Shadow of the Eagle (1932)

SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (1932)
(Serial)
Article #610 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-15-2002
Posting date: 4-11-2003

The board of directors of a corporation is being threatened by a shadowy form known as the Eagle, who they believe is an ex-World War I pilot who was also known as the Eagle in his day but who crashed and was believed dead but turned out not to be and who had also created an invention which the corporation had stolen from him but is now supporting himself by running a carnival. His stunt-fighter tries to solve the mystery with the aid of the carnival owner’s daughter, a midget, a strong man and a ventriloquist with uncanny abilities of voice imitation.

It may be my imagination, but I’m beginning to notice that there’s something utterly cheesy about any serial I’ve seen so far that came from Mascot. Despite having a fairly complex story (the above plot description blurb gives you a feel for just how convoluted the backstory is), it still spends a good amount of its running time spinning its wheels. On the plus side, it has a young John Wayne in the role of the hero/stunt pilot, and he’s a name that hasn’t popped up yet in this series of reviews. It also doesn’t suffer from cheating cliff-hangers; unfortunately, the cliff-hangers themselves aren’t particularly good. Still, the odd milieu adds a bit of fun to the proceedings, and it’s always fun to watch John Wayne.

Some serial rules:

1) If you are a criminal trying to convince the hero to do something that will cause him to fall into a trap, and he questions you on certain suspicious behaviors of yours, the best way to answer these questions is with these three magic words, “Never mind that.”

2) If crooks and heroes are fighting in a room, and the cops come in, and the crooks claim the heroes are the crooks, they will always be believed.

3) The quickest way to commit suicide in this movie is to say, “Okay, I’ll confess. I know who the Eagle is. He is …” and wait for the bang.

The Nanny (1965)

THE NANNY (1965)
Article #609 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-14-2002
Posting date: 4-10-2003

A boy just returned home from a mental hospital is hostile to his family and especially his nanny, who he believes is trying to kill him.

The whole story in this film hinges upon a backstory involving the death of the boy’s sister, and the movie is almost two-thirds of the way through before we make our way to the two crucial flashbacks which explain the story. This stretch could have been tedious, but the strong acting throughout, interesting characters, and a stunning performance by Bette Davis in the title role hold the viewer’s attention until then. Though I’d seen several Davis movies before this one, this is the one that convinced me she was a truly great actress; playing a character who must keep her true feelings hidden while keeping a loving, caring surface on display inspires her to give a powerful, subtle performance, one where a simple shifting of the eyes is enough to speak volumes; I’ve never seen her more restrained nor more effective. The flashbacks themselves are unexpectedly powerful, telling a nightmarish but devastatingly sad tale that fleshes out the movie immensely. There is also some superb editing at work, particularly in the second flashback and the climactic scene of the movie. It’s not perfect; the child is a little too petulant and blase for the situation that he is in, and the very last scene is a little too neat, easy and contrived, but all in all, this remains perhaps the most compelling Hammer movie I’ve seen, one that owes more to Val Lewton than to their other horror movies.

Master of the World (1961)

MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961)
Article #608 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-13-2002
Posting date: 4-9-2003

In the nineteenth century, several balloonists become prisoners of a madman who is determined to end war in the world by destroying warships with his flying air fortress.

American International Pictures didn’t quite have the financial wherewithal to really pull off a Vernian epic; the special effects sequences are less than convincing. The story itself is largely a rehash of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, only taking place in the skies instead of in the ocean. Nonetheless, it is a sturdy story that bears repeating, and the script by Richard Matheson is solid, and avoids the cutenesses that made the Disney movie a bit of a trial at times; there’s nary a cute animal nor a cute song to be found. Though Henry Hull’s performance as the armaments manufacturer is too one-dimensional, there are strong performances by both Vincent Price (as Robur) and Charles Bronson (as Strock). In fact, the Strock character is one of the most interesting in the story; though he serves the function as the main hero of the story, he is a pragmatic strategist who abjures noble cant in favor of quiet logic, and who is not afraid to look like a villain if it should increase the chances of making a more effective move later on. He is in his own way as strong a character as Robur, and Robur rightly recognizes him as the only one of the characters who is a real threat to him, and Bronson (whose silence can speak volumes) is well cast in the role. If anything, this movie may actually do a better job of giving us a complex array of characters, and bringing out many of the moral dilemmas inherent to the situation. Though not a completely successful movie, this one is worth a watch.

Another Job for the Undertaker (1901)

ANOTHER JOB FOR THE UNDERTAKER (1901)
Article #607 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-12-2002
Posting date: 4-8-2003

An immigrant has strange experiences in a hotel room.

This is probably the shortest film I’ve done (it runs roughly thirty seconds), though it may be just a clip; however, since its length in feet is roughly sixty percent of that of THE MAN WITH THE RUBBER HEAD, I’ll settle. It’s Edwin S. Porter doing a Melies bit again with a disappearing tumbling bellboy, vanishing luggage, instant clothes changes, and one man’s horrible miscalculation on the nature of the lighting technology in use in the hotel (of which a more detailed explanation would not only explain the title but would also give away the ending). And God forbid you should have me ruin this thirty seconds for you by indulging in spoilers.

Fail-Safe (1964)

FAIL-SAFE (1964)
Article #606 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-11-2002
Posting date: 4-7-2003

An accident sends several American planes to Russia to bomb Moscow with atomic bombs. The president and the military try to prevent the planes from reaching their destination.

This movie has a few small problems; it starts out rather slow and gets a little preachy before it’s all through. However, its worst problem didn’t have anything to do with the movie itself; it came out just about the same time as Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant DR. STRANGELOVE, and though that was a comedy and this one is a straight drama, so many of the plot elements are so similar that it is hard to watch this movie and not find yourself constantly being reminded of the other movie. This is a bit of a shame, as this movie is worthwhile on its own merit, with fine performances throughout and building up to an excellent climax. There are many familiar faces to be found here, including Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver (his big screen debut), and a young Dom Deluise; it’s interesting that two actors primarily known for their comic roles appear in this serious movie.

Les Demoniaques (1973)

LES DEMONIAQUES (1973)
(a.k.a. THE DEMONIACS)
Article #605 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-10-2002
Posting date: 4-6-2003

Thieves who specialize in wrecking and looting ships assault two women, who then make a pact with the devil to seek revenge.

From Ingmar Bergman to Herschell Gordon Lewis to Jean Rollin makes for a rollercoaster ride of movies for the last three days. The last time I dealt with Rollin, three adjectives came up repeatedly; arty, erotic and gory. However, I find this one more palatable than THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE; though some of the plot elements have a nastier edge to them (there is a lot of rape here, moreso than the other movie), at least the impulse to artiness doesn’t run away with him this time so that all narrative is thrown to the four winds; you can more or less follow the story. It’s still very bizarre at times; just how having a woman dress up in red tights and clown make-up is supposed to keep people out of the ruins in this story is something that does leave me scratching my head, despite the fact that I do agree with the theory that clowns are scary. Nonetheless, telling a story is secondary to Rollin; his main goal is to get the women unclothed as often as possible, and there is no doubt that he accomplishes this particular feat. I’m just glad that he has nice feel for surreal visuals to make up for what would otherwise be a long stretch of arty sleaze.

Blood Feast (1963)

BLOOD FEAST (1963)
Article #604 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-9-2002
Posting date: 4-5-2003

Horrible murders are being committed by a caterer intent on making an Egyptian Feast as an offering to Ishtar.

Ten thoughts.

1. Being as I am not a fan of graphic gore and violence, I am not a fan of the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis.

2. This was the first real gore movie. This makes it at least as important (in cinematic terms) as the first bubonic plague.

3. Having watched at least one other of Lewis’ gore flicks as part of this series, I found that the experience has given me the hard shell I need to stomach his movies. That doesn’t mean I mistake them for anything good.

4. Herschell Gordon Lewis has written many books on business and marketing. His movies make more sense if looked at from the perspective of a man finding a marketing niche that could be exploited, and then doing so.

5. He manages to make his movies look like home movies without giving them that air of verisimilitude that would make them believable.

6. The acting is bad in this movie.

7. … Really BAD…

8. I just can’t tell you how bad the acting is in this movie.

9. The acting couldn’t have been worse if Lewis had been trying to get the absolute worst actors he could find.

10. On a positive note, Lewis is a better director than Jerry Warren. The movie even has one clever moment where he does a jump cut that looks vaguely like the hands of a clock turning. So the movie is good for one second. I’d tell you precisely where that moment is, but then I’d have to watch the movie again to find it. No thanks.

Wild Strawberries (1957)

WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957)
Article #603 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-8-2002
Posting date: 4-4-2003

A doctor on his way to receive an award for his fifty years of service finds himself troubled by strange dreams and reliving scenes from earlier in his life.

Sometimes this journey through the world of fantastic cinema takes me to some interesting places, even if they only marginally belong under the banner of the fantastic. I’m not really surprised that eventually I would encounter Ingmar Bergman along the way; I remember reading once that he was profoundly influenced by James Whales’ FRANKENSTEIN, and if you watch that movie and any of Bergman’s, you can see the influence. This thoughtful drama is both sad and comic, with meditations on life and death and any other subjects of philosophy you might wish to examine; I ultimately found myself deeply moved by it, though I suspect your average horror/science fiction/fantasy fan might have little use for it. However, if it should come by your way some time, take five minutes to catch the opening dream sequence in the movie; this dream is so filled with creepy dread that it’s almost like a little horror movie in itself, and it is for this scene alone that the movie is being covered here. It’s so powerful, that when a seemingly innocuous image in the dream (that of a clock missing its hands) recurs later in the movie, it actual has a certain shock factor. Fascinating, but only for those willing to venture into the world of Bergman.

Invasion USA (1952)

INVASION USA (1952)
Article #602 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-7-2002
Posting date: 4-3-2003

The lives of several patrons of a bar are affected by the invasion of the United States by the communists.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN opens with a couple of shots to establish the setting of London. When I was watching the DVD recently with the commentary track on, I was informed that these two shots were stock footage. Oddly enough, I found myself surprised; it had never even occurred to wonder whether they might be stock footage or not. Then it occurred to me just how efficient and effective stock footage could be if used with taste and care, as it was in those two shots, which do nothing more than establish a setting.

This movie also uses stock footage; in fact, I’m tempted to sit down some day and time out just how much stock footage there is in this movie, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that from thirty to forty percent of the movie consists of such footage. This will delight fans of military stock footage, I am sure, but it bores me to tears. The sheer bulk of it makes me suspect that the movie was made primarily to take advantage of the footage, rather than the footage being added to augment the movie; in fact, when it is established that the invaders are wearing American uniforms, I suspect this plot point exists solely so that they can use stock footage of American soldiers.

You know, in some way, I can’t help but admire the audacity of building a whole movie about stock footage, but it really doesn’t make for what I would call a compelling story, especially when the surrounding footage shot especially for the movie is listless, tired, static and dull. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t make certain points; an early observation in the opening scenes about the hypocrisy of those who expect government to do all these things for them without raising taxes to do those things is a fairly strong and unexpected point. Unfortunately, that’s the only time the movie really catches my interest. And though I understand the concept of stock footage making the movie more realistic, that realism has to carry over to the new footage, and it doesn’t; the characters and the situations are shallow and unconvincing, and certain scenes are shot without a hint of common sense; for example, when the president is giving his speeches over the television, the camera should be positioned to catch his face, not the back of his head. It’s moments like this which destroy any illusion of reality that the stock footage is supposed to enhance.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)
(a.k.a. SEI DONNE PER L’ASSASSINO)
Article #601 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-6-2002
Posting date: 4-2-2003

Models are being murdered one by one by an unknown killer.

The English translation of the Italian title is “Six Women for the Murderer”, and since I’ve heard this movie described as the first “body count” movie, then I suppose it qualifies by mere dint of its numbering the murders (though whether the count is accurate is a matter I will not pursue at this point). I’ve heard it praised as a masterpiece of style and dismissed as a slasher movie. I can definitely attest to the style comment; the movie uses color, shadow, lighting and camera movement all exquisitely. There is also some truth to the slasher line, as I can’t help but notice that several of the murders go on much longer than I feel comfortable with, and it makes me suspect at times that I’m supposed to “enjoy” seeing the women tormented rather than be frightened for them. Still, it’s more than a slasher flick; ultimately, there is a coherent reason for each one of the murders (beyond the “he kills because he’s mad” sort of description), and this helps to give the movie more of a sense of purpose rather than being a mere exercise of sadism. And I have no problem enjoying the beauty of the cinematic style. Directed by Mario Bava, and featuring Cameron Mitchell.