Them! (1954)

THEM! (1954)
Article #133 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-27-2001
Posting date: 12-10-2001

Strange attacks in the desert lead to the revelation that nuclear testing has resulted in a race of giant ants.

This is far and away my favorite of the giant bug movies, and it still thrills today. On top of the enjoyable performances (James Whitmore, Edmund “Kris Kringle” Gwenn, James Arness, and in smaller roles, Onslow Stevens, Fess Parker, Olin Howlin; also according to IMDB, William Schallert, Leonard Nimoy and Ann Doran are all in there), it is one of the most suspenseful science fiction movies I’ve ever seen.

What amazes me the most about this movie, though, is the skill with which the first third of the movie (before the appearance of the ants) is handled. Even though I knew the movie was about giant ants from the outset, I still found the step-by-step revelation of them to be totally engrossing; the opening shots of Sandy Descher wandering through the desert in shock are exquisite and unforgettable. There’s always something interesting going on, and I don’t end up sitting there impatiently waiting for the monsters to show up, as I’m apt to do in some other movies from the fifties.

SPOILER

I also admire that the movie had the guts to kill off one of its main characters, and on top of this, the one to which I’d become most attached.

Advertisements

The Terror (1963)

THE TERROR (1963)
Article #132 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-26-2001
Posting date: 12-9-2001

A soldier of the Napoleanic wars encounters and falls in love with a strange woman. She somehow seems to be connected with a mysterious baron and a witch.

For some reason, this movie seems to be one of the most commonly discussed of Corman’s many films. Part of the reason is that in its own way it is somewhat legendary; it was made in order for Roger Corman to take advantage of the few extra days he had Boris Karloff under contract. Several directors worked on it, including Francis Ford Coppola and (according to IMDB) Jack Nicholson himself, plus it was being written practically as it was being shot. Other reasons include the presence of Nicholson and Karloff together, with Karloff in the type of role he could probably play in his sleep, and Nicholson in a poorly conceived and quite awful role; the end result is that Karloff comes off looking like the much better actor. The presence of Dick Miller is a definite plus. I’ve seen it a few times, and as a movie, I don’t think it’s very good, but considering how it was made, it’s an accomplishment that it is as good as it is.

I also have to feel a little sorry for Nicholson; of his movies, this one and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS are in public domain, and marketers love to pair the two movies and call it their Jack Nicholson collection; considering he has little more than a cameo in the latter movie (albeit a great one), and that this movie has one of his poorest performances, I find it a little sad that anyone would think that these two movies give an adequate presentation of this man, his career, and his talent.

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940)
Article #131 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 7-25-2001
Posting date: 12-8-2001

A reporter offers evidence in a murder case that incriminates a suspect, and the man is condemned to death. When a tenant who shares the same apartment building with the reporter is killed, the reporter is the first to discover the body, and realizes that his own actions make him look like a suspect in the murder.

This film is considered by many to be the first film noir, and though it doesn’t contain all the elements associated with the genre, I can see why. The presence of Peter Lorre as a psychotic murderer (an excellent performance) is what places the movie at least marginally in the horror genre, and the dream sequence that the reporter undergoes when he fears that people will see him as the murderer is also quite fantastic; it’s probably the best part of the movie.

Unfortunately, I have real problems with the story as a whole; I think the coincidences that drive the story are very hard to swallow, (the reporter is seen engaging in the same exact behavior as the man he incriminates, the man who really committed the murders is the same in each case, etc.), and I don’t really care for the fact that the movie seems to be morally judging the reporter for having done nothing more than truthfully testifying in court; to place the blame for the man’s wrongful condemnation on his shoulders (as both the movie and his girlfriend do) is patently unfair. I also find it hard to believe that his newspaper would allow him to be a reporter on the story when he himself is one of the witnesses; I suspect that would be considered somewhat unethical, and that another reporter would have been sent. All in all, despite its good qualities, I find the movie to be ultimately unconvincing and silly, and though it may be the first noir, there were better to come.

Incidentally, the cast includes Charles Halton (as the man who shares the apartment building with the reporter) and Elisha Cook Jr. (as the innocent man sentenced by mistake).

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.