and everyone looks like they're having a lot of fun.  Although the picture features references to movies like The Tingler and It Conquered The World and a soundtrack assembled from the film scores of composer Herman Stein, the story is an original one, and what Kennedy lacks in his limited budget, he makes up for in the exuberance of the film, which launches octopus toys and puppets across the screen with all the seriousness of a creature feature filmed on the Universal-International lot.

A lot of us played around with movie cameras at a young age, but few probably put together anything like this film, which is impressively edited and never drags.  The sets may be primarily rooms at Kennedy's house or school, with furniture sometimes hidden behind hanging sheets, and computer printouts standing in for official signs, but I didn't care, as Josh's strong narrative sense propels the story along.  All the hallmarks of the 1950s features are here, from the prologue that introduces us to Josh Palacios' well-spoken villain, the sweet romance between Kennedy's hero and love interest Negrete, the eerie focus on the octopi bursting from their captive containers, introductions of suspicious characters like Kat Kennedy's cantankerous hotel manager, and the crowds running in terror once the sea creatures take to the streets.

Yes, the special effects are not very convincing, and the octopus props not all that effective, and a few scenes would have benefitted from some post-dubbing, but that doesn't negate the impressiveness of this accomplishment for a boy of Kennedy's age.  

Kennedy's plea to a frightened theater audience, lifted almost verbatim from a Vincent Price film, shows off his fine rich voice which would be a definite asset in his later films, and friends of Josh should smile at a sequence in which he manages to share the screen with one of his cinema heroes.  It's not many who can capture their childhood in a piece of work that manages to last, but I think he'll look back on this work fondly for years to come.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Monster That Challenged The World (1957)

Starring Tim Holt, Audrey Dalton, Hans Conried, Barbara Darrow, Casey Adams
Directed by Arnold Laven
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Navy commander spearheads an investigation into the mysterious deaths of divers in California's Salton Sea, and discovers giant radioactive mollusk monsters are to blame.

Not a great movie, but a lot of fun, with horrific and convincing looking monsters, although they don't really resemble mollusks that closely, as a video presentation during the movie makes painfully clear.  Presumably giant puppets patterned after the ants in the 1954 classic Them!, the creatures unfortunately don't have much mobility which limits their effectiveness on screen, but they're so scary looking, and with Heinz Roemheld's foreboding music accompanying their attacks, they definitely make a creepy impact.  Star Tim Holt was on the downhill side of his career, and looks like he's carrying a bit of weight, but he's a fine enough choice for the picture, and although his scenes with Dalton as a widowed secretary pining for him are a bit clumsy, they came off for me all right.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Private Detective (1939)

Starring Jane Wyman, Dick Foran, Gloria Dickson, Maxie Rosenbloom, John Ridgely
Directed by Noel Smith
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A female private detective gives up a job working for an unscrupulous attorney to aid his client's ex-wife instead, and tries to keep one step ahead of her boyfriend, a detective for the police.

Wyman stars as the lady detective, and a good one, in a film surprisingly free of the usual stereotypes about professional women, but the plot and characters are formula to the bone, echoing hundreds of mysteries where a smart aleck reporter tries to outsmart a police detective.  Nevertheless, it's still fun, and Maxie Rosenbloom is amusing as Foran's police sidekick whose main chore is to try to break down locked doors, not always successfully.  Although modern feminists would not be fans of the film's ending, Wyman is quite good in an atypical role, and future Dick Tracy Morgan Conway gives an accomplished performance as the oily lawyer.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dr. Cyclops (1940)

Starring Albert Dekker, Thomas Coley, Janice Logan, Charles Halton, Victor Kilian
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A trio of scientists travel to South America to assist a reputed biologist, but when they discover the secrets behind his research, he shrinks them to a tiny size and they try to escape. 

This is a very entertaining sci-fi adventure with terrific special effects, directed by Schoedsack who worked on the original King Kong.  Although some of the same types of effects in Kong are used in this film, like rear projection and giant mockups of Dekker's hands for grasping his tiny victims, the film's master stroke is the detailed recreations of objects in Dekker's lair in giant size for the "shrunken" actors to climb and interact with.  The work put into building these objects and the sets built to mimic the doctor's lab and the outdoor lagoon shore is absolutely superb.  Yet Schoedsack and his additional crew should be given even more credit for creating a thrilling film utilizing these backdrops.  In particular, I love the music score by Gerard Carbonara, Albert Hay Malotte, and Ernst Toch.  In his book Classics Of The Horror Film, historian William K. Everson compares their work to a Disney music score, and it's an apt comparison, with beautiful lyrical themes for the scientist's journey and the jungle locale, as well as an energetic passage with dark notes whenever Dekker is on the attack.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

Starring Anton Diffring, Hazel Court, Christopher Lee, Arnold Marle, Delphi Lawrence
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy and youthful doctor hides the amazing secret that he is 104 years old, but the treatments he's undergone to extend his life have effected his sanity, and led him to commit murder.

An often forgotten horror film from the Hammer studio, this features some of the same cast and crew from their first venture into the gothics, The Curse Of Frankenstein, although it doesn't reach the same heights.  A remake of The Man In Half Moon Street, it possesses a story that has much to say about what would happen if a true fountain of youth were discovered, and is well-acted, although this isn't Diffring's finest work.  Nevertheless, his eerie stare in the scenes where his youth begins to fade is quite effective.  The film might have been more impactful with a stronger score, but Richard Bennett's music here pales in comparison to James Bernard's work for Hammer's other early horrors.  Still, I found the picture interesting and a time capsule worth discovering for fans of director Fisher, cinematographer Jack Asher, and actress Hazel Court.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959)

Starring Pat Boone, James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David
Directed by Henry Levin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Scottish professor discovers an ancient clue to a pathway to the center of the Earth in Iceland, and embarks with one of his students on a race to beat his competitors there.

A classic and highly entertaining adventure film, the picture features breathtaking scenery, much of it shot in the legendary Carlsbad Caverns, as well as a worthy balance of thrills, suspense, and humor.  Although better known for his more sinister roles, Mason is perfect as our protagonist, the single-minded and somewhat uncouth Professor Lindenbrook, who ignores his responsibilities in excited pursuit of this incredible adventure.  It's not a faithful adaptation of the original Jules Verne novel, but  screenwriters Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett add additional characters who draw the audience even more into the story and give Mason foils to play off of, including the independent-minded Carla Goteborg (well played by Dahl) who joins the expedition, and the lovable duck Gertrude brought along by their Icelandic guide Hans, while Pat Boone provides youth appeal and some pleasant singing.  The music score is by the great Bernard Herrmann, whose main title expertly foreshadows the characters' descent into the darkness.  Although the prehistoric creatures in the novel are scuttled in favor of lizards made giant through rear projection, their appearance is well photographed and edited, and expertly integrated into the film, helping earn the movie an Oscar nomination for visual effects.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Scared To Death (1947)

Starring Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, Nat Pendleton, Molly Lamont, Joyce Compton
Directed by Christy Cabanne
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The dead body of a woman recalls the last hours of her life, trapped in an institution run by her husband and his father, and haunted by a fear of something hidden in her past.

The only color film of Bela Lugosi is possibly one of his worst movies, with a nonsensical script and poorly written characters.  Lugosi, Zucco, and Cabanne have all made much better movies, so I can only presume that they were desperate for work to sign on to this turkey.  It's not completely awful- Lugosi and Zucco take their parts seriously, such as they are, and it's good to see them together, but when they both vanish from the film for long sequences, we're left with Nat Pendleton's bumbling cop and Douglas Fowley's annoying reporter to carry the story, who both would have been far better in much smaller doses.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Woman In Green (1945)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke, Henry Daniell, Paul Cavanagh
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When the London police are stymied by a murderer who kills young women and then cuts a finger off each corpse, they consult Sherlock Holmes, who concludes his arch-nemesis is behind it all.

One of the slower-paced Holmes films for Rathbone and Bruce, befitting its focus on hypnotism, and the third appearance in the series of Professor Moriarty, each time portrayed by a different actor, here by Henry Daniell.  Although Daniell has always been an accomplished actor and very good in everything I've seen, he doesn't have as much to work with here as prior Moriarties Lionel Atwill and George Zucco did, and his scheme here seems rather pedestrian compared to the character's more memorable capers.  However, Neill does an excellent job of staging a memorable sequence from Conan Doyle's original story The Empty House, and fans of Rathbone and Bruce should find plenty to enjoy.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Superman And The Mole-Men (1951)

Starring George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, J. Farrell MacDonald
Directed by Lee Sholem
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Clark Kent and Lois Lane visit a small town to write a story on its oil well, the world's deepest, but when subterranean creatures emerge from beneath the well, it becomes a job for Superman. 

We have here a sort of pilot film for the popular 1950's TV series, The Adventures Of Superman, which was released to movie theaters.  It's not great, or really even all that good, but for those like me, who were fans of Reeves' portrayal of Clark Kent as a hard-boiled crime reporter on the series, here's where that all started.  The special effects are fairly weak, although Reeves has some spectacular take-off sequences into the sky, but the performances of the midget actors playing the Mole-Men do create genuine concern for their plight.  As Michael J. Bifulco observes in his book, Superman On Television, Darrell Calker's music score curiously lacks any dynamic music for the Man of Steel, which would be rectified when the film was edited into a two-part episode of the TV series, with Leon Klatzkin's stirring Superman theme added to the soundtrack.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Another Thin Man (1939)

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Virginia Grey, Otto Kruger, C. Aubrey Smith
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke II
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Nick and Nora look into the threats made to the executor of her father's estate by a man he was responsible for sending to prison, but find their investigation may soon put them into danger as well.

The third film in the popular Thin Man series, again features a story by crime novelist Dashiell Hammett and returns most of the principals in front of and behind the camera from the previous pictures.  The comedy isn't quite as fresh this time around, but the mystery story is another taut winner, and the writers try to shake up the formula by adding a child for the Charles', although it doesn't keep Nick from his usual favoring of the grape.  It's an enjoyable picture and fans of the first two Thin Man movies will find much to like here, but it doesn't outdo the initial picture in the series.