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.

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Visit To A Small Planet (1960)

Starring Jerry Lewis, Joan Blackman, Earl Holliman, Fred Clark, John Williams
Directed by Norman Taurog

(actor & director credits courtesy

A space alien trying to learn more about the earth descends to the planet and stays with the family of a gruff TV commentator who doesn't believe in extraterrestrial life.

Lewis stars as the alien in another of his "fish out of water" pictures.  This was based on a play by Gore Vidal, but according to my friend Dwight Kemper, there's little similarity, with the plot rewritten by Paramount's screenwriters.  When the alien discovers the Civil War is over, instead of trying to start a new war, as in the play, he uses his powers to impress a young couple, including levitating cars and people, and showing off magical drum work at a hipster club.  This leads to a romantic entanglement with the commentator's daughter and conflict with her fiancee.   Most of the humor is lowbrow but the special effects are pretty good, from the great John P. Fulton.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Night The World Exploded (1957)

Starring Kathryn Grant, William Leslie, Tris Coffin, Raymond Greenleaf, Charles Evans
Directed by Fred F. Sears

(actor & director credits courtesy

A seismologist and his assistant try to track down the source of a series of unrelenting earthquakes, and discover a previously unknown element is responsible.

A low-budget programmer from Columbia Pictures, there's not much in the way of special effects, except the flaming and growing element 111, which is nevertheless believably showcased.  Leslie stars as Dr. David Conway, and Grant (of The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and her marriage to Bing Crosby) is probably the biggest star in the film, hence her top billing.  Their characters are saddled with a subplot of trying to admit their love for each other, while attempting to save the world.  It's not a bad picture, and is fairly well plotted and scripted, although some sexist dialogue exists.  Still, it doesn't quite make the impact it needs to for a seeming "end of the world" picture, despite amiable characters worth caring about.

Friday, December 25, 2020

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

Starring Dan Duryea, John Ericson, Lois Nettleton, Bob Hastings, Vincent Beck
Directed by Frank Telford

(actor & director credits courtesy

A team of U.S. agents head into Red China to retrieve a flying saucer and meet up with a Russian group after the same objective.

Cold-war dramatics and science fiction meet in an interesting picture co-written by familiar special-effects artist John P. Fulton, who provided startling visuals for many a Universal picture in the 1930s and 1940s.  Fulton also teams with Glen Robinson to provide the effects for this picture in the form of a luminescent spaceship that menaces the airways.  Duryea, a familiar leading man from a number of noir pictures in the 40s, stars as the gruff leader of the U.S. expedition, but the focus is more on test pilot Ericsson, and the beautiful Russian translator he falls for from the other group.  Although there are some dated attitudes in the film, the story is rather clever, as the Americans and the Russians work together to determine how the ship flies, while tensions between them jeopardize their mission.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)

Starring Janet Munro, Leo McKern, Edward Judd, Michael Goodliffe, Bernard Braden
Directed by Val Guest

(actor & director credits courtesy

After nations set off two atomic tests simultaneously, weather patterns change and London is beset by extreme temperatures, leading the reporters of the Daily Express to discover a new global threat.

We have here a landmark science fiction drama which has the feel of realism due to a large amount of documentary-like footage, and its emphasis on the newspaper reporters searching for the truth at the center of it all.  Judd plays a hard-drinking writer at the Express who has lax work habits and is more interested in pursuing Munro, a secretary at the Medical Center that employs scientists that give him the runaround.  Leo McKern is excellent as the veteran reporter working alongside Judd, with scientific expertise of his own that keeps their investigations on target.   Another strong asset to the film is its script, giving the reporters snappy dialogue and retorts which really make the picture move, written by director Guest and Wolf Mankowitz.  Although the documentary footage is the primary device used to show the danger London is in, a special effects sequence in which the city is covered by a giant misting fog, is well done at further illustrating the threat.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Disembodied (1957)

Starring Paul Burke, Allison Hayes, John Wengraf, Eugenia Paul, Joel Marston
Directed by Walter Grauman

(actor & director credits courtesy

The manipulative young wife of a doctor of psychology living in the jungle uses voodoo and her feminine wiles to get a visiting white man to do her bidding.

A nice showcase for Hayes, the picture has some well-done voodoo sequences with Hayes dancing as the "voodoo queen" and making the needed sacrifices.  Wengraf and his distinguished accent are strong in support as her jealous but reclusive husband, while Burke is serviceable as the white man who falls under Hayes' spell.  Marlin Skiles delivers a fine jungle and voodoo influenced score, and the film smartly avoids using too much stock footage, although most of the principal actors playing black natives, are white, notably Dean Fredericks, star of The Phantom Planet.  For the most part, the picture is a straightforward jungle drama, with a few supernatural touches, so don't expect more than that, but Hayes is always worth watching.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Buck Rogers (1938)

Starring Buster Crabbe, Constance Moore, Jackie Moran, Jack Mulhall, Anthony Warde
Directed by Ford Beebe & Saul A. Goodkind

(actor & director credits courtesy

Colonel Buck Rogers and his young friend Buddy Wade wake up after 500 years in suspended animation to discover the Earth has been subjugated by the cruel Killer Kane.

Crabbe follows up his starring role in the Flash Gordon serial by portraying another comic strip hero, and there are some similarities with Gordon, from the spaceship effects to the friends and villains Buck takes on through the course of the storyline.  However, there's less of an emphasis on fantastic sights and locales, other than the new technology Buck encounters, including teleportation chambers, a rocket train, and flying belts.  The serial focuses on the clash between Killer Kane, who blockades the Earth with his rocketships and uses mind control on the prisoners he enslaves, and the people of the "Hidden City" who rebel against him, including familiar Rogers associates Dr. Huer and Wilma Deering.  Crabbe is excellent, getting to utter some dramatic speeches along with his derring-do, but Warde is pretty much a one-note villain, never leaving his council chambers, and leaving it up to his guards to handle Rogers.  Moore as Deering is a dependable partner for Buck, and Moran as the young Buddy is earnest and likable enough but wears a bit with his whining whenever he's left behind.  The presence of Universal's classic music cues enhances the action and other goings on, and overall this is a good serial, if not quite in the same league as Flash Gordon.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Curse Of The Crying Woman (1961)

Starring Rosita Arenas, Abel Salazar, Rita Macedo, Carlos Lopez Moctezuma, Enrique Lucero
Directed by Rafael Baledon

(actor & director credits courtesy

A witch descended from the legendary Crying Woman plots to use her niece to resurrect her ancient ancestor.

Based on a Mexican legend, this film amps up its horror elements as the evil witch Selma murders to fulfill a prophecy that will gain her absolute power if she can get her niece to fulfill her end.  Played by Rita Macedo, her evil doings are given heightened menace by the actress wearing black contact lenses giving her a very creepy spider-like visage.  Niece Amelia and her husband get drawn into her web, and also must contend with Selma’s insane husband and Juan, her scarred clubfooted partner in crime.  Baledon and his crew pack lots of dark imagery into the tale and creepy sights like rats and decaying corpses.  I’m not sure all the elements come together to make a unified whole and I thought the Crying Woman’s backstory was given too short shrift within the tale, but it’s still a worthwhile picture.