The Gnome-Mobile (1967)

THE GNOME-MOBILE (1967)
Article 3473 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-11-2011
Posting Date: 2-16-2011
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Walter Brennan, Matthew Garber, Karen Dotrice
Country: USA
What it is: Musical fantasy with a bit of a split personality

A lumber tycoon stumbles upon two gnomes in one of his forests; they’re fearful that they are the last of their race and the younger one wants to take a bride. The tycoon decides to help them find if there are gnomes in other forests.

In which Disney attempts to cross DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, MARY POPPINS (the movie emphasizes that the child actors are the same two from that movie) and their shopping-cart movies. It lacks the richness and spirit of the first two, and never achieves the wildness of the latter at their best. As a result, the movie is neither fish nor fowl, and is one of Disney’s more obscure movies; I myself only remember it from a single TV ad I saw when I was a child. It’s interesting to catch Walter Brennan in a dual role, but he gets a little too annoying as Knobby the gnome. I suspect even Disney didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in this one; most of their more ambitious fantasy movies clock in at close to two hours, but his one lasts a mere 84 minutes, making it even shorter than many of the shopping cart movies. It would prove to be the last movie for veteran comic actor Ed Wynn as well as for Matthew Garber. This is not Disney’s finest hour.

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Endangered Species (1982)

ENDANGERED SPECIES (1982)
Article 3472 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2011
Posting Date: 2-15-2011
Directed by Alan Rudolph
Featuring Robert Urich, JoBeth Williams, Paul Dooley
Country: USA
What it is: Cattle mutilation thriller

A renegade ex-cop joins forces with the female sheriff in a small Colorado town to investigate the cause of mysterious cattle mutilations occurring in the area.

Director Alan Rudolph has delved into fantastically-themed cinema before; he gave us NIGHTMARE CIRCUS, aka BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD. For what it’s worth, this movie is much better than that one. The movie actually builds a nice sense of mystery about the cause of the mutilations, which is a bit surprising, because it actually gives away the game early on in the proceedings. At one point or another, several of the more common theories for the mutilations are trotted out, some of which are obviously smokescreens and others distinct possibilities. Director Alan Rudolph has worked with Robert Altman on occasion, and there are moments where the complexity of the characters here shows a bit of that influence, but sometimes the extra character development seems extraneous and distracting. Overall, I quite like the movie, but found the ending confusing and a bit muddled, and there’s still a few unanswered questions. In short, this one is interesting, if not quite successful.

The Centerfold Girls (1974)

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974)
Article 3471 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2011
Posting Date: 2-14-2011
Directed by John Peyser
Featuring Andrew Prine, Jaime Lyn Bauer, Tiffany Bolling
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher / anthology film

A psycho is on the loose killing a year’s worth of centerfold girls in a men’s magazine.

The central plot element here is hardly the stuff of novelty; given how many movie psychos have sexual hangups, the idea of one knocking off centerfolds comes across as pretty obvious. I do have to give the movie points for its odd structure, though; it splits the action into three stories, each concerning one of the centerfolds and their adventures that proceed the psycho’s attack. Still, the concept is better in conception than it is in execution; the stories are mostly exercises in sleaze and unpleasantness, and two of the stories (the first and the last one) seem mostly concerned with just how thoroughly they can humiliate and degrade the centerfold girl before she meets the psycho. The second story has the biggest surprise plotwise by varying the formula, but in the end, it really does little more than not stop at one killing. Andrew Prine plays the psycho, but I’m a little disappointed by his performance; outside of giving his character horrible clothes sense, he does little to make his psycho stand out from the pack. The movie is mostly a compendium of pandering, sleaze, unpleasant characters, and nudity, and it proudly wears its grindhouse roots on its sleeve. Still, by doing so, it targets its audience well, and you probably already know whether you’d want to bother with this one.

The Phantom Thief (1946)

THE PHANTOM THIEF (1946)
Article 3470 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-8-2011
Posting Date: 2-13-2011
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
Featuring Chester Morris, Jeff Donnell, Richard Lane
Country: USA
What it is: Boston Blackie mystery

Boston Blackie’s sidekick, the Runt, gets caught up in a jewel thievery while helping out an old friend. In attempting to sort out the problem, Blackie encounters a phony spiritualist, and then gets caught up in a murder.

I haven’t encountered Boston Blackie yet for this series, despite the fact that the character appeared in quite a number of movies; I’m assuming that most of them are utterly devoid of fantastic touches, with this one being an exception. This one features a couple of seances, with all of the usual accoutrements you’ve come to expect from them; the final scenes involve calling back someone from the dead to finger her murderer. It’s an entertaining and efficient B-Movie, though the comic relief is definitely a matter of taste; the cowardly antics of Blackie’s sidekick become particularly tiresome. I don’t know if and when I’ll be encountering Boston Blackie again, but if I do, I’ll probably get a better feel for the whole series.

Fantomas (1964)

FANTOMAS (1964)
Article 3469 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2011
Posting Date: 2-12-2011
Directed by Andre Hunebelle
Featuring Jean Marais, Louis de Funes, Mylene Demongeot
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Supervillain pastiche

A supervillain known as Fantomas tries to foil a couple of foes: the police inspector who is trying to catch him and the reporter who doesn’t believe in his existence.

With one exception (the second episode of the Louis Feuillade serial), my every attempt to see a movie about Fantomas has been marred by the fact that I was unable to get hold of a print in English (either dubbed or subtitled), so you can imagine my happiness when I started seeing the English subtitles on this one. Still, my joy was quickly muted by my realization that the light humorous touches were turning out to be very heavy indeed, and it finally dawned on me that instead of a clever crime thriller, I was being treated instead to an action comedy. Fantomas is nowhere near as brilliant this time around as he was in previous versions, but then, he doesn’t need to be; the character of Inspector Juve has been reduced to that of a bungling blowhard, which is useful for the sake of the comedy but disappointing for someone hoping for more clever thrills. Somehow, I suppose it’s fitting that the movie’s last quarter is largely an extended chase sequence using various vehicles (cars, motorcycles, trains, helicopters, even a submarine). It has occasional good laughs in it, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the shift of tone from earlier Fantomas movies. Jean Marais plays both the reporter and Fantomas, who is never seen as he looks and is always in disguise; of course, he disguises as the reporter at one point. The movie spawned two sequels, though given the ending here, that’s no surprise; it was obviously intended to be a franchise. The fantastic content is a little bit higher, however, than in other versions of the story; Fantomas is also a scientific genius, as he uses artificial skin to help him create his convincing masks, and his default disguise makes him look something like a space alien.

The Stranger (1973)

THE STRANGER (1973)
aka Stranded in Space
TV-Movie

Article 3468 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2011
Posting Date: 2-11-2011
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker
Country: USA
What it is: “The Fugitive” crossed with JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, TV-pilot style

When something inexplicably goes wrong during a space mission, an astronaut finds himself a virtual prisoner in a hospital. He escapes, only to discover that he hasn’t returned to Earth at all, but is on a planet called Terra which is under a totalitarian state known as the Perfect Order… and he’s too dangerous to be allowed to live.

One of the ground rules I set for myself when I started this movie-watching project is that I would never base my review on a viewing of the MST3K version of the movie. Don’t get me wrong; I’m actually a big fan of the series, but I also believe watching their versions inherently changes the viewing experience, making it impossible to give any fair judgment of the movie. Only twice have I been tempted to break that rule, and in each case, it was due to the difficulty I had in tracking down the movie in question; one of them was RADAR SECRET SERVICE, and this was the other one.

I found this one particularly frustrating to find; I would see the title pop up occasionally in my hunting, but every time I got around to actually purchasing it, it had lapsed into unavailability again. I’m glad to say that I finally found a copy.

The movie is sitting with a lowly 3.6 rating on IMDB, mostly because of overeager Msties giving it a low rating merely because it appeared on MST3K. It’s not a great TV-Movie, but it’s far from the worst I’ve seen. Its worst problem is that the premise is quite far-fetched; it’s really hard to swallow that the planet would be this similar to earth, even to the point that everyone is speaking English. Yet among the implausabilities, there’s some nice ideas and interesting touches in the script. Furthermore, I find Cameron Mitchell’s performance in it to be one of his best; though he’s the primary villain, his combination of conviction and vulnerability (he’s well aware how quickly things could turn against him if he doesn’t recapture the astronaut) makes for a surprisingly complex character. Had this pilot managed to spawn a series, it might have been worth catching for Mitchell alone; however, I find myself wondering if he would have ended up a regular character. At any rate, I ended up liking this one better than I thought I would.

The Night We Got the Bird (1961)

THE NIGHT WE GOT THE BIRD (1961)
Article 3467 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2011
Posting Date: 2-10-2011
Directed by Darcy Conyers
Featuring Brian Rix, Dora Bryan, Ronald Shiner
Country: UK
What it is: Reincarnation comedy

When a crooked antique dealer dies, his employee marries the widow. As a wedding present they receive the gift of a parrot, not knowing that the parrot is the reincarnation of the former husband.

This is one that fell off my hunt list into my “ones that got away” list, but I finally managed to find a copy. It’s a silly comedy, mostly relying on broad slapstick and ridiculous situations for its laughs. Fortunately, there’s enough good laughs to make it a fun watch; I particularly like the jokes surrounding a fake antique mirror made from a toilet seat. There’s also an amusing sequence where a fake antique bed and a real one have to be switched. A lively pace and a strong supporting cast add to the fun.