The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934)

Article #530 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-27-2002
Posting date: 1-20-2003

A pacifist journalist hooks up with an ambitious but untrustworthy editor and later discovers his cause has been betrayed.

If you’re like me, you may have first encountered this movie on your local creature feature where it was included with horror packages on release at the time. There are only four reasons I can think of that would cause this drama to be classified as such: 1) the title sounds like it might be a horror movie, albeit an eccentric one, 2) the ending of the movie involves madness and a rather horrifying murder, 3) the presence of Lionel Atwill, and 4) the fact that this was Claude Rain’s follow-up to THE INVISIBLE MAN. All I could remember from having seen this movie in my childhood was the opening scene where Rains talks to a lawyer; since I had been expecting a horror movie, it’s easy to see why I forgot the rest.

On its own, it’s a little slow-moving; certain scenes take too long to make their points, and others go on after they have already made their points. Still, the story itself is pretty solid and interesting. It also pulls off the nice trick of keeping in mind that it is about a character who is a pacifist rather than about pacifism per se; the preachiness inevitable in the subject matter ends up being directed between the characters on the screen rather than at us in the audience, leaving the movie to explore the deeper and more universal issues that are its true themes; idealism, integrity, compromise, and corruption. This is a nice trick for this sort of movie, and one that is rarely pulled off, so I can’t help but admire one that does it well.


The Magician (1926)

Article #529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-26-2002
Posting date: 1-19-2003

A hypnotist trying to discover the secret of life takes control of the will of a young woman.

It’s a crying shame this movie is languishing in obscurity and remains difficult to find; it’s fascinating to watch it in the light of certain movies that appeared afterwards. In particular, the lab scenes and the castle in the last part of the film are astoundingly reminiscent of those in FRANKENSTEIN six years later; between this and the existence of certain themes that also bear similarity to both movies, I’ve noticed that certain people like to describe the movie as a variation on the Frankenstein story. If it is, it never gets off the ground; actually, it is far more similar to another movie, namely SVENGALI, only in this case our villain has much nastier designs on the Trilby character than making her a famous singer. Plotwise, it seems a little shaky in some ways, but it is well acted and has a truly satisfying ending. It’s high time someone took an interest into reviving, restoring, and making generally available this forgotten classic.

Doctor of Doom (1962)

Article #528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-25-2002
Posting date: 1-18-2003

A wrestling woman teams up with another wrestling woman and two detectives to find the maniac who killed her sister, a mad doctor known as The Mad Doctor.

Here we have the mythic origins of the wrestling women, where we learn how Gloria Venus meets the Golden Rubi, and how they acquire their respective boyfriends, two detectives intent on protecting them but are more apt to need to be rescued themselves. The doctor has the aid of a human gorilla, a man with a gorilla’s brain in his skull. Does it sound silly? Well, it is a Mexican wrestling movie, so silliness kind of comes with the territory here. I’ve always felt that Mexican wrestling movies were essentially super hero movies, only with super powers replaced by wrestling prowess. They are, like superspy, sword-and-sandal and Elvis movies, essentially matters of taste; either you go for them or you don’t; personally, I find them irresistible, but I wouldn’t make a whole meal of them, if you know what I mean. I do think this one is more energetic and fun than their encounter with the Aztec Mummy, the only other of their movies that I’ve seen. And one thing that is important to remember with these movies; the wrestling scenes aren’t filler, they’re the reason the movie exists.

The Power God (1925)

Article #527 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-24-2002
Posting date: 1-17-2003

An inventor devises a machine that draws energy from the air, which becomes the target of a criminal intent on making his fortune off of it.

This 15-chapter serial is made by some of the same people who were responsible for OFFICER 444. It has certain similarities to that serial; once again, much of the action revolves around fisticuffs rather than gunplay, the same sense of humor that pervaded that serial is present in a lesser degree here (my favorite moments; the revelation of one of the cliffhangers involving the shadow of a man with a rifle, and the hero’s encounter with an opportunistic justice of the peace and his alert deputy), and the presence of Ruth Royce as the “subtle” aide to the villain (though this time I actually see her taking an active part in the plot). It differs in that the story is much more straightforward and coherent than OFFICER 444; in fact, it reminded me much more of THE MASTER MYSTERY in its general feel. It’s not perfect; certain episodes spin their wheels with very little really happening, some of the plot elements are repetitive, and the ending is a little too corny for my tastes. On the positive side, however, it never drives its plot contrivances into the ground, and manages to find a fair variety of situations within the action, has a number of clever plot twists, and it is refreshingly free of cheating cliffhangers. Overall, quite enjoyable.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

Article #526 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-23-2002
Posting date: 1-16-2003

No plot description; I’ve already written one for four other reviews of versions of the movie, and besides, everyone knows the basic story anyway.

When I first saw this version of the classic story, I’ll admit I was blown away, particularly by the savagery of Fredric March’s performance as Mr. Hyde; he is truly a scary, brutal creature. I also liked some of the visual tricks in the film, particularly the opening sequence where we see all the action from the point of view of Dr. Jekyll (including a nice little moment where he checks himself in a mirror). It is probably the best version of this classic tale (of the ones I’ve seen anyways). However, it is one of those that one watching was enough for me; though I do admire a lot of things about it, I just don’t actively enjoy rewatching it, and I get very little that is new from the experience. Part of it is probably the fact that there are so many versions of the story out there, and most of them are so similar in story construction and there is so little variation on the basic plot that the story has lost any sense of novelty for me. That being said, if you haven’t overdosed on the story, this might be the first one you would want to see.

And I’m also reminded that with the five versions I’ve already covered, I still have the Spencer Tracy version to look forward to in the future. After that, I’m hoping some of the later versions of this story offer some fresh takes on the story.

The Living Dead (1932)

Article #525 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-22-2002
Posting date: 1-15-2003

Several different stories are tied together by the pursuit of a murderer.

UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN has several alternate titles on IMDB; I’ve chosen the title that matches the listing in the book that supplied the title for me. It’s a remake (by the same director) of the 1919 movie UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN, and even though there are several instances of directors remaking older movies, this is the only one I know of that involves remaking an anthology. It’s not a strict remake; only two of the stories return from the original movie, and the linking mechanism has been changed entirely. In fact, this time it plays out like one long story with certain distinct episodes, a very curious way to handle this sort of movie. In fact, it’s a little hard for me to tell where one story leaves off and another begins, partially because my print is in German without subtitles. Nonetheless, I found it fascinating viewing; visually, it is quite strong, and the acting is good enough throughout that they hold my interest even if I didn’t know what they were saying. This one is played more for comedy, and this comes through at times. Of the stories, I definitely recognize “The Black Cat” and “The Suicide Club” (I think that’s the correct title; it was one of the holdovers from the first movie). The best scene is a fight sequence held in the middle of a museum of life-size ambulatory puppets.

Diary of a Madman (1963)

Article #524 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-21-2002
Posting date: 1-14-2003

A magistrate finds that he is possessed by an otherworldly creature known as the Horla after he sentences a murderer to be executed.

Coming on the heels of having watched DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, I found myself enjoying this movie more than I might have otherwise; after the mess of that movie, I really appreciated the straightforward clarity of this one. It has some definite problems; it moves a little slow at times, the direction by Reginal Le Borg is merely adaquate, and the script is a bit wordier than is necessary (the Horla would be a lot more effective if it didn’t chatter on so), but at least it wasn’t confusing, and I could see how each scene related to the story. I also liked Vincent Price’s performance; he’s pretty restrained here, but he’s still definitely enjoying his role (maybe because he’s playing an amateur artist as well as a magistrate), and he has that easy charm and style that makes him very watchable. Except for the violence (the murder is particularly nasty), the movie feels quite old-fashioned, almost like it could have been made twenty years earlier. Not a classic, but for me, it filled the bill at the time.

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Article #523 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-20-2002
Postng date: 1-13-2003

A spaceship from Mars lands near an inn in Scotland, and a female Martian named Nyah holds the residents prisoner in preparation for an invasion. She is intent on capturing men for breeding purposes.

The above description seems to promise, if not necessarily a good movie, at least a certain amount of campy fun; however, the funniest thing about it is in the credits, where it is announced that the movie was based on a play. There’s something mind-blowing about being made aware that there is a play out there called “Devil Girl From Mars”; it also clues you in on just how talky and stagebound this epic will prove to be. I don’t know how good the play was, but the script for the movie is awful; the dialogue is trite, repetitive, and endless (I find myself wondering if someone dropped the script on the ground and picked the pages up in the wrong order before taking it to the printers; the scenes do seem scattered about at random), and the movie never establishes a decent pace, as it seems that every time a scene comes along that catches your interest, instead of keeping the pace going and building your interest further, it follows it with talky scenes that have little to do with the action just before it that bring the story to a screeching halt again and again. If the characters were compelling in any way, it might make a difference, but alas, they’re all as dull as dishwater; even Nyah is given nothing to do but recite rotten speechy dialogue endlessly. The flying saucer is the best thing about the movie; it looks great, and the robot is fun if a little clumsy. I’m sure some people will seek this out in the hope that it will be really bad; I wonder if they would if they knew just how dull it was.

Destination Moon (1950)

Article #522 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-19-2002
Posting date: 1-12-2003

A voyage to the moon is planned and then undertaken.

Perhaps more than any other movie, this George Pal production brought the genre of science fiction to the attention of the movie-going public, and though the genre would soon shift to more exploitable approaches (namely, rampaging monsters and invading space aliens), this is the one that kicked it all off. It may seem a little dull to audiences nowadays, but it actually holds up pretty well if you’re patient and willing to ride along with the measured pace of the story. Heinlein’s involvement is apparent in the proceedings; if the characters are fairly one-dimensional, its interest in the various groups that play a role in the proceedings (big business, the military and the government all have their hands in the mix) is something I recognize from some of his works, and it gives the movie the flavor of some of the literary science fiction of that time period, especially in its emphasis on scientific problem-solving. The movie may be a bit quaint anymore, but it still has an enormous charm, and it looks beautiful. And even if the comic relief character isn’t particularly funny, at least he avoids the mistake of straining for laughs, and never becomes insufferable.

And incidentally, even if the Woody Woodpecker sequence isn’t very funny, it’s nonetheless very evocative of that ephemeral cinematic world of industrial/training/educational films (anybody out there remember the Bell Science Lab film series?) that I consider a priceless addition to the movie.

The Day the World Ended (1956)

Article #521 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-18-2002
Posting date: 1-11-2003

After a nuclear war, several people converge at an isolated house in a mountainous region that protects them from the radiation.

This is in many ways a cheaper, more sensational take on the same theme as Arch Oboler’s FIVE; the characters are more one-dimensional, and instead of evocative dialogue we are given guns and monsters. There are definite problems here; there’s enough story to keep the last thirty minutes moving at a decent pace, and the first ten minutes are necessary for the purposes of exposition and the introduction of our characters; however, that leaves a forty-minute stretch in the middle where the movie seems at a bit of a loss at what to do to fill the time. The characters aren’t complex enough for the most part to warrant much exploration (though Adele Jergens does a very nice turn as Ruby, especially during a sequence where she recreates her strip routine only to break down in tears), so the movie ends up running back and forth over the same plot points again and again to fill time. I mean, just how many times does Paul Birch ominously drop hints about the atomic testing on a specific island (the name eludes me at the moment) before he actually gets around to discussing them, or how many times does Ruby accuse Tony of having a thing for Louise, the sweet innocent country girl who is a new experience for him?

Still, there are some unexpected but fascinating subtleties here. Two in particular come to mind; notice how the theft of Diablo the burro at one point starts off a chain of events that results in the death of three people (and notice how the omission of the burro from the horrible Larry Buchanan remake IN THE YEAR 2889 deprives the prospector of the most compelling motivation for his own suicidal actions). Especially take note of the subtle and elegant way the identity of Marty the Mutant (Paul Blaisdell’s nickname for the three-eyed monster) is established in the last few minutes of the film without a word being spoken. For a movie as verbose as this one, that single moment is a stunning piece of pure visual cinema, and it may be my single favorite moment from the early work of Roger Corman.