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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!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

Starring Gene Evans, Andre Morell, John Turner, Leigh Madison, Jack MacGowran
Directed by Douglas Hickox & Eugene Lourie
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The discovery of countless dead fish and a gruesome murder near a British port is investigated by atomic scientists, who discover a giant radioactive sea monster is to blame.

This British piece of sci-fi, very similar in form to Lourie's earlier picture, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which showcased the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, is probably of most interest for effects work by Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien.  However, the creature in this film doesn't actually show up in animated form until about an hour into the picture, with earlier shots of the monster apparently accomplished via a puppet that is not animated.  Nevertheless, it's a more than effective film, with stalwart leads in Evans and Morell, inventive sound effects, and plenty of satisfying monster action.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Boy And The Pirates (1960)

Starring Charles Herbert, Susan Gordon, Murvyn Vye, Paul Guilfoyle, Joseph Turkel
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young boy, enamored with the historical exploits of famous pirates, encounters a genie in a bottle that transports him back in time onto the ship of the legendary Blackbeard. 

Bert I. Gordon, the producer/director and creator of special effects for 1950s sci-fi classics like The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack Of The Puppet People, tries his hand at a fantasy film with this time travel adventure starring Charles Herbert, the young actor from movies like The Fly and 13 Ghosts.  It's charming, but probably among the least of Gordon's films in my opinion, with a meandering story and some less than satisfying visuals.  The pirates, led by Vye's Blackbeard, are colorful, but their attacks on other vessels aren't very dynamic or exciting, and the bulk of the film focuses on weak humor in Herbert's exposure of the pirates to modern technology like safety matches and bubble gum.  Those faults aside, I still enjoyed the film, but it's a pale imitator of other fantasy classics.  The director's daughter Susan appears as a young victim of the pirates that Herbert rescues.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return Of Doctor X (1939)

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Wayne Morris, Dennis Morgan, John Litel
Directed by Vincent Sherman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a newspaper reporter loses his job after mistakenly reporting a famous starlet dead, he recruits a doctor to help him discover the truth, and are led to a blood specialist and his sinister assistant.  

Humphrey Bogart's only horror film, which I've heard was a "punishment" levied on the actor by his studio's bosses, need not be looked at a low point in the dramatic actor's career, as I feel it's a gripping and enjoyable movie.  The cast is well worth watching, with Bogart joined by Wayne Morris in an entertaining performance as the glib reporter, a young Dennis Morgan as the noble but inquisitive doctor, and John Litel, who is underrated as the mysterious Dr. Flegg.  Huntz Hall, better known for his dimwitted persona in the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys movies, even shows up as an office boy at the newspaper.  Although Bogart's character is key to the story, the actor is essentially playing a supporting role here, but strikes the right eerie notes, with a creepy vocal delivery and a menacing walk.  Although Warner Brothers didn't venture into the horror genre often, they clearly looked at rival studio Universal for a template for their film, with a screenplay that calls upon elements of both Frankenstein and Dracula, and a Bride Of Frankenstein-like white streak through Bogart's hair.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Murder Ahoy (1964)

Starring Margaret Rutherford, Lionel Jeffries, Charles Tingwell, William Mervyn, Joan Benham
Directed by George Pollock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After Miss Marple's family lineage allows her to join the trust of a historic maritime vessel, she's intrigued by the mysterious death of one of the trust's members, and decides to investigate the ship. 

The last of Margaret Rutherford's appearances as Miss Marple in MGM's adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels, this one actually isn't an adaptation at all, but features an original screenplay by David Pursall & Jack Seddon.  It's a charming mystery with Miss Rutherford in fine form as the inquisitive and clever sleuth, with plenty of comedy along with the sinister goings on.  At times I felt it was a little too intricately plotted, with a number of different criminal enterprises transpiring aboard ship that weren't quite clear to me by film's end, but it was good fun well presented, with a talented cast of British thespians.  Hammer Films fans might be interested to know that familiar actors Miles Malleson and Francis Matthews are in the cast.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Panic In Year Zero! (1962)

Starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel, Joan Freeman
Directed by Ray Milland
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A family traveling away from Los Angeles on a fishing trip learn that their city has been wiped out by a nuclear attack, and the father takes desperate measures to ensure they will survive.

Familiar leading man Ray Milland stars and also directs this engaging piece of sci-fi that delves into how society might be torn down in a nuclear crisis.  Although the budget is low, and an effects shot of the nuclear fallout isn't very convincing, Milland turns in a gripping performance on par with his better roles, and delivers a worthwhile film.  The screenplay unfortunately doesn't flesh out the other characters quite as well, and the return of antagonists from the first half of the movie in the second half struck me as a bit too coincidental.  I also thought that Les Baxter's score, dominated by some jazzy themes, might not have been the most appropriate choice.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the picture, and it's a good reminder that Milland was still turning in quality work well after his more famed successes in the 1930s and 1940s.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero (1965)

Starring Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno
Directed by Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Aliens from the mysterious Planet X ask the Earth for the help of their giant monsters, Godzilla and Rodan, to save their world from "Monster Zero," but they may have other motives as well.

Although the film features quite a bit of giant monster action, the creatures are almost a sidelight, with the main conflict being between the sinister aliens from Planet X and the space pilots (Adams & Takarada) who are wise to their covert shenanigans.  Although Adams is one of the film's protagonists, he adds quite a bit of humor to the film as well, with an at times outlandish Brooklyn accent.  The special effects by Eiji Tsubaraya are again first rate, with not only Godzilla, Rodan, and "Monster Zero" showcased, but also some impressive flying saucers, although some wires are visible.  When the monsters do fight, it's entertaining and the devastation they cause is balanced with lighter moments like Godzilla jumping for joy after driving off an enemy.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Mind Benders (1963)

Starring Dirk Bogarde, Mary Ure, John Clements, Michael Bryant, Wendy Craig
Directed by Basil Dearden
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist goes through an isolation experiment to prove a colleague was not responsible for selling secrets, and is tested through brainwashing that challenges his devotion to his wife.

Although not truly a science fiction or horror film, as it's sometimes been described and marketed, this is a compelling drama with something profound to say about isolation's effects on the human mind.  Structured around an excellent performance by Bogarde, the actor is very convincing in conveying his trauma through anguish and violence in his voice while confined for hours underwater, and in portraying his relationship with Ure that ranges from passion to cruelty and indifference after his brainwashing.  The rest of the cast also give good performances, including Ure as the wife who silently endures her husband's hurtful treatment, and Clements as the hardened military officer supervising the experiment.  However while the screenplay contains some insightful dialogue, for me it takes some giant leaps that are a little too hard to believe, and a subplot concerning Bryant's pining for Ure's character isn't particularly well-integrated into the story.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Innocents (1961)

Starring Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Martin Stephens
Directed by Jack Clayton
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman takes a job as governess to two children at a large estate, but after witnessing ghostly visions there, fears the children have become corrupted by evil.

A faithful adaptation of Henry James' novella, The Turn Of The Screw, the picture is beautiful to look at, with vivid atmospheric scenery, and Clayton and his crew skillfully build a feeling of unease that helps escalate suspense.  Cinematographer Freddie Francis, who would later distinguish several future British horror films as their director, shows a talent for defining the visuals of the genre in eerie imagery and effectively fluid tracking shots, while still capturing the actors beautifully.  The cast is also first rate, with Stephens and Pamela Franklin beguiling as the titular children, Jenkins warm as the kindly housekeeper, and Kerr of course accomplished as the governess who may be as righteous as she thinks she is being, or possibly on the edge of losing her sanity.  I read on Wikipedia that the truth of whether Kerr's character has insight into evil or is overreacting has been much debated by scholars, so it seems appropriate that Clayton and his screenwriters, including the famed Truman Capote, have chosen to leave her character's actions for the audience to judge.  Viewers expecting a conventional ghost story with shocks and moaning spectres should be warned this isn't that type of film, but it is a beautiful production with more and more to notice upon each viewing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Starring Yosuke Natsuki, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Emi & Yumi Ito
Directed by Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After escaping an explosion aboard her plane, a royal princess claims to be an alien from the planet Mars, and predicts attacks by Godzilla, Rodan, and a terrifying new monster.

This was the first Toho monster rally to the best of my knowledge, which brings Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra together to battle an impressive new menace in Ghidrah, a three-headed flying dragon that spews destructive energy bolts from its mouths.  But before we're presented with the climactic battle, we're introduced to Wakabayashi as the princess who jumps out of her plane before it explodes after a warning from a mysterious voice, and then resurfaces claiming to be a Martian who can predict the future.  That's creative plotting to say the least!  Although there's assassins after the princess, and plenty of death and destruction, the film has a very light-hearted tone, reflected in Godzilla's unorthodox attempts to battle Ghidrah and Rodan by throwing and kicking rocks at them.  Eiji Tsuburaya's special effects are among the best I've seen in a Toho film, with the fast-striking and devastating Ghidrah the definite showpiece of the production.