One Touch of Venus (1948)

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948)
Article #735 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2003
Posting Date: 8-17-2003
Directed by William A. Seiter and Gregory La Cava
Featuring Ava Gardner, Robert Walker, Dick Haymes

A decorator in a department store kisses a statue of Venus and it comes to life.

You know, I embarked on this project so I could see movies about werewolves, vampires, space aliens and giant monsters. But there’s a wide spectrum of fantastic creatures out there, and it includes angels, pixies, mermaids and Greek goddesses, so I suppose that’s the price you pay for trying to be comprehensive. Ava Gardner is certainly an appropriate choice to play the beautiful goddess of love, but Eve Arden has all the best lines and steals the picture. The movie also has some decent songs, and Tom Conway is on hand as a familiar face for horror fans. It’s all fairly amusing, but it never really becomes anything more than cute, and my cuteness threshold is fairly low. And I still maintain that one strategically placed werewolf could have brightened things considerably (IMHO).

Neutron Against the Death Robots (1960)

NEUTRON AGAINST THE DEATH ROBOTS (1960)
Viewing Date: 3-19-2003
Posting Date: 8-16-2003
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Wolf Ruvinskis, Julio Aleman, Rosa Arenas

Dr. Caronte creates a horde of death robots to find blood for his hideous brain experiment, but Neutron decides to put an end to his reign of terror.

Do you like movies about Mexican wrestlers, but can’t stand the endless wrestling scenes? This might be the one for you; Neutron is for all practical reasons a Mexican wrestler; he wears a mask, walks around bare-chested in tights, and fights a villain in a mask who also wears tights. However, he is never referred to as a wrestler, and all his fighting is outside the ring. So what does this movie have other than wrestling scenes? How about a romantic subplot with three guys all after the same girl, and several musical numbers? Dr. Caronte has a dwarf for an assistant, the death robots look decidedly hairy for automatons, and Neutron says the line “Now it’s my turn to destroy something!” It’s also very badly dubbed, but then, you knew that, didn’t you?

All right, I’ll admit I loved it, but I had to take frequent breaks. I leave it to the rest of you to read the above description and decide whether it’s your cup of tea.

Midnight Warning (1932)

MIDNIGHT WARNING (1932)
Article #733 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2003
Posting Date: 8-15-2003
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Featuring William Boyd, Claudia Dell, John Harron

A doctor discovers an ear bone in the fireplace of his hotel room, and then mysteriously collapses. The detective who is visiting him investigates these strange events.

As I was watching this horror-mystery unfold, my wife recognized several of the plot elements as belonging to an urban legend about a vanishing lady. If you’re familiar with that legend (or with the 1919 movie, UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN), you’ll have an idea of how this story will turn out. Granted, the movie throws in plenty of other additions to the story, including a sniper subplot and a sequence in which a woman is wandering through a morgue of dead people; it’s the latter sequence that really adds the horror element to this forgotten horror. The plot elements do help to keep this one a bit interesting; otherwise, it’s creakiness and stiff acting may turn you off. The detective is played by William (“The Lost City”) Boyd.

The Living Dead (1933)

THE LIVING DEAD (1933)
(a.k.a. THE SCOTLAND YARD MYSTERY)
Article #732 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2003
Posting Date: 8-14-2003
Directed by Thomas Bentley
Featuring Gerald du Maurier, George Curzon, Grete Natzler

Scotland Yard investigates possible insurance fraud when a series of unexpected heart attacks occur among recently insured people.

The one title, THE SCOTLAND YARD MYSTERY, has to be one of the more generic film titles I’ve seen; don’t most British mysteries involve Scotland Yard at one point or another? So let’s check out the other title, THE LIVING DEAD. Are they zombies? Vampires? Ghosts? Something even more scary? No, something even less scary; it’s our old friend, the drug-that-makes-people-seem-to-be-dead-but-they-really-aren’t. This one definitely shows its age, but it has some nice performances, some novel ideas, and a smartass villain with a real sense of chutzpah; it’s not great, but it’s an entertaining little diversion in its way, with a great last line.

Kongo (1932)

KONGO (1932)
Article #731 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2003
Posting Date: 8-13-2003
Directed by William Cowen
Featuring Walter Huston, Lupe Velez, Conrad Nagel

A sadistic ivory trader keeps a white girl a hostage in the jungle as part of a scheme of revenge.

Lon Chaney fans will recognize the story immediately; it’s a sound remake of WEST OF ZANZIBAR, with Walter Huston in the Lon Chaney role. Huston even seems to be channeling Chaney in terms of makeup; yet, for all that, I think Chaney was a bit more impressive in the role. The movies are roughly the same length, though this version dispenses with the backstory present in the silent version. I find this one a little harder to follow at times, and the acting occasionally goes over the top, but the sleazy, muddy atmosphere of the movie is on par with that of the silent version, and in the long run, there’s not a real strong difference between the two versions, and they’re both about the same level of quality. Which one you prefer may well depend on who you prefer in your cast and whether you prefer silent movies to talkies. At any rate, the movie’s degenerate sadism make it something that certainly wouldn’t have been made after the Hays office went into effect.

The Killer Shrews (1959)

THE KILLER SHREWS (1959)
Article #730 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-15-2003
Posting Date: 8-12-2003
Directed by Ray Kellogg
Featuring James Best, Ingrid Goude, Ken Curtis

Several people are trapped on an island with giant poisonous killer shrews.

Those who consider this movie a landmark in campy badness dwell lovingly (and endlessly) on the fact that the monsters are dogs in shrew costumes. That they are I won’t deny, but if you make the decision to not let that fact bother you, it won’t; they are certainly more effective than the oversized buzzard in THE GIANT CLAW. There are other definite flaws; Ingrid Goude looks like she spends every shot largely concerned with how good she looks on the camera, and Baruch Lumet seems to be too swamped with his dialogue to project much emotion, but James Best gives a solid, strong performance, and the other actors do decent work. Some of the scenes are static and poorly paced; others are strong, exciting and well-edited. It makes strong use of music and sound throughout; in fact, the sounds that the shrews make are creepy enough to get under your skin. The strongest point of all is that the story is solid and has many points of interest, with an ending that is quite logical even if visually it looks a bit awkward and clumsy.

I do have to admit a personal fondness for one of the movie’s quirkiest touches; Gordon McLendon’s performance as Dr. Radford Baines is hardly what I would call great acting, but as a bizarre comic-relief variation of the absent-minded scientist, I’ve never seen anything else like it. I couldn’t help but notice two things about the character this time I watched the movie: a) he looks a little bit like a middle-aged Tommy Kirk, and b) he has some of the worst posture I’ve ever seen from any character in a movie. For some reason, I love it. Just don’t ask me why.

Mandrake the Magician (1939)

MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN (1939)
(Serial)
Article #729 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2003
Posting Date: 8-11-2003
Directed by Sam Nelson, Norman Deming
Featuring Warren Hull, Doris Weston, Don Beddoe

A scientist who has developed a radium machine is kidnapped by an evil villain known as The Wasp, and Mandrake sets out to catch him.

I had reached episode ten of this serial when the tape I was watching broke, and I had to set it aside until I could get a replacement. In the interim, I watched THE CLUTCHING HAND, an experience which made me appreciate this one a lot more than I did at first, if for no other reason than the relative clarity of the storytelling. On the plus side, Warren Hull makes for a somewhat charming hero, particularly during the magic act in the first episode. However, I didn’t care much for the fact that this serial seemed way too familiar; several serials I’ve seen lately all had the same plot set-up; scientist with a new invention and a beautiful daughter is captured by a masked villain who largely sits at a desk and communicates to his minions via a two-way TV set, who go out and have fistfights with the hero until the last episode. All right, all serials aren’t like this, but that whole plot has become just a little too common for my tastes. I’m also disappointed that the serial barely uses the most obvious gimmick of the story; outside of occasionally throwing a smoke bomb, Mandrake rarely uses his magician’s tricks throughout the course of the story, and this is where a lot of the fun should have been. And the movie gets a big demerit for the narrator’s blatant lie at the end of episode eleven (he makes a claim about the nature of a car accident that appears in the preview for episode 12 that turns out to be totally false); it’s the type of deception that makes cheating cliffhangers look fairly benign.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Article #728 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2003
Posting Date: 8-10-2003
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore

An angel tries to win his wings by helping a man who has been forced to give up his dreams in the process of helping others.

At one time, this was the most ubiquitous movie during the Christmas season; that title has now been taken by A CHRISTMAS STORY. I will admit there’s a curmudgeonly part of my personality that would have been tempted to dismiss the movie by its plot description alone; however, the fact of the matter is that the movie wins me over completely each time I see it. Part of the reason is that the movie earns its sentiment the hard way; the scenes of George Bailey’s frustrations and disappointments are very real and quite painful; the scenes involving the druggist and the misprepared prescription are tough to endure, because you feel deeply for each of the characters in the scene. I’m also won over by Capra’s skill as a director, particularly his ability to juggle a fairly large array of characters without leaving you lost, his skill in handling crowd scenes (particularly in the way he makes each member of the crowd seem like an individual and unique person), and the sharp confidence in which he sets up his expositions; if I were to ever take up screenwriting or directing, this is one movie I would study very closely to learn my techniques. However, I would have to say the biggest factor in winning me over to the movie is the performance of James Stewart; his George Bailey is so fully realized as a human being that he is absolutely magnetic; he may be compassionate and self-sacrificing, but he’s no saint, and not making him one is a wise move, as it allows us to relate to him as a fellow human being trying his best. In fact, all the performances are strong, and as an ensemble they make the whole town of Bedford Falls live and breathe in a way that gives the place a life above and beyond the movie.

Some movie have earned their status as classics; this is one of them.

Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)

INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957)
Article #727 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2003
Posting Date: 8-9-2003
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring Steven Terrell, Gloria Castillo, Frank Gorshin

Teenagers encounter space aliens in Lover’s Lane.

This science fiction alien invasion comedy isn’t really all that funny; though it maintains a light atmosphere, it is very lacking in the basic element of a comedy, and that’s good jokes. Nonetheless, it’s directed with a certain energy, features some truly memorable aliens courtesy of Paul Blaisdell, juggles its three storylines with ease (the two opportunists, the teenagers, the military), and in its own way, it may be THE quintessential aliens vs. teenagers movie. It’s certainly gorier than you might guess (particularly when the aliens encounter a bull), and there is something about the way the aliens attack with needles coming out of their fingers and injecting you with a fluid that definitely gets under your skin. So I quite enjoy this one anyway. And anyone who has seen it in tandem with Larry Buchanan’s awful remake THE EYE CREATURES can at least appreciate the world of difference simple competence can make in the production of movies like this.

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961)
Article #726 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-11-2003
Posting Date: 8-8-2003
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo

Hercules must descend into the netherworld to recover a stone that will cure his love.

It is very fitting that the Hercules movie directed by Mario Bava and featuring Christopher Lee would be the one with the highest horror content of them all; both the journey to Hades and the atmospheric climax place this movie firmly in the horror genre as well as the sword and sandal genre. Bava certainly adds some good visuals to the mix, though in all honesty, I can’t really give the best evaluation; my copy of the movie is not only horribly dubbed and in only fair condition, but also badly panned and scanned at that. I really suspect that this one requires a much better presentation to do a fair evaluation of it. I hear there is a good DVD available; this will be something to keep in mind come upgrade time. At any rate, if you’re a horror fan, this is the sword-and-sandal movie to try out.