The Mistress of Atlantis (1932)

THE MISTRESS OF ATLANTIS (1932)
Article #390 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-9-2002
Posting date: 9-2-2002

Two soldiers on a mission in the Sahara desert are captured and held prisoner by the residents of Atlantis and their queen, Antinea.

I have never seen PANDORA’S BOX, but I am aware of the movie’s reputation and am looking forward to catching it one of these days. This has become even more true after watching this movie, directed by the same man, G. W. Pabst. I’d seen the 1922 version of the movie with Italian title cards, but I was never able to figure out the story; I’ll get back to it now that I’ve seen this one and have an idea of what’s going on.

When I’d reviewed the earlier version, I made the comment that it seemed similar to SHE. Seeing this one, I can say that it is similar in terms of plot, but the comparison ends there; though the various versions of SHE that I’ve seen have all been entertaining, not a one of them has been as compelling as this movie. There is a real sense of exotic mystery that never dissipates, and the breathtaking shots of the desert and the blowing sand are exquisite. This was one of three versions made concurrently in different languages, mostly with the same cast; I notice that one of the ways they made this work was to keep the dialogue to a minumum for certain characters; Brigitte Helm (who plays Antinea) has only a handful of lines in this version. Therefore, it relies on visuals and the commentary of certain key characters to tell its story. I found myself drawn into this world and totally caught up in the story, a rarity for lost civilization movies, most of which have a little too much silliness to them. This movie is a rare and somewhat unexpected treasure; it has proven to be one of the best movies to come up in my movie-watching project that I hadn’t already seen before.

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The Man in Half Moon Street (1944)

THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (1944)
Article #389 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-8-2002
Posting date: 9-1-2002

A man who has been kept youthful by gland transplants for sixty years finds that the surgeon who performs his operations can no longer operate, and he tries to find a way to preserve his youth.

In many ways, this should be standard mad scientist fare, but it takes a quite different route. The emphasis is on character and literacy; there are several scenes in this movie that are individually very finely written, and even minor characters are given a greater degree of dimension than you would usually expect in this type of movie. What you get ultimately is a series of very nice scenes, but when you string them together, the end result is a movie that is talky and somewhat slow, and with a little too much time spent on talking about themes you take for granted in other horror movies, and not from particularly fresh angles, either. Ultimately, it may be a little too refined for its subject matter; nonetheless, if you’re interested in character, relationships, and crisp, well-written dialogue, this movie certainly has a lot to offer, though I myself find it’s a little easier to take in small doses than in one sitting.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958)

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1958)
Article #388 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-7-2002
Posting date: 8-31-2002

Space aliens try to defeat the forces of the earth by raising the dead.

One of the problems of dealing with a movie that has attained a legendary status such as this one is that it’s really hard to say something original; saying that it’s the worst movie of all time is as hackneyed a statement as saying it’s not (though I agree with the latter). It’s also tempting to quote some of the many priceless lines that pop up in the movie, but even those have been quoted and requoted ad infinitum. Nonetheless, I need to say something, so I’ll forge on ahead.

The main thing I did notice this time round (and I have seen the movie several times) is that there is a lot of editing in this movie; compare an equivalent movie from Jerry Warren, Herschell Gordon Lewis, or Larry Buchanan, and you’ll see what I mean. Not that the editing was effective, but it does show that Ed Wood was ambitious enough to try some fairly complicated things on occasion. One thing I do sense; Ed Wood loved and watched movies, and he tried to learn from them and adopt some of their techniques. He just never learned enough. Many times while watching this movie, I get a sense at what he was trying for, but he lacked the technical ability (and the money) to actually make these ideas work.

Also, I can’t help but notice that William C. Thompson’s cinematography is quite nice-looking, the down side of this being that you get a very clear view (especially on DVD) of exactly how cheap the movie looks, particularly in the graveyard sequences.

And despite the fact that the idea is done to death, I still can’t resist adding a couple of my favorite quotes from the movie, but I am trying to choose some I haven’t heard quite as often.

“It’s hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for!”

and

“Even when Inspector Clay was alive, he couldn’t run fast enough to catch me.”

The Palace of the Arabian Nights (1905)

THE PALACE OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS (1905)
Article #387 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-6-2002
Posting date: 8-30-2002

A sultan tries to win the hand of the woman he loves by hunting for a treasure in a haunted palace.

Another Melies piece that packs a movie’s worth of events into fifteen minutes (shorter if you’re watching it at the wrong projection speed). It features a really big pair of scissors, lots of tumbling mimes in animal outfits, a short fat guy, dancing skeletons, ballerinas and a scary puppet version of Cecil the seasick sea serpent. There’s also an incredible sequence where our heros pass through a forest which consists of layer after layer of foliage that is stripped away until we reach the stairs of the palace, and it looks like it was all done in one smooth shot. Pretty impressive.

The Brute Man (1946)

THE BRUTE MAN (1946)
Article #386 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-5-2002
Posting date: 8-29-2002

A murderer is befriended by a blind woman.

You see PRC on the credits of this movie, but you’ll notice that the production values seem a lot higher than what you’re used to from that poverty row studio. That’s because it originally came from Universal and was passed on to PRC after they became embarrassed at the exploitative nature of the movie. It would be the last movie for Rondo Hatton, whose short sad horror career was built on his suffering from acromegaly, which distorted his face and made him a monster that needed no make-up. He’d appeared in a Sherlock Holmes movie (as well as a semi-sequel to one of them), one of the Paula Dupree movies, and two movies of his own, where he played a murderer known as the Creeper, plus in a variety of largely uncredited roles from 1930 onwards. In truth, he was a better actor than Tor Johnson, another actor whose primary asset was his physical appearance; he could deliver a line better than Tor did, and did have a way of carrying himself physically that made him quite effective. The movie itself is less than an hour, but it only has about twenty minutes of plot; and once you get to the halfway point your mind starts wandering. I’ve heard it said that a movie about him would have been a lot more interesting, and to be honest, I think that’s true; as I watched the movie, I spent more time wondering as to what Rondo’s life was like, and how he felt about his film career than I did paying attention to the plot. Maybe someday, someone will make an attempt to tell his story.

Behind the Mask (1932)

BEHIND THE MASK (1932)
Article #385 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-4-2002
Posting date: 8-28-2002

The secret service tries to track down the leader of a drug smuggling ring.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that Boris Karloff is given prominent billing; he has no more than an average-sized supporting role and practically vanishes from the movie at the halfway point. And don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a horror movie; outside of a particularly sadistic form of murder being used, it’s mostly a rather humdrum crime picture when all is said and done. If I understand correctly, the movie was made after FRANKENSTEIN but before that movie was released, so Karloff’s star hadn’t risen yet, and the publicity played up his presence in the movie once his name became familiar to moviegoers. Edward Van Sloan has a much more prominent role than Karloff, though neither one is the star of the film; that honor goes to Jack Holt. Not a bad movie, but outside of the ending and some juicy lines for Van Sloan, horror fans can expect to be disappointed.

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)
Article #384 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-3-2002
Posting date: 8-27-2002

Invaders from another world plan to use the earth as a grazing ground for their food supply, but one of their members turns against them and tries to save the earth.

This movie has a legendarily bad reputation, and for the most part, it deserves it. From the boneheaded dialogue to the poor-to-awful acting, from the terrible special effects to the ludicrous fake beards, there is a lot here to inspire derision and laughter. Yet, somehow, I never quite find myself laughing, despite the frequent times this movie fumbles the ball. Maybe it’s because I feel it has a pretty solid story underneath. Also, there are moments where the direction feels unusually solid for a movie this cheap; compare it with the works of Larry Buchanan, and this amateur movie shows a great deal of professional skill. In other words, I’ve seen movies that are hopelessly bad; this one is bad, but not hopelessly. Rewrite the dialogue, get some better actors, throw a little more money into it (okay, throw a lot more money into it), and I think you might have come up with some fairly solid SF thriller entertainment; not great, mind you, but enjoyable.

People seem to think I’m a little crazy to defend this movie, and maybe I am. Still, if I were given the task to take one of the legendarily bad science fiction movies that have been made and remake it in an effort to redeem it with the only rule that I had to leave the basic story intact, this would be the one I would pick.