Goldfinger (1964)

GOLDFINGER (1964)
Article 3354 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-6-2010
Posting Date: 10-20-2010
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Featuring Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe
Country: UK
What it is: James Bond movie

James Bond is assigned to investigate a clever gold smuggler, but uncovers a plan to destroy the economy of the United States that would also make the smuggler the richest man on Earth.

Though FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is my choice for the best of the Bonds, it’s also the one that feels least typical for the series. This one is quintessential; it’s smoothly directed, exciting, full of fun moments, and features not only one of the best villains in the series (Gert Frobe’s performance is exceptional) but also one of the most memorable minions with Oddjob and his decapitating hat. As usual, the fantastic content is the assortment of gadgetry that is on display here. I’ve seen this one a couple of other times, and I notice how well it holds up to repeated viewings; there are a lot of interesting things happening out on the edges, especially when Bond visits with Q.

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Free For All (1949)

FREE FOR ALL (1949)
Article 3353 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2010
Posting Date: 10-19-2010
Directed by Charles Barton
Featuring Robert Cummings, Ann Blyth, Percy Kilbride
Country: USA
What it is: Inventor comedy

An inventor concocts a pill that can turn water into gasoline.

This one fell off of my hunt list some time ago, but someone pointed me in the direction of a copy, so I’m glad to finally review it. Yet, now having seen it, I really don’t have a lot to say about it. It’s a middling-to-fair comedy about an man who invents a pill that converts water into gasoline, and his run-in with an oil company who fears it will put them out of business and try to get the formula for themselves. It has some satirical possibilities, but the movie doesn’t really explore them, settling instead for hackneyed situations and forced contrivances. Still, it’s fun to see Percy Kilbride in something other than his Ma and Pa Kettle comedies, and the cast also features Percy Helton and Ray Collins.

Gargoyles (1972)

GARGOYLES (1972)
TV-Movie
Article 3352 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2010
Posting Date: 10-18-2010
Directed by Bill L. Norton
Featuring Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Grayson Hall
Country: USA
What it is: Monster movie

A skeptical writer and his daughter encounter a race of gargoyles, evil minions of the devil who want to take over the world.

I remember seeing the promos for this one on TV as a kid, and thinking how cool it was that a TV-Movie was going to be full of monsters. Of course, not having any control over the TV in my house, I missed the movie, and it’s only now, almost forty years later that I’ve gotten to see it. I would have loved it without reservations had I seen it back then; the monsters are great, you see them quite a lot, and even the somewhat arty jerky-slow-motion photography they use in the action sequences manages to keep from being annoying. As an adult, I still think the monsters are cool, but I have reservations on the movie as a whole. I found the script, direction and acting all rather weak; the scene where the writer and his daughter meet the desert rat is in particular badly written and awkwardly paced. My guess is that most of the budget on this movie went into the monsters, and the rest of the movie was given short shrift. I think it’s a bit of shame they couldn’t come up with a story that was worthy of the monster costumes. Oddly enough, it’s one of those genre TV-Movies that doesn’t feel like it was designed to launch a TV-Series. Overall, though, the great monster costumes and makeup still make this one fairly enjoyable.

Funeral Home (1980)

FUNERAL HOME (1980)
aka Cries in the Night
Article 3351 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2010
Posting Date: 10-17-2010
Directed by William Fruet
Featuring Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse
Country: Canada
What it is: Secret in the cellar story

A young woman helps her grandmother run a bed and breakfast which used to be a funeral home before her grandfather disappeared. However, more people start disappearing… and who is that person grandmother is secretly talking to in the cellar?

Well, despite the era it was made, it’s not a slasher movie; it’s more of a “house with a sinister secret” type of movie, and there isn’t an emphasis on gore. The movie’s not bad, but it’s no better than adequate. The movie builds its story around a twist that has been used before by a much better and more famous movie, and I’ll give the movie some credit for only borrowing the twist and not the whole structure of its inspiration. However, it fails to come up with a really strong story, either; it merely sets things up for the final twist, and you should be able to figure out what it’s going to be before we get there. The movie is slightly padded to get it up to running length, so certain scenes seem pointless; the sequence near the beginning where the young woman has an encounter with a black cat seems to imply that superstition will play into the story, but nothing comes of it. It’s watchable, but uninspired.

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973)
TV-Movie
Article 3350 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-1-2010
Posting Date: 10-16-2010
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring James Mason, Leonard Whiting, David McCallum
Country: USA
What it is: Another take on the Frankenstein story

Dr. Frankenstein, distraught at the death of his brother, combines forces with Dr. Clerval to create life.

I wonder what they mean by “The True Story”; since the Frankenstein story is a piece of fiction, it seems rather silly to call any version the “True Story”. I assumed that it meant they were going to try to tell a faithful version of the original novel, but the story here is no more faithful to Shelley’s work than most of the other versions I’ve seen. So let’s just take it as another variation on the story and go from there.

Taken as such, it’s not a bad attempt at the story; it has some interesting characters and performances and finds some novel variations on the concepts. Most of the performances are quite good, though I’m particularly partial to James Mason and David McCallum here; the latter may be giving the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. Still, there’s some moments here that fall flat; for example, I find Elizabeth’s cowering in fear from the “evil” butterfly to be singularly silly. I also find the portrayal of the monster rather inconsistent, sometimes seeming to be fairly coherent and at other times mouthing the same three words over and over – beautiful, Victor and Figaro. I also find the character of Elizabeth unbelievable, especially when she takes on the role of Victor’s conscience. It’s fairly bloody for a TV-Movie, and the scene where Clerval pours acid on a crawling arm is fairly shocking. At three hours, it’s a fairly daunting watch, but I think it was originally shown over a two-night period. And I do think that overall the movie does an interesting job of putting together pieces from the various versions of the story in a new way.

The Mermaid (1965)

THE MERMAID (1965)
aka Yu mei ren
Article 3349 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2010
Posting Date: 10-15-2010
Directed by Li Kao
Featuring Ching Lee, Ivy Ling Po, Yunhua Chen
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Fantasy musical

A scholar is the promised husband to the daughter of a prime minister, but the scholar’s lack of money make him an undesirable choice. However, a beautiful carp spirit who lives in the pond has fallen in love with the scholar, and takes on the form of the prime minister’s daughter to pursue her romance. Complications follow.

There’s always something adventurous in exploring a genre you’ve never encountered before; this is the first Hong Kong musical I’ve encountered. Thankfully, the movie was subtitled in English, else I would have had a very difficult time following it. Though most of the subtitles are for lyrics to Chinese songs which simply don’t translate elegantly into other languages, the plot itself is fairly clear. The movie is imaginative, romantic, comic and exciting at different moments; it’s certainly different than anything else I’ve seen from the Shaw Brothers. Ultimately, the movie charmed me; the simplicity of the story helped me to deal with the more difficult and exotic aspects of the production. I don’t know how many more movies like this I’m going to see, but I suspect that this is a good introduction to the form.

The Eyes Behind the Stars (1978)

THE EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1978)
aka Occhi dalle stelle
Article 3348 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-29-2010
Posting Date: 10-14-2010
Directed by Mario Gariazzo
Featuring Robert Hoffmann, Nathalie Delon, Martin Balsam
Country: Italy
What it is: UFO conspiracy movie

A photographer and a model encounter UFOs and are kidnapped. Reporters and police investigate. A secret group tries to cover up the story.

I like the title; it has a nice poetic feel to it. It’s a pity that the movie itself is a dull and tired affair. It’s one of those movies that I like to place in a special subset of science fiction movies that are primarily of interest to those who firmly believe that we have been visited by UFOs constantly over the last fifty years but, due to a government conspiracy, all knowledge has been suppressed. This movie is pretty much a sop to that outlook, and the minute the brutal cover-up group known as the Silencers shows up, I saw this turning into a typical conspiracy thriller with the usual ending, and that’s just what it is. I’d say the movie is a downer, except saying that would imply that the movie engaged you enough to get you emotionally involved in the first place, and such is not the case. There are much better UFO and conspiracy movies out there.