Gappa, the Triphibian Monster (1967)

GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER (1967)
(a.k.a. MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET/DAIKYOJU GAPPA)
Article #1163 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2004
Posting Date: 10-18-2004
Directed by Haruyasa Noguchi
Featuring Tamio Kawaji, Yoko Yamamoto, Yuji Okada

When an expedition discovers a newly hatched monster on a tropical island, they bring it back to Japan with them, unaware that its parents will search for him.

It’s been a long time since I’ve covered some Kaiju for this series, and since I have an inordinate fondness for these movies, there’s a chance I may like this one a lot more than others do. On the other hand, most of the others have probably seen the dubbed version; I saw a few moments of that one and the dubbing is very substandard. I opted instead for the subtitled version, and it’s somewhat better. This was the only kaiju put out by Nikkatsu (whose logo is a little reminiscent of Toho’s); shortly after this movie was made, they turned to soft-core pornography. The plot is largely lifted from GORGO, with a little bit of KING KONG, RODAN and GODZILLA thrown in for good measure. The special effects are fun if highly variable, and for the most part this is strictly pretty standard kaiju. However, it does have a handful of interesting touches and moments. When the parent monsters first arrive in Japan, one of them carries a dead crusacean in its mouth, probably intent on feeding it to the child when they find it. Another curious moment has a man putting out a match in a pool of water; it’s shot in such a way as to indicate that the scene is very important, but unless it’s a metaphor for putting out his passion for a woman he loves (there’s your typical love triangle situation in the story), I have no idea what it means. The ending itself is also decent, and even brings a little tear to the eye.

The Frozen Dead (1966)

THE FROZEN DEAD (1966)
Article #1162 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2001
Posting Date: 10-17-2004
Directed by Herbert J. Leder
Featuring Dana Andrews, Anna Palk, Philip Gilbert

A Nazi scientist needs a brain in order to test his experiments with which he hopes to revive 1500 frozen elite Nazi officials.

It seems positively perverse to me that this glum, turgid movie doesn’t have the word “brain” in the title; after all, its plot plays like a cross between DONOVAN’S BRAIN, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE , and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN. Unfortunately, the movie is a little closer in quality to the latter two than to the former, and even at that, it lacks somewhat the chutzpah that make those two fairly memorable. Dana Andrews does all he can to keep his dignity throughout; but he’s a long way here from NIGHT OF THE DEMON. The real villain here is his assistant, Karl who (like his namesake in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, another movie that deals at least partially in brains) is not only homicidally proactive but dumb as a keg of neck bolts as well; he claims he’s doing it out of loyalty to the party, which just goes to show the dangers of blind adherence to party platform. It’s all in the cause of reviving frozen elite Nazi party members, most of whom are in Germany but the rest are scattered around the globe (so check your refrigerator). So far, his attempts at revival have resulted in a basement full of subhuman idiots (like the basement in Dr. Cadman’s castle in THE BLACK SLEEP, who got that way from operations on their – you guessed it – brains). And this isn’t even mentioning the wall of arms, which reminds me of a similar wall in Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (a movie that has nothing to do with brains, but whose title is remarkably similar to that of THE LADY AND THE MONSTER, an early version of DONOVAN’S BRAIN).

Suggested retitling: I’VE GOT BRAINS ON MY BRAIN AND IT’S HURTING MY BRAIN.

Their Big Moment (1934)

THEIR BIG MOMENT (1934)
Article #1161 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-19-2001
Posting Date: 10-16-2004
Directed by James Cruze
Featuring Zasu Pitts, Slim Summerville, Julie Haydon

A magician with a fake spiritualist act is hired to save a woman from the clutches of a fake medium intent on bilking her of her money.

This slight comedy/mystery never hits a comic peak, but it has a somewhat novel plot (I like the “dueling fake psychics” story) and remains pleasant viewing throughout. Part of what makes it work is the nice chemistry between the magician (William Gaxton) and his assistants (Zasu Pitts and Slim Summerville); they work quite well together. I could see one major plot twist coming a mile away (if you’ve got a comic actress reluctantly taking on the role of a fake medium, what’s the first comic twist you can think of?), but that’s a minor quibble, and there is still a surprising development or two ahead. Incidentally, the mediums provide the fantastic content, though it’s not quite as marginal as it may seem at first.

Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937)

MR. DODD TAKES THE AIR (1937)
Article #1160 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2001
Posting Date: 10-15-2004
Directed by Alfred E. Green
Featuring Kenny Baker, Frank McHugh, Alice Brady

A small-town electrician with a baritone singing voice is asked to go to New York to sing on a radio show, and becomes a sensation when a botched operation for quinsy turns him into a tenor.

I’d like to point out here that I go into a lot of these movies blind; I had no idea what this one was going to be about until I slapped it into the player and let it rip. It’s your basic “innocent from the country goes to the big bad city” tale, and if you know about these sorts of tales, you should be able to figure out how it ends. The fantastic elements are slight; I don’t know if a throat operation can change the tone of you singing voice, but if it can’t, that’s one of them. The other involves an invention (by the singer, who also happens to be a master electrician) that makes cheap radios sound as good as expensive ones. Both elements serve no other purpose than to set in motion certain plot contrivances, and when the plot is as slight as this one is, I have no choice but to consign the movie to the realms of marginalia. This musical is only of cursory interest if you happen to be a big fan of the song stylings of Kenny Baker, whose singing talents far outstrip his thespic ones. The best performance comes from Alice Brady, who wisely tempers the bitchy prima donna character she plays with a real charm and an unflappability which manage to reveal that the persona is just a witty pose.

The Cold Sun (1956)

THE COLD SUN (1956)
Article #1159 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2001
Posting Date: 10-14-2004
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Richard Crane, Sally Mansfield, Robert Lyden

Rocky Jones must deal with two crises; the unnatural cooling of the sun and a plot to prevent a new planet from joining the United Planets.

Once again I find myself in the curious position of defending something which by all rights I should dismiss, but for some reason I don’t quite have the heart to do the latter. After all, the Rocky Jones movies are really only TV episodes strung together to make a movie. The show was cheap and slow-moving, and there really wasn’t much action. This particular set of episodes has at least two very bad things in it; one of the thrilling moments consists of a man trapped in a room in an out-of-control space station where he is in constant danger of being run over by the furniture that is hurtling back and forth across the room (it’s very hard to watch this scene without laughing), and the colorful character of Pinto Vortando, a cowardly space pirate who can’t speak a single sentence without mentioning his own name is so cornily over-acted it’s embarassing.

Yet, for all that, these Rocky Jones “movies” always seem a little better to me than you might think at first. Sure, it’s talky, but if you actually bother to pay attention to the talk, you find that the talk is actually serving the purpose of developing characters and advancing the plot. The potentially annoying Bobby is never as bad as he could have been. Perhaps most significantly, though, I find the plots to actually be somewhat well constructed. I come away from watching the Rocky Jones series with a sense that the writers honestly liked and cared for the world and the characters they created. I think more care went into the story here than (just for example) any of the stories that I saw when I covered yesterday’s “Time Tunnel” movie.

It’s not classic stuff by any means, but when I take the effort to pay attention, I like it. And even Pinto Vortanda has a more complex character than you might have guessed from the above description.

Aliens from Another Planet (1982)

ALIENS FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1982)
Article #1158 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2001
Posting Date: 10-13-2004
Directed by Sobey Martin, Irwin Allen
Featuring James Darren, Robert Colbert, Robert Duvall

Two men lost in time as a result of a government project have to save the project from a saboteur and then deal with aliens invading earth in the late nineteenth century.

“The Time Tunnel” was Irwin Allen’s third attempt at a TV series; unlike his first two, this one wasn’t a success and only lasted one season. As such, it became one of those series with insufficient episodes to allow for effective syndication, and thus became fodder for jury-rigged TV movies made by slapping two episodes together.

Now this one I remember catching occasionally as a kid. I didn’t watch it much; outside of the time tunnel itself, the show didn’t have much science fiction content and largely seemed satisfied to place our time travellers in various historical situations; in this way, the show was a little bit like early ‘Doctor Who’. This movie, however, concentrated on some of the episodes with a greater degree of fantastic content; it combines bits of the first episode “Rendezvous with Yesterday” to serve as story background, and then we get the two episodes “Chase Through Time” and “Visitors from Beyond the Stars”, the first of which involves a trip into the far future where man has evolved into a sort of beelike existence and then a trip to the prehistoric days where slurpasaurs wrestle. The second one involves an alien invasion.

As usual with Irwin Allen, the science fiction eye candy is the main attraction; in particular, the time tunnel itself is memorable. It’s also fun to spot familiar faces; Whit Bissell and Lee Meriwether were regulars, and Robert Duvall and John Hoyt pop up in the various segments. The stories themselves are fairly simplistic, and the two leads are fairly bland, and it’s all pretty silly if you think about it; for example, the spy who sets the timer for the nuclear bomb could have chosen to hide it somewhere where he wouldn’t attract attention to himself by having to attack someone, but for some reason he chooses to handle it the way he does. It’s watchable enough, but it does remind you how much more sophisticated some other science fiction series were.

The Mystery of 13 (1920)

THE MYSTERY OF 13 (1920)
(Serial)
Article #1157 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-15-2001
Posting Date: 10-12-2004
Directed by Francis Ford
Featuring Francis Ford, Rosemary Theby, Nigel de Brulier

A man comes by a map that shows the location of a secret treasure, but runs afoul of a criminal organization known as the ’13’.

I don’t know exactly when it was that serials fell into the standardized patterns that makes up so many of the later ones, but I do know that the early silent serials seemed to have a greater vaiety of situations. This serial has some romantic subplots and unexpected plot twists that most likely would never happen in later serials. Nonetheless, I have to admit to finding this obscurity almost unwatchable. This may not be due to the serial itself as much as it is to my copy of it. At least three chapters are missing altogether, and several of the other chapters seem abbreviated. The narrative jumps all over the place, the print is far enough down the dupe scale that it’s hard to tell one character from another, and after the first episode I spent a lot of my time just scratching my head. I’m not sure about the fantastic aspects, either; the most notable one is that the evil organization dresses up in black robes and hoods, and it gives the movie a slight horror atmosphere at times. So to some extent, commentary is useless; THE MYSTERY OF 13 remains to me something of a mystery.