Warning From Space (1956)

Article #758 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-12-2003
Date Posted: 9-9-2003
Directed by Koji Shima
Featuring Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu

A starfish-shaped alien from outer space attempts to make contact with a professor.

You have to put a bit of concentration into some of these Japanese science fiction epics, partially because the bad dubbing can actually obscure your comprehension at times, and partly because the plot lines can be all over the board. This one has plot similarities to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, among others, and the plot emphasis can often shift so quickly that a short trip to the refrigerator is enough to throw you off. This one can be split into three different sections, each with a slightly different feel; it is moderately entertaining and at times more effective than you’d think. The worst problems are the aliens; they resemble starfish with eyes in their centers, and are obviously just people in starfish costumes with their legs apart and sticking their arms out (which is why you never see them move). Stills from this movie led me to believe they were giant, but that is not the case. Once again, a subtitled version would help immensely.

The Time of Their Lives (1946)

Article #757 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-11-2003
Date Posted: 9-8-2003
Directed by Charles Barton
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marjorie Reynolds

A tinker and a nobleman’s wife are mistaken for traitors during the revolutionary war. They are shot, and their bodies left in a well with a curse on their spirits. They return as ghosts, but it is not until many years later that they are allowed to prove their innocence.

There are a couple of ways to approach this movie. From a standpoint of it being an Abbott and Costello movie (i.e. a movie by the team), it is disappointing; they only have one scene together as characters who know each other, and it is fairly short and doesn’t allow them to indulge in their usual team antics. However, if seen from the angle of a movie that is not a vehicle for the team, but rather just featuring both members of the team in distinct roles, it is very interesting indeed. It may well be the most solid movie they’ve done from the standpoint of story, and as distinct characters rather than team members, both Bud and Lou are given a much wider range of acting space than they would have otherwise. The revolutionary-war period of the movie has a great deal of period charm, and the latter part of the movie (it’s a haunted house movie told from the point of view of the ghosts, which is a rather unique approach) achieves a certain ambience, and though the movie could have been converted to a team vehicle (with a little work, the Marjorie Reynolds role could have been changed around to work for Bud Abbott), I think it would have lost that ambience. In some ways, it is one of the strongest ghost stories of the forties. My only complaint is that Gale Sondergaard’s role could have been given more dimension than it has; she does well, but there really isn’t a whole lot to it.

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Article #756 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-10-2003
Posting Date: 9-7-2003
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Featuring Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas

Giant scorpions come out of a volcano in Mexico.

With Willis O’Brien helming the special effects, this should be a decent movie from that aspect, and for the most part it is; the scorpion attack footage is exciting, thrilling, and fun. Unfortunately, there are problems; for one, the special effects were never adaquately finished, so some scenes are hampered by having only a black outline of the scorpion rather than the scorpion itself. There are also certain sequences that are repeated; in particular, a scene where the scorpion takes down a helicopter is repeated only about a half minute after it is first used, and a sequence in which a line of scorpions emerge from a cave gets the repeat treatment. Also, the large model head used in some of the scenes is obviously not that of the scorpion in the animated sequences, and you really get tired of the repeated shots of this head drooling. The surrounding footage is variable, but it is helped by the eerie volcano locations used in the movie; in particular, a sequence involving a gas station in the opening scenes is very well done. Unfortunately, the script is somewhat unfocused, in that it never seems quite sure how to approach telling the story, and though Richard Denning and Mara Corday are charming enough as the romantic leads, the movie is singularly short of interesting characters; the only memorable one is one of those children who are supposed to be cute and winsome, but keep coming along when they’re not wanted and putting the adults in danger when they try to save them. The movie also makes the mistake of completely losing all sense of tension and suspense after the cave sequence, rather than trying to hold the audience’s interest from that point until the big finish. It’s not bad, overall, but it could have been one of the best of the big bug movies (I’m not sure if scorpions could be called bugs, but they’re close enough for me), but as it is, it falls a little short.

Preview Murder Mystery (1936)

Article #755 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-9-2003
Posting Date: 9-6-2003
Directed by Robert Florey
Featuring Reginald Denny, Frances Drake, Gail Patrick

The actor in a remake of “Song of the Toreador” is receiving threatening notes telling him he will not live to see the preview of the movie.

About two-thirds the way through my copy of this movie the videotape started doing some bizarre stuttering that made it somewhat difficult to watch, but I was able to see enough to figure out what was going on (though I do know that I’ll have to search for an upgrade in the future). It’s a bit of a shame; this is a very enjoyable mystery, well directed by Robert Florey, and with a cast that features the heroine of MAD LOVE and one-time DRACULA hopeful Ian Keith. It’s a little predictable at times; I saw one murder and one murder attempt being set up before they actually occur, but the ending has some quite satisfying twists that send it a little ways into the horror genre.

One question, though; at one point, a man suspects that a mouse has been eating some of the cheese on his desk. He then sets up an elaborate system with a camera and an assortment of strings in order to get a picture of the mouse. My question is in two parts: a) Why didn’t he just use a mousetrap?, and b) what was he going to do with the picture of the mouse; blackmail him?

The Night Life of the Gods (1935)

Article #754 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2003
Posting Date: 9-5-2003
Directed by Lowell Sherman
Featuring Alan Mowbray, Florine McKinney, Peggy Shannon

An inventor creates a ring that will turn people to stone, and vice versa.

This movie was based on a novel by Thorne Smith, the same man who gave us the novel “Topper”, on which the movie TOPPER is based. That movie was the last time I encountered Alan Mowbray in this series; there he played a butler. Here he has a butler, played by Gilbert Emery. This movie also has William ‘Stage’ Boyd playing a detective; the last time I encountered him was yesterday, when he played a detective in MURDER BY THE CLOCK. Ray Corrigan is on hand, billed as Raymond Benard, and King Baggot (who played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde once upon a time) is a lobby extra. Actually, I could go on like this for a little while longer to avoid trying to address the movie directly, as I’m not quite sure to what to make of it. In its way, it is as anarchic as HELLZAPOPPIN’, or any Marx Brothers comedy (without the music). It has little plot to speak of; it’s mostly a series of connected setpieces all playing with the concept of people being turned to stone and vice versa. The title refers to the second half of the movie, where our protagonist brings several statues of Greek gods to life, and they (for want of a better phrase) run amuck. Hebe steals cups, Neptune looks for fish and pokes people with his trident, Bacchus gets drunk, Venus tries to get a date…you get the idea. The movie also throws leprechauns into the mix. If it were a bit funnier, I might love it; as it is, it is a strange little question mark in the history of cinema. The butler steals the movie.

Murder by the Clock (1931)

Article #753 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-7-2003
Posting Date: 9-4-2003
Directed by Edward Sloman
Featuring Lilyan Tashman, William Boyd, Regis Toomey

An old woman is strangled, and the primary suspect is her brutish but dim-witted son.

These early talkies can be a bit of a chore; in order to ensure decent sound, the films were shot in a fairly static way, the pace was often quite slow, and actors were required to be slow and careful in the way they articulated their lines, and this was not conducive to good acting. Between these elements and the rather obvious dialogue in the screenplay, one might be tempted to completely dismiss this forgotten horror that initially seems like your standard “Old Dark House” murder mystery. However, the story starts taking an unusual direction when you realize that in place of the usual romantic leads, you have a weak, drunken man and his manipulative wife who eventually proves to be a femme fatale of the first degree. In short, this forgotten horror may actually be an early form of film noir, and plotwise it plays out as such, which gives it a higher degree of interest value than it might otherwise have. That’s Irving Pichel as the dimwitted brother, and Regis Toomey actually manages to land some good comic lines as an Irish cop.

Queen of the Jungle (1935)

Article #752 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2003
Posting Date: 9-3-2003
Directed by Robert Hill
Featuring Reed Howes, Mary Korman, Dickie Jones

A little girl gets lost in the jungle as the result of a tragic hide-and-seek accident, and becomes the leader of a primitive tribe. Years later, her childhood friend sets out to find her.

One of the first things you notice about this old serial is how loudly it creaks. Then you notice a curious phenomenon; some of the scenes appear to be shot at a different speed than the others. You then notice that the scenes that are in fast motion have no dialogue. It was here a quick check on IMDB confirmed my suspicions; a goodly portion of this movie is made up of footage from an old silent serial called JUNGLE GODDESS. This isn’t the only time a talkie used a goodly amount of silent footage; a horrible little movie called THE WHITE GORILLA tried it a decade later, and did a very bad job of it. This one is somewhat more successful; it actually looks like they took the trouble to cast actors and actresses that resembled the characters in the silent footage, so that only the speed of the footage really gives it away. It manages to pull off its trick for a while, but as the serial progresses, the story deteriorates; there’s at least one cliffhanger where the follow-up episode appeared to actually omit the escape footage, so I don’t know how they got out of the peril. The final episode looks largely like a bunch of cliffhangers edited together to finish up the movie. It ends up all having a bit of charm to it, but don’t expect much; it’s largely just a curio.