Son of Kong (1933)

SON OF KONG (1933)
Article #130 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-24-2001
Posting date: 12-7-2001

Carl Denham, on the run from creditors, heads back out to sea. There he finds out information about a hidden treasure on Skull Island, and goes back there, where he encounters a small descendant of King Kong.

At the time of this writing, I see that this movie is still sitting on the list as one of the ten worst movies of the thirties at IMDB, and, whatever the flaws of this movie or the disappointment it engenders in the wake of KING KONG, it doesn’t deserve this fate. The problem is that it’s a well-known disappointment versus an obscure disaster; in order to be listed there, you have to have enough votes. Actually, I have a great affection for this movie; I saw it as a kid (before I ever saw KING KONG, mind you), and really enjoyed it. Nowadays, I still enjoy it, and a lot of it has to do with the ways it ties back to the original. I like the fact that Carl Denham feels guilty about what happened to Kong, that he is being held financially responsible for the destruction Kong wreaked in the earlier movie, and that Denham is not welcome by the natives on the island on his return, all of which show that some thought was given to the repercussions of his actions in the earlier movie. I don’t mind that son of Kong is cute and nice; in fact, I can’t help but notice that whenever Cooper, Schoedsack and O’Brien returned to giant apes after KING KONG, they were always of the friendly variety. And I find the movie interesting and watchable throughout (which is more than I can say for MURDER BY TELEVISION, currently NOT on the list of the ten worst movies of the thirties).

The Snow Creature (1954)

THE SNOW CREATURE (1954)
Article #129 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-23-2001
Posting date: 12-6-2001

An abominable snow man is captured in the Himalayas and is taken to the United States. There it breaks loose and terrorizes a city.

In general, I think yeti movies were a shade better than sasquatch movies, though not by much; even this one, arguably the weakest yeti movie I’ve seen (I think Jerry Warren’s MAN BEAST is much better) does have at least one interesting moment. It occurs in the middle of the movie, after the monster has been captured and before it escapes; the monster is held up in customs until they can decide its immigration status, a touch that, though it seems ridiculous on the surface, actually seems to me to be well thought out and a legitimate issue to be addressed if this happened in real life.

The beginning of the movie is okay, but the movie falls apart completely once the monster escapes; one suspects that W. Lee Wilder (producer and director, and who had a more famous brother named Billy) ran out of money at this point. The movie has some of the dullest police investigation work I’ve ever seen, and the shots of the monster at large seem to be largely the same shot (the monster comes out of the darkness out of a totally black background), which is used repeatedly, and sometimes in reverse. This is certainly not the abominable snowman movie of choice.

Siegfried (1924)

SIEGFRIED (1924)
Article #128 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-22-2001
Posting date: 12-5-2001

A prince kills a dragon and bathes in its blood, which makes him invincible, except for a part of his body which was covered by a leaf. He also acquires a cloak of invisibility. In order to win the heart of the princess he loves, he uses this item to help her brother win the hand of the evil princess Grunhild. When Grunhild discovers the strategem, she plots revenge.

This fun, exciting fantasy epic directed by Fritz Lang was the first of two movies based on DIE NIBELUNGEN. The second was called KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE. I don’t know if it was based on the Wagner opera, or whether both versions were just based on the same stories, but I know the soundtrack on my copy of this movie includes the music from that opera. The fight with the dragon is a particular highlight. I’m looking forward to catching the second movie some time in the future.

She (1935)

SHE (1935)
Article #127 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-21-2001
Posting date: 12-4-2001

Explorers discover a lost civilization in the arctic wastelands. The seemingly immortal queen of the land believes one of the explorers is the reincarnation of an old lover.

This is a fairly enjoyable version of H. Rider Haggard’s novel, of which there have been several adaptations, mostly during the silent era. It’s produced by Ernest P. Schoedsack, who along with Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien gave us KING KONG; this time, directorial chores are handled by Lansing C. Holden and Irving Pichel, who played Sandor in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. Randolph Scott is on hand in this one, as well as Rathbone’s Dr. Watson, Nigel Bruce. It’s the sets that really steal the show in this movie, as the story was pretty old hat by this time; in fact, what stands out most in my mind about the movie was a huge cylindrical gong that was used in a couple of scenes.

I’ve never read any H. Rider Haggard, but I think I’d like to sometime; the large number of adaptations of SHE, as well as KING SOLOMON’S MINES, leads me to believe he must have immensely popular at one time.

The Seventh Victim (1943)

THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943)
Article #126 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-20-2001
Posting date: 12-3-2001

A woman searches for her missing sister, and the search leads her to a cult of devil worshippers.

This moody, bleak Val Lewton film is one of my favorites; it is loaded with so many fascinating scenes that I don’t mind the convoluted plot or the fact that certain parts of the story hold little interest for me. There’s a shower scene that is more than a little reminiscent of the one in PSYCHO, though no murder is committed; there’s the scene where the detective is stabbed, and the woman’s encounter with his corpse on the subway; and there is the chilling final scene of the movie that always sends the shivers down my spine. There are many scenes like these in the movie. I also like the fact that the first time you meet the woman’s sister, she is instantly recognizable from all the descriptions of her appearance given earlier in the story; you’d know who she is without a word being said. The movie marked the directing debut of Mark Robson, and features Kim Hunter in her first role, Tom Conway (in the same role he played in THE CAT PEOPLE; he seems to have survived his death in that movie), and Lewton regular Elizabeth Russell in one of those tiny but pivotal roles you just can’t forget.

Scared to Death (1947)

SCARED TO DEATH (1947)
Article #125 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-19-2001
Posting date: 12-2-2001

A woman staying at a sanitarium is having strange dreams about a man in a green mask. Then, all sorts of suspicious characters begin showing up.

Nice title. Too bad it doesn’t fit. How about BORED TO TEARS? or BEFUDDLED TO DISTRACTION? Or something else that indicates more clearly what the experience of watching this movie is like? Like SUNSET BOULEVARD, this movie is narrated by a corpse; unlike that movie, the movie actually feels about as coherent as one that is being told by someone who is a corpse. And you would at least think that the corpse would be telling her own story. Instead, fully half of the movie is about comic relief Nat Pendleton and his attempt to crack the case so he can get back on the police force. (How about FLUMMOXED TO DERISION?) This wouldn’t be so bad if the movie made even a stab at telling the main story with as much clarity; however, you never really get a good idea of what’s going on, and when you’re not trying to get through the comic relief scenes, you’re treated to a dizzying array of suspicious characters coming out of nowhere and acting like they’re up to something. In the end, there doesn’t seem to be anybody at the wheel and steering the story. George Zucco is here, as well as Bela Lugosi and Angelo Rossitto, but they’re just part of the distractions. (How about BLUDGEONED TO APATHY?)

This was Bela’s only color horror movie. It’s not his worst (I have seen MURDER BY TELEVISION, after all), but it definitely had its hat in the ring.

BAMBOOZLED TO REGURGITATION?
TRAUMATIZED TO ENNUI?
THROTTLED TO TEDIUM?

The Land Unknown (1957)

THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957)
Article #124 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-18-2001
Posting date: 12-1-2001

A helicopter makes an emergency landing in a storm and the occupants find themselves several thousand feet below sea level. There they encounter prehistoric creatures and a man who has been stranded in the area for years.

This is a rather tepid, forgettable lost world movie, and though quite a bit of money went into it, it’s not that impressive. The dinosaurs are created through various means, including some less-than-stellar suitmation for the tyrannasaurus rex, and a couple of slurpasauruses thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that the lost world is allowed to exist at the end of the movie; which means, no big volcano scene. This is actually pretty rare for one of these movies, and it makes you wonder whether they wanted to save the money such a scene would cost, or if they might have been hoping for a sequel. Incidentally, the leading actor Jock Mahoney was a stuntman for many years in Hollywood, and he performs his own stunts in the movie.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956)

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1956)
(a.k.a. NOTRE DAME DE PARIS)
Article #123 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-17-2001
Posting date: 11-30-2001

A hunchback saves the life of a gypsy girl from the gallows.

This French/Italian version of the classic Victor Hugo novel is one of the few (I can’t say the only: I haven’t seen them all) versions that doesn’t change the ending of the novel, where a certain crucial character dies, so this movie certainly has that going for it. Yet, despite this faithfulness to the source, I put it a distant third behind the Chaney and Laughton versions of the story. Whereas those versions really make me feel like I’m in the time and place of the story, whether with the crowds of people at the festival of fools or high in the rafters of the cathedral, this version simply leaves me with the feeling that I’m watching actors playing roles on a set; in other words, the illusion of reality never takes hold of me. The dialogue also sounds overwritten and artificial, though the dubbing is partially to blame here. I also feel the character of Clopin is reduced to a clown; I expect more from the King of Thieves than I get here. I never once feel a glimmer of the awe I felt when I saw the crowd scenes in the other two versions; this movie is puny in comparison. And though both Gina Lollabrigida and Anthony Quinn do well in their roles, it’s not enough to overcome the weaknesses of the production. I guess it all comes down to the fact that if I want to see a cinematic version of the novel, I’ll pick either the Chaney or the Laughton version. If I want to enjoy a version that was faithful to the original story, I would most likely go back and reread the original novel before I would watch this adaptation.

Houdini (1953)

HOUDINI (1953)
Article #122 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-16-2001
Posting date: 11-29-2001

The life and loves of the famous magician and escape artist.

In coping with Hollywood biopics and other films based on true stories, I make it a policy never to assume that the movie will accurately reflect what really happened; a good, carefully researched book on that particular subject would prove more useful in that regard. This gives me the opportunity to enjoy the movie for what it is, rather than placing expectations on it that it can’t possibly meet. Therefore, I won’t fool myself into thinking that I know the real Houdini after having seen this movie; what I have seen is what Hollywood thinks I would like to see about the life of Houdini. In this case, it thinks I would be most interested in seeing the trials and tribulations of Houdini’s love life. Not only is this aspect of Houdini’s life the one that find least interesting, but I feel I can safely say that the cute Hollywood-type events that surround this relationship in the movie have little bearing on what really happened.

Then there is the question of how this movie fits into the world of fantastic cinema; I will readily admit that it is one of the more marginal movies I’ve covered in this series. When setting up my viewing list, I decided to make no attempts to predetermine whether a movie qualifies for the category or not; I’ll watch it and decide afterwards. There are three points of interest for fans of fantastic cinema. One is that magicians by their very nature have a certain appeal for fans of the fantastic. Second is that Houdini himself appeared in several silent films that could qualify for the category. The third reason is the most interesting; there is a certain idea that pops up in the story after Houdini’s escape from a supposedly escape-proof strait-jacket; he doesn’t know how he escaped, and thinks he may have performed the feat through mystical means. He spends part of the movie looking for a magician who has experienced the same phenomenon. I don’t know if this was a real issue in Houdini’s life or not (though the fact that he had a penchant for exposing charlatan mystics calls it into question), but it does give this movie some of its most interesting touches, irrespective of whether I believe it or not.

The Phantom Creeps (1939)

THE PHANTOM CREEPS (1939)
(Serial)
Article #121 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-15-2001
Posting date: 11-28-2001

A mad scientist creates inventions that can be used to take over the world. Government agents try to prevent him from doing so, and foreign spies try to steal his secrets.

The plot is set up in the first two episodes of this serial, and the next nine episodes involve a box which contains the source of the scientist’s power being stolen back and forth between the various parties involved. Admittedly, it does find a bit of variety in coming up with ways to vary this particular routine, but you are still aware that the actual story has ground to a halt by this point; it’s only in the last episode when Dr. Zorkov unleashes his attack on the world (such as it is) that the plot starts moving again.

Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this old serial. Bela Lugosi does well, especially at the top of the second episode when he discovers that his attempt to cover up his tracks has caused the death of his wife. Edward Van Sloan is also on hand as the head of the spy ring. The real star of this one may be the world’s ugliest robot (played by Ed Wolff); that permanently grimacing face is a scream. After a while, you notice how the robot is trotted out at some point in each episode, even if it has nothing better to do at that point than to carry a heavy box.

Here’s a list of other fun things to watch for.

1) Notice how many times Lugosi’s cowardly assistant is shot by the police or the spies, and this generally fatal event always results in nothing worse than stunning the man.

2) Count the number of times Lugosi sics the robot on his own assistant to keep him in line.

3) Notice how many times the assistant complains about being in danger.

4) Enjoy the most ridiculous sequence in the serial when Lugosi decides to move his hideout out of his home and into the same office building where the spies reside. Lugosi knows the spies are there, but he decides that it will give him an opportunity to keep an eye on them. His box of power is then stolen within minutes of moving into the new hideout. This is not, in my opinion, one of the scientist’s more brilliant ideas.

And just as a side comment, even after watching all twelve episodes, I still couldn’t tell the difference between the two government agents in the serial. I think it might have helped if they had had personalities.