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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, April 30, 2017

Godzilla Vs. The Thing (1964)

Starring Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, Kenji Sahara
Directed by Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A giant storm transports an enormous egg to a Japanese city, which is claimed by greedy industrialists, but its contents are the progeny of Mothra, who will soon face off with Godzilla. 

Although the American title of this film leads you to believe there's a mystery behind the egg, its Japanese title was Mothra Vs. Godzilla and it becomes pretty clear that the egg belongs to Mothra early on, as soon as Emi and Yumi Ito reprise their roles as the tiny princesses of Mothra's island from the creature's first film.  Those hoping for a full-on battle between Godzilla and the flying moth monster may be disappointed as Mothra is weakened and dying during the battle, but there will be others who will carry on.  The filmmakers stage a clever strategic confrontation by Godzilla's foes with some pretty good effects, and the human cast are entertaining, with Takarada returning for his second Godzilla film, although playing a different character.  I haven't yet seen enough Godzilla films to estimate where this ranks in the series, although for me it's clearly behind the original, but still a fun entry, and one of the first to pair off Toho's different kaiju.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Black Cat (1934)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Jacqueline Wells, Egon Brecher
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young married couple traveling through Europe become unwitting pawns in a struggle between an evil satanist and a vengeful doctor. 

The first pairing of horror icons Karloff and Lugosi is not exactly the showcase one would have pictured after their triumphs in Frankenstein and Dracula, but is a very worthwhile film, and the two actors give standout performances.  Karloff, in one of his most sinister makeups, cuts a dark menacing figure as the enigmatic Hjalmar Poelzig, whose evil is illustrated largely through shadow and Lugosi's revelations about him.  However, his cool and cultured voice and limited movement fits in perfectly with the images that paint him as a black-hearted villain.  Lugosi also gives a worthy performance as the tortured Vitus Werdegast, kindly at times, maddened at others, a sympathetic hero and villain rolled into one.  Although his character's irrational fear of cats works in the only real reference to the Edgar Allan Poe story the film takes its title from, it doesn't really make sense with the rest of the picture, other than to point out Lugosi's somewhat unbalanced mind.  Ulmer, who also contributed to the screenplay, casts their drama against the memorable art-deco like architecture of Poelzig's home, which makes a striking background, accented by moody themes from the works of classical composers like Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blood And Black Lace (1964)

Starring Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Dante DiPaolo
Directed by Mario Bava
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The beautiful models of a fashion salon become the targets of a vicious murderer, who assaults and tortures them for the secrets hidden within a scandalous diary.

An extremely stylish Italian thriller from director Mario Bava, it's also a very entertaining one with the killer's identity kept a mystery until late in the film, although Bava gives us some visual hints.  The cinematography by Ubaldo Terzano (and per IMDB, an uncredited Bava) is superb, with a grand and beautiful color scheme, and effective use of a roving camera.  Composer Carlo Rustichelli contributes some haunting themes, and the performances are excellent.  I was entranced from the dynamic opening credits sequence, which has the cast pose like the models of the film, and although I was disturbed by the violence committed against the film's victims, which made me very uncomfortable, I understand how this approach heightened the suspense and made the killer's assaults more terrifying to the audience.  Bava here has crafted a film that not only looks spectacular, but is intelligent and gripping on the same level.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Children Of The Damned (1964)

Starring Ian Hendry, Alan Badel, Barbara Ferris, Alfred Burke, Sheila Allen
Directed by Anton M. Leader
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a pair of scientists discover a remarkably intelligent boy in England, similarly gifted children from across the world are brought to join him, where their dangerous psychic powers are discovered.

A follow-up to Village of The Damned, which itself was an adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, the film is not a literal sequel, featuring no common characters or acknowledgement of earlier events, but could take place in a world sometime after the original story.  I've heard a number of people prefer this movie to the prior film, although I think that version had an eerier quality and a stronger cast.  However, this is still gripping entertainment, well-photographed and directed, and I liked Badel's performance as a geneticist who enjoys asking indelicate questions.  Although the filmmakers try to refocus the original story's themes to point out the evils of nations in an arms race, I think I would have preferred for them to peel back the layers of the mystery of the children, to unravel their origins and purpose rather than re-present the same puzzle we've seen before.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Son Of Kong (1933)

Starring Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank Reicher, John Marston, Victor Wong
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Bankrupt and fleeing lawsuits after King Kong's disastrous attack on New York, Carl Denham is lured to return to Kong's island by the promise of treasure, and discovers a "son" of the great ape.

A quickie sequel to the 1933 classic, this followup is no match for the original in size and scope, instead focusing on a more juvenile adventure with many comic moments.  However I still found it very enjoyable, with more great stop-motion animated creatures from Willis O'Brien, including not just the son of Kong, but also a couple dinosaurs, some fearsome reptiles, and a giant bear.  The smaller, but still giant, ape is as lovable as the original Kong was fearsome, and several of the crew from the original film return, including composer Max Steiner who adapts his original Kong themes and adds new material.  The romance between Armstrong and Mack doesn't really come off well (there was a 23 year age difference between the two), and Ruth Rose's story could use some more hard edges, but overall the film is charming, and worthwhile for another chance to see the work of O'Brien and his crew in their prime.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Ape Man (1943)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie, Wallace Ford, Henry Hall, Minerva Urecal
Directed by William Beaudine
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a scientific experiment results in giving him the appearance and mannerisms of an ape, Dr. James Brewster is ready to resort to murder to find a cure.

One of Lugosi's nine films for low-rent Monogram Pictures, this is probably his least dignified role among all of them, playing the mad scientist/ape who's covered with fur and bent over like a chimpanzee.  And yet he remains absolutely watchable, playing the role seriously and with a grim malaise as he mourns his condition, becoming excited only at the prospect of killing others to save himself by obtaining their spinal fluid.  Letting his arms sway at his sides like a real primate, we believe him in the part despite the low-budget trappings, and he becomes a true menace when stalking Currie in the film's lively climax.  Currie was one of the more beautiful actresses to appear in a Monogram movie, and although her scenes with Ford mine tired gender humor we've seen a thousand times before, they have decent chemistry and make their characters appealing.  The story's pretty lightweight and Beaudine's direction nothing special, but I enjoyed the music, and above all, Lugosi makes it worth watching.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Mask (1961)

Starring Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker, Anne Collings, Martin Lavut
Directed by Julian Roffman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After an ancient mask drives a patient of his to suicide, a psychiatrist examines the mask and becomes captivated by weird visions and dangerous impulses after wearing it.

One of Canada's earliest feature films, this is a distinctive horror thriller with 3-D sequences conceived by famed montage designer Slavko Vorkapich.  It's not a great film, but is well-acted and directed, and the nightmarish imagery in the 3-D scenes, cleverly synched with moments in where Stevens dons the mask, is appropriately eerie.  The mask itself is a triumph of design, capturing the feel of the ancient society of the occult that it's tied to in the screenplay, and is well-utilized in closeups and as backgrounds in the visions Stevens endures.  The story is unfortunately not quite as strong as the visuals, although there are some interesting parallels between wearing the mask and drug addiction, but in my opinion, more exploration into the cult's rituals and their meanings would have engendered more interest in the narrative.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

House Of Wax (1953)

Starring Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni
Directed by Andre de Toth
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman is shaken by her murdered roommate's resemblance to a figure of Joan of Arc in a new wax museum, and wary of the owner, a crippled man who wants her to pose for him.

Warner Brothers' remake of their effective 1933 film chiller, Mystery Of The Wax Museum, features Price in one of his earliest horror roles, and is well-staged by Andre de Toth for the 3-D cameras, its visual depth making the film a winning showcase for the format.  In many ways, I prefer the original movie, but Price is wonderful, bringing elegant charm as well as a disturbing mania to the forefront in his performance, an ironic duality that would prove a highlight of his many future roles.  Kirk is fine if not particularly distinguished as the female lead, outshone a bit by Jones as her more colorful roommate.  The sets are of a wonderful quality, and the production finds some inventively amusing ideas to throw at the camera from a paddle-ball possessing showman to an assortment of leg-baring dancing girls.  Keep an eye out for a young Charles Bronson as Price's deaf-mute assistant.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Haunting (1963)

Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Fay Compton
Directed by Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A paranormal researcher invites a pair of women to assist him in studying a genuinely haunted house, but the psychosis of one of the women makes her an attractive target for the ghosts.

Based on Shirley Jackson's famed novel, The Haunting Of Hill House, this is a well-regarded film from Oscar-winning director Robert Wise, and features excellent cinematography from Davis Boulton and an effective score from Humphrey Searle.  It's a well-polished suspenser with very good acting, but it's just not my cup of tea.  Perhaps it's due to the at times overwhelming focus on Harris' character or the reliance on unearthly noises alone to convey the presence of the ghosts.  There are a number of sequences I like, such as doors mysteriously closing, and Johnson's dangerous pursuit of Harris up a rickety staircase, but I just don't find the film all that eerie or nightmarish, which I think is what the cast and crew must have been striving for.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones
Directed by Don Siegel
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A small town doctor discovers that people in his community are having their minds taken over by alien beings after duplicates of their bodies are grown in unearthly pods.

Another entertaining sci-fi thriller from the 1950s, the film features a compelling story, adapted by a magazine serial from Jack Finney, noirish photography by Ellsworth Fredericks, and fine performances and direction.  The idea of family, friends, and neighbors being taken over without any obvious outward signs makes for a fascinating hook, and although there's not much in the way of special effects to convince us of the invasion, the dark photography and earnestness of the cast really sell us on the threat.  McCarthy is perfect as the everyman hero, and Wynter very attractive and compassionate as his love interest, with excellent support from actors like Larry Gates and King Donovan.  Siegel, who helmed so many excellent thrillers from The Big Steal to Dirty Harry, layers action and suspense effectively to maintain a tight and exciting pace throughout the film.  Future action auteur Sam Peckinpah has a small part in an acting role.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gojira (1954)

Starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The people of Japan are beset by a gigantic and radioactive lizard monster rising out of the sea that causes devastating destruction, but a scientist may have the one weapon that can stop it.

This was the iconic Japanese monster film that started the long-running Godzilla series as well as the diverse kaju genre, both of which are still continuing today.  Although Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese) would later become the hero of much more light-hearted films, he is a grim engine of destruction in this picture, with a convincing monster suit so well-photographed in stark black and white photography, that the creature is more terrifying here than he's been in any film since.  This isn't just a great Godzilla movie, but also a great movie, with thrilling special effects, a wonderful score from Akira Ifukube, and a realistic look at a threat to a nation, effectively scripted with fine performances.  Although the love triangle between Takarada, Kochi, and Hirata isn't as well-developed as it could be, Hirata stands out as the noble Dr. Serizawa, and we can feel his angst over a weapon he fears could destroy the world.  I first saw this film in the American re-edited version, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, which excised some scenes to make room for explanatory footage with Raymond Burr, but the original Japanese version is well worth seeking out, and packs a more powerful punch.