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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, November 18, 2018

Varan The Unbelievable (1962)

Starring Myron Healey, Tsuruko Kobayashi, Clifford Kawada, Derick Shimatsu, Kozo Nomura
Directed by Jerry A. Baerwitz & Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientific experiment on a small village's lake accidentally stirs a giant creature sleeping on the bottom, that sets off to destroy everything in its path.

This American version of Daikaiju Baran, per Wikipedia, changes a good deal of the story and instead fashions a different narrative with American Healey in the lead, using limited footage from the Japanese film, including almost none of the principal stars.  Healey's a favorite actor of mine, a talent at projecting a good-natured swagger in many of his roles, and he's likable in this as a military scientist with a loving Japanese wife, but the American crew who recut the film don't pay much respect to the work of Japanese director Honda and his crew, letting their scenes dominate their version.  What does remain is some impressive footage of the monster, with spikes all over its reptilian exterior and a fearsome countenance.  I've read some accounts this was perhaps a too familiar return by Honda to Godzilla-like territory, and it is without doubt similarly structured from what I could tell from the footage used, but I still found it unique in its own way and look forward to seeking out the Japanese version.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Scream Of Fear (1961)

Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, John Serret
Directed by Seth Holt
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A paralyzed young lady returns after a long absence to her father's home in France, and although told he's away, she begins to see his dead body in different locations.

An excellent psychological thriller from Hammer Films, the film is very well plotted and directed, with a strong performance from Strasberg in a difficult role.  Her supporting cast is also quite good, with Lewis, Todd, and Lee (taking on a French accent) convincing in their parts, and not letting any hint on of the twists and turns to follow.  Douglas Slocombe's black-and-white cinematography is very suited to the suspenseful screenplay, and Bernard Robinson's production design adds elements of claustrophobia despite the large estate of the setting.  Holt's judicious use of Clifton Parker's score, with a number of eerie moments unscored, adds to the still potent atmosphere and mystery.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Invaders From Mars (1953)

Starring Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Jimmy Hunt, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke
Directed by William Cameron Menzies
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young boy witnesses a flying saucer landing near his home, and soon after discovers his parents and other people he knows have been turned into cold-hearted enemies of the Earth.

One of 1950s' science fiction's seminal films, it's well anchored by young Hunt, who is so earnest and likable, you can't help but be moved by his plight, as he tries to convince people that the Martians have landed and are taking over.  The supporting cast is solid with standouts being Helena Carter's sympathetic doctor and Morris Ankrum's dependable Colonel Fielding.  While the special effects by Republic serial veterans Howard and Theodore Lydecker are a bit dated today, they're wonderfully creative, as holes opening and closing in the white sand abduct hapless humans accompanied by the sound of an ominous choral-like tone.  It was one of the last films for Menzies, who directed and also did the production design like so many great productions from his past.  His design is interesting with fairly simplistic settings and several dialogue scenes taking place before backgrounds with only colors and no ornamentation.  Once we get to see inside the Martian stronghold, there's nothing really dramatic in design, better to focus on the giant mu-tants serving the disembodied head of their master, images that had to have stuck with many 1950s kids and are still memorable today.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Spider Woman (1943)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Gale Sondergaard, Dennis Hoey, Vernon Downing
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

As a wave of horrific suicides sweeps London, Sherlock Holmes also seems to lose his life after an accidental fall, but returns with a plan to root out the woman behind the suicides.

I'd call this a middling entry in the Universal Holmes series, although Bertram Millhauser's screenplay offers a few inventive ideas.  The best scenes are with Watson and Hoey reacting to Holmes' apparent death, which was likely borne out of Conan Doyle's story, The Adventure Of The Empty House.  Although casting the Oscar-winning Sondergaard is a fine choice, and she excels as usual in a villainous role, the supporting cast is somewhat less inspired with Downing as her henchman a bit of a bore.  I also found the camerawork and sparing use of music a bit disappointing compared to other Holmes efforts.  That being said, there's some fun to be had in spotting some actors in the cast, including Harry Cording, Gene Roth, and Angelo Rossito made up as an imported African pygmy!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)

Starring Kerwin Mathews, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Torin Thatcher, Alec Mango
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The brave hero Sinbad battles fantastic creatures in order to save the princess he loves, who has been shrunk to a tiny size by an evil magician.

Ray Harryhausen's stop motion effects enliven this production, with the talented craftsman expertly animating a giant cyclops, a fearsome dragon, an immense two-headed roc, a dancing snake woman, and a sword-fighting skeleton.  It's also impressively mounted in other areas, with a classic Bernard Herrmann score, an engaging cast including Mathews' stalwart hero and Thatcher's sinister magician, poetic dialogue which brings a classical feel, and bright color photography by Wilkie Cooper, all befitting this memorable fantasy adventure.  The skeleton sequence is a favorite with Mathews battling Harryhausen's creation with Herrmann's bone-jangling accompaniment, but there are so many memorable images and sonics, from the eerie shrinking of the princess, to the bellowing cyclops.  Modern envisionings of the story would rightly employ a more ethnically diverse cast, but the picture still feels like a vivid imagining of an Arabian Nights classic.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Teenage Caveman (1958)

Starring Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall, Leslie Bradley, Frank DeKova, Charles Thompson
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In a primitive society, a teenager among the cave people questions the laws to never move beyond their territory, and is tempted to break the law by another caveman looking to seize power.

Roger Corman tries his hand at a caveman picture, and in my opinion it's really one of the better ones, with an insightful script from R. Wright Campbell, and a decent performance from Vaughn, some time before his success on television.  It's also clearly a low budget affair, cobbled together with stock footage from other pictures, notably One Million B.C., and recycling a costume in a nonsensical way from Night Of The Blood Beast.  Still, the ideas in the screenplay made it work for me, Frank DeKova's antagonist was a worthy villain, and it was a great relief that the cave people all spoke English instead of the grunts and yells one has to sit through and try to make sense of in other pictures of this type.  It was also fun to spot the Corman regulars among the supporting cast, with Jonathan Haze, Barboura Morris, and Beach Dickerson all making appearances.  I won't give away the twist ending, but like that Campbell laid the groundwork for it in his story beforehand.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)

Starring Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Yvonne Mitchell, Donald Pleasence, Arnold Diamond
Directed by Rudolph Cartier
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In a rebuilt society after an atomic war, a government worker risks his future by embarking on a forbidden affair with a lovely associate and seeking to join a rebellion against their leaders.

A powerful adaptation of George Orwell's landmark novel, this telefilm boasts a faithful script from writer Nigel Kneale, and excellent performances from all of its cast, including a showcased role for Peter Cushing that likely started him down a path to stardom.  Orwell's source material remains timely to this day, and despite the limitations of adapting it in the 1950s, the production still has the power to impress and horrify.  As Winston Smith, Orwell's beleaguered hero, who despises the controlling government of "The Party," and its ever present figurehead, "Big Brother," Cushing has our sympathy right from the start as a quiet unassuming type hungry for companionship.  When he attains that with Mitchell, who is also very good in projecting a wonderful vivaciousness, we feel his joy as we would ourselves.  When walls begin to close in around him, and Morell takes center stage in another compelling performance, the degradation Smith goes through and Cushing's reactions to it are quite literally heartbreaking.  With many long speeches, the film does drag a bit, and I couldn't help wishing that there were more of a score, rather than just snippets of music from John Hotchkiss as transitions between scenes.  Regardless, the picture is a masterwork in my opinion, and worthy of preserving for future generations.