The Silencers (1966)

Article 2656 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2008
Posting Date: 11-20-2008
Directed by Phil Karlson
Featuring Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi
Country: USA

Matt Helm is called out of semi-retirement to catch the members of an evil organization that has a plan to take over the world called “Operation Fallout”.

The Matt Helm series took a definite approach in their intent to ape the James Bond series; less action, more comedy, and more female anatomy. I’ve already seen one movie from the series, THE AMBUSHERS, and had I judged the series from that one, I would have written it off as the tackiest and crassest of the Bond rip-offs; thankfully, this one, the first of the series, is much better, mostly because the leering and the stupid double-entendres are kept to a minimum. It also helps that this has a strong cast; Stella Stevens was a great comic actress as well as a looker, Victor Buono always makes for a fun villain, Cyd Charisse does a memorable dance, and the cast also features Roger C. Carmel and Arthur O’Connell (who is sadly wasted as Joe Wigman). Still, the movie is only mildly funny at best, and as a Bond rip-off, it’s only passable. Reportedly, this is the best of the lot, though the other two (MURDERER’S ROW and THE WRECKING CREW, which I have yet to see) are supposed to be better than THE AMBUSHERS.



Scrooge (1970)

SCROOGE (1970)
Article 2655 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2008
Posting Date: 11-19-2008
Directed by Ronald Neame
Featuring Albert Finney, Edith Evans, Kenneth More
Country: UK

On Christmas Eve, miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley, who sends him three ghosts who will attempt to get him to change his curmudgeonly ways.

That Dickens’s Christmas classic would be converted into a musical is no real surprise, especially after the success of OLIVER. But in its own way, the original story is just fine the way it is, and it simply doesn’t need the spectacle-heavy retooling it’s been given here. It’s far from a bad movie, though; the songs are decent, the performances are solid, and there are some great moments here (I particularly like the moments where Marley, played by the excellent Alec Guinness, shows Scrooge that he can sit down and when he takes Scrooge through the heavens to see the ghosts of the damned). But I miss the simpler and more compelling charms of the story that have been set aside to make way for the songs and dances which often tend to distract rather than enhance. I must admit I’m quite spoiled by the 1951 version; though Albert Finney does well in the title role, his performance is nowhere near as revelatory as Alistair Sim’s was. The movie also adds a scene where Scrooge goes to Hell to see his fate in the afterlife and the length of his chain, a sequence which unforunately veers the movie way too close to camp for my liking. Yes, it’s pretty to look at, but ultimately, I care about the characters and their fates far less here than I did in some of the other versions of the tale.


Sinthia, the Devil’s Doll (1968)

Article 2654 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-16-2008
Posting Date: 11-18-2008
Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler
Featuring Shula Roan, Peter Balakoff, Bret Zeller
Country: USA

At the age of 12, Cynthia (aka Sinthia), due to her unnatural feelings towards her father, murders her parents while they are making love and then sets fire to their bedroom. She is freed by the courts due to her age. Years later, she is afraid to marry her fiance due to her nightmares about the experience. A psychiatrist tries to help her.

Don’t trust the above plot description; it makes the movie sound a lot more linear than it is. Ah, me, how do I describe this one? Well, if Jess Franco and Ed Wood read a one-paragraph summary of the teachings of Sigmund Freud and decided to apply what they learned to an arty soft-core horror movie, that might give you an idea of what this one is like. It’s directed by Ray Dennis Steckler under the Sven Christian pseudonym, and it contains lines like “How do I commit suicide without committing suicide?” The plot takes up about five minutes of the running time; the rest of the time we’re caught up in Cynthia’s nightmare, which involves lots and lots of nudity, double-exposure, and calling out for her daddy every other line (just in case you missed the part about her unnatural obsession with her father). Awful… just awful.


Satanis: The Devil’s Mass (1970)

aka Satanis
Article 2653 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-15-2008
Posting Date: 11-17-2008
Directed by Ray Laurent
Featuring Anton LaVey, Isaac Bonewits, Diane LaVey
Country: USA

This documentary takes a look at Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan.

One of the aspects of the same year’s documentary on witchcraft, WITCHCRAFT ’70, is that it also features footage from Anton LaVey’s black masses; the commentator in that movie couldn’t help but notice how lifeless and dull these ceremonies were. This documentary gives us ample Anton LaVey black mass footage to chew on, and… well, I have to agree with the commentator of the other film. You’d think that a ceremony that involves naked women dancing with snakes would hold the interest, but, sadly, this sequence is interminable and interminably dull. Part of the problem is that everyone looks bored; the worshipers, the naked women, even LaVey himself, though I can’t speak for the snake. It also doesn’t help that the perpetually moving camera during these scenes seems unable to focus on anything, or that some of costumes are (in a word) silly, especially that devil-mask with the horns. In between, we get interviews with LaVey, the worshipers, and neighbors. To me, very little of interest was said by anyone; the most interesting part of the movie is when it turns to the subject of LaVey’s pet lion. With its plentiful nudity, it was no doubt a sensation in its day. Still, for a dull documentary on a potentially interesting subject, I will give the movie one big point; it saves the most telling comment made in the various interviews for the last line of the movie, as this one line manages to put into perspective much of what we’ve seen. It’s best viewed as a curio.


Mysterious Island (1951)

Article 2652 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2008
Posting Date: 11-16-2008
Directed by Spencer Bennet
Featuring Richard Crane, Marshall Reed, Karen Randle
Country: USA

Five prisoners of the Confederate Army during the Civil War escape in a balloon, but a hurricane carries them to a mysterious island. There they encounter a masked stranger, a wild man, pirates, a tribe of volcano people, and aliens from Mercury.

This isn’t the first serial I’ve seen based on a novel; THE GREEN ARCHER and DRUMS OF FU MANCHU both come to mind. It is, however, the first serial I’ve seen that’s based on a novel I’ve read. This gives me an opportunity to see how serials adapt novels. I was surprised that the serial more or less follows the novel closely… for the first fifteen minutes of episode one, that is. Then the volcano people (who wear nice uniforms and carry lightning-bolt shaped spears) and the space aliens from Mercury show up, and all resemblance to the original novel is gone. Even by serial standards the plot is lame; for ninety percent of the serial, most of the story seems to be a series of enemies turning to allies and back again; after a while, the only real mystery is who is going to end up an ally and who is going to end up an enemy at the end of the serial. All right, there IS the mystery of the identity of the mysterious masked stranger, but anyone remotely familiar with the story knows who that is. The rest is routine serial thrills, and I had more fun recognizing Richard “Rocky Jones” Crane as Captain Harding and Gene Roth as the head of the pirates. However, I do give the movie points for retaining the character of Neb, having him played by a black, and not turning him into a stereotype.


A Stolen Airship (1967)

aka Ukradena vzducholod
Article 2651 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2008
Posting Date: 11-15-2008
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Hanus Bor, Jan Cizek, Jan Malat
Country: Italy/Czechoslovakia

Five boys fly off in an airship and land on a desert island.

Karel Zeman is such a visually inventive director that it goes a long way to make up for the fact that my print of this movie is in the Czech language. Oh, sure, it’s subtitled, but the subtitles are in Chinese (I think). At any rate, much of the plot is hard to follow, though I do believe that Verne’s “The Mysterious Island” is at least one of the sources for the story, and I suspect there are more. It’s a dizzying array of animation, stylized special effects, adventure, fantasy and surreal slapstick humor. The movie is full of strange images, such as a welter of strange airships (including one that can be rowed and one that harbors a set of can-can dancers), spies with fake arms, and a shark stranded on the bottom of the ocean for having eaten a too-heavy torpedo. The “Nautilus” and Captain Nemo show up for a short sequence as well. It’s a lot of fun, but I hope someday to see either a dubbed or English-subtitled version to clarify some of the plot points.


Sole Survivor (1970)

Article 2650 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-8-2008
Posting Date: 11-14-2008
Directed by Paul Stanley
Featuring Vince Edwards, Richard Basehart, William Shatner
Country: USA

The wreckage of a military plane lost for seventeen years is found in the Libyan desert. The military investigates the wreckage, with the sole survivor of the plane’s last crew on site; he was rescued seven hundred miles away in the Mediterranean and is now a general. He claims that he bailed out with the rest of the crew, but, in truth, he deserted the plane against orders. However, the plane is haunted by the unseen ghosts of the former crew members who intend to prove to the investigators what really happened.

Though I’m not fond of TV-Movies in general, I’m always glad to find one with an interesting premise, an excellent script, and strong acting, and this has all three. There are a number of memorable scenes; my two favorites include the opening sequence in which the ghosts gather to play baseball, and the scene where an investigator approaches the ghosts who are standing in formation and saluting, looks toward them, lifts his hand and… adjusts his hat. The movie makes excellent use of the desert location, and Vince Edwards, Richard Basehart and William Shatner all give excellent performances. Oddly enough, it’s based on a true story. The ending is very memorable.