The Invisible Avenger (1958)

THE INVISIBLE AVENGER (1958)
Article 2237 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2007
Posting Date: 9-27-2007
Directed by James Wong Howe, Ben Parker and John Sledge
Featuring Richard Derr, Jeanne Neher, Dan Mullin

Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow, investigates the murder of a jazz musician and becomes embroiled in a plot to kill a political refugee from a dictatorship.

In some of my reviews of other movies about the Shadow, I’ve groused about how he never displayed his vaunted ability to cloud men’s minds. I didn’t know at that time that they were based on an earlier version of the Shadow from before the radio show, back when he was a more conventional pulp action hero. This one, however, is indeed based on the radio show version, and we finally get some scenes of the Shadow clouding men’s minds, and these scenes constitute the fantastic content of the movie, as he vanished before their eyes. These scenes are the best part of the movie, and they add some spice to what otherwise would have been a fairly static, confusing and unmemorable action thriller. It’s also helped by some nice New Orleans footage and some good jazz music. It was intended as a pilot for a TV series but was released as a movie instead.

 

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You Only Live Twice (1967)

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
Article 2236 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-30-2007
Posting Date: 9-26-2007
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Featuring Sean Connery, Akiki Wakabayashi, Mie Hama

James Bond is assigned to discover the culprits behind the kidnapping of astronauts in flight before the United States and the U.S.S.R. go to war. His investigation takes him to an island near Japan.

Though I’m not a particular James Bond fan, I do have a sense as to which of the movies work better than the others. This was the fifth in the series, and Sean Connery would depart the series after this one only to return with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and later in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (though the latter is strictly not part of the series). It’s entertaining enough, but I can tell it’s not up to the others I’ve seen in the series. Part of the problem is that the array of heroes and villains he meets in this one are simply not a memorable lot; even Blofeld disappoints somewhat, despite the fact that he’s played by the great Donald Pleasence. The other problem is that this is the first one I’ve seen that really feels like it was made to a formula; all of the other ones I’ve seen had their special strengths and unique touches, but this one feels somewhat routine. This is a bit of shame; after having seen FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, I was finding myself warming up a bit more to the whole series. At any rate, it really makes me appreciate the freshness of the other ones I’ve seen. Still, the series would definitely have weaker entries than this one.

 

The Bat People (1974)

THE BAT PEOPLE (1974)
Article 2235 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2007
Posting Date: 9-25-2007
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Featuring Stewart Moss, Marianne McCandrew, Michael Pataki

A man is bitten by a bat in a cave. He begins to exhibit strange symptoms. People start to die in horrible ways.

Despite the obsession with bats and blood, this is more of a werewolf story than a vampire story. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell; one of things this movie fails to do is set any ground rules on the whys and wherefores on being a werebat. It’s also marred by an overly leisurely pace, too many close-ups of bats (who apparently shriek like hawks) and of eyes. Some odd touches here and there do help a little, but not enough. The seventies-style ending is odd, inconclusive, and not really very satisfying. All in all, this one is pretty forgettable.

 

And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973)
Article 2234 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2007
Posting Date: 9-24-2007
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee

A man brings his bride to his ancestral home without telling him about the curse on the family. She finds herself terrorized by the ghost of a woodsman with missing eyes and a missing hand, which crawls around and attacks people as a separate entity.

Don’t let that lineup of well-known horror actors listed above deceive you; Cushing doesn’t appear until half the movie is over, Herbert Lom appears as a cameo in a flashback sequence, and Magee has a secondary role. The main roles belong to Ian Ogilvy and Stephanie Beacham as the cursed couple, and Geoffrey Whitehead as the woodsman. Amicus Productions took a break from their horror anthologies to make this one-story movie. The acting is certainly acceptable throughout, with Cushing giving the movie a real boost when he finally shows up, but at heart, his character doesn’t really have much to do other than to weed out the background legend that drives the story, largely for the benefit of himself, the bride, and us, the audience; everyone else in the story seems to know the legend already, and to my mind, the movie tries to mine a little too much suspense from people not telling what they know. In fact, that’s the central problem with the movie; it overplays its hand in trying to up the horror quotient, and the action becomes a little too repetitive, a little too grotesque (especially when Ogilvy’s character goes wild near the end of the movie) and even inadvertently comic (in the scene where Beacham tries to destroy her unborn child). It’s the weaknesses of the script that drag this one down, though that does not apply to the original novella (if that is the correct word) by David Case, which I have read and found quite effective and much more restrained.

 

Wizards (1977)

WIZARDS (1977)
Article 2233 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2007
Posting Date: 9-23-2007
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Featuring the voices of Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus

A wizard, an elf, a fairy and a robot set out on a quest to defeat an evil master of the black arts who is using ancient technology to take over the world.

Ralph Bakshi had a unique animation style, and simply on that level this movie is a wonder to behold; it’s a combination of offbeat character animation, stock footage, cuteness, and sensuality that really must be seen to be believed. Still, as fascinating as his work is to behold, he’s not as interesting in terms of telling a story, and as he runs through the gamut of different styles, he does the same with storytelling techniques. As a result, his attempt to tell an epic fantasy here is unable to settle on a consistent mood; there are times where I wonder if he’s actually trying to parody the genre, while at other times I think he’s trying to play it straight. Whatever his intention, he ends up never really accomplishing either; if it’s a parody, it isn’t consistently amusing, and if it’s serious, it fails to generate that sense of grandeur that would make it work. In particular, I think he makes a big mistake in making our wizard hero (Avatar) into something of a befuddled comic figure; I find it difficult to root for him, or, for that matter, to feel much of anything for him. It’s a shame; the story is basically quite good, and even though it doesn’t quite work, it remains interesting watching throughout. Still, based on what I see here, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen him to bring “The Lord of the Rings” to the screen, which is precisely what his next project was.

 

Aventura al centro de la Tierra (1965)

AVENTURA AL CENTRO DE LA TIERRA (1965)
aka Adventure at the Center of the Earth
Article 2232 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2007
Posting Date: 9-22-2007
Directed by Alfredo B. Cravenna
Featuring Kitty de Hoyos, Javier Solis, Columba Dominguez

Adventurers go down into the earth to face monsters.

Once again, I find myself watching a Mexican movie without the benefit of dubbing or subtitles, so the plot subtleties are lost on me. However, since this movie gives us plenty of monsters on the loose, there’s still some fun to be had here. In fact, it looks like our adventurers prepared for the journey by prehistoric monster footage; they watch a film featuring as much dinosaur stock footage as they could get their hands on, including Ignatz and Rumsford engaged in their battle from ONE MILLION B.C ., as well as the slow-moving dinos from UNKNOWN ISLAND . There’s also some primitive stop-motion dinos and puppet ones; after all, dinosaurs come in all shapes and sizes. Underground they face off against a big cyclops lizard and a fanged bat creature, who is not entirely unsympathetic. It’s a lot of fun, though it’s another movie that looks like real animals were hurt in the making of it; at one point, they set fire to a pit of snakes, and it doesn’t look like special effects. However, the cardboard bats that terrorize a man crossing a rope over a lava pit definitely do look like special effects, if not particularly special ones. All in all, it was fairly entertaining.

 

The Two Little Bears (1961)

THE TWO LITTLE BEARS (1961)
Article 2231 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2007
Posting Date: 9-21-2007
Directed by Randall Hood
Featuring Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales

Two little boys want to become bears, much to the consternation of their teacher and their father, the principal of the school. They meet a fortuneteller who tells them they can turn into bears if they put on bear costumes, rub themselves with a salve, and say a witch’s curse. They do so, and discover that it works.

Had I known the basic plot of the movie, taken the time to look at it’s 4.6 average rating on IMDB, and known that it featured cutesy songs by Brenda Lee, I might well have prepared for the worst when I sat down to watch this. As it was, I went into it blind, and instead, I found myself rather taken by the cast, which featured Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales, Butch Patrick, Nancy Kulp and Milton Parsons. Even the potentially saccharine “Honey Bear” song warbled by Miss Lee didn’t drive me off, probably because I found it an easier song to bear with than the one that opened THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD the other day. As a result, I found myself quite charmed by this one; no, it’s far from a classic, but it’s unpretentious, has a nice sense of gentle magic to it, and in its own ingenuous way it mines some of the same childhood feelings as the superior THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE . All in all, I liked this one, though it may be simply because it hit me in the right mood.