Village of the Giants (1965)

VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (1965)
Article #140 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-3-2001
Posting date: 12-17-2001

Several juvenile deliquent teens steal a substance concocted by Ronny Howard, boy genius, that causes animals to grow to many times their natural size. They consume the substance, and then use their new-found stature to take over the town.

That sound you hear is H.G. Wells rolling over in his grave. I haven’t read the novel on which this movie was based, but I’m willing to bet that very little of the novel ended up on the screen. It’s like one of those Disney comedies of the period (which I call shopping cart movies, in reference to a movie watched by some kids in the Joe Dante movie MATINEE), only with the emphasis on female anatomy; when the teens grow, the camera is clearly most interested in the girls popping out of their clothes, there is an overabundance of close-ups of wiggling derrieres during the dance scene (not to mention the shots of ducks wiggling their tale feathers), and the scene where the giant woman dances with the normal sized Johnny Crawford (he has to hang off her bra) is enough to cure you of several sexual fantasies. For the Disney crowd, there’s Ronny Howard and Tommy Kirk. Beau Bridges and choreographer Toni Basil are also on hand. Blame it all on Bert I. Gordon, who, not content with running this Wells novel through the wringer once, would go back to it eleven years later. Now I don’t have any real illusions about Bert I. Gordon; when I see his name in the credits, I adjust my expectations accordingly. But in general, he tended to set his vision to a somewhat higher level of sophistication and taste than he did this time around.

Advertisements

Vampyr (1932)

VAMPYR (1932)
Article #139 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-2-2001
Posting date: 12-16-2001

A man whose “vision reaches beyond that of most men” encounters a family being plagued by a vampire, an ugly old woman.

This is certainly one of the strangest vampire movies I’ve ever seen. Half of it is a relatively straightforward vampire movie (and I do mean relatively), but because the main character seems to live in both one world and another, we have several sequences of this other world, a world where men’s shadows detach themselves from the bodies to which they belong to live a life of their own, and where the hero seems to both witness and take part in his own burial. The storyline can be quite hard to follow, and it is so full of haunting and memorable images, that it, more than any other movie I know of, feels like a bizarre, only partially remembered dream. The movie was apparently shot silent, and the dialogue was added later. I have a great deal of affection for movies this strange.

The Unknown (1927)

THE UNKNOWN (1927)
Article #138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-1-2001
Posting date: 12-15-2001

An armless knife-thrower (who isn’t really armless but performs in a harness) in a circus is in love with another circus performer who can’t stand men putting their arms around her; the knife-thrower encourages this distaste in her to keep her away from the strongman to whom she is attracted. He decides to have his arms surgically removed for good in order to win her and cover up his deception, but she overcomes her repugnance to being held just as he does this.

This is perhaps my favorite Lon Chaney performance as well as my favorite Tod Browning movie. I always marvel at the skill with which Chaney pulls off this role, despite the fact that the harness he wore contributed to his back problems; the scene where he tearfully lights and smokes a cigarette with his feet without realizing that his hands are free to do this at the moment is wonderful. It’s not really a horror movie, but is often included in lists of this sort, probably due to the presence of Chaney, the role he’s playing, and a certain depravity in the proceedings. Joan Crawford plays the woman he loves, and John George his sidekick.

Two Lost Worlds (1950)

TWO LOST WORLDS (1950)
Article #137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-31-2001
Posting date: 12-14-2001

The first mate of an American clipper ship is injured in a pirate attack, and is left in a small farming village in Australia to recuperate. There he gets involved in a romantic triangle and tangles with the pirates some more. Eventually, he ends up on a deserted island and has a brush with slurpasaurs.

James Arness appeared in two of the finest science fiction movies of the fifties. He also appeared in this one, which, if Rich Wannen’s theory is correct, was originally a straightforward pirate movie that had slurpasaur footage added to make it more marketable. This footage lasts about a minute and a half, and has little to do with the rest of the movie, which is a lot more concerned about clipper ships than it is about lost worlds. As a pirate flick, it seems competent but totally uninspired; as a lost world movie, it is a waste of time.

Now I’ve gone on about the title of this movie before, and I’ll probably do so again, and I’m certainly not going to miss this opportunity; where the hell is the other lost world? The title promises two; the island with the slurpasaurs is one; where is the other? Is it Australia? Does Australia really qualify as a lost world? If so, how about Nebraska? Does this make me the resident of a lost world? This movie wins the uncoveted DS Bait-and-Switch award for deceptive film titles.

By the way, those two slurpasaurs look like my old friends from ONE MILLION B.C., Ignatz and Rumsford! Glad to see you back, boys. Destroy a clipper ship for me, won’t you?

Possible alternate titles:

ONE LOST HOUR
TWO LOST SLURPASAURS
CLIPPER SHIPS A-BLAZING!

Sorry, I’m babbling. It’s been a long week.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954)
Article #136 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-30-2001
Posting date: 12-13-2001

A sea monster believed to be responsible for the destruction of several ships in the 19th century turns out to be a submarine called the Nautilus, helmed by the enigmatic Captain Nemo.

One of the fun things about this project is having two movies in a row that link up in some way; in this case, we have another Verne adaptation today.

As for the movie itself, I feel quite ambivalent about it, as I do about the whole Disney machine anyway. The movie is anchored by a solid performance by James Mason as Nemo, and there are definite joys to be found in the production; it’s beautiful to look at, for one thing, the design of th Nautilus is classic, and the fight with the giant squid is amazing. But it’s also inundated with touches that I don’t like. It makes me a bit queasy to see Kirk Douglas trying to give the character of Ned Land these light, cute comic touches, such as his playing with a seal and singing that godawful “Whale of a Tale” song. Nor do I believe for a moment that a seasoned sailor would be disgusted by seafood meals during the dinner sequence. I also think Peter Lorre is wasted in the role of Conseil. I really think the movie would be much better overall if it took itself more seriously, or made the comic aspects less cute; as it is, the movie spends too much time reminding you it came from Disney.

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902)
Article #135 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-29-2001
Posting date: 12-12-2001

Scientists are shot to the moon from a big gun. There they encounter exploding moon men.

This is perhaps the most famous movie of the very early years of cinema; only THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY really gives it any competition in this regard. Certainly it is the best known work of Georges Melies, a stage magician who became enamored by the magical possibilities of film, and then proceeded to make more than five hundred shorts that experimented with visual special effects. If you haven’t seen it, at least you’ve probably seen the most famous moment in stills, where the capsule embeds itself in the eye of the moon (I love the description of this moment in the narrated version of this short, where the rocket is described as “kissing” the eye of the moon).

The movie was never intended to be a realistic depiction of a trip to the moon; it was meant as a witty spectacle, and on that level it succeeds. Unfortunately, Melies never quite mastered cinematic story-telling techniques, so it can be quite difficult to tell what is going on at times. If you can find a narrated version of the short, it will help, even though the narrator has a very thick French accent.

This wasn’t the earliest SF movie, but it may be the earliest one that can be found easily; most of the other early ones involved sausage-making machines. Melies himself had been making movies for four years before he made this one; he would go on making movies for another eight, but he was never really able to surpass this one.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924)
Article #134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-28-2001
Posting date: 12-11-2001

A thief sneaks into the castle of the caliph and falls in love with her daughter, which causes him to lose his thieving spirit. In order to win her hand, he has to engage in a heroic quest.

This epic Arabian Nights fantasy is a bit long, but it is enormous fun, and one of my favorite movies in this genre. A lot of the credit has to go to Douglas Fairbanks, who gives one of the most gleefully energetic performances I’ve ever seen; you can tell he loved doing this sort of thing (he also cowrote and produced the movie). Raoul Walsh directs with great flare, and the sets by William Cameron Menzies are wonderful. Anna May Wong, Noble Johnson, and Brandon Hurst are all along for the ride. I have to admit I much prefer this to the 1940 Korda version, though I’m sure I can expect disagreement on this point.