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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.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Princess Comes Across (1936)

Starring Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Douglass Dumbrille, Alison Skipworth, George Barbier
Directed by William K. Howard
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

While a bandleader tries to get closer to a glamorous Swedish princess aboard a cruise ship, a notorious escaped convict has also snuck aboard, and tries to evade police officials aboard the boat.

Another winning teaming of Lombard and MacMurray highlights this shipboard tale, but the murder mystery plot is what kept me engaged, well-scripted and convincingly presented by cast and crew.  Lombard has fun playing the exotic princess, with an accent and manner reminiscent of Garbo, and my friend Dan Day Jr. also pointed out she may have been poking a bit of fun at  Marlene Dietrich's portrayals.  MacMurray starts out as an irreverent cocky sort, and his early antics make us think this will be a comedy of errors, but the film and the actor quickly move into serious territory once the story's murder occurs.  Also joining the duo are Skipworth as Lombard's lady-in-waiting and Fred Mertz as MacMurray's sidekick, plus a quartet of police officials determined to solve the crime but who will need MacMurray's help to bait the trap for the murderer.  It's sort of an unusual format for the romantic couple, but I enjoyed the departures from the norm.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

King Dinosaur (1955)

Starring William Bryant, Wanda Curtis, Douglas Henderson, Patti Gallagher
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a new planet drifts into our solar system, a rocket with four scientists aboard is sent to investigate the world, where they discover giant prehistoric creatures.

Bert I. Gordon's first directorial credit, which he also co-wrote and co-produced, starts with what should be a solid premise, a human investigation of a mysterious new planet, but is completely undone by the special effects.  There is no "King Dinosaur" in the film, just footage of giant projected lizards, much of which looks to have been cribbed from One Million B.C.  I think the film would have been able to stand up better on its own if there'd been some attempt to create more realistic looking dinosaurs, and would have saved any improper handling of the animals.  It doesn't help matters that the movie essentially begins with a 20-minute assemblage of stock footage.  There's also quite a bit of sexism in the script and particularly in the behavior of actor Douglas Henderson, whom as others have observed before, seems to intentionally manhandle his female co-stars during the latter half of the picture.  I like some of the ideas in the script, and to a certain extent the performances overall, but the movie really begins to drag once they begin the parade of lizard footage.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)

Starring Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum, John Zaremba
Directed by Fred F. Sears
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A rocket scientist and his new wife are contacted by aliens in a flying saucer, who are ready to conquer the Earth with their fleet of ships.

This is a bit of a rarity in Ray Harryhausen films in that no actual living creatures are animated by the special effects titan, but the flying saucers and their targets of destruction alone.  Nevertheless, it's quite a piece of work for Harryhausen, as the film contains some truly iconic scenes of the saucers destroying Washington D.C.'s national monuments, something that had never been done on screen before.  The cast is fine too- Marlowe is believable as focused scientist Russell Marvin, and veteran actor Ankrum brings intelligence and gravitas to his role as General John Hanley, who is cruelly used by the aliens.  Although uncredited, voice actor extraordinaire Paul Frees provides the clear but somewhat distorted voice of the aliens which is crucial to the unfolding of the story.  It's a shame with the creative gifts of Harryhausen that so much military stock footage had to be used in the picture although it's understandable.  It still remains a Harryhausen classic, and well worth revisiting often.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Invasion (1965)

Starring Edward Judd, Yoko Tani, Valerie Gearon, Lyndon Brook, Ric Young
Directed by Alan Bridges
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

During a late shift at a British hospital, a man struck by a car is brought in whom the doctors soon discover is not human, and learn that there are two other alien beings on the loose.

I really enjoyed this British science fiction picture, which has an intelligent script, builds suspense slowly and admirably, and is well-staged and directed by Bridges.  The filmmakers made the decision to cast Asians as the aliens, which is notable in that the same approach was used the next year in the American film, Women Of The Prehistoric Planet.  Asian actress Tsai Chin, who played Christopher Lee's daughter in Britain's Fu Manchu films, is a human nurse in the film, who points out the aliens aren't Chinese or Japanese.  Judd and Gearon and Brook are fine as the doctors, who aren't perfect and have their flaws, but soon are on a race to save the patients in their hospital from danger that the aliens bring to them.  The film scrimps on special effects for the most part, using clever ideas to keep the budget down and still convey the otherworldliness of the visitors, but closes with a very well designed chase sequence.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Love Before Breakfast (1936)

Starring Carole Lombard, Preston Foster, Cesar Romero, Janet Beecher, Betty Lawford
Directed by Walter Lang
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy magnate sends a woman's fiancee off to a job in Japan, so he can woo her himself, but she angrily rebuffs his advances, although secretly she begins to fall for him.

I'm sure there was a good deal of effort put into trying to make this film another winning picture for Lombard, but there's several strikes against it.  They blacken the beautiful actress's eye in a filmed fight, and even incorporate it into the movie poster, a mistake in my mind.  Screenwriter Herbert Fields tries to spin comedy scenes out of Foster's failed but persistent attempts to win her heart, but most of these just didn't work for me, and the only real times I laughed were at clever lines in the script given to the supporting characters.  Most of all though I think, they make Lombard's Kay Colby as belligerent as possible whenever Foster's Scott Miller shows up, right up to the final fade-out, and these scenes could have used some softening.  Lombard has scenes where she cries at the thought of missing out on Miller, but never has a chance to lower her guard down when she's with him.  The character's rage is understandable, but I don't think it's what the audience wanted to see.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Adventure Island (1947)

Starring Rory Calhoun, Rhonda Fleming, Paul Kelly, John Abbott, Alan Napier
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Three men whose bad choices have left them stranded and hungry in an exotic port land a second chance aboard a cargo ship, but greed and alcohol send them down another road to ruin.

For the most part this is a routine melodrama aboard a sailing ship, with Kelly as a failed captain whose surrender to his temptations squander his second chance for a decent life.  He's joined by Abbott, affecting a cockney accent, whose perpetual drunkeness doesn't help, and Calhoun, who's the straight arrow of the bunch, but won't challenge Kelly due to owing him his life.  Fleming is the beauty and part-owner aboard ship who tries to stand up to the men but fails.  However, the film improves considerably when they go ashore on an uncharted island where the fine British character actor Alan Napier provides excellent villainy.  Using the superstitions of the natives, he has amassed a position of power as their "god" and punishes any crime by sentencing the accused to a deadly snake pit.  Unfortunately, most of the island night scenes are badly lit, robbing the more horrific moments of their effectiveness.  It's not a bad film, but would have benefitted from spending more of its running time on the island and giving Napier a bigger role.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

El Vampiro (1957)

Starring Abel Salazar, Ariadne Welter, Carmen Montejo, Jose Luis Jimenez, German Robles
Directed by Fernando Mendez
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After being stranded at a train station together, a doctor accompanies a young woman on her journey back to her ancestral home, while a vampire plots to return his ancestor to eternal life.

This vampire tale is Mexican horror at its best, well-directed by Mendez, with good performances from the whole cast, and eerie atmosphere throughout the production.  Well-done sets and fog and wind effects really make the setting of a nearly abandoned estate spooky and unnerving, and a haunting music score from Gustavo Cesar Carrion helps escalate the terror.  Welter is the perfect virginal victim, and Robles brings nobility but menace to his tuxedoed Count Lavud, wearing one of the first sets of cinematic vampire fangs.  Salazar, as the doctor who has to come to Marta's rescue, is not a serious vampire hunter at first but has to engage in fisticuffs and vampire combat later.  Montejo is also very good as Welter's aunt and Lavud's vampiress assistant, slinking through the castle in a jet black gown with a long dragging train.  Although the special effects are elementary, with the vampires popping into frame and changing into bats through simple film edits, it works for the film and doesn't detract at all from all of Mendez' atmospheric touches.