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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, July 19, 2019

Pursuit To Algiers (1945)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Marjorie Riordan, Rosalind Ivan, Morton Lowry
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Sherlock Holmes takes the assignment of escorting a foreign prince to his democratic country, but enemy assassins are soon on their trail.

This entry is less of a mystery than the other films in the Universal Holmes series, but it's still an engaging picture, with a featured spotlight on Nigel Bruce, who gets to show off his fine singing voice in a rendition of "Loch Loman."  There's much to enjoy and we get a trio of villains played by actors who hadn't yet appeared in the series, in a refreshing change of pace.  Rex Evans, probably best known for playing the outraged bartender Vazec in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, shows his range by playing Gregor, the leader of the three and a more patient and calculating mastermind who gets to verbally spar with Rathbone.  Martin Kosleck, the sinister villain of films like The Mummy's Curse and House Of Horrors, plays Mirko the expert knife-thrower who's eager to do away with Sherlock Holmes.  And playing the mute but imposing Gubec, William "Wee Willie" Davis is effective as the strongman of the group.  They may not be the quality of other foes for Holmes and Watson in the series, but I still enjoyed their performances as well as the steamship setting for their skullduggery.  It's not one of the best of the series, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Cat And The Canary (1927)

Starring Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor
Directed by Paul Leni
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a wealthy man dies, he stipulates that his will may not be read until 20 years later, and when that time arrives, his relatives show up at the dreary mansion said to be haunted by his ghost.

One of the earliest "old dark house" mystery films that became ubiquitous, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s, this silent picture was directed by Paul Leni, a German immigrant who brought some unique expressionistic ideas to his American films.  These are prevalent early on as a mobile camera takes us through the mansion, and superimposed shots combine separate images into one, in an interesting effect.  The story, with La Plante being named the sole heir, but having to contend with a secret second heir trying to drive her insane, is highlighted by mysterious disappearances and sinister hands reaching out from secret passages.  Unfortunately, I think the film overdoes the comic relief, largely featuring Creighton Hale as a timid relative and love interest for La Plante in comic bits that don't really hold up that well today.  Nonetheless, this is still an entertaining picture worth seeing for Leni's direction and Gilbert Warrenton's camerawork.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Glen Or Glenda (1953)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Tommy Haynes
Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The suicide of a transvestite leads a police inspector and a doctor to discuss other such cases, including that of a young man trying to get up the courage to tell his fiancee he likes to wear women's clothes.

Ed Wood's feature film debut is a bizarre concoction, an attempt by the writer/director to humanize transvestites, including himself, to the extent that he appears in an acting role as the central character of Glen.  He actually doesn't give a bad performance, but his script leaves much to be desired, featuring a non-sensical dream sequence, and strange dialogue delivered by horror icon Bela Lugosi, often with laughable facial expressions, while seated in a mad scientist's laboratory with stuffed fearsome creatures on display.  Wood is certainly earnest in his role, and some of the statements he's trying to make are not without profundity, especially at the time this was released, but that's outweighed in the film by plenty of ridiculous content.  

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)

Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffre, Luigi Pistilli
Directed by Sergio Leone
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

During the Civil War, three violent men make their way across the battle lines in search of a hidden fortune in gold, leading to an inevitable showdown. 

Leone's third and last film in the trilogy featuring Eastwood as "The Man With No Name," the picture is one of the great westerns, with great visuals featuring panning and intercutting closeups that have become a trademark, as well as Ennio Morricone's iconic musical score.  Like some others, I do find the film at nearly three hours to be a little lengthier than it had to be, but was never bored, with the action on the screen, the excellent production values, and Leone's first-rate visual storytelling more than compensating.  This film and its predecessors in the series established the persona Eastwood probably is still best known for, and he's perfect as the bounty hunter who helps his prey escape execution so he can collect additional reward money.  Van Cleef is fine in another villainous and sadistic role in which he always fulfills a contract even those paid by his victims.  Wallach's profane and revenge-minded criminal gets the bulk of the film's dialogue and screen time, and seems to revel in his character's degradations.  This is a very violent film and from reading Wikipedia, was controversially so at its time, although there's not a great deal of blood spilled on screen.  Regardless, it's a classic and a triumph for Leone and all involved.  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Phantom Of The Opera (1962)

Starring Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Thorley Walters, Michael Gough
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A grand opera production is delayed by acts of sabotage and murder within the opera house, and when a young ingenue singer is cast, a mysterious masked stranger reaches out to her. 

Hammer Films' version of the popular Gaston LeRoux novel, casting Herbert Lom as the notorious Phantom, features a script by Anthony Hinds (writing as John Elder) which is a definite departure from the novel and the previous film adaptations.  While the Phantom has always been portrayed as something of a sympathetic figure due to his disfigurement, Lom's Phantom is probably the most sympathetic I've seen, with Gough played up as the true villain in an oily performance as the opera's supposed composer, and the murders committed not by the Phantom but his dwarf assistant.  This was probably due to stories I've heard that the script was written for Cary Grant to play the Phantom as a nobler character before he backed out of the picture.  The opera scenes are staged well, with lots of bright colors utilized in the costume design and cinematography, but per IMDB, Sears as lead singer Christine was dubbed by a professional singer for her solos.  She's beautiful and expressive but lacks any powerful scenes, and does not have a chance to unmask the Phantom as in the 1925 silent adaptation. I wouldn't rank the picture as on a par with the 1925 classic, showcasing Lon Chaney's memorable performance and makeup, but think it's well-directed by Fisher, enjoyed Lom's and Gough's performances, and thought De Souza was capable as the opera's producer and Christine's paramour.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)

Starring Tadao Takashima, Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Koji Furuhata
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The ever-beating heart of Frankenstein's monster grows a new body around it which swells to gigantic size, and while scientists and the military pursue it, a new monster emerges to threaten Japan. 

Although the film culminates in the expected giant monster fight, this is still a bit of a departure among Toho's kaiju productions, and a bit moodier and darker than I was expecting, but all for the good I think.  I loved the film's prologue, which traces the path of the preserved heart of the Frankenstein monster from a Nazi laboratory to a Japanese laboratory in Hiroshima, just before the city is bombed, which sets up the radioactive rebirth and growth of the monster.  This sequence is really well done, with a nicely designed German castle set, and good special effects for the dangers faced by the German and Japanese submarines transporting the heart.  Nick Adams, paired again with the lovely Kumi Mizuno, provides another stalwart lead, although he doesn't quite get to show as much emotion or personality as in Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero.  I liked Furuhata's characterization of Frankenstein's monster as he grows from a young boy to an immense giant, and freed from the need for a monster suit, the actor brings some lithe energy to his wrestling of the creature Baragon.  Many of Toho's best craftsmen worked on the film, from director Honda to composer Akira Ifukube, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, and it shows.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Radar Men From The Moon (1952)

Starring George Wallace, Aline Towne, Roy Barcroft, William Bakewell, Clayton Moore
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Scientist and government agent Commando Cody discovers a plot by aliens on the moon to invade the Earth, and uses his flying suit to combat them and their agents on Earth.

We have here the second of the "Rocket Man" serials, with a new actor and character in the flying suit, George Wallace as Commando Cody, but plenty of the same thrills (and stock footage) from the previous serial, King Of The Rocket Men.  The special effects depicting Cody flying through the air,  a dummy on wires as first used in Adventures Of Captain Marvel still look great, enhanced with the sound effects of the character's Rocket pack, and solid take off and landing sequences.  Effects men Howard and Theodore Lydecker use a similar effect for Cody's rocket ship, which also looks impressive for the time, although the interior shots of the cockpit are compromised by the use of ordinary desk chairs.  Although there's plenty of adventure throughout the serial, much of the cliffhangers and set pieces are ones we've seen before, and some are cribbed from past serial footage, but they're staged well enough and a musical action theme effectively underscores the central conflict in each episode.  Unless I'm mistaken from looking at the filming locations on IMDB, it's Vasquez Rocks standing in for the craggy surface of the moon, which probably wouldn't fool too many fans of old westerns, but provides the caves and rough terrain required by the story.  As Cody, Wallace is a solid hero, and Barcroft, with his aggressive tone, is tapped once again by the Republic studio to play the villain, in this case, Retik, the leader of the moon.  Peter Brocco in alien makeup plays Retik's lieutenant on Earth, Krog, and future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore is welcome as Krog's chief human henchman.  I wouldn't call it a great serial, but it's fun and worth revisiting from time to time.