Everything’s Ducky (1961)

Article #1216 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-13-2004
Posting Date: 12-10-2004
Directed by Don Taylor
Featuring Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Jackie Cooper

Two sailors are ordered to release a duck into a pond, only to discover that the duck can talk. Hilarity ensues.

What we have here is FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE with Donald O’Connor replaced by Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney, and Francis replaced by Scuttlebutt the Duck. Here are some of the purportedly funny things in this movie.

The sailors are stationed in the middle of a desert.

When the sailors finally do get out on the water, they get seasick.

One of them is named Admiral John Paul Jones. “Admiral” is his name. This confuses people.

The duck can’t swim, but he drinks martinis.

The duck can’t quack, but he can do an impression of Cary Grant.

The military wants to recapture the duck so they can cut out his brain.

The sailors go to see a psychiatrist after hearing the duck talk.

Despite having a talking duck in their possession, the sailors can’t make any money off of him.

One of the sailors is always trying to get a date with a secretary who can’t stand him.

In the end, the sailors and the duck go up in a rocket to one of the lamest non-endings I’ve ever seen in a movie in my life.

If you’re a fan of Mickey Rooney or Buddy Hackett, or if you really want to see a movie about a talking duck that plays like a Disney shopping-cart movie without the energy, this one is for you. Me, I’m looking forward to the next Francis movie.

The Whispering Shadow (1933)

Article #1215 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-12-2004
Posting Date: 12-9-2004
Directed by Colbert Clark and Albert Herman
Featuring Bela Lugosi, Viva Tattersall, Malcolm McGregor

A villain known as the Whispering Shadow is trying to get his hands on the jewels of the Czar.

…and so is everybody else in this serial thriller. The science fiction aspects are strong here, as the Whispering Shadow uses a radio death ray to deal out death to those who interfere with his plans as well as to project his image from long distances away. The question is; who is he? Is he the well-known horror star who works in a museum known as the House of Mystery, Professor Red Herr…er, Strang? Is it that oily radio technician with the same name as the famous novelist, Steinbeck? Is it the escaped convict who stole the jewels in the first place and wants them back? How about the company president? The company vice-president? Or is it one of the other characters who seemingly appear to be taking little or no interest in laying their hands on the jewels? If you know anything about this type of serial, you should be able to eliminate several of these characters right off the bat. I know I had my guess, but I turned out to be wrong largely because one of the rules I usually apply to figuring out this sort of thing turned out to be incorrect, but I still maintain my guess would have been a good one.

I will admit that this serial was fairly fun, though incredibly confusing; with at least five different people scrambling for possession of the jewels, it leaves your head swimming at times just trying to keep track of who has them. I’m also willing to bet there are some huge plot holes in the story, as I find myself wondering how the actual villain could actually know as much about people’s movements as he appears to do. At least you can tell most of the characters apart this time, which helps things immensely.

The Mysterians (1957)

Article #1214 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-11-2004
Posting Date: 12-8-2004
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Momoko Kochi

Aliens from the lost planet of Mysteroid attempt to invade the Earth.

This space opera moves into the action so quickly that you barely get a chance to meet the main characters. This is perhaps the reason I’ve generally found the movie quite confusing the previous times I watched it; if you lose track of the character played by Akihiko Hirata, some of the later plot developments seem arbitrary. It also doesn’t help that the English script is poorly translated from the Japanese (a star and an asteroid are two entirely different things, for example). Still, if you’re into non-stop eye candy action, you won’t be disappointed by this one, and it even fits in some messages about international cooperation and touches upon the nature of propaganda during the proceedings. For me, the most jarring problem with the movie is that its most striking setpiece is near the beginning of the movie rather than towards the end; the giant space robot is the most memorable thing in the movie, and it’s out of the action after the first thirty minutes. Still, once again, I’m amazed at how some of the characters believe the robot is a living being rather than a robot when it looks more like a robot than anything else.

The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)

Article #1213 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2004
Posting Date: 12-7-2004
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Featuring John Carradine, Robert Lowery, Lon Chaney Jr.

An Egyptian high priest is sent to New England to recover the bodies of Kharis and Princess Ananka.

It looks like a little more effort was taken on this one than its sequel, THE MUMMY’S CURSE, and John Carradine is certainly more fun in his role than Peter Coe was in his. Still, as a whole, this one is rather ordinary, lacking even the resurrection scene of the sequel to spice it up. It has some nice touches of humor here and there, especially in the character of the museum watchman (keep your ears open for a reference to THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET), but I found the touch of the white streakings of Amina Mansouri’s hair to be more than a little silly. Perhaps the oddest touch in this one, though, is the somewhat downbeat ending; this sort of thing rarely happens with romantic leads in a movie.

And one minor point; if you’re going to set a trap involving a ten foot deep pit, shouldn’t someone during the course of the movie fall into it? I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on this point…

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

Article #1212 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-9-2004
Posting Date: 12-6-2004
Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Coe, Virginia Christine

Kharis the Mummy arises from the swamps of Louisiana to once again find the Princess Ananka.

Ten thoughts on THE MUMMY’S CURSE:

1) Usually, I save my “Ten Thoughts” format for any real stinkers that come my way. In this case, it seems a convenient way of making the points I want to make; this one isn’t really as bad as all that. It is, however, fairly weak for a Universal horror, and it feels rushed and lazy. I’m sure a shooting schedule of only twelve days played into that.

2) Whatever its weaknesses, this movie does have one real humdinger of a scene, and that is when Ananka rises from the mud. This scene is startlingly effective, and may be one of the best scenes in any Universal horror movie. I wish the rest of the movie lived up to it.

3) Unfortunately, the character of Princess Ananka is very poorly developed in this movie. After her resurrection scene, she has only three functions; to be chased by Kharis, to be rescued, and to occasionally show some knowledge of Ancient Egypt. Other than that, she is devoid of personality. I don’t blame Virginia Christine as much as I blame the script; it just doesn’t give her much to do.

4) The other movies in the Kharis series all had fairly interesting high priests in George Zucco, John Carradine and Turhan Bey. Peter Coe is our high priest here, and he’s bland and forgettable. They give the usual temptation subplot here to his assistant, played by the more interesting Martin Kosleck; sadly, his character remains undeveloped as well. Why they didn’t combine these two characters into one is beyond me.

5) I often wonder whether the mummy’s curse in this movie is to cloud the peripheral vision of other characters. In the scene where Princess Ananka is rescued from the side of the road and driven away, nobody who rescues her can see Kharis who is only a couple of feet away. They don’t even spot him in the rear-view mirror of the car (maybe he was in the blind spot). At any rate, this is the closest I’ve ever seen to having one of the Universal monsters giving the classic “darn, they got away” finger snap gesture, though they settled for having him clench his fist.

6) I have no idea what a monastery is doing in the middle of the swamps of Louisiana, nor can I figure out why it’s so hard to find when it’s sitting on the top of a hill. I do understand why it’s been deserted for years, though.

7) One thing the movie does right is that it gets around the problem of having the slow-moving Mummy catch people is by having his victims practically stumble into his arms so that he can strangle them without a problem. I also like the fact that when Tante Berthe first bumps into him, you can see the dust rise from his body, which is a very nice touch.

8) Unfortunately, it seems like a waste of time having the mummy both catch Princess Ananka and kill anyone who gets in his way; every time he stops to kill someone, it gives Ananka a chance to get away. Significantly, the time the mummy finally does catch Ananka, he doesn’t bother to kill the accompanying woman. See, he does learn.

9) Question: how does the mummy carry the Princess Ananka when that right arm of his seems permanently glued to his body? Answer: it suddenly becomes unglued at that point. After he sets her down, it goes back into its glued position. The next time I encounter an Egyptian god, I think I’ll have them explain that to me.

10) I’ve always thought the whole series of Mummy movies were misnamed, but I think they could have solved the problem by switching the names around. Here are my suggestions.

THE MUMMY’S HAND should have been called THE MUMMY’S TOMB, since most of the plot of this involves the expedition that uncovers the tomb.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB should have been called THE MUMMY’S CURSE; this is the one where the members of the expedition are picked off one by one in true “mummy’s curse” style.

THE MUMMY’S GHOST should have been called THE MUMMY’S HAND; actually, any one of them could have been named that, so it makes a good default title.

And this one should have been called THE MUMMY’S GHOST, mainly because the rushed plot and the poorly-developed characters leave me with the sense that it is only the ghost of a real movie. Had they taken more time with this one, it could have been one of the best of the series. Ah, well…

Monster on the Campus (1958)

Article #1211 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-8-2004
Posting Date: 12-5-2004
Directed by Jack Arnold
Featuring Arthur Franz, Joanna Cook Moore, Judson Pratt

A scientist studying a fossil of a coelecanth becomes infected by its blood and turns into a primitive anthropoid.

This is probably the weakest of the several science fiction movies directed by Jack Arnold during the fifties. In some ways, it works well enough; however, it gets fairly silly at times. It’s basically a Jekyll-and-Hyde variation in which the potion is replaced by coelacanth blood treated with gamma rays; the problem is that the scientist has to be infected with them by accident twice. The first time is done well enough, but the second time requires an incredible set of coincidences that involves a dragonfly, a knife and a pipe, and it stretches credibility. Furthermore, someone in costuming should have been asking themselves whether the monster might not look a bit silly clad in a plaid flannel shirt as he is during the last half of the movie. Still, Arthur Franz gives a good performance, and the opening scenes in which a German Shepherd gets infected are quite good; in particular, I like the fangs. One question; if the scientist has to make a plaster cast of his girlfriend’s face to create a bust of a modern woman for his collection of the heads of men throughout the ages, who did he get to model the other heads in the collection?

The Monsters Demolisher (1962)

Article #1210 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-7-2004
Posting Date: 12-4-2004
Directed by Federico Curiel and Stim Segar
Featuring German Robles, Domingo Soler, Julio Alemain

A professor does battle with a vampire named Nostradamus.

This movie is the second of four that were edited from a Mexican serial about Nostradamus, not the famed prophet but the vampire; I’ve already covered the fourth in the series with BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS, so I’m covering them somewhat out of order. It’s not a bad series if you can keep in mind that you’re watching episodes of a serial; it somewhat explains why you’re thrust in the middle of the action and also why there’s no real satisfactory closure to the story. This one looks like it consists of three episodes; the first two are somewhat similar, as they involve Nostradamus making predictions to the professor as to who his next victim will be, and the story is tricky enough that for any particular episode, there is no definite pattern as to whether good or evil will triumph. The third section introduces the title character, an expert at destroying vampires that agrees to help the professor. This movie was proceeded by THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS and followed by THE GENIE OF DARKNESS . Also, I won’t be held responsible for the missing apostrophe in the English title; I spelled it exactly as it appears in the movie itself.

Missile to the Moon (1958)

Article #1209 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2004
Posting Date: 12-3-2004
Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Featuring Richard Travis, Cathy Downs, K.T. Stevens

Five people blast off in a rocket to the moon, where they encounter a race of moon women with designs on the Earth.

I’m not a fan of Richard E. Cunha’s science fiction movies, but GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN at least has an unusual story, and FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER and SHE DEMONS both have a certain sleazy energy to them. This one is a remake of CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON, and unless you’re really impressed that most of the cast consists of beauty pageant nominees and you can’t resist the parade of pulchritude, you’d be well-advised to steer clear of this lunar expedition. The only improvements it makes on the original are 1) the presence of some interesting looking rock creatures, and 2) the fact that it doesn’t rush the ending. The pace is incredibly slow here, and the acting is even worse than that of the original. As for the women of the moon, their main acting tool consists of elaborate eyebrow makeup. At least Elvira (who hosts the tape I have of this one} appears to be having fun.

The Medusa Vs. the Son of Hercules (1965)

Article #1208 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-5-2004
Posting Date: 12-2-2004
Directed by Albert De Martino
Featuring Richard Harrison, Anna Ranalli, Arturo Dominici

Perseus comes to the aid of the kingdom of Sepharis, which is being oppressed by the tyranny of the kingdom of Argos.

Let’s take this one step by step:

The Hero: According to the opening narration, the “Sons of Hercules” is a catchall term for any number of mythological heroes, some of whom are real sons of Hercules, and the others who are sons of…..someone else, but who have won the title of a “Son of Hercules” as an honorary. This is one of the latter; in fact, it’s Perseus, though some great liberties have been taken with the Perseus tale here. He doesn’t have super-strength, but he’s resilient, and there are other aspects of the story that clearly move it into the realm of the fantastic.

The story: This is another one that is surprisingly coherent, telling as it does the story of a conflict between two kingdoms and the role played by Perseus in helping to defeat the oppressors.

Comic relief: None. No cute midgets or cowardly sidekicks. The closest this movie comes to intentional comedy is having Perseus talk to a deer.

The monsters: For a sword and sandal epic, they’re surprisingly good. The dragon that lives in the lake certainly looks better than any number of puppets from other movies, and even though the Medusa looks nothing like the gorgons of legend (it looks like a black tree trunk with a big red eye and tendrils), it’s handled so atmospherically that it may be the most memorable monster in any sword-and-sandal epic.

The fights: There are actually some novel and effective scenes here. The battle scenes are somewhat confusing, but the various games of the tournament sequence are quite good.

All in all, I found this to be one of the better of the pepla. Richard Harrison is likable as Perseus, and except for a slightly slow middle section, it moves at a good pace and has a fair amount of atmosphere. It’s certainly one of my favorites of the genre.

The Man from Planet X (1951)

Article #1207 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-4-2004
Posting Date: 12-1-2004
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Featuring Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond

An American reporter visits a professor living on an island near Scotland to get a report on a planet that is nearing Earth. He then encounters a resident of that planet who has landed on the moors.

Is this the first non-serial alien invasion movie? It’s closest competition may be THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD), but this one appears to have made it to theaters first. At any rate, if you want to appreciate Edgar G. Ulmer’s skill, this isn’t a bad place to start; it was shot for around $50,000, and though it does look a little on the cheapish side, it certainly looks more expensive than that. The Scottish moors that serve as the backdrop for the action are very memorable; the thick, eerie fog gives the movie more of the feel of a horror movie than other science fiction movies of the era. The story is a bit uneven, and it never quite builds up the suspense it needs in the second half of the movie, but it’s still fairly interesting, and it contains an excellent performance from William Schallert as an unscrupulous scientist who decides to use the visitor for his own purposes. There’s also a bit of ambiguity as to the alien’s motives; was he planning on an invasion from square one, or did the attack from Dr. Mears make him decide on that route? This one is definitely worth catching. Incidentally, Margaret Field was the mother of actress Sally Field.